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Byron Shire
April 22, 2021

Proposed Byron train branded ‘greenwash’

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The diesel train,  currently under restoration, which is planned to run between Byron Bay and Elements resort. Photo supplied
The diesel train, currently under restoration, which is planned to run between Byron Bay and Elements resort. Photo supplied

Hans Lovejoy

With a Byron Bay train station and shed development application (DA) up before Byron Shire Council this Thursday, residents and businesses along the Belongil stretch have again amplified their opposition to the rail project.

Elements Of Byron plan to run a diesel rail service along the disused corridor from the $100m resort in Belongil into Byron CBD, but has been met by consistent resistance over its hourly service frequency and a lack of environmental and amenity impact studies.

Those residents and businesses have also described the project as a ‘greenwash’, a term to describe a development presented with the appearance of environmental credentials.

Council staff support the DA, and their report tabled this week claims 69 public submissions were against, while 42 were for the proposal.

A resident most likely to be affected is Bethany Hudson, whose house and bedroom would be within metres of one of the stations. In a letter to councillors, she says, ‘I am directly, irreversibly affected by this in a life-changing way and I hope councillors [can] acknowledge this.’

And a half-page advertisement appears on page 13 to refute claims made by the proponent’s previous ad last week.

One of the more interesting aspects is the unclear approval process for its operation and identifying who is the consent authority.

Mayor Simon Richardson, an advocate for the service, told The Echo previously that Council could only approve the station and shed DAs, yet it’s become now clear that Council could have overall input, particularly with environmental considerations.

A letter from the environmental protection agency (EPA) to a resident says that as the proposal is on a line less than 30km, the EPA believes that, ‘Council is the consent authority.’

In reply, the mayor said that if correct, it was a good thing that Council will make the decision.

Byron Shire Council’s director of sustainable planning and economy, Shannon Burt, confirmed with The Echo that she is in discussion with the applicant and Transport for NSW, ‘about whether it would be considered exempt development under the State Environmental Planning Policy [SEPP].’

‘If not, a development application will be required for the railway corridor works, and the environmental factors and amenity will form part of the application,’ she said.

And yet environmental assessments appear to be on the table; project manager Jeremy Holmes told The Echo that they are required to undertake a ‘baseline contamination investigation prior to the commencement of any works to ascertain any contamination such as asbestos and whether such contaminants may be disturbed, and if so how they will be managed.’

‘This is required as a condition of the licence,’ he said.

As for the consideration of relocating the station owing to its close proximity to residents, Mr Holmes replied it had been explored, ‘in intricate detail’.

‘[It] was not a suitable location for a number of practical, physical and financial reasons, including the fact that it is outside of our licence area.

‘Ms Hudson’s home would be 40m from the station and is buffered by heavy vegetation and a waterway.’

The Echo also asked why Mr Holmes considered an hourly rail service reasonable, considering that the railway line has never accommodated such a frequency and why the hours they wish to run the service had increased.

He replied, ‘I believe the demand is there for this frequency, if not more in peak times. We have not increased the hours. Feedback has been that residents would like a reliable service including one that facilitates going out to dinner in town. We have received a lot of pressure to commit to a timetable, so we have proposed an hourly service in the initial stages of operation so we can accurately gauge the demand.’

Read the full Q&A with Mr Holmes here.


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21 COMMENTS

  1. Love the article! Maybe council will take responsibility for this dirty Disneyland proposition. Jeremy Holmes says they have had ‘ feedback that residents…reliable service.. going out to dinner..’ OK one train at 7pm? Shows the research is not exactly formal. And Miss Hudson’s home, I believe is 25 metres from the proposed platform and in terms of acoustics and pollution, would not not buffered by a few trees and a one metre wide stream of water. Hopefully a solution will be found after all considerations are met.

    • I would have though the NSW Government would have a lot of say in the rail corridor as they are the owners on the land and track.

      It would be a terrible location to have to live in, 50 metres from the track, with a smelly dirty old diesel rail motor going past on a regular basis.

      It will do absolutely nothing to stop the traffic congestion in Byron Bay every day.

  2. …I am 25m maximum from the proposed station site. There is no waterway or trees buffering me from noise pollution from construction, commuters, train operation or from air pollution from carcinogenic diesel or lights. There has been no consultation. … This proposal destroys my ability to live in my home I have worked 20 years to afford. I am disgusted with the lack of consideration or consultation. Our homes were built in 1980s. Impact on residents, people’s amenities and the environment has not been looked at. The multi-millionaire Flannery’s who have profited significantly from selling their QLD coal mines to China should not force whatever they want, but negotiate. They have costed moving the station away from behind our homes at approx. $150000 which is affordable for people worth around $500000000. And diesel ! In emails I have received they are not committed to trying solar options for minimum 2 years after running diesel from behind my home. This DA is unfair, unjust and self-serving.
    Bethany Hudson

  3. Why not bring back public rail to Byron and up to Murwillumbah from Sydney. Much better for the environment, tourists and to take pressure off the roads.
    We used to take the train from Sydney and it was great.

  4. It’s not true to say that there were only ever two train trips per day on the train line into Byron. Up until the 1970s it was a very busy line with all produce from local farms being transported by rail; milk, cream and pigs were delivered to the Norco factory. Bananas and timber from local mills were transported by train. Children had to travel to High School at Lismore or Murwillumbah by train. When Mullumbimby High School opened in 1955 children from as far away as Nashua and Byron Bay travelled to Mullum High school by train until Byron High school opened in 1987.

    Until May 2004 the old heavy XPT train left Murwillumbah at 9.00pm and travelled through Byron about 9.30pm. The heavy goods train travelled through Byron around 2.00am. People hardly noticed these trains-no one ever complained.

    Most people are well aware of the decade long, high profile, community campaign to have a regular commuter train service on the Casino to Murwillumbah line to connect communities and provide residents, and millions of visitors to the region, a more environmentally friendly form of transport to, and around, the region.

    It’s no secret that successive state governments would have liked to rip up the billion dollar train line and sell off the valuable land to developers. People who are concerned about a tiny train may want to ponder the idea of having dozens of holiday units built close to their back fence and the effects on their privacy and beach access.

    This small train will not solve all our traffic or transport problems, but it’s a small step in the right direction which will help save the line from destruction so that it can be used for a modern, eco friendly train service, in future..

  5. One chooses to live near a railway line. Sure that railway line is now closed, but as the rail corridor is still there & haas not been sold off, it can be used again at any time. Having objections from people who live near a current rail corridor is a nonsense. If anyone who lives near a current rail corridor which is unused has the right to object and stop it being used, then this means that the Government can never bring back rail to this region, as every single person who lives near this 300 km rail corridor which has existed for over 100 years can say – No not near my home. That then impacts on 1000’s of other people who want to use rail- there is NO guarantee that rail will never ever come back this region. With climate change, the impact of fossil fuels etc – do you really think that we shall be driving cars everywhere here for everything for the next 50 years ? Did these people not notice a dirty great railway line near their homes when they chose to live there ?

  6. Wow! Typical Byron attitude. Move here then say nothing should ever change.

    Oh! Hang on! There’s an existing rail line there.

    Too bad if we one day get real trains back on it.

    You shouldn’t by or live next to train tracks if you don’t want trains to be near you.

    Bring it on I say!

  7. At last it seems the facts are coming out, a private rail line to take town people to the resort bistro and ferry resort guests to town !!!
    Council need to look carefully at what it’s responsibilities will be when the 10.30 party express returns to town with revellers looking to continue on. Why can’t the effort being put into this train be directed towards establishing a regular say 3 times per day daylight service connecting Byron to local towns like Bangalow etc with stops . That may actually help the Ewingsdale road and make our local area more connected.

  8. We are Sunrise Beach Estate residents and are looking forward to having the train service. Tourist villages all over the world have character trains and we see this train as an enhancement to our area. It will link Sunrise to town so residents can catch the train to a night out and town people can catch a train to the Sunrise Arts Estate. The service will bypass the usual peak road traffic congestion and add a sociable novelty to travelling between town and Sunrise Beach.
    We live on the local bus route and accept that, as we chose to live alongside public transport infrastructure, than we might expect there could be transport using it. It seems even more likely that a train might use the railway line.
    The information provided by Elements of Byron indicates that they are making all efforts to minimise any concerns. It would be a shame if Elements are deterred – it seems unlikely that anybody else would provide this service.

  9. I guess if you buy a property near a rail line you have to accept the possibility that trains may run along it. Flippancy aside, the key concerns of Sunrise residents all seem to be capable of address, and from the information that I’ve seen published by the resort they are already working on some of the key issues e.g. converting from diesel to solar, and implementing a wider park and ride solution. To me there also seem to be some substantial benefits for Sunrise residents, which are missing from their advertising and this article. For instance with this train operating, they can hop on board for $3 a throw if they want to go out to lunch/dinner in Byron, which seems far preferable to having to fork out for taxis. Then there’s the issue of drink driving. I’d much prefer the option of a train in and out of Byron than risking driving if I’m planning to imbibe, or carrying the cost of a taxi. As an avid writers’ festival goer, I am also looking forward to being able to catch the train to and forth next year. The traffic gridlock each year entering the resort and heading back into Byron during that event is a nightmare and the train will be a blessed relief. Have the residents actually sat down with the management of the resort or were battle lines simply declared from the outset? Personally, I can’t wait to see this train operating, and I can see benefits not just for tourists but importantly for locals. 🙂

    • Nice one, Lucy. For a former resident now living in Ballina, your chief concern is how YOU will benefit from getting to the Writers Festival. Perhaps you’ll ask for extra train trips so YOU can go at the time YOU choose. Don’t worry about the actual residents who have to cop the noise and pollution from 50 trips a day, with absolutely no assessment of claimed traffic relief on Ewingsdale Road. Actually it’s a no-brainer, use the train corridor for non-noisy, non-polluting options like walking track, cycle path and electric buses. Then we would have a real transport option, not a phoney-baloney one that is designed only to benefit Elements’ paying guests who will travel free at everyone else’s expense. Do you not realise that Elements is only offering $3 trips for non-guests because they haver to in order to get the licence? There’s no public good in this proposal at all. Please rethink.

  10. The anti Byron train argument is becoming a bit NIMBY. The railway line was there long before you where and it was your choice to live near the railway line. Sure, it is closed, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be re-opened ever again. The train will be the best thing to happen in the Byron CBD and Arts estate in a long time – It will alleviate some of the pressure on our roads, make transport from the CBD to North Byron easy, fast and affordable. And those who complain about noise, the railmotor is quieter than a truck or bus! The railmotor also has a substantially lower carbon footprint than cars, buses or taxis and there is a lot of info that would be useful to people here: http://northbyronbeachresort.com.au/rail-shuttle/

    Bring on the train!

  11. It isn’t the resort’s responsibility to restore the railway to Mullum and Bangalow, but they are prepared to fund the first section of it. Why don’t don’t more tourism operators and festival sites get on board to extend the service? it’s open to the community and the local bus services are privatized too by the way

  12. What is the plan as the train crosses Kendall/Border St ? Gates , lights and bells? or the old colour code clock ??
    This is a busy stretch of road.. .

    • Liz, I believe the plan is to install the same type D level crossing sign currently present at the crossing. The only difference being there will be ‘STOP’ sign age under the RAILWAY CROSSING sign age instead of alternative the ‘GIVE WAY’ sign age

  13. These residents who have bought properties adjoining the old line are very much cut from the same cloth as the Belongil dune dwellers. They buy in full knowledge of the pros and cons of their location, yet scream the loudest when what they knew would or could happen, suddenly eventuates. I for one am delighted to have rail access to town starting to happen once again.

  14. It’s great to see a small portion of the existing railway line being used for it’s intended purpose. I look forward to riding the rails.

  15. What a shame that residents are yet again sidelined in favour of big development ($100 million in fact). The solar train we were all promised will probably never happen now that council has not made it a condition of approval. The resort has not committed to any upgrade of their outdated diesel train to solar – its all marketing spin and PR -its so good in fact everyone still thinks it will happen.
    Even councillors Cubis and Ibrahim admitted yesterday that it didn’t seem possible to convert the train to solar so it would seem that we have all been green-washed (or to put it more bluntly, lied to). We spoke to the actual owners of the train, Lithgow State Mines Rail, who said conversion is possible, so the real question is why haven’t Elements done it?
    Oh, by the way, Councillors ignored council staff recommendation for the train to stop operating at 7:30pm, and the Councillors voted to push this out to 10:30pm.

    • If something doesn’t immediately seem possible doesn’t mean it isn’t. Elements have said they still intend to convert to solar, but their main priority is to get the train running. There is a very real possibility of conversion, people in other parts of the world have already done it. Elements have all the details on their website: http://northbyronbeachresort.com.au/rail-shuttle/

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