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September 28, 2021

Rail trail group backflips on Byron Line proposal

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An old bridge section of the disused Murwillumbah rail line.
An old bridge section of the disused Murwillumbah rail line.

Hans Lovejoy

Northern Rivers Rail Trail (NRRT) have reneged on plans to co-operate with re-elected mayor Simon Richardson and rail advocate group Trains On Our Tracks (TOOT) for a shared multi-modal use of the disused Byron Shire section of the railway.

Mayor Richardson convened a public meeting on August 25 between the two opposing parties, with all agreeing to explore the possibility of shared use and a feasibility study.

And while the ‘Byron Line’ proposal was presented as an opportunity to work for a common goal, it did not include funding from either government or the private sector.

A press release by NRRT now accuses mayor Simon Richardson of saying he would support their plans for a rail trail from Billinudgel to Crabbes Creek, but voted against the idea at the last council meeting.

That council meeting was on the same day as the Byron Line meeting.

It reads, ‘Simon [Richardson’s] actions have given us no choice but to withdraw our co-operation with the Byron Line proposal. NRRT fear the Byron Line proposal will result in [the] sale of the corridor to private interests.’

NRRT’s decision to reject collaboration comes just after a press release from Don Page, a former NSW National Party MP, who is now chair of the northern rivers Regional Development Australia (RDA).

He threatened the electorate by claiming any attempt to find unity and a shared use will result in the infrastructure being sold off.

Mr Page said, ‘The northern rivers region needs a united commitment to the rail trail uncontaminated by unrealistic ideas that will only ever serve to undermine a viable rail trail.’

‘If the region can’t agree to support the rail trail, it’s inevitable sections of the corridor would be sold off. It’s a case of use it or lose it!’

Mayor Simon Richardson told The Echo, ‘It is well known that Don Page is a long-term supporter of a sole rail trail solution for our rail corridor, which would negate the possibility of any other transport options such as a rail shuttle – which our community clearly wants.’

‘It concerns me that his statement suggests he hasn’t read the Byron Line proposal. The purpose of the document was to put all the options on the table with the view of creating a fully costed proposal which we can put to the state government with the backing of the entire community.

Not shovel ready

‘The solo rail trail option was unsuccessful in receiving state funding so it’s not shovel ready. It’s clear the government wants Byron Shire to come back with a fully costed option for activating the rail corridor that unites instead of divides our community.’

The Echo asked Mr Page to respond to Cr Basil Cameron’s claims the rail study on which he relies upon is flawed.

Mr Page replied, ‘It was not flawed. It simply didn’t deliver the conclusion he was hoping for. It specifically covered the public transport needs of the region.

‘It studied the whole track. From an engineering perspective I’ve been consistently advised that heavy and light rail require a similar high level of safety which doesn’t vary much regarding bridges etc.’

‘The study was comprehensive and gave the community and the government the facts and figures needed to know if rail was viable.

‘The study clearly states it’s not viable. On the other hand, a subsequent study that looked at rail trail viability said it clearly was.’

Mr Page did not reply to why the study excluded examining the effects of the Shire’s 1.3 million or so yearly visitors.

The Echo also asked Mr Page that given his statements claiming the railway would be sold off if a rail trail is not established, ‘does that indicate that the Baird government can’t be trusted with public assets?’

He replied, ‘Governments of all complexions regularly require government agencies to report on assets they own that are surplus to requirements.’

‘Surplus assets are sold or leased and the proceeds used to build new schools, hospitals and the like to meet demand.

‘We have a disused asset that’s been sitting there for more than 12 years.

‘Don’t you think it’s time to do something viable with it to keep it in public ownership?

‘I do. If rail ever becomes viable in the distant future the infrastructure needed will be different from the decayed infrastructure we have now in any event.

‘We can have the best rail trail in the world if we all get behind it and stop using spoiling tactics promoting uncosted, unfunded, unrealistic and unviable proposals that only generate false hope and jeopardise a very sensible low-impact and job-creating rail trail through our region.

‘Sitting on the fence and pretending you can have it both ways does not display leadership.’


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13 COMMENTS

  1. That’s why it is so difficult to trust the rail trail people. It seems like short term manovering on their side. What more than the election results do we need to show the desire for some intelligent debate. Don Page knows, that there is a 15 year time frame on disused rail lines in NRW, before a sell off can be considered unless changes to the act.. So there is ample time to come up with some real proposals. To compare the Rai Trail Study with the Rail study is the lowest of deception. The Rail Trail study was using overblown benefits from tourists, while the rail study showed none. The Rail Trail study used fictive economic indirect benefits for the region, the rail study used none. It has to be asked, what role the Reginal Development Agency plays, of which Don Page is the publicly founded chair, but unelected. 5 of nine board members have direct or indirect real estate interests, This group seems to try to wield undue influence in the region and needs to be scrutinized.

    • Jens, good luck with your scrutiny aspirations!

      All you’ll find is a bunch of people dedicated to doing something constructive with the corridor, for the real benefit of the community.

      Love him or hate him, Don Page is completely and absolutely on top of this issue.

      If you have any problems understanding this issue, then please read this article again, and again, until it makes sense to you.

      I have no further comment to make, except to highlight the fact that the NSW government will ONLY contemplate funding a non track based, proposal. QED

      To Simon Richardson, I’d say this; that the NRRT failed the first time, because it was given erroneous advice from the NSW govt. to seek all EOI (Expressions Of Interest) from all interested parties, which the NRRT dutifully undertook, and that Simon’s multi-modal push, fatally exacerbated this erroneous instruction further.

      So really, it IS Rail Trail or NOTHING.

      Until the community reaches this conclusion amicably, and forces the Greens council to get Green on this issue, we’ll all get NOTHING.

      THEN, the selloff will be imminent.

      It’s up to the community to decide. So let’s get lobbying, all …

  2. I would love for the transport corridor through the middle of our shire to be a rail trail with light rail too. My Ebike is my transport so why wouldn’t I, along with many people in our shire who currently find our roads too dangerous, but I wouldn’t like the rail trail to be dependant on the light rail capacity.
    However, in the event of rail trail only, I would like to know who expects the massive economic windfall of selling the steel.

    • I don’t think the proposed study would make the rail and trail dependent of each other, just find the feasibility. And I don’t think there would be much return from the sale of the steel either, not enough to cover the cost of a bike trail thats for sure.

  3. A few corrections on this article.
    Nrrt Inc. made the decision to not actively support the mayor’s Byron Line a week before Don Page’s media release- not immediately afterwards.
    Nrrt did not “accuse” the mayor of anything but stated facts.

  4. Just how can Don Page’s call be serious when the community has rallied around Byron Mayor Simon Richardson and completely devastated the vote of prodevelopment councillor Rose Wanchap. To pull up the rail line, and sell off the steel and sell the corridor could demolish the National Party on the north coast. The steel in a rail line is a special blend and made to last. You are looking at steel that has lasted 122 years. That is a lot of money as the steel has lasted since 1894. Our future 12 submarines made from Australian steel is costing $50 billion.

  5. [Corrected] I placed a submission to an ‘enquiry’ by the NSW government, basically about the problems many people are having in accessing our needs in rural and regional areas since NSW state governments reduction of regional rail services since the 80s Greiner government. How cynical can Don Page be when he pre-empts a conclusion that his government will nor reintroduce rail transport. Is it a case that any enquiry, study or whatever will reflect not just what the government wants, but what wealthy private corporations want, either in oil, motoring, trucking and road construction areas, or land developers?
    Are the people in the Northern Rivers so parochial; isolated from one another that they don’t ever look at Newcastle? Understand this; what the state government is spending of taxpayers money – i.e. $460million to destroy Newcastle CBD hopes of direct express rail services to Sydney, is more than enough to fix the whole Casino-Murwillumbah line and run services from Muwillumbah to Brisbane and Coffs Harbour. It’s estimated that all private construction, whether for rail or road works are triple the cost of directly employing a sustainable, local workforce in the manner of government rail or road departments before privitisation took over.
    At the start of the Arap study there is a disclaimer, and they are honest with their shortcomings. It says that its primary source of interviews were in Ballina and the Tweed Coast; [where the least people would consider immediate use of rail services on only the Casino-Murwillumbah line.] It also says that 40% of the Northern Rivers population would have good access to the line [which isn’t that bad really], however that would not include people from Kyogle and Grafton areas that have access to the main Sydney-Brisbane line who also would like to access the line expecially to Lismore and the coast, bringing this closer to 60%. Even then we could still connect Ballina and Tweed to the line by buses etc, especially with future rail extensions.
    And it omitted the huge number of visitors to the region, too.
    The 2004 PricewaterhouseCoopers study made a comprehensive study of several frequencies of rail services and found that rail services were quite feasible. People make assumptions that rail services must pay for themselves, but are our hospitals feasible? Aren’t rail services around Sydney subsidised? The increasing near-empty bus services, the IPTAAS petrol subsidies, etc. all cost taxpayers quite a bit, not to mention the many problems that could be alleviated in our disconnected communities.
    The main ‘furphy’ is the one that no-one seems to consider. Arap admits that there is a great deal of need for a comprehensive transport system in the Northern Rivers, yet it does not come up with a solution! Putting on more buses, traffic congestion, road accidents, as well as causing higher carbon levels is no solution to the people who need appropriate services, the huge visiting or ‘through’ volume on the roads etc.
    There are hundreds of people who cannot use a bus-only mode of public transport, and its condescending to think that people in wheelchairs etc. only need to go to medical appointments. While many people are happy to use a bus for a 20-30 minute ride, any configuration of buses does not suit a great number of people needing to travel across the region or into Queensland etc. There’s a large number of people who you will just not see at the Channon markets too. With over 25% of the population over 60, take a look around, how many people with their seeing-eye dogs, and heaps more that find it just too difficult. At least with rail there are many markets and other places very accessable by rail. It is an injustice that a great part of the community do not have equal access to everything, from work to education etc.
    There is a site: Equitable Transport & Disability Support Network that attempts to bridge this gap in the community.

  6. 2004 the train had its last voyage , 2016 and the line is still ‘out of service ‘ except for 3km near Byron Bay. The cost for this novelty tourist train trip is $1 per kilometre, about the same cost as the Puffing Billy tourist train in Victoria. Novelty trains are expensive to travel on even with government subsidies , Puffing Billy passengers are subsidised to the tune of $7.85 average for a 40km track length.
    Now to get down to the fine detail – TOOTs aka Twiddling Of Our Thumbs has had 12 years to contact the shires of Byron,Ballina ,Lismore and Richmond to ask them to implement a Transport Strategy like Tweed Shire (attached link)
    http://www.tweed.nsw.gov.au/Download.aspx?Path=~/Documents/Community/Transportation/TSC01557_Public_Transport_Strategy_Report.pdf

    Without a strategy document how can TOOTs be taken seriously by our state government when asking for the train to reinstated. Waving placards , pleading ‘corrupt ARUP report’ and letters without substance has left us with NO TRAIN and NO RAIL TRAIL .
    NRRT come on the scene circa 2012 after 8 years of TOOTs ineffective use of time and resources with no result. NRRT had given Twiddling Of Our Thumbs an 8 year head start to use the right channels and gather the correct and useful information to take to the state government , but no they carried lanterns,put on fairy wings, waved placards and didn’t do any research!
    Twinkies On Our Track need to look at who is running their show and look for some professional guidance .
    Senator Lee Rhiannon came with great fanfare and left without a murmur except for a ‘pat on the back’ to give encouragement. Lee has left TOOTs hanging waiting in dispair and looking for guidance , non of which has arrived.

    Now we need to look at the rail line that is within the coastal erosion and planned retreat zone at Byron Bay.
    TOOTs and NRRAG need to start looking at protecting this ‘critical infrastructure ‘ between First Sun Caravan Park and Border St at the Belongil. No government will risk the railway line being broken so a rock wall will need to installed to protect this part of the line . Follow the link to see what is required-

    https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1790475054562930&id=1789782814632154&substory_index=0

    And if you want some information about railways and how to get people out of cars and freight off our roads it will require a well thought out route , only parts of the Northern Rivers line will do this .

    https://www.facebook.com/northernriversrailway/posts/1738998856364570:0

    So come on Twiddling Of Our Thumbs , stop wasting time making placards , stop wasting time making fairy wings and get some professional backing to give the people of the Northern Rivers a true train system that will get people out of cars and freight off our roads , a train that the Tweed Shire Council has already stated should follow the Pacific Highway all the way to Ballina and across to Lismore .

  7. So, if the Greens want to save the railway line for various uses that they can’t agree on, they will have to put a rock wall on the seaside of the line to protect the asset which is in the 50 year erosion zone.

    It’s going to be an interesting 4 years.

  8. Insightful reading. Given the multiple stakeholders in this process and diverse ideological platforms – is there a critical realistic pragmatic outcome – sane sensible one available? Outcomes should ensure added value nil loss and mutual compromises. No one group should be entitled or given privy to diminishing another’s desired outcomes. A local train – rail service will never happen this century…it be great to have Lismore and the likes linked with regular inter and intrastate rail services. The romance of rail travel travelling through god’s own country..lol

  9. Geoff Bensley is making some sense here, but we should not be too hard on the people of the Northern Rivers. School curriculum in Australia has never been big on Logic, and many people including some local councillors have no maths skills, many can’t differentiate between $1million and $1billlion, it’s just a lot of money to some people and I’ve heard one council has a debt of nearly $80million? Or did someone just guess that? Hopefully we will be having better councillors [in the majority of each council] who will actually represent the interests of the community and not their enthusiasm for long-distance cycling.

    There must be something better than NOROC, and hopefully this time, the 7 dwarves will unite into something that will stand up to the state, and find out why there were these councillors who voted against direct funding to the councils! It is obvious that there are hundreds of people that need equitable transport. Tourists too are not enamoured by competing, disconnected bus services that take all day to get people somewhere, with nothing to get you back in the evening! When the 2018 Commonwealth Games is upon us, and at the Gold Coast airport, people are told that rail has been ripped up in the 60s, is slowly trying to return from the 90s in one direction, maybe halfway down from Southport, and totally pruned to Casino, the only thought could be Australia is backward. For some reason, Australians seem complacent in letting their country go to giants/profiteering corporations. Pauline is half right; Australia is being sold off, but it’s to anyone that the government wants to do business with, not just foreigners! How can anyone vote for someone who offers more taxes to the poor and cuts for the rich, and what is it that trickles down?

    Come on Australia, get smart! The Nationals are starting to realise that a vote for a Nat is a vote for Mal. We have to vote for a plebiscite party, i.e. one that allows the Northern Rivers people to have a say in their region. It’s been going on long enough. Sydney cares not for the states Outer Limits. Councils will have to vote for direct federal funding, and join over matters that matter the region, in the environment, land development, and its infrastructure including transport. If the Greens are good enough to come up and visit us,[How often have Gladdys and Mike done that?] let’s ask them for a free education in self deliberation, how to set up a non-profit nongovernment entity and how to fund ourselves etc.

    It’s a catch 22; we need proper transport to free us to go beyond our little LGA worlds to organise this. People with disabilities have no voice in grass roots democracy when they can’t come a few miles for an evening meeting in a neighbouring town. Did Lismore council candidates ever recognise that people come from other LGA for Lismore’s assortment of amenities? Do Byron councillors realise that people in the west may need to get to the beach? Will Tweed candidates realise that the best villages for real estate are the ones with a train into work, school and shops or into Byron with Byron Tourists wanting to go to Murwillumbah for a trek to Wollumbin? Richmond candidates don’t think of the railway line being important for Lismore, and the Clarence is never even thought of by anyone! Its odd isn’t that the most positive candidates for rail that NRRAG found were from Ballina [apart from the new Byron Five].

    Lets work on the Tweed candidates. This time NRRAG, give them a short page [people don’t read much these days= they like pictures] and be very specific. Do you want rails or trails? We must fight against threats from bullies.

  10. The Tweed Council has a Transport Plan that outlines in priorities and how best to meet them. It found the cost associated with building rail were not worthwhile and the area was better served by bus services, and particularity in the medium term by by a rapid bus service on the Tweed Coast. This is consistent with the Regional Transport Plan. The Grattan Institute has been rightly scathing of governments funding uneconomic infrastructure projects in response to parochial political pressure. So is it not better to support the the Tweed Council which has done the strategic planning first and needs to be following through on tis own recommendations by working towards RBT down the coast, and more frequent bus services to Murwillumbah and elsewhere in the Shire? I note your final comment on the support of Ballina candidates. Perhaps the Ballina candidates ought to have spent more time considering Ballina’s needs, and how Ballina fits into regional transport planning – the Greens did not even have a policy for public transport or cycling for the Shire beyond a warm fussy statement of support. Ballina is at the centre of the populous Lismore Plateau Ballina Lennox Byron Bay crescent, hosts the key domestic gateway to the Southern Northern Rivers including the Bay and Lismore, and as the Pacific Highway reduplication is completed and Grafton bypassed will be the main focus for bus travel South through Coffs. Instead of “working” on candidates to support one transport mode on one route, I would urge readers to press councils and the State government to bring to fruition the recommendations of the regional and their municipal or shire plans and give the elderly, disabled, unemployed, environmentally aware and others who want more frequent, better coordinated and timetabled public transport that is also better enabled for the disabled and cyclists, as proposed in those plans

  11. We can get each of the stations to be a battery recharge center or exchange. Pedicabs could do shuttle runs within a 5 k radius. Lots of people would love the opportunity to get off the trail and pedal up to the grocery store,then pedal to the near by park have a picnic and return to home in a great safe way. Businesses can pay a little monthly fee for allowing them to advertise at the stations. This might be enough to help pay for a position to manage each station. Why do the train people wait until the last moment to start another study, waste more money until they can buy the version that they want. The greenist transport system ever invented isn’t supported by our “green “council and we’re all the worse off for that.

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