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Byron Shire
December 1, 2022

Greens conflicted over rail trails

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Dear Senator Nick McKim,

Congratulations on the official opening of the North East (Tasmania) Rail Trail today at Scottsdale Railway Station. We are touring cyclists from Queensland, and we are excited by this new opportunity to revisit your beautiful state, enjoy your wonderful wines and cuisine, and cycle the Rail Trail.

I appreciate the task of converting a disused railway line into a Rail Trail is thwart with obstacles. Many folk cling to the hope that the existing railway line will be revived despite the economic and practical impossibilities.

In our region, there is a similar proposal to convert the disused railway line that runs from Murwillumbah, to Byron Bay, Lismore and finally Casino into a Rail Trail. Sadly, there is no possibility that the train on this route will be reinstated. As you know, a Rail Trail offers safe and healthy alternative transport options while introducing a wonderful tourism attraction for the local businesses and the proposal has enjoyed widespread support.

One of the obstacles to the proposal for a Rail Trail, however, comes from the Greens candidates, Ms Tamara Smith and Ms Mehreen Faruqi who believe that the train will be reinstated.

It seems that there is a conflict in Greens’ policy between one state and another. It is hard to understand the resistance from Green candidates in our local area to the proposal for a Rail Trail when Rail Trails are proliferating in other states with full Green support, like your North East Rail Trail in Tasmania. It would be useful to our efforts if the benefits and advantages of Rail Trails was shared throughout the Greens membership Australia wide.

Sir, can I appeal for your assistance to overcome opposition to the Northern Rivers Rail Trail that is coming from the last quarter we would have expected?

Linda Carmody, Arie Hendriks, Coolangatta, Qld


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  1. Linda,
    Malcolm says we are living in the most exciting times.
    Railways are surely closed down when the economy takes a nose dive and unemployment rises.
    Railways are opened up again when we begin boom times.

  2. Great letter Linda. Unfortunately there is a very vocal nostaligic minority in our area that that are adament that we must have trains back on the Murbah to Casino line at all costs. They have been running this campaign for since 2004 and refuse to believe even after all that time (and governments) trains will not be returning on the line.

    There was even a comprehensive feasibilty goverment commissioned study in 2013 into reopening the line. The study concluded that brining back the trains is simply not viable nor does it actually serve the major population areas now and in the future. The study even recommended a rail trail could be viable and another study was done which proved the viability of the trail. See http://www.transport.nsw.gov.au/Projects-Completed-Projects/projects-casino-to-murwillumbah-transport-study Of course the study was dismissed by the train supporters who have managed to convince the greens that trains need to be reinstated on the corridor. Earlier this year Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon even took a helicopter flight over the corridor. Why I’m not sure, as nothing appears to have come of this ‘scenic flight’.

    There was even funding for the rail trail set aside but that got quiety siphoned into regional airports: https://www.bicyclenetwork.com.au/general/policy-and-campaigns/2804/.

    Anyway if you check back in a few days you will see a flurry of letters from the train supporters arguing that trains will reduce traffic jams into Byon and other such fantasies.

    Those in favour of a rail trail (and it would be fantastic asset in our region) have a long but worthy battle ahead.

  3. I like the idea but research suggests the rail trail would be not an adequate investment in the region for the following reasons:
    1. Climate – The climate on the Northern Rivers is not suitable for a rail trail anywhere out of Byron Bay, in North Coast heat, I can’t see many people using it
    2. Distance – The C-M railway line is over 132km long, and that is by far too long for anyone to cycle or walk without camping. Although the distance between towns is no better either, as the vast majority of people would not ride or walk from Lismore to Byron, or Lismore to Bangalow as the trip back must be thought of too. So you are either looking at camping grounds every so often or motels in the middle of nowhere
    3.Infrastructure – Along the rail trail would need to be key things such as Water facilities (taps, fountains etc) every few kilometres, there would also need to be toilets frequently along the trail (not just in the towns) and things like adequate car parking would also need to be added. Tall fences would also need to be added along the edges when the trail passes towns, localities, properties or farmland – to stop any opportunistic people doing the wrong things such as theft or trespass
    4. Emergency access – Most of the trail is in the middle of nowhere, thus making it near impossible for emergency services to arrive quickly in the event of an emergency
    5.Viability – the cost of ripping up the tracks, the cost of replacing most of the 100’s of bridges, upgrading level crossings and replacing the whole corridor with a level concrete surface as well as all the points listed above sure will be costly, this will all have to be taken into account.
    6. With the current traffic situation in the region, and the new West Byron mega development (that will be almost the size of Mullumbimby town) that will add unprecedented amounts of traffic to Ewingsdale Road and Byron Bay, the region simply cannot afford to be almost carelessly tossing away potential solutions such as a rail service. The idea of just making more roads will not work in the long term as they will only become congested and the need for more roads will arise.

    • These are all valid points. However they have been addressed and dealt with in other trails here and overseas. I’ve responded to your points below:

      1. Yes our climate is hot for 4 months of the year. There are shady sections of the track. Mornings and afternoons are cooler. The 114km brisbanve valley trail is well used even during brisbane’s hot summers.

      2.Rail trails provide economic beneifts for locals. The otago rail trail in NZ is 150km’s long and goes through some remote regions. A lot of farmers (who initially opposed the trail for the reasons you mentioned) have opened B&Bs and farmstays along the trail. The majority of cyclists/walkers are generally not organised/willing to carry the extra burden of camping supplies ie tents, stoves, food etc.

      3. Composting toliets and water tanks could be easily instlalled along the route. However in the northern part there are a lot of small towns, mooball, burringbar, stokets siding etc that have existing facilities. As for installing high fences generally the demographic who would use such a trail are not opportunistic theives or hoons. Also it’s pretty hard to carry much on a bike!

      4. While there are some islolated sections the major of the trail follows roads and emergency vehicle access points could be provided. The trail would be wide enough for emegency vehicles including fire trucks. The trail can also become a fire trail.

      5. Yes some of the bridges will need to be updraded. However they won’t be carrying the weight of trains so will cost less to fix. There is no need for a concere path. The standard surface for all trails is compressed gravel paths. The estimated cost was 75 million and while this may seem a lot it can be done in stages and is a lot, lot less than cost of reinstating train services along the whole corridor.

      6. The West Byron development is a contentious issue and the final plan has not been released yet. The plan is meant to include consideration for transport/traffic issues. If a train/light rail service was found to be viable (the keyword is ‘if’) then the a trail could run beside the train for this section.

      The current corridor that is mostly single track and built on 19th centuary alignment does not serve the major population areas. You said yourself most of the trail/corridor is in the middile of nowhere. Should trains be reintroduced to the northern rivers surely a new modern and fast corridor should be constructed that follows the major coastal population areas?

      • Unfortunately if the tracks are to be disturbed the majority of the track bed would also have to be removed because of contaminants such as arsenic as a result of the line being sprayed over the past 100 yrs to control termites in the sleepers being disturbed. As for bridges, I have seen trains going across the wooden bridges and it you can easily make out the bridge deck swaying and moving up and down as all the bogies pass over it, I have also walked over some of the bridges and unfortunately they are now creaking and cracking underfoot so keeping the current bridges may be more of a public liability issue than anything else. The alignment is not all that bad – here is a comparison between distances by rail and road in km: http://hostthenpost.org/uploads/06adeef27b8410aa2da18e2ddf04e88e.jpg.

        And that last paragraph is a good question, but the cost of building a new track would be double that compared to just upgrading the current one which would connect towns like Byron better to the rest of NR and NSW.

  4. Your concerns have been raised in every community world wide that has proposed a rail trail and in every instance have not proven to be a barrier to a successful venture.

    I wonder, Garry Ainsworth, how do your emergency services respond to situations along that corridor now?

    There are small towns and communities scattered along the trail, places like Stokers Siding and Billinudgel, where enterprising locals may choose to set up a B&B or a café to cater for the users of the trail. Cyclists, who are the main users likely to travel the entire distance are quite capable of carrying five litres of water, more than enough to travel forty or fifty km without a refill & most prefer to utilise formal toileting facilities rather than just squat in the bushes ( we have been tamed and civilised).

    The Northern parts of NSW have an almost ideal cycling climate, being viable all year round. You might be surprised to know people cycle in areas like broken Hill, even in summer, and in Tumbarumba, even in the winter.

    • There are access roads in the towns but outside towns there is nothing – As the chance of a train derailing or having some sort of track is virtually nil on a single track with no points or other trains close by.

  5. I am happy for you to have a good time on the rail trail. But do not confuse the readers or treat them like fools. Maybe you can enlighten us about the number of people living along that line. And if there are any traffic issues with cars. Are there any tourist visiting the area, who do not cycle? If so, how many. You can have perfectly different positions on totally different scenarios.

  6. A rail trail & a railway are not mutually exclusive ideas, in fact they’re symbiotic.
    Ride alongside the train, then you & your bike can take it home if you’re too tired, it rains, too hot etc ….

  7. No thanks to a rail trail, most of us wont trains back. You know like they have down south not that far away? It is certainly not impossible, it just needs a government that has balls and vision. Doit over a 10 year period. It will be such a good investment.

    I see them fixing lines and bridges around the wauchope and taree areas so I am sure we could organise a massive amount of work to take place up here over time to fix all the lines, tunnels and bridges up. All the men and equipment to do so is already being used so it certainly is possible.

    Our roads are way too congested we need people to use trains. I find the idea laughable that you wont to use it for a few hundred people to ride bikes along.

    • I agree Je. Although the amount of work is not that ‘massive’, as the only major thing is the replacement and renewal of timber bridges and some vegetation clearing around Burringbar. If the Government can spend billions on a highway upgrade, then they can certainly upgrade our railway line for a fraction of the cost.

  8. Unfortunately the brutal economic reality is that a train the entire length between Casino and Murwillumbah through 2 comparatively small regional towns and a series of semi rural villages on this route is extremely unlikely. Whilst there is further development in Byron to happen, these populations will still be not be enough to support the re-instatement of a track.

  9. Thanks to our Green minority lobby group the railway corridor will be same for the next 10 years as it has been for last 10 years – zilch .
    Thanks for giving us nothing except rotting sleepers, rusted steel rails, deteriorating bridges and buildings, plenty of lantana and camphor laurels and a big talk fest.
    Get into the real world and realise that the old corridor was for milk deliveries, banana distribution to Sydney and cement delivery for the highway. Since those industries finished it was used mostly by discounted ticket users (94% ) to travel to Sydney. The old corridor is not a serious public transport route and never will be , spend your energy giving the Far North Coast a train following the population corridor instead of one that follows the macadamia corridor.


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