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January 26, 2022

Angels join railway group in calling for climate change action

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Climate Change Angels with members of the Northern Rivers Railway Action Group. (supplied)
Climate Change Angels with members of the Northern Rivers Railway Action Group. (supplied)

The Climate Change Angels have combined with the Northern Rivers Railway Action Group in calling for the reinstatement of the Casino to Murwillumbah railway line.

Members of both groups met at the Lismore Railway Station on Sunday to highlight the importance of railways in tackling the impacts of climate change.

NRRAG secretary Beth Shelley said the high rate of emissions produced by the road transport sector was an issue that had largely been left out of the climate change discussion.

But as sea levels rise closer to coastal towns and storms rage, Ms Shelley said it was time governments took action to address the situation.

Ms Shelley pointed to the Mercator Research Institute on Climate Change in Berlin, which states that the transportation sector was responsible for ’23 percent of all human carbon dioxide emissions fueling climate change today, and they could double by 2050 as people in developing countries drive more’.

‘The best way to reduce emissions quickly is to invest in rail systems, bicycle lanes and other infrastructure that will minimize the need for driving,’ Ms Shelley said.

The Deloitte Report of 2011 states that “Australia is now the most intensive user of road freight in the world and has the least energy efficient, road passenger transport among members of the International Energy Association”.

Professor Phillip Laird from the University of Wollongong states in The Conversation 2014, “During 2011 – 2012, cars, buses and trucks used nearly 32 billion litres of petrol, diesel and LPG. By way of contrast, rail used 1.67 billion of diesel…Rail is much more energy efficient than road transport to move people and freight.”

Linda White, Coordinator of the Climate Guardian Angels coordinator Linda White said if the northern rivers area had rail services there would be five times less greenhouse gas emissions than that of car transportation.

‘The Casino to Murwillumbah railway line is an important part of the solution to climate change. We need railways to take cars and trucks off the road and stop burning fossil fuels,’ Ms Shelley said.

‘As we already have a railway line it would be easy for this area to reduce transport emissions by reinstating regular rail services for the Northern Rivers and extending them up to the Gold Coast.’

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  1. Laird’s views are oft quoted and are particularly relevant to freight haulage but debatable in passenger use in regional areas where rail can only provide and infrequent service with high levels of subsidy. In the US, notwithstanding their high car and plane use as in Australia for passenger transport, there is still a large residual population using land-based public transport; data there show that in practice bus transport uses less fuel per passenger than does rail (and also while both are very safe, buses are the safer), and that infrastructure that supports buses is far cheaper and more cost effective than rail . Interestingly planes do not use much fuel more than rail, and smaller modern fuel efficient cars carrying multiple passengers do not have a large carbon footprint either. The main take home message is that if we want to reduce carbon output, we should not necessarily support rail per se , but shift people to more efficient modes of transport, particularity from single person use of heavy cars to multiple passenger travel in smaller cars, and to trains and buses and for longer journeys, planes. The survey into public transport on the North Coast found timetabling issues including frequency and the time of the day and week of services were the major restraint to a shift to public transport, not access to a train. Access to the planned tourist trams might help a bit, but overwhelmingly buses are better placed to provide more frequent services. The train line was built to connect dairying and sugar produce, and passengers to the main external transport links at the time: Byron port and later Casino rail junction. Because they live in or near the towns that are a legacy of those industries, rail proponent selfishly want a large amount of public money to subsidise their public transport, while ignoring the needs of i=others including inter-alia: people in areas where more people now live and want to commute – along the Lismore – plateau – Ballina – Lennox – Byron crescent or along the Tweed Coast; those who need to commute at weekends or night – like young people who work in service industries; and the many who want to access the current external transport hubs at Ballina and Coolangatta airport without using their car. If they were genuine in the wish to do something about transport emissions they would get behind the various transport plans, like the Northern Rivers Transport Plan, and the Tweed Shire Transport Plan and push for more the more modest changes and funding needed to support multiple passenger road vehicles and so reduce transport emissions. They, and the Green members and councilors they vote in, need to support parking and lane priority for multiple-passenger vehicles, frequent buses at regular times with better services at night and weekends, buses enabled to suit the disabled and cyclists, the development of the much-cheaper-than-rail Tweed busway, and better services to the airports and Robina. These are all possible in the near to medium term and could be done for less than the high capital and very high recurrent costs of a restored rail service that only ever was, and only ever would be, infrequent, and that goes where relatively few people now want to go.

    • What a wonderful essay Petrus.

      Your argument is comprehensive and very easy to understand.
      If only the TOOT Fairies and their supporting Angels would come out from the sky and see the compelling logics you have so eloquently put.

      It strikes me too, that the TOOT Fairies and their supporting Angels, resemble climate change denialists, in their apparent inabilities to absorb the science.

      My ardent wish to combat denialists in climate science AND the believers of a fossil fueled rail service being economically feasible and non-polluting, goes on..

      I do wish both these issues could easily be realised and overcome.

    • Petrus is actually Geoff Bensley from Byron Bay.
      He is a prominent and dogged rail-trail supporter.
      His liking for buses is only so that the railway track can be ripped up and replaced by a horse and bike track for his lycra-clad yuppie associates from Byron Bay.
      I doubt that he has ever travelled on one of the dreadful long-distance bus services in the Northern Rivers as I have and been forced to go without food or drink for several hours.
      Has he ever tried to use a toilet on a moving bus whilst it bounces over crumbling roads and lurches around bends?
      When he becomes old and a pensioner he might regret his advocacy against trains.
      If he thinks that the government is going to build a new high-speed railway for a small population then he is living in a dream.
      We have the existing railway and that is it. If we choose not to use it for trains, then there will be no other for decades.

      • Sorry to destroy your illusion, Glen but I am certainly not Geoff Bensley. Though I am originally from the Bay I do not have any lycra-clad yuppie associates there. I do support the rail-trail, but if you read my posts you will know I do not consider it the only way to provide a safe cycle touring environment on the North Coast. I am a regular user of buses in Canberra where I am in exile and if your read the Canberra Times you will see I take a similarly negative view to the proposed Gungahlin light rail; in line with transport economists and planners, I consider a rapid bus solution offers better value for money – this is a new project and there is no rail trail involved. I am not a transport expert but spent decades making recommendations to government based on planning and feasibility documents for hundreds of millions of dollars of Commonwealth spending in a variety of sectors; I take a similar approach to transport issues that will affect me. The planning and feasibility reports on transport issues are readily available and in disperse low density situations like Canberra and particularly the Northern Rivers they recommend bus-based transport. I do not share Geoff’s enthusiasm for a direct rail form QLD to Yelgun, at least not in the short or medium term – I see no reason not to accept the conclusion of the Tweed Rivers Transport Plan, that a busway down the Tweed Coast offers a better medium term solution.
        I have traveled on long distance buses on the North Coast – If you think the buses are uncomfortable today you should have tried coming down the Burringbar Range in “Dasher” Wraight’s old Reo in the early 60s! Much more recently I have used Countrylink and private buses both in the Northern Rivers and Canberra area – I find them very comfortable (normally they only restrict people eating cooked food, and that for the sake of other passengers). I recently took a Countrylink bus on the rural roads to Cootamundra and then the train to Melbourne. Both were very comfortable but it was on the train that my neighbour’s port fell off the rack as it lurched on a corner.
        The train corridor belongs to the people of NSW. We have a right to expect the NSW government to provide the Northern Rivers with quality public transport, as do other people across the State. I do resent calls for what would be a heavy capital and recurrent spending that a restoration of the rail service would entail, when there are higher transport priorities along other corridors and to the airports and SE QLD.

  2. Fairies are now backed up by Angels..

    Too funny for serious comment here..
    Except to say that FULLY LOADED freight or passenger trains, may be more efficient than cars and trucks, but of course that’s a fairy & angel tale.

    This is more fun than playing Whack-a-mole..

  3. So both groups have gone into fantasy and off the track as they wing it somewhere.
    Public Transport is about Public Transport, in getting from A to B.

  4. It doesn’t surprise me at all that the State and Federal governments which we must continually battle to do any good for people and the environment are against the re-opening of this important public railway line. It is great to see the ‘Angels’ out in force highlighting such a serious issue as global warming while the polies keep their heads firmly in the sand.

  5. I am waiting to see the feasibility study undertaken by the Angels and the railway action group, rather than read about proposals based on unsubstantiated ideas whims and wishes.

  6. They have a point. The quickest way to kickstart a path to 0 emissions is to reinstate rail services from Casino to Murwillumbah and encourage people to get out of their cars and get onto a train which is a far better option for the environment. A frequent rail car shuttle could be used by many, and at a sensible timetable could be a great start.

    Bike paths would be perfect alongside the rail line, and where there is no space (tunnels, some bridges etc.) the cycle way could divert to a more scenic area and reconnect with the rail corridor where next applicable – just like the Byron Line will.

    Trains with trails is the best use of this corridor, and would be great for the climate when people use the rail services or the bike paths for shorter distances instead of their fumy cars. Let’s do it!

    • Gary trains and trams do emit emissions – if not at the point of use, in which case you have the high cost and visual pollution of power lines, they do at the Power Station which in NSW is normally coal fired. And with the inefficiencies inherent in electricity transmission and noting that electric motors are not particularity efficient compared with diesels, the carbon output per passenger is higher than buses. And yes they can be powered by solar – just as a bus can be and at just as high a cost. The rail line never supported frequent services between Casino and Murwillumbah even with the heavy subsidies on the service. Proposed tourist tram services might be able supplement buses for commuter purposes, but it is only buses that can provide the sort of frequent services that go where people want and need to go – and for most people that is neither Casino nor Murwillumbah. You are right though that bikes can displace cars on shorter distances, and right too that they can divert to alternative routes where that is better than the corridor, particularly if the high speeds on our country roads are better limited.

  7. Good Morning All,

    I romance with the idea and want to see the rail back too, but here is “the” Governments fiscal problem as I understand it.

    Problem 1. There are several timber railway bridges along the way of the route which are heritage listed.
    These bridges must be repaired to heritage status. The massive size timber that goes into the bridges aint around any more as log sizes you need are all now locked up. So you would have to demolish these bridges and build new ones from concrete, big huge big dollars and long time in planning.
    Problem 2. A re sleepering and a tamping program would have to be undertaken to remove old sleepers and groom the rail bed along with possible new rail heads requiring to be installed, big big big huge dollars, lots of time.
    Problem 3. Level crossings would need to be updated and recommissioned, Big big dollars!
    Problem 4. Emission reports and other enviromental and social impact reports required along with community consultation, long time and just adding to the big big big huge cost already.
    Problem 5. The Government is planning a new billion dollar “inland rail” which will send most freight services via the west, so the corridor will mainly be used for passenger movements and maybe a little freight, so the revenue returned is greatly reduced, so simply the cost to do this now it would take 200 yrs and beyond to get your money back and that doesn’t take into account the cost to maintain over that time.
    Solution, build it from Byron to the Gold Coast and that can be justified quite easily, oh and by the way you cant share the rail corridor with trains, best to give them plenty of room to roll. ( read into that what you like)

    • Good Afternoon, “T” (Who are you exactly?)

      It seems there are a lot of assumptions in your comment that need addressing. Most of it has to do with the real cost of all the work you listed above.

      Correction 1. Heritage listed bridges can either be replaced or restored. Replacing bridges does not cost as much as one would think. Byron Bay Railroad Company are restoring the full deck, sleepers and check rails of the Belongil Creek bridge (total length: 40 metres) for rail services right now.

      All that work has only cost them $300,000. With many other bridges in a similar condition (concrete abutments, timber decking) this means a multitude of bridges could be replaced for around the same price. And bridges with timber abutments makes no big difference to this figure. The fact is, bridge replacement is not nearly as expensive as some may say or think. The work being undertaken by BBRC is an excellent example of this.

      Correction 2. There is at least a 1 in 4 sleeper pattern the whole journey, but yes in saying this there are still plenty in need of replacement. This can be done at a very low cost and certainly not as much as you or others may think. BBRC have identified that typically 1 in 7 wooden sleepers would need replacement, however from what I’ve seen they have replaced many more than this. The track clearing and re-sleeping (tamping) works for 3kms of track has cost them just $100,000. As I said this can all be done for much less than some people think.

      Correction 3. Much of the level crossings were upgraded about 1-3 years before the line’s closure. For example, the Bayshore Drive level crossing and related infrastructure (insulated sleepers, detectors, type F lights, etc.) (Byron Bay) was installed in 2002/03 for $72,342, and seeing as most of the equipment is all there and in good condition, I’m estimating this crossing could be re-opened for very little expense. Many level crossings elseware are also in good condition, with only the insulated sleepers and road signage needing replacement. As I said this can all be done for less than once thought.

      Correction 4. Yes, emissions studies may have to be carried out, however these do not cost a lot and were not needed for the Byron rail service.

      Correction 5. Trains can absolutely share the corridor with other things such as bike trails or pedestrian facilities. Simply “plenty of room to roll” has to be one of the worst reasons I have heard yet. For much of the corridor, there is ample room for bike paths alongside trains at a very safe distance (up to 20 metres away for some areas) in the existing rail corridor. No reason the two (rails and trails) cannot co exist.


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