We are concerned about the proposal by Elements Resort (and the affiliated Byron Bay Rail Company) to operate a train service from Sunrise to Byron Township.
While we live adjacent to the rail corridor and would be directly affected, it is hard to see how this project can provide net benefits to the community generally.
We recognise that solutions to our incoming traffic congestion need to be explored, including the bypass, the train and a bike path, with full consideration of the environmental and economic consequences of each.
But the train proposal has apparently not been subjected to any rigorous environmental evaluation.
Rather than being the green eco project claimed by its proponents, it has a number of drawbacks and makes claims that appear to be ludicrous.
It is one thing for Elements to risk its own capital (and even on this basis it appears to be a turkey), but to proceed when the full impacts of the project on the community have not been evaluated seems foolhardy, and may backfire on the council.
The developer touts the benefits of lower carbon footprints for passengers travelling from Sunrise to the town centre, and claims that the train would be converted in part to run on solar power.
But how many people would use the service, particularly once the bypass is built, and does anybody take seriously the claim that heavy rail can be converted to solar power? This appears to be the most cynical green-washing of all, especially coming from interests connected to the coal industry.
The developer proposes using a diesel train that is 67 years old. We are not experts on diesel engines but it beggars belief that this train could be updated to meet appropriate emissions and noise standards for what is essentially an urban area.
Indeed, diesel trains of any type should not have a role in urban transport. We don’t think that Sydney residents would tolerate urban train services operated with diesel power so why is it good enough for Byron Bay?
The developer is also touting their private train system as a public service, but it is unclear how accessible it would be to the general public.
Little parking seems to have been planned at the Sunrise end to accommodate public passengers. While it might service a small number of passengers emanating from the immediate vicinity who are prepared to hoof it to the station, this is unlikely to be a viable option for anybody else.
How, for instance, would this proposal attract users from the forthcoming West Byron development, or the many workers and visitors using the industrial estate?
The developer has sought permission to operate this train from 7.30am to 10pm half hourly should demand warrant it. Given that this track only ever had a train running once or twice a day, this would impose a vastly greater impact on the rail corridor.
Part of that impact would include either fencing off the rail corridor, thus denying beach access to many, or the sounding of the train’s horn at frequent intervals. The affects on the amenity of residents to a peaceful enjoyment of their land and access to the beach needs to considered in an EIS, as does the disruption to vehicular traffic at Border Street.
Other impacts that need to be assessed include the impact on the natural habitat that has developed within the rail corridor and any hazards that might be associated with repairing the rail track, such as disturbing any asbestos residues that might have been left from the past.
Byron Bay has a lot to be proud of as an environmentally and socially aware community. It deserves better scrutiny of this half-baked proposal and should insist that the developer be required to undertake a formal EIS. Alternatives such as establishing a bike path – which after all would much better align with Element’s supposed green aspirations and community standards – need also to be considered.
Paul Belin and Jenny Bannister, Byron Bay