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Byron Shire
February 4, 2023

The common path may be the rail answer

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Like so many others, I love the feel of train travel and in the olden days could book my car, get a sleeper and rattle along to Sydney from Murwillumbah. Arriving refreshed in the morning, I unloaded my car. It was truly a great service at a good price.

On a recent trip to England, I had a couple of realisations. The first was the very high cost of rail travel. It was cheaper to go from London to Edinburgh by air. I haven’t seen any discussion around the ticket cost of the local train.

Railway technology is very old, starting in the 1830s. That’s even before cars and steamboats and it needs heavy infrastructure. It is still successful for long haul, high density, heavy traffic, so to bring back the local rattler must be the stuff of dreams.

I need to politely refute Louise Doran’s ‘couple of cyclists so bloody minded’ as I am one of many who would use this beautiful graded country path. I am a retired doctor, healthy at over 70 and I want to stay that way but I will not risk my life cycling on the roads.

The other realisation from the ‘olde country’ is the profusion of traditional common paths through the entire land. In contrast, the Aboriginal ancestral songlines have been brutally crossed by taut barbed wire.

This overgrown line is our only chance for a traffic free common path between the settlements of our region. I would love to see both but feel that a choice is necessary.

While we bicker, developers are rubbing their palms.

The local train is dead. Long live our common path.

David Miller  Brunswick Heads


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  1. No one is calling for the return of ‘the old rattler. Things have move on and people in Europe, England, Japan and Sydney would question the analogy of ‘rail is very old technology’ as countries and cities would not function without it.

    It’s taken many decades for the Queensland government to realise ripping up the Gold Coast Line was a disaster and are now spending BILLIONS to replace it. While we still have a corridor repairing the line with modern machinery is a doddle-as shown in Byron where a train will be running soon. Unlike the $75m bike path it will be accessible to all. People will be able to take their bicycles, prams, wheelchairs and surf boards on it.

    The enviromental, economic and social cost of building and maintaining more roads is far too great-many more billions than repairing the Casino to Murwillumbah line and building the 22ks connection to Coolangatta.

    People seem unable or unwilling to see cars are ruining our environment and quality of life.

    If so many people want rail trails why are there so few cyclists on the wonderful cycle paths around the Northern Rivers? Ditto the photos of the so called ‘wonderful rail trails’ being sent back from NZ-empty.

    Why does the valuable train line need to be ripped up for a cycleway when one can be placed along side?

    • Because nobody is willing to throw $1 billion into the money pit! Connection to Coolangatta, including bridge over the Tweed River and massive urban resumptions through to the airport? How much would that cost? Would another $1 billion cover it? Who will pay the higher taxes to cover it?

  2. Interestingly in the nation famed for its trains Loiuse, Japan, more and more people are flying between major cities. Why? Because even with the large population to support very good train services in Japan air travel is cheaper after about 500kms. And hat is the problem with the train service here. It is not just about the debate about the costs of restoring the line. Who will pay the high recurrent costs of running a service in area that does not have a linear population of a million or more people who live along the Gold Coast line? Why should the oleo of NSW provide a highly subsidised rail service to one of the wealthiest councils areas in the state, simply because they have a long history of lobbying and protest, when there are other higher priority transport needs around the State. Would the people of the Byron Shire and bordering council areas be willing to wear the hundred of dollars of additional rates that would be needed to run commuter services, particularly when historic usage patterns and the recent survey on public transport indicate that the presence of a train is not a prime factor that would shift people from cars to public transport ? And the myth of empty cycle paths continues. The suggestion that cycle paths are empty are commonly made by drivers who are impressed by the large impact on the senses by cars – while cycles quietly use the paths without disturbing those around them. When I look down my street in Cimbalum most days, most times the footpath is not being used. But do we expect peopel to walk in danger on the street because most footpaths are empty much of the time? All of the evidence in Australia and internationally is that well designed paths integrated with other cycle infrastructure are well sued, and the presence of off road cycle paths are the main factor in increasing cycling participation . bringing about very good health economic and social inclusion benefits . The rail trail will not be accessible to all but I do not know any reason why around 90% of the population from 8 to 88 would not be able to use it. The experience elsewhere in Australia suggests that about half the population never cycle, but if a safe enjoyable off road path is available nearby that leaves about half of that population as potential users.

  3. http://www.railinnovation.com.au/research/downloads/1206-RailCRC-P24-IndReport.pdf
    So do you reinstate the ‘steam age alignment ‘ railway line on the Northern Rivers branch line or do you extend the straight and fast Brisbane to Gold Coast railway line along the existing motorway corridor to Ballina ?
    The existing railway corridor between Lismore and Murwillumbah will keep trains at sub 80km/hr speed for another 125 years , what better way to keep people in cars and freight on the highways.
    Take off your blinkers Louise and realise that getting people onto public transport takes more than just reinstating an 1893 designed railway line , people need a reason to get out of cars and supplying a slow and winding train won’t cut the mustard.

  4. I think you are all forgetting the fact that trains are coming back to Byron Bay for much less than anybody, including rail trail supporters said it would be…

    • I support this train, it would be a great attraction for Byron Bay provided it is actually powered by the sun. The feel good factor just might get it over the line. I applaud the Flannerys’ transition from their former non-renewable mining business to sustainable tourism, they even seem willing to put some money into public infrastructure. I guess there is such a thing as “green washing” coal money, but good on them, even if their self-interest is glaringly apparent.
      Gary, would you expect to repeat this funding model elsewhere on the corridor? Which mining magnate do you think would take it on? Or, where else might you seek private funding, given that no government will touch it! You say “commuter train”, though it will never travel at commuter speeds; you say “connected to Coolangatta Airport” even though the bill would rise beyond $2 billion including a bridge over the Tweed River and land resumptions in densely populated urban zones, let alone that the Queensland side seems bogged down indefinitely at Varsity Lakes with no sign of the extension to the airport ever being undertaken.
      How can you compare the 3 kilometres of track in Byron bay, with no serious drainage problems, 1 small bridge and no rising clay sediments to contaminate the substrate? Most of the line would need to be completely rebuilt for a safe train to run at commuter speeds (remember the Waterfall disaster?). The government would never accept the risk of allowing a passenger train to travel over many of the old trestle bridges, and much of the track, so your job on the cheap will never happen. It will cost $1 billion and the costs are rising as each year passes.

      • Oh right. So miraculously there’d be no drainage problems, no bridges to replace, no contamination and no trees to deal with if the line is ripped up for a cycleway!

        We know the cost of ripping up the line and replacing it with a hard surface suitable for a cycleway would be as expensive as repairing the line for a train service, without any of the benefit trains would bring the community.

        Where’s the corporation rushing to fund a cycleway?

        No sensible person would contemplate cycling for fun, to work, uni, or medical services in this weather

        But the Byron train will be running soon and passengers will be high and dry.

        • It is disappointing at what is a difficult time to read people tying to use the current weather situation to disparage cycling. As someone who saw the impact the 1954 floods had on our area, and started riding around the Bay just after then, I can assure that there are far more times when cycling in our region is a delight, and very few times when it cannot be done. I would also note that while the old flooding on the old Pacific Highway cuts off my home in Cumbalum from Ballina by car, any sensible person can to cycle to the shops on the bike path. In respect of the costs of the rail trail, these are described in the feasibility study, which I remind you, I have been given no credible reason to accept as other than a professional assessment. There is no reason to expect a corporation to fund it – are national park walks, or the footpaths in our towns, or our parks and gardens corporately funded? We are told that the objective of TOOTs supporters is to have to commuter trains running on the line; I have no objection as long as the heavy capital and recurrent costs are borne by the local ratepayers, and not by my State or Federal government. But I do not think the ratepayers of Lismore or Byron Shire would be willing to wear the hundred of dollars of additional rates to support such a service, when there is no convincing evidence that it would make more than a small contribution to relieving car traffic congestion in area. In the absence of any likelihood of ratepayers supporting commuter services than better to allow the corridor to be used for a well thought through rail trail .

      • It’s very obvious from the comments from cycleway supporters that their rhetoric about ‘ripping up the line for a cycleway is to save it for future trains’ is just so much spin.

        They go on to say ‘it will never happen’.

        The last thing they want to see is trains running, no matter how much we need them.

        • Returning the train would have no impact on the busiest commuter corridor in the region, Ballina to Lismore. That’s only ONE of the reasons why no government will touch it! Good luck finding private funding for anything more than the planned 3 kilometres. Looking forward to riding the shuttle this month?

    • Garry Ainsworth, yes there is a train returning to Byron Bay. A single Rail Motor operating on a 3km track. It is being run as a not for profit venture by a resort. Hardly a return to rail.
      The cost has not been disclosed, but as a not for profit venture, there is no requirement for the company operating it to make a profit, which probably says al lot about its viability as a business venture.

      • We know the cost of repairs to the line for the Byron train-just over $1m for 3 kilometers of line, not the $6m per kilometer the state gov claimed it would cost. No government run train services make a profit, they are a public service as are our schools, hospitals and roads. That’s what we pay taxes for.

        Traffic to the region will double in the next few years, our roads aren’t coping now-they won’t cope with twice the traffic.

        The Byron train is a small, but valuable start to the safe, sustainable rail service on the line the community and $2m tourists need.

    • I thought this train was supposed to be running by Easter? For such a short sexton of track it is taking a VERY long time as if I’m correct it was originally supposed to be up and running by December 2015?

  5. Casino to Murwillumbah infrastructure number crunching as supplied by the TS0002 TI Version 2 , July 1999.
    Tunnels – 9
    Under Bridges – 161
    Over Bridges – 17
    Level Crossings – 87

    So if there are any railway infrastructure engineers out there you may be able to shed some light on the enormous cost to reinstate an 1893 steam age alignment railway system that will keep us at sub 80km/hr for the next 125 years.
    Yes keeping people in cars will be so easy with the old corridor. Support Tweed Shire with their vision for a train system running parallel to the Pacific Highway , taking us into the future

    • Interestingly the North Coast Regional Plan 2036, while explicitly refers to the North Coast line – ie the main to Brisbane, The maps showing important movements in the area does not even show the Murbah to he Byron Shire – that is understandable as movements are now from the Tweed into the Gold Coast, and predominately along the coast. it makes no reference to the Casino Murwillumbah branch line. The maps showing important movements in the area does not even show the Murbah to he Byron Shire – that is understandable as movements are now from the Tweed into the Gold Coast, and predominately along the coast. That supports the analyses in the Northern Rivers’ and Tweed Shire’s transport plans, and accords with the Tweed’s vision you refer to Geoff (although I note that that is very long term). it makes no reference to the Casino Murwillumbah branch line.
      The Regional Plan is strategic document and it analysis on transport starts where it should – with people, and where they want to go. If you do care about trains and not people support the train to nowhere – well nowhere that more than a few people want to go. If you really care about people support economically and environmentally sustainable public transport improvements , like better buses and car pooling, and support peoples need for safe enjoyable recreation, on a rail trail and on touring routes that use safer speed controlled quieter roads..


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