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Byron Shire
May 16, 2021

Mur’bah-to-Casino rail line an asset we need

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Recent letters claiming the Casino to Murwillumbah train line is in such bad condition that trains will never return are wrong on both points.

Maintenance of line had been neglected for decades until accumulated repairs were needed. This is an age-old trick of governments allowing infrastructure to deteriorate, then using the cost of repairs as an excuse to close the service.

Most people are outraged at this neglect and deprivation of a necessary service, not justifying it. Despite the criminal neglect, most of the heavy-duty Casino-Murwillumbah line is in reasonable condition and does not need to be completely rebuilt.

The same correspondent tries to justify the actions of an incompetent Minister for (no) Transport (and mate of the notorious Eddie Obeid) who refused to come and talk to the Northern Rivers community about the transport needs of this fast growing tourist region.

In his ignorance he chose to close the only train service to the region, rather than provide the more cost effective, local commuter train service the community needed and was calling for.

Trains would have been running years ago if the Liberal/National government had kept their long standing promise ‘to get the trains running’.

Trains in the city and regional areas do not make a profit, they are a necessary taxpayer funded service as are schools and hospitals. Unlike roads and highways, which cost billions more to build and maintain, taxpayers do get a return from rail.

It’s beyond ludicrous to suggest the line should be ripped up as it only services eight of ten population areas. The line will again connect those towns and two million tourists to the main intercity line at Casino, and a much needed rail link to Coolangatta Airport.

With modern machinery the line could be repaired quickly and cheaply for a train service, as demonstrated in Byron, then locals and  tourists can once more travel to and around this unique region in a more sustainable, less disruptive and low carbon way.

Even if the government was prepared to spend billions on new rail lines to Ballina and Tweed  Coast, which they’re not, the lines must connect to the current line to access the main intercity trains at Casino and link to Coolangatta Airport.  

There are environmental constraints to building a train line on the Tweed coastal strip. 

Those advocating for this line be ripped up for cycling tourism completely ignore the two million people per year currently visiting the area who need transport.

Locals are fed up with congested roads full of potholes and are demanding the state government provide the infrastructure, especially train services, to cope with current numbers, not more tourists.  

Cycleways cannot compete with the tourism, transport, or employment opportunities of rail, and certainly will  not reduce traffic congestion, road maintenance costs, or carbon emissions in coastal areas visited by millions.

Fortunately Byron Shire Council is aware of the opportunities the train line provides and is commissioning an independent study of the condition of the line between Bangalow and Billinudgel, and the potential for low carbon tourism as well as safe, accessible, affordable public transport for long-suffering locals. This study will provide an accurate cost of repairing the line for trains.

Louise Doran, Ocean Shores


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1 COMMENT

  1. Louise lets take your points one by one.
    I am not sure what is the point of the reference to Eddie Obeid – are you accusing the Minister of corruption? If so when and what exactly occurred and have you raised it with the police – corruption is a very serious criminal matter.
    On the rail, the government has spent almost as much per km on maintaining the corridor as maintianing a rail trail would cost, but you might be right that the line was run down before – which is why it appeared to run at a profit before closure. Regardless of the background though, the costing for restoring the line done by Arup and it would be expensive. I would suggest the government would be better guided by a rail consultancy company of international repute- they were the lead consultant for the GC light rail – than your extrapolation of work done restoring the few KMs of line for a tourist tram (that is about as relevant as costing the M1 based on the volunteers who built the Lions road between Kyogle and Beaudesert in the 60s). Based on the Arup report and its own sound analyses that show better bus services would attract more patronage than train services, the NSW government has no intention of restoring the rail service, and so it is neither mentioned nor shown in the North Coast 2036 Regional Plan. Why would they? The line does not go near any of the critical places transport dependant people are likely to want to travel to – the tertiary campuses; Lismore, Byron, Tweed or Gold Coast hospitals; the transport hubs at Ballina, and without spending a billion dollar sum Coolangatta and Robina – all more easily served by road transport and in the case of QLD destinations without the need to deviate through the Burringbar range and Murbah. More relevant than the number of centres it passes through is that it only serves 40% of the population, and not the areas of fastest growing numbers of the elderly people.
    It owuld also cost far more than equivalent bus services. There is no magic pudding – any restoration of the line must be at the expense of bus services to other areas in NSW. As other areas are getting new bus services in the budget you would expect that cut would likely to include bus services in our region It might be those areas with growing numbers of high public transport dependent the elderly in the Ballina Shire or the Tweed Coast, but even the current buses that go past Byron hospital would be difficult to maintain. You tell us who misses out on existing or new bus services.
    There is no evidence to support your claim that most people are outraged at the possibility of closing the line. If the rail trail does proceed it would be expected to provide the protections that are in the legislative framework for the Tumbarrumabh rail trail -“… for the use of a rail and walking trail”. If you succesfully block the trail there will be no reason for a government, which we know likes to sell assets, not to proceed sooner rather than later to sell off the corridor real estate. If it costs them nothing people will tell you they like the rail, but after the government offers some sweeteners –they could offer to use the proceeds of corridor land sales to fund the new Tweed hospital for example – any outrage or interest will soon evaporate among most of the majority of the populace who travel by car.
    If I lived in the Byron Shire I too would be fed up with congested roads full of potholes, but that is a result of decades of neglect of road planning, construction and maintenance – other shires around NSW do not face the same acute issues. The roads that the line would reduplicate– the Bruxner Highway from Casino, Bangalow road, the M1 , the Tweed way do not suffer serious congestion or potholing; I would also note that with the large tyres on modern cars, damage to the road surface is minimal. As I repeatedly point out there is no evidence to show that a rail service would lead to any significant shift from car use by locals or visitors– and you have never responded with any evidence that it would – and the survey on transport explicitly denies the claim. You also do not provide any evidence to support your allegation that a train service would provide tourism or employment , opportunities, whereas those of the rail trail are well analysed and documented. As I note above, and as is brought out in the Tweed Shire’s and the government’s transport analyses, it does not provide a good transport service to locals who need to go places without a car. Most visitors arrive in the area by car from the greater Brisbane area and air from the south or overseas, and again there is no evidence that restoring the Casino Murwillumbah line would change that. Aside from having to build a connection, any direct rail from Brisbane into say the Bay would need to be on 3ft6”- otherwise it is just as easy to change to a bus down the M1 – and so necessitate rebuilding or reduplicating the rails at even greater expense than restoring it . The long distance rail from Sydney was already declining in the 20c and there is no reason to argue that there would be any significant uptake if it was revived. The out of date NSW trains are also not significantly more energy efficient per passenger than air travel on a modern full plane and probably less so than a light car carrying a couple; the real cost per passenger by rail is more than air – and often more than the subsidised ticket price – and much more than the cost of traveling in a modern light car.
    We look forward to the outcome of the Byron Shire’s study. The 400,000 people of Canberra have chosen a light rail solution of similar length to the line in your Shire and their rates will go up by hundreds per household to cover the additional cost over the current more frequent and just as fast bus service – I trust the Byron Shire has explained the rates implications of any rail transport because I know the people of NSW will not be interested in subsidising your rail service.
    What the NSW government has been willing to do in the budget is provide an additional 3,300 bus services in NSW – but they will go to people who have the sense to lobby for achievable public transport improvements that accord with the governments own planning – not to those whose entertainment is Bently-eque protesting for an unachievable rail service. So our international visitors, youth, low income residents, elderly, disabled and other transport dependent people miss out yet again.

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