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Byron Shire
February 5, 2023

Region needs trains for all, not rail trail for a few

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Letters – 1 February 2023

The Echo loves your letters and is proud to provide a community forum on the issues that matter most to our readers and the people of the NSW north coast. So don’t be a passive reader, send us your epistles.
The ‘grieving for the train’ that Will Jeffery notes in his letter is indeed strong and is not just ‘a minority, with romantic notions about historic trains’. The more than 17,000 people who have signed petitions in the last few years can’t believe that our region, being so very popular, is being deprived of viable public transport that truly serves the people – old, young, disabled, workers, students and travellers.
The rail trailers would have us pull up our still serviceable tracks when less than 10 per cent of Australians ride bikes and while 100 per cent can ride a train. It is well known that most rail trails in Victoria and even in New Zealand are not used by many people, in comparison to the millions who can potentially utilise a well-timetabled rail service.
Indeed, Will, the wrecking ball is being swung by the rail trailers as we could have it all but you have refused to work with those who want trains. Simon Richardson’s Friends of the Byron Line are working on a compromise that will serve all interests. We applaud their efforts and we continue to spread the word that the costs for an already existing line are far from impossible and the outcomes for our economy, ecology and people vastly outweigh a few bike riders’ private interests.
Lydia Kindred, Rosebank

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  1. Lydia Sadly you and others in the latest wave of letters from rail supporters just repeat the myths about cycling and the rail trail. It is not well known that” most rail trails in Victoria and even in New Zealand are not used by many people”. The usage on other paths is well documented in the feasibility study, which when challenged to do so, the rail supporters have not shown to be other than a professional assessment of its likely usage, costs and benefits. While fewer than ten percent of Australians commute, the proporttion who cycle at some time is around half. The main restraint for that 40 or so % who do not often cycle is the absence of safe infrastructure. In countries like Denmark and Holland with much less amenable weather, more than half of the populations cycles, as did that many Australians before cars rendered the roads built for bikes much less cycle-friendly. We do not know the percentage of people who would be willing to pay the $100 or more real cost of a train trip along the old corridor; based on the recent letters int he Echo I do know what the reaction would be in the Byron if rates were raised by hundreds of dollars a year to subsidize the cost to affordable levels. We know from transport surveys that even with subsidies any reduction on car use by a train service will be minimal – people are more concerned with timetabling then mode of travel which is a minor issue to potential users. Any major transfer from air travel to Sydney for example is unlikely when an airfare from Ballina or Coolangatta to Sydney would be less for most than the real cost of going by train to Casino. Finally the references to a “few” cyclists is firmly refuted in the feasibility study. The personal interests of those tens of thousand of cyclists, and also walkers, in healthful recreation is a legitimate basis for public spending; the public benefits in visitor spending are also well documented in the feasibility study.

  2. Yes we have heard this all before, now 17,000 signatures. How many petitions, where are they, why can’t we see them, how many people have signed more than once, are the petitions even valid? You state “It is well known that most rail trails in Victoria and even in New Zealand are not used by many people”. Unlike your claim, the exact opposite is in fact well documented. So sad that rail supporters blame the rail trail for killing off the train, the original Plan B proposal was only ever meant to be an alternative to ending up with nothing, but I suppose it is easier to lay the blame for the failure to achieve anything (that wasn’t paid for, out of self interest, with coal money) on something else rather than having an honest look at the dead horse you are flogging.

  3. I agree Lydia. Just because some cannot see past there noses, doesn’t mean we cannot and should not have access to basic needs. The region is only going to get bigger!

    • Gary You state that the region is only going to get bigger. But where is the population growing? The Byron Shire has had policies that discourage growth since the sixties. That has helped protect the environment and appeal of the region, but it does not deliver the sort of population growth that would support commuter rail services. The largest growth – which include many ageing people – has been on the Tweed Coast and along the Lismore-Ballina-Byron Bay crescent, not along he rail corridor, while other population growth in the region has been quite dispersed. If you “look past your nose”. if you consider where people are living, and are prepared to listen to people and what they told the survey on public transport, what people need and want is better timetabled services that go to where they live and want to go. People do have basic transport needs including those growing populations but those needs will not be served by a rail service that is nowhere near 60% of them. The region could however be served by better bus services, including those people on the corridor, and it could be done at less cost and provide a more comprehensive, better timetabled network to far more people.

  4. The concept of a rail trail is not solely one of a bike track. It is a recreational reserve available for use by anyone on any form of non motorised transport. The misnomer of it being a “cycling only” facility is one which has been spread by a minority of rail supporters.
    Every community has a recreational facility dedicated to a single use or limited purpose. E.G Golf course, swimming pool, cricket pitch, tennis courts, showgrounds, race courses, trotting tracks, netball courts etc,. They are all available for anyone to use, as long as it suits the purpose for which it was built. Try riding a horse on a golf course or cricket ground, or golf on a race course. There is no public outcry calling for funding to not be provided for these facilities because they are single or limited use facilities.
    Meanwhile, a rail trail will initially preserve the corridor for use as a railway if it becomes a financially viable proposal in the future. It will allow for many forms of passive use such as walking, running, nature walks, photography opportunities, opening up land and views that have been locked away from public use for many years. Of course it is a fact, cycling being an extremely healthy, energy efficient method of moving people across the face of the planet will become a major portion of its use. It will allow people to pursue a healthy form of exercise in a safe, car and truck free environment, an area where people of all levels of cycling skill can ride safely.
    It is likely to be many, many years, if ever, before a train service is restored to most of the 3,100 km of disused railway corridors in NSW, simply because they are not a viable option. So, in the meantime, why not embrace the tourist dollars that will flow from a rail trail.
    It is a well known fact that rail trails in other states and countries do attract significant numbers of tourists who tend to spend longer in an area than other types of tourist.
    It is also verifiable that bicycle counts on these tails are considerable. This link confirms numbers on the Murray to Mountains rail Trail between Wangaratta & Bright.

  5. Sorry to say but the last Rail Trail I went on was the Atherton Rail Trail without wearing lycra and without a bike . I ran and walked The along the trail. Schools have their cross country running events on them , kids ride along them and the mobility impaired take their electric carts on them.
    Throw out the lycra clad, Chardonnay sipping , latte drinking cycling image and reinstate with happy children running , elderly folk walking and talking , charity walks and linear artist trail.
    The majority of users are over 50 or school children , are they a minority group ?
    And who wants to give us a ‘steam age alignment ‘ railway line that will keep us at sub 80km/hrs for the next 125 years. Keeping people in cars and freight on the highways will be easy if the existing Lismore to Murwillumbah railway alignment is reinstated.
    The only solution is to keep rolling south with the Brisbane to Gold Coast train line along the motorway corridor to Ballina.
    Why connect the fast Brisbane to Gold Coast railway line to the slow and winding Lismore to Murwillumbah line ? Nobody will use it.

  6. Lydia, if you believe that not many people use rail trails, you haven’t checked the Otago Central Rail Trail website. You would see that 67 accommodation providers, 24 cafes and restaurants and 8 bicycle hire companies featured there. Common sense would tell you that business in tourism and hospitality is flourishing all along the rail trail.

  7. Down the opposite end of the state, there are many that would love a rail trail on the old Bombala line from Cooma. At the moment, the rail corridor has farmer’s fences crossing it so it isn’t possible to use for foot traffic. There are few towns from Cooma to Bombala and most with a population of a few hundred. Bombala itself just a little over 1200.

    It would never be possible to open a line that serves so few but the tourism potential can keep alive the remnants of our rail heritage.

    … and yes, you can walk a rail trail.

  8. This whole argument is a bit like gay marriage…we all know that one day it will be a reality but there are a small but vocal minority who will hold it up for ideological reasons.

    If we take off our blinkers and look at the facts it is clear that a return of the old train is not viable under any circumstances. Those who propose this idea are simply spoilers who would rather it was lost than lose the argument.

    The rational arguments so eloquently spelt out by the above contributors seem only to increase your determination to see the corridor lost.


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