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Byron Shire
May 8, 2021

Light rail not an option

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Basil Cameron suggests light rail is an option for the disused rail corridor.(Letters, June 28) Light rail is not much lighter than the railcar used by Elements of Byron, but it has a narrower gauge. So it would cost even more than restoring the existing line, because in addition to clearing vegetation, repairing ballast and renewing bridges, the standard gauge track would need to be replaced.

Light rail suffers the same disadvantage as regular rail, it provides a limited service on a rigid timetable, which doesn’t meet the transport needs of most people in our community. Nor is it any use to those tourists who arrive by car or bus and want to explore the region beyond the rail corridor.

Our ineffable TOOT activists don’t seem to realize that bikes are an efficient and eco-friendly form of transport. When someone chooses to get around on a bike instead of in a car, they help reduce pollution and relieve congestion on the roads. Improving conditions for cyclists thus benefits the whole community.

Louise Doran fears rail trail supporters want to ‘rip up’ the rails. But she need not worry. In NSW, the rails cannot be removed without an Act of Parliament, and anyway it isn’t necessary.

Once the vegetation has been cleared, the track only needs to be covered with a suitable surfacing material. When the trail is open for public use, with access points and rest areas along its route, it will provide a viable transport solution for many locals, especially now given the advent of electric bikes.


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  1. The ill-informed comments are getting more ridiculous by the minute. Cycling in all weathers is mainly a recreational activity for very fit people. Cycleways do not provide safe, affordable public transport in all weathers for anyone. The region gets over 4.5 million tourists per year (with luggage) and these numbers are increasing every year. The third largest visited area after Sydney and Melbourne.

    Sydney and Melbourne are not replacing their trains with cycleways-they’re only one part of an integrated public transport system. Anyone who has used them knows the Gold Coast trains are always packed. People who want to explore the region away from the rail corridor can do it easily by taking their cycles on the train.

    Commuter trains have the same axle width as the old XPT and will be able to use the current heavy duty line, as they do in the cities. As in Byron, most of the line is in reasonable condition under the weeds and the steel sleepers have not rotted away, and can be restored for much less than the ridiculous amounts claimed.

    Twenty to thirty percent of the Northern Rivers population are aged over 60 years. They, and other locals, who travel to work, education, medical appointments etc need public transport.

    If we are to believe the spin, large numbers of cyclists are supposed to be going to visit local towns to enhance the economy. It is not safe for anyone to ride around towns congested with traffic. The ONLY way to reduce traffic and make our towns safe for cyclists again is to have people arriving by train, then cycling around.

    Thousands of people have been telling the government for over a decade they want commuter trains on the C-M line-NOT A CYCLEWAY. As the Byron example has shown this can be done cost effectively as the whole line and bridges have not rotted away. Compared to the cost of roads it will be a bargain.

    • Louise
      Let’s go through your comments, not to ridicule them as I do believe your concerns are well meaning, but to show how they are misguided in respect of transport and recreation in the Northern Rivers.
      “Cycling in all weathers is mainly a recreational activity for very fit people”. For me, as it has done for many other people, cycling provided affordable daily transport in climates as diverse as Canberra, Brisbane, Darwin, Jakarta, Nauru, Wellington ,London and now Ballina. Cycle-ways make it safe and in the case of Canberra paths double the rate of cycle commuting compared with other capitals. However most of the many Australians who cycle do so for recreation – that is an important part of holistic health and life in general, and not a matter to be dismissed. You do not need to be very fit, but any person who cycles will improve their strength and cardio-vascular fitness, and with that the capacity to be comfortable in a greater range of temperatures. We do not have extremes of temperatures here so, while the elderly or anyone with health issues should always discuss any exercise with their GP, most people from eight to eighty-eight would be able to cycle here for most of the year.
      Monash University’s Institute of Transport Studies estimates about 5,000 passengers an hour are needed to support rail-based public transport. That is why Sydney and Melbourne are not replacing their trains with cycle-ways – they are building those elsewhere – and why it works along linear development in the Brisbane-Gold Coast conurbation. In dispersed areas of fewer people like ours, buses can provide more frequent services that can actually go where people want to travel. How many of the places here people need to travel like workplaces, education campuses, medical precincts, hospitals, aged residential areas, hospitals and campuses are in walking distance of the corridor, but they all have a road in front of them
      “People who want to explore the region away from the rail corridor can do it easily by taking their cycles on the train” and “The ONLY way to reduce traffic and make our towns safe for cyclists again is to have people arriving by train, then cycling around” Putting aside the issues of taking a bike on a NSW train, people have not chosen to arrive in our region in more than small numbers by train since the fifties . For two people the train from say Sydney is far more expensive and has a larger carbon footprint than travelling by a modern light car. How unrealistic is it to expect the small numbers of people who will prefer arriving by rail to reduce traffic in our region, whereas those who use the rail trail will simply park at one destination and add nothing to congestion for the days they spend cycling. And while there is merit in making our rural roads safer for driving and cycling by better lane marking, improved edges on crests and corners, and the slower speeds that are normal in Japan or Northern Europe, off-road cycle-ways like the rail trail will always be more popular and attract users than on-road routes – they are away from cars and so more pleasant, and are flatter and feel safer. . .
      You once again suggest the line can be restored for much less than what you call “the ridiculous amounts claimed”, but as always you do provide any reason why your view is to be preferred over that of Arup, a rail consultancy firm of international repute. Oddly, while you are happy to ridicule its advice on the Northern Rivers line, you seem happy to enjoy the fruits of its expertise as lead consultant for the Gold-Coast light rail.
      The spending referred to in the Feasibility Study, which is not a political or promotional document but an economic and technical analysis, is based on the experience along other rail trails – it is not in any way “spin”. Some of our towns do need to do more to improve safety for cyclists (and pedestrians and mobility scooter users), but the empirical data show rail trail users elsewhere do get to accommodation and eateries and do the spending. .
      Thousands of people have been telling the government for over a decade they want commuter trains on the C-M line, but hundreds of thousands have shown since the thirties that they are not interested and would prefer road transport. Most do that by car, some by bike, but a significant and growing number need to do it by public transport. The example in the NSW budget of more bus services in Nelson Bay and other regional areas shows that better public transport is possible in NSW if you lobby for what fits with the NSW governments transport planning. What it needs is more public transport advocates to start caring more about the elderly, youth, disabled and other transport dependent people, than they do about two lengths of steel.

      • I’ve got to say I agree with Louise. Which is the same view a lot of people I talk to have. We NEED trains back in the area. A bike and walking track? What? That’s insane.


        Coffs still has them, Wauchope and (Port Mac area) still have them and so do LOADS of other towns all down the coast. Kempsey, Taree all have trains still, frieght and XPT.

        A bike trail? Really. That idea is laughable.

        • I have responded below to your unsupported ridicule of the rail trail. I note your reference to the Port Macquarie area. Port Macquarie itself is the major town in the area and it takes half an hour by bus to Wauchope station, the same time as it takes to get form our major town – Lismore – to Casino station. Your comment does raise the need to consider how with the looming completion of the reduplication of the Pacific Highway, how best to structure long distance connections form the area. Would it be better for long distance travelers South who wish to use the train to put in place connecting express services stopping near the highway at Ewingsdale and West Ballina for example and meeting the train at Grafton or even Coffs? For those near the M1 who want to use the train to Sydney it would take several hours off the current journey via Casino. As the the 2036 plan tells us we need to consider the M1 as an opportunity, and that can include opportunities for better long distance public transprot..

      • Thanks Peter H for the well written, researched and factual responses. While I lament their loss of the train it really is time to accept the reality that a public train service is not coming back on the C-M line. The last train ran 13 years ago! If the pro train group had directed their energies to campaigning for better bus services then they might have actually achieved something in 13 years of campaigning!

  2. Riding is a very accessible activity, Louise, for most age groups. Regardless of fitness, you can start with small bursts and build endurance. It might even be good for you!
    I am a great proponent of public transport and find trains a particularly pleasant and convenient way to travel. I would love to see the trains back and particularly a service to Coolangatta airport and Brisbane. I have no idea how feasible or likely this is ever to happen. In the meantime I hate to see the rail corridor go to waste, with its future threatened. I am over 60, not super fit but like to maintain a gentle healthy exercise regime. I find cycling for either recreation or just transport a great way to achieve this – everywhere else but in this shire where the roads and even some cycle paths/footpaths are hazardous for cycling and not relaxing. I know I would use the rail trail, as I have elsewhere, and I know lots of locals, quite a bit older that me would love to have this chance. Can we please reach a compromise?

    • Whether cycling is healthy activity, which people over sixty can participate in, is NOT the point. The point is a handful of selfish people want to destroy a valuable piece of publicly owned infrastructure that is needed to provide accessible, affordable, safe transport for millions!

      • Why is it selfish Loiuse to work as hard as those on the NRRT committee have done, to contribute money and lobby for a community facility that will be used by an estimated tens of thousands of visitors, and many again in our own community. Why is the promotion of good physical and mental health selfish? Why is it selfish to promote a venture that will bring income to small business along the line and jobs to those who work in them? Now let’s take your comments on whether rail will provide transport that is accessible, affordable, safe transport for millions. Buses are as capable of proving accessible transport as trains. In Canberra visually impaired people, people in wheelchairs and with prams and bikes regularly use them, and in Europe they are now enabled for mobility devices. Because the train does not go near most medical facilities, the hospitals or campuses, people would need to transfer to buses, making their journey longer and more arduous. If you listen, the elderly and disabled people about what they need, as long as the transport is enabled for their abilities, just like other public transport users their greatest priority is good timetabling. I again recommend you read the views of the Fairfax journalist and public transport and disability advocate, Graham Downie, who gives a perspective of a blind person on why Canberra’s plan to waste a billion dollars on light rail will disadvantage the disabled and others dependent on buses – the link is: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/the-trouble-with-canberras-light-rail-plan-20141209-1238bn.html. The issues are similar here. With a limited transport envelope the additional capital and recurrent costs of rail will necessarily impact on other services. The only reason the train appeared affordable was the level of subsidy applied. Buses are cheaper to run and so are more affordable for government and with a given budget more services can be provided (such as the 3,300 new services in the budget across NSW). In respect of safety, trains are indeed a very safe way to travel but so are planes and buses. In the US where transport systems are similar to ours and the data greater A 2013 study in Research in Transportation Economics, “Comparing the Fatality Risks in United States Transportation Across Modes and Over Time,” found the overall fatality rate for long-haul train service is 0.43 per billion passenger miles, and for buses 0.11 (commercial planes are safer again while cars are 7.3). I know you and your Toots friends are well meaning in lobbying for a train – as with the NRRT your concern is our community. So while it might not be selfish motives that lead you to persist with lobbying for what has become a cause celebre for public transport advocates here, engaging in publicity seeking demos, and not listening to what people actually tell you they want and the government is willing to deliver – better timetabled transport from areas they live to the places they need to go – the net outcome remains that we don’t get those better public transport services; we delay the recreational, transport and economic benefits of the cycleway; and the corridor is left unused to be broken up and sold off piecemeal for roads and real estate.

      • Louise, this ‘valuable piece of infrastructure’ has already been mostly destroyed. Sections of the northern part of the line are barely recognisable due to the regrowth on the line not to mention the bridges that have been removed or destroyed. A rail trail is the only option to preserve the corridor. You’ve lost your 13 year fight to have the trains returned, so please it’s time to let go of your train nostalgia. Also light rail is great for high density urban areas such as the Gold Coast and not suitable/viable for our region unless you would like it to become another Gold Coast?

  3. Louise, you are the one making rediculous comments. Cyclists commute in all weathers in worse climates than ours. In European, American, North Asian cities etc, cyclists use water proof clothing and have to cope with the cold. Why not here. Cycling in our towns is safe where vehicles travel slowly. Once a rail trail is used to travel between towns safely, instead of on main roads, someone on a bike can get to work quickly. 40% of people have bicycles and currently it’s an unsafe option on main roads. Using a cycle way or rail trail does not require you to be fit, however it is a good way to get fit which I assume you realise is good for you. In this day and age where kids increasingly sit and watch screens, they need as much encouragement as possible to exercise safely. What is the Byron example that is a success? Why would a C-M train be full when they weren’t when they ran before? Why would the 4.5m tourists take their luggage on a commuter train? Why if the feasibility study said a train would not be cost effective are you saying it would be? You’re just driving your own agenda telling the government to give you what you want, on yer bike

  4. The term light rail seems to be thrown around with great excitement but as John states it won’t be used here on the Northern Rivers country areas. It will be heavy rail with light trains or trams . The new railway stations at Byron Bay are designed for heavy rail trains or trams as you would need to rip up and lower the platform heights for light rail trams/trains as they have lower floor heights .
    We then have another strange and quite funny situation over in Lismore with its local train group trying to save old timber trestle rail bridges that would need replacing with a new steel or concrete type if commuter trains are reinstated . So this train group wants trains back but doesn’t want new bridges that will be required !!! This train group doesn’t know if they are Arthur or Martha .
    These train groups talk about getting freight off the roads and highways but don’t want new bridges or new corridors that will allow trains to compete with the fast freight trucking companies. The same groups didn’t push for the High Speed Rail route to be thru the Northern Rivers to the Gold Coast and on to Brisbane so now Lismore has lost the HSR . The final route
    (phase 2) is now Casino to Beaudesert and onto Brisbane with a spur line from Beaudesert to the Gold Coast . As part of Phase 1 a route from Lismore to Mullumbimby to Gold Coast and finish in Brisbane was shortlisted . HSR supports outer urban trains so we could have had a brilliant commuter train system running between Lismore and the Gold Coast if these train groups had spent their energy pushing for it instead of wasting energy on resurrecting the old Northern Rivers railway corridor .
    Go and read the HSR reports by Infrastructure Australia for both Phase 1 and Phase 2 , the reading will leave you feeling angry against the local train groups for not grabbing this issue and using it to give us Northern Rivers residents the railway system we deserve instead of the 1950s technology heavy rail train/tram that they passionately support .
    When the XPT train that ran up until 2004 it had a top speed of 165km/hr but it only averaged 55km/hr on the Northern Rivers line ! The steam age alignment of the old line ie tight curves and steep inclination will keep the people of our region in cars and freight on our roads.
    Train systems must be government owned and ran to attract fare subsidies, the Byron Bay train doesn’t attract this and at $1 per kilometre is out of reach of the people who need public transport the most . Tourist trains all charge close to $1 per kilometre one way with a slight reduction for a return ticket. So Mullumbimby to Lismore (62km) will be close to $62 one way . Whereas a government train with its 80% fare subsidy would be around $12 for the same distance.Pensioners would get an even higher subsidy with their ticket only being about $2.80 .
    Fare box subsidy for NSW Country Trains is around 83% and Sydney Trains around 73% . Without these fare box subsidies nobody could afford to travel on public transport .

  5. Most light rail and trams run onStandard gauge, so whatever unit mentioned in the story has found aunique unit. Trams in Brisbane were standard gauge, even though trains there were narrow gauge. In Melbourne trams are standard gauge when trains are Broad gauge.


    • 100% we need trains back. Not some bike and walking tracks, that idea is plain stupid. Get people out of cars and onto trains as much as possible.

      • Jenny The bike and walking tracks that you suggest is plain stupid is the subject of a Feasibility Study that very clearly shows the economic and recreational benefits that have accrued from similar trails elsewhere. I have read many such feasibility studies – this one was done to appropriate terms of reference and appears to me me to be competently done including its cost benefit analysis. Which part of that analysis is stupid? On the matter of getting people out of cars – why would a rail service do that. It had not carried more than a very small percentage of the areas passengers for decades. The most recent survey on transprot people gave low priority to the idea that they might use a train service instead of cars. And what benefit would their be in getting them out of cars and into trains? The greatest benefits in terms of reducing traffic, pollution and greenhouse impacts are made by increasing the number of passengers on existing vehicles, particularly cars. That is why in the ACT they provide “three for free” exemptions from pay parking and access to faster bus lanes in peak hours for cars carrying three or more passengers. Contrast that with the “green” Byron Shire which charges visitors for parking but exempts its residents, guaranteeing continuing traffic congestion and point-of-use pollution in the Jonson Street precinct.

  6. But it WAS the issue in your first response, Louise. Part of your argument against a rail trail. What’s selfish about wanting to use a public asset – rather than seeing it rot or sold off – for recreational and transport purposes by the public?

    • It’s only cyclists who are demanding it has to be a TRAIL WITHOUT RAILS or NOTHING. No chance of any compromise or consideration of the needs of the majority from them.

      Thousands of locals have always said that we CAN HAVE TRAILS WITH TRAINS!

      If the government thought they could get away with it they would have destroyed the line years ago and sold off the land. Heaven forbid cyclists acknowledge that it’s only the years of hard work and dedication of local train supporters, and their opposition to the line being destroyed that has saved it-not cyclists who have done nothing but demand it be destroyed.

      • Louise I am not aware of any cyclists who are “demanding it has to be a trail without rails or nothing”. The Feasibility Study for the rail points out though that it is difficult on parts of the trail to build it without removing the rails and doing so would mean the cost would be greater. The only reason to do so would be to allow for future train services but beyond two short tourist trams near the Bay there are no proposals to run any rail services along the line, and none is not proposed in the State governments transport and strategic planning. As I have pointed out many times the line would not provide good public transport for those who need it. So who would pay that additional cost for such an unlikely possibility? You are right that the government would probably like to sell off the land, and if the rail trail does not proceed will likely do so. It is by no means clear that that would cause any significant shift in voting in the community. Most people use cars and planes and are uninterested in the train; those who depend on public transport are more likely to live away from the corridor in Ballina Shire or on the Tweed Coast and would be more concerned about improved bus services. Even those on the corridor I am sure would prefer a bus on the hour every hour which could be provided for the same cost as a train a few times a day. Rails do not vote Louise people do. Better public transport is achievable – the lower Hunter an area similar to our own. has just received 100 new bus services – but you need to start thinking about how best to get people where they need to go and lobby the government for what it has shown it is willing to deliver.

      • Louise this is a particularly good example of how you love to twist … what was actually said. You have deliberately decoded my message to suit your agenda, which in my book is a clear case of unethical communication. I (I’m not a cyclist) have said on many occasions “It’s a Rail Trail OR Nothing”, you can’t even quote me correctly! If you cared to be ethical in your communication, you would have decoded my message in the way that was intended, which was, a rail trail is better than nothing.

  7. Automous vehicles (driverless cars) are set to be the most disruptive technology to the transport industry since the advent of the steam train…… so why are we even considering historical models of transport like trains as the Shires strategy for public transport in the future? No such imenant technology exists to solve obesity, so doesn’t it make more sense to appropriate this infrastructure to health and sustainable tourism?

  8. The track as it currently stands is completley suitable for light rail. Most light rail trains run on standard gauge, which is what this line is. The Gold Coast Light Rail also does. A lower level platform suitable for light rail trains could be constructed next to the existing railway stations cheaply. As others have pointed out, the existing rail line is actually in very good condition under the overgrowth and could easily be resumed for light rail rollingstock.

  9. “The track as it currently stands is completley (sic) suitable for light rail”. Gary, after a remark like that can anyone take you seriously? Where is the evidence to back up this extraordinary claim? What study are you referencing, what qualifications or experience do you have that lends some/any credibility to your claim?

    • The comment was in regard to the fact the Gold Coast Light Rail Line is standard gauge, which our line also is.

  10. Are you serious John? There is so much wrong with your statements haha. For a start, the new Gold Coast Light Rail is being built to standard gauge – exactly the same gauge as our railway line.
    And you are very niave if you think the rail trail will not involve ripping up the tracks. Why would the government and the rail trail group keep trying to change the legislation with a rail trail bill to allow them to remove the tracks? The Tweed Council rail trail plan has always involved removing the tracks, Barry Longland showed me the proposed design over 2 years ago.
    These rail trail advocates really need to start checking their facts before writing letters and trying to get support for this destructive bike track proposal.

    • While the light rail in the Gold Coast may be on standard gauge, why would you spend the cost of restoring the line here, and then hundreds of millions or more to connect what would be a town-to-town service here through Murwillumbah that fed into an urban service with frequent stops designed to serve a dense strip of development. None of the transport planning identifies traveling from the corridor to the beach side Gold Coast strip as a high traffic route. This is the problem if you start with the solution – rail – without thinking through what is the need. If you are talking about local services road does that better because it can go to the facilities that have been built since the road transport became predominate – the Byron Hospital is the classic example/ That is why every morning and afternoon thousands of kids commute on buses. . If you are talking about inter regional transprot buses up the M1 linking to the proposed transport hub in Coolangatta or the narrow guage heavy rail-head to Brisbane is more direct and faster than a roundabout rail via Murbah, without any need for a huge capital outlay. All transport solutions need to be integrated with and reflect urban planning, demographics and the number of likely users – that is why we have transport plans . The consistent advice is that for lower density dispersed areas like ours buses will provide more frequent services with fewer changes of vehicle, better targeted at key destinations and the population areas the elderly and other transport dependent people live. That is why the NSW government has been willing to provide more bus services to country areas in the budget , but not to regions where people ignore the analyses and the needs of the majority of public transport dependent people and keep lobbying regardless for rail services. Want poor public transport – keep supporting Toots!


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