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June 15, 2021

Call for council candidates to support return of rail

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More than 10 years after rail services on the Casino to Murwillumbah rail line were abandoned, calls are continuing for their reinstatement. Photo NRRAG
More than 10 years after rail services on the Casino to Murwillumbah rail line were abandoned, calls are continuing for their reinstatement. Photo NRRAG

Chris Dobney

The Northern Rivers Railway Action Group (NRRAG) is calling on candidates in north coast council elections to announce their position on the reinstatement of the Casino to Murwillumbah rail line.

The group will survey candidates from the four LGAs through which the old track runs, calling on them ‘to support our campaign for a commuter service’ on the line.

‘If you agree with this we ask that you make a formal statement of support as part of your platform,’ NRRAG’s letter to each of the candidates requests.

NRRAG secretary Beth Shelley, said the group ‘has been trying for some time to inform the public and our political representatives about the need for rail services and indeed sent submissions to the inquiry.’

‘We believe that most people’s opinion of the situation with our local railway line has come from the ARUP report commissioned by the Liberal State government,’ she said.

‘However the ARUP report overinflated the costs, overstated the repairs needed and completely ignored the issues of road accidents, traffic congestion, cost of road maintenance, air pollution, carbon emissions and increasing population and tourism numbers in the region,’ she added.

Upper house inquiry

The move follows last week’s call by a former Tweed Shire council officer for a return of the train, which was replaced by a bus service in 2004.

Addressing an upper house inquiry into Access to Transport for Seniors and Disadvantaged People in Rural and Regional NSW, Robin Spragg said substituting trains for a coach service was ‘a major backward step’.

‘Many older people cannot get into coaches, and once in they cannot move around, stretch their legs, get to a toilet or to a buffet,’ she told APN Media.

She added this had contributed an ongoing decline in the use of public transport.

Ms Shelley, also made a submission to the inquiry, which is due to report on its findings in November.

‘There are many, very sick people who can’t get their healthcare needs met in Lismore. They have to go to Brisbane or the Gold Coast and find this difficult if they are unable to drive themselves. The available buses take hours and are an exhausting experience for a sick person,’ Ms Shelley said in her submission.

‘Many elderly and the poor are stuck at home because they don’t own a car or drive because of health issues. Social isolation is a constant element in research on illness and death,’ she added.


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23 COMMENTS

  1. Attention all council election candidates

    It is vitally important that all candidates realise that any vote for a train service on our corridor, will enhance selloff of the corridor, as absolutely nothing will be developed on it, especially if people are anti rail trail.

    It is my firm belief that a rail trail is the only cheap enough contender in averting sell-off.

    We should all see this as the only real issue. Selloff..

    Even if one has no interest in rail trails, it’s the only existing idea to “rail-bank” the entire 132km corridor for the future, whatever that may bring for our corridor.

    Everyone loves trains, myself included, even though I only use them in cities.

    But the costs and non-viability of reinstating a rail service, are both huge, of course.

    Candidates need to be brought up to speed to the threat of sell-off.

    None of us wants to lose the corridor !!

    • The Transport Administration Act already protects the rail corridor from any kind of dismantling or sell off Tim. As long as it stands as a railway line in a railway corridor we have nothing to worry about. Rail Trail Bill would amend/weaken this though, and make it easier for anyone to sell the corridor off. Don’t want that do we!

  2. The toot toots have been at this long enough and got nowhere. The state simply can’t afford the $1 billion+ to reopen the rail line for only 1 train a day. Ideas about a commuter service are ludicrous as commuters are better service by buses. Time to accept the best tourism outcome for the region is a Rail Trail, except for the privately funded tourist train proposed for Byron.

    • As someone who has enjoyed riding touring through the Northern Rivers I do not know why you would question why anyone would not want to ride through either town. Anyone who has not toured on a bike would find it difficult to appreciate satisfaction we derive from the slow unwinding of the ever-changing landscape along say the Summerland Way with the anticipation at the end of a day’s riding of a return to civilization – Casino! It is difficult to give a sense to motorists of the trials but also the pleasures of the unfolding hillscapes of the North Coast, the glimpses of ocean, the challenge of a ride over the Burringbar, and the lovely leisurely cruise along the aromatic cane fields the Richmond or the Tweed. Try it and you might understand!
      On reinstating the trail line, If you read the relevant parts of Mayor of Byron Shire’s website you can see how existence of the rail corridor is undermining wholehearted support from “greens” for the much more immediate and viable public transport options outlined in the NR Transport Plan, such as the proposed new commuter bus routes from Lismore to Ballina and to the Bay. Similarity the supposedly green Byron Shire has done little compared with other councils in NSW to promote safer cycling and nothing that I am aware of to promote cycle tourism, which appears to be synonymous in the minds of many with rail trails I would also note that cycle tourism can be promoted and made safe in other ways than rail trails but they certainly have been successful elsewhere in attracting large numbers of people to this the greenest of tourism.

  3. what funny comments on here…… there is no way that asking for trains will result in the corridor being sold off. In my view, it would be an unmaintained bike-trail that would result in the corridor being closed and sold off. How will a so called ‘rail-trail’ be able to generate a revenue like trains can? It’s crazy to think that we should spend funding on a bike path that no one will use. Maybe if it went next to the track and have a train as well some people could use it…
    Everyone always forgets that the Gold Coast Motorail that ran on the line from 70s-90s actually DID make money. It was only when the Greiner government replaced that train with the Xpt that there was no longer a day time rail service between the towns and people stopped being able to use it properly. And so by 2004 the government had a good enough reason to close it instead of fixing the bridges like they should have.
    It will not cost ‘billions’ to get trains running on this line, much of it is in good condition, especially between Byron and Casino where there are a lot of steel sleepers in place.
    The train that will be running in Byron from Sunrise later this year is only a 3km but it has still shown that it wouldn’t cost too much to restore the tracks for trains. And it also shows that TOOT HAS MADE PROGRESS. We wouldnt be getting a train if TOOT didn’t keep stopping them from ripping up the tracks!

    • Angie A few comments. The feasibility study into the rail trail shows, based on the experience of Victoria, the rail trail will contribute to the local economy. Again based on the Victorian experience it suggested tens of thousands of people would use it. Do you have some data or other valid reason to suggest that a trail in a tourist area, just south of a city of three million people would not be popular? And why would you suggest that the trail would not be maintained – if you head down to Ballina you can ride on a great network of paths, maintained in that case by a Council that actually takes action to support active transport. In respect of revenue that a train would generate, it is not unreasonable to publicly fund public transport as a service to those thar cannot use cars, but NSW trains run at a very heavy loss. In respect of the cost of restoration of the rail, comparing the cost of the current restoration with that of restoring the overall line for use by NSW Rail is a bit like comparing the cost of the Lions road to Beaudesert with the cost of building the M1. Unless we have a better qualified opinion that questions Arup’s estimates then it would be most unwise to ignore them. The figures given of billions have been suggested to link the refurbished line to the narrow gauge QLD network. The Sustain Northern Rivers Transport Survey found the main barrier to using public transport as not the lack of a train – that was an issue for only 9% of recipients – but rather service provision like frequency of service (39.5%), service unavailability (34.2%), timetabling constraints (30.6%), inconvenience (28.5%), long waiting times (25.2%). Applying some measure of subsidy to an improved “clock-face” bus service would more economically and sustainably address these issues, and would do so for the growing areas where the greatest number of transport disadvantaged people live (the Ballina and Tweed Coasts), while still giving a better service than any rail-based system can to those along the old line. What is lacking is the political will, particularly from the Greens and from the Byron Shire, to deliver better public transport.

      • Petrus you nearly answered your own question there. Do you really expect the local councils to be able to maintain a bike path when they can’t even maintain our roads? We are talking about a bike path that is for Tourism, not for local people to use to get around. Trains do have a revenue which goes back into maintaining the service. Like I said, the Gold Coast Motorail that ran on the line DID MAKE MONEY. Ask anyone that used to work on the railway. It cost $11 mill a year to operate and made $22 mill per year. That’s a profit. But then the government closed it so that roads could become the focus.
        And no I do not agree with the Arup report. They left a lot of things out like toilets and rest areas. And how do you know that the quote of ‘Billions’ was for upgrading the line from NSW gauge to QLD gauge?
        And as for improving the buses, they will never be appropriate for the people in our region who have disabilities and are unable to use the buses. Train would be far more suitable for people with mobility issues such as elderly and wheelchairs. To deny the most vulnerable people in our community decent public transport which suits their needs, and tell them to catch a bus instead, is a disgrace.

        • Angie
          Some comments on yours. In respect of the roads and rail trail maintenance there are lot of factors in their maintenance, but speed and weight of vehicles are the main ones. Bikes are light and slow and their infrastructure is cheap to maintain. These factors were considered in the feasibility study. On toilets – do you really think that issue is going to skew the feasibility of the project? Bear in mind that servicing cyclists is not like servicing train users – cyclists can deviate from the trail to access nearby attractions and facilities, particularly if they are well sign-posted. As to whether Councils maintain roads, that depends on the Council – some like the Ballina council do a reasonable job; some others in the region do not do it so well. The cost benefit justification for the path was for tourism. Normally though these facilities are also popular with locals for transport, sport and pleasure – the ones in Canberra are widely used by both groups. On the feasibility of rail l. In any public expenditure it is normal practice to seek expert opinion on which to base the feasibility of your spending. The normal process is to use your in-house expertise to select a qualified contractor and to have their work peer reviewed. Sometimes the process gets it wrong but it remains the best way to ensure large investments are not wasted. Anyone who works in public spending will know it is common for people to deny these feasibility exercises but it is generally because they do not want to accept the assessment. The danger is then that they apply political pressure to fund regardless of the feasibility and, as I note elsewhere, the Grattan Institute has been scathing in its recent report on politically motivated roads and other infrastructure spending like the Canberra light rail. Of course the rail feasibility did not consider Len’s all important social aspect that you apparently agree with – I wonder what value a feasibility should put on that and wonder too at the willingness of other NSW residents to finance the socializing of North Coast residents. More seriously, though do you have access to any professional opinion that would put the estimates and the overall assessment of the costs and benefits of the railway, not as it once existed but in recent times, that would show it is a better investment than improving the bus services? Do you similarly have available a better informed professional view that questions the similar assessments in the Tweed transport plan? I note here the billions I referred to would be the cost of refurbishing the line, linking it to the Gold Coast and providing a rail service to the larger centres of population, particularity older population in the Tweed coast and Ballina Shire (or is it somehow not a disgrace to offer us bus transport?). The point about the gauge is that even if you were to link rail with QLD you would still not have a through service without a vastly greater spending on line or dual width rolling stock. I note also you raise mobility issues in respect of bus use. This is a legitimate point that needs to be better addressed in bus-based transport in Australia. In Canberra the buses accommodate wheelchairs – and also bikes – but I have yet to see us match Britain where you can travel on buses with mobility scooters. Many elderly people do travel by bus in Canberra but in found recently in Japan there many more very old people on them and they expect to stand up! I am not wedded to any platform but have tried to point out the analyses that have been done on transport in the region. What is a disgrace is the inaction in implementing immediately available improvements to transport, and with it accessibility for a much wider range of non-car users around the region, by the party that you would expect to be promoting public transport and the Council in which they hold the most sway.

    • The proposed train that probably won’t end up running 30 times a day right behind many residents’ backyards has not been shown in any way to make a return. No financial assessment has been made public, if there is any such thing. The organisation set up to run it is a not-for-profit, completely separate from its sponsor, Elements, and that’s probably because Elements does not want the train losses to be carried by Elements (which may have its own financial problems). If the State wants to return a public transport train option to the northern rivers, it should do a realistic assessment of costs, patronage and returns. Some think it already has done so, others refuse to accept the enormous subsidies required for train travel even in a city of 5 million like Sydney. There is no way a pasenger train service from Casino to Murwillumbah could pay its way, even if it only ran once a day – and then it wouldn’t be a realistic passenger service. It has nothing to do with local government either. They are not going to be able to support a passenger train service financially, and rah-rah doesn’t help anything.

  4. Solar powered electric light rail is the way to go. A great investment for the future. Save pollution emissions; wonderful public transport; connecting to Gold Coast light rail. Rail trail has too many problems. e.g. Do all neighbours have to fence their properties from trail? Rubbish. toilets etc.

    • If we cannot solve the problems of fencing, rubbish and toilets with the rail trail heaven help us were we try to implement a rail project that would cost many hundreds of millions of dollars! The Murwillumbah Casino Corridor Study and particularly the Tweed Shire transport study will explain to you why it would be a very poor investment. Interestingly the Grattan Institute has lashed out at these sorts of politically driven uneconomic Australian infrastructure projects, mainly road projects, but also the Canberra light rail which will serve a much denser population than the North Rivers rail line (but does little that buses could not do for a fraction of the cost),

  5. There are hundreds of seniors who cannot ride bikes & why should they when a leisurely train ride is far superior. There need not be 1 train a day, consider on weekends a return trip by steam train down to Byron as a day out. Maybe finding a way to incorporate stops along the way to visit galleries etc. What a tourist boon.

  6. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, some of the co-benefits from reduced road traffic are reduced air emissions associated with less fuel use, reduced congestion, fewer traffic crashes, less noise and less road damage. Adding to this the inherent benefits for locals and tourism of a train service, I think that the NRRAG initiative deserves our full support.

  7. I look forward to the day we can catch a train or choose to ride a bike on the combined rail trail to Byron. Whatever issues that need to be addressed to make this happen – bring it on!! The long term benefits to the community will make whatever it costs worthwhile.

  8. How will a rail trail make money compared to a train?
    Federal and State governments are investing in Light Rail on the Gold Coast where there is money. Money that the population is to spend in travelling and commuting. It is for work and tourism and commuter travel and even scenic travel to beaches and to business.
    Is the Federal Turnbull government investing in Rail Trails? No, But they are to invest in Fast Rail of many many Billions of dollars from Brisbane to Melbourne.
    Ask the National Party’s Barnaby Joyce of how excited he feels about Fast Rail for the inland route to connect Melbourne to Brisbane via the Capital political city of Canberra.
    Meanwhile on the Gold Coast, light rail is for the transport of passengers and that is understandable with the amount of traffic on the Gold Coast Highway but heavy rail can transport freight, and that means “food”. If we want to make Australia the Food Bowl of the world then we stick to heavy rail and get the trucks off the road. The Train is the transport of the future as it is less polluting than road transport and trucks. With the increase in traffic, truck crashes will increase.
    In the future there will be more stringent restrictions on pollution, so cars will be electrified. Electric cars and that means in the country we will have electric trains. And what is wrong with an electric train from Casino to Murwillumbah.
    One of the attractions of the Casino to Murwillumbah train was the social aspect as you can talk but have a look what people do on a bus. They don’t talk to each other because of the bends and the brakes and the stops. It is just not the same way to travel. Train travel is about socialising and that is so much more than money and in being transported from A to B. It is about LIVING and getting to know the person who is travelling with you.

  9. Keeping the rail corridor in public ownership is a high priority. Whether the Rail Trail proposal is the best way to do that or not is debatable.

    If it is going to cost $13.4 million for the Rail Trail section from Murwillumbah to the Art Gallery, you have to wonder what the total cost of the project from Murwillumbah to Lismore will be. It might be cheaper to just bring back the train!

    When the Rail Trail is prioritised by Councillors ahead of local roads and sporting facilities for our kids you have to wonder.

    It might be better value to reinstate sections of the rail line. Sections from Byron to Murwillumbah or Lismore to Byron might be viable.

    If we want to look forward – then I would also suggest that we look at a “light rail trail” North from Murwillumbah towards the Gold Coast and from the Tweed down through the Coastal villages.

    Michael McNamara
    For Liveable Communities
    Tweed Shire Group I

    • YES! THANK YOU! Finally someone speaking some sense! I agree with you Micheal. $13 million for a glorified pathway is nothing more than an obscene waste of money. Nobody will use it, and it will then become unused and the corridor will then be most definitely sold off. The ONLY way the corridor can remain safe in public hands is in the form of a railway line. The Transport Administration Act boasts the strongest protection for railways in Australia, and possibly even the Southern Hemisphere. If the Rail Trail Bill is passed, it means there is no such protection surrounding the corridor, placing it at extreme risk of sell off. There seems to be misinformation spreading regarding this but that is the truth.

      • Gary You constantly refer to the protections afforded by the Act to the rail corridor suggesting a trail would prejudice those protection. Could you explain what has happened to the corridor for the Booyong Ballina line? I understand it is no loner there; was there a rail trail built along it ?

        • No. But look at it now Petrus, land sold and almost untraceable. That is what happens when lines are formally closed. The existing Murbah rail line is ‘service suspended’ so it is not formally closed and protected by legislation. For a rail trail to be built, the rail line must be formally closed thus it would likely end up like the Ballina Branch, land sold and alignment untraceable after the struggling rail trail is running at a loss and is expensive to maintain and is subsequently closed.

          • My point of course Gary is that any rail corridor can be closed and sold off, and it is more likely to happen if the corridor is not use. Building a rail trail will provide a measure of “use that will help protect its existence for future transport purposes along its length such as rail or bus way use..

  10. If anyone has not made progress here, it is the NRRT. The NRRT have showed no signs of wanting to work with anyone on a rail beside trail option. Their funding bid of 2015 was a disaster, and they are struggling to get the community support like TOOT does. Without the efforts of TOOT and NRRAG, the NRRT would cease to exist as there would be no railway line to convert to a pathway, and the railway line would have been sold off years ago. Despite the NRRT’s tactics we must realise TOOT and the NRRAG are the true saviours of the rail line, because if not for their lobbying, there would be nothing left today. The NRRT also still have to pass their rail trail bill and get and act of parliament to close down the Casino – Murwillumbah railway line forever before they can make their rail trail. And all this for what? A lonley pathway? What will happen in emergencies? I don’t think the $700,000 in maintenance funds will be enough to maintain the aggressive weeds, bitumen pathway, contaminants, bridges, extensive fencing etc. All of this adds up and if the rail trail mob don’t replace the timber bridges, that in itself could exhaust $700,000 in no time at all. With an aging population, most of the Northern Rivers residents are elderly, so I’m not sure how many people will be using a rail trail.

    Although trains on the other hand would be extremely useful for our elders, the disabled, tourists and also those who just want to get around. As people have said, the NRRAG campaign deserves our full support. We will get there.

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