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April 1, 2023

Railway activists welcome rail-trail funding bid failure

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The Northern Rivers Railway Action Group is delighted to hear that the federal government has declined the funding request for the Murwillumbah Rail Trail despite the support of the NSW government.

Bike paths are all well and good but not when they mean ripping up our railway tracks and losing the whole corridor from Casino to Murwillumbah.

Only under the 99A Transport Administration Act are the existing railway tracks protected from being ripped up. A bike path could easily go alongside the railway track as proposed by Byron Council. We don’t understand why the bike lobby group don’t support having both.

This region’s population growth can only be served by better public transport. Our population is growing and our tourist population is 4.6 million/year.

International tourists visit Byron Bay as the iconic tourist destination in this area. With regular commuter trains they could travel to other towns and villages spreading the economic benefit. Many people aren’t prepared to travel on our congested and damaged roads so the benefit is lost to other parts of the region.

Our community is beginning to wake up to the increasing problems of traffic congestion, road damage and lack of transport options. We need trains in this area and people no longer accept the government’s inaction on the real needs of this region.

NRRAG holds a market stall regularly in Lismore and people walk up all day long, sign our petition and tell us passionately how much they want trains back and how little trust they have left in this government.

Recently during his speech to the motion of the Tumbarumba rail trail legislation, the Minister for Transport, Andrew Constance stated, ‘We have literally thousands of kilometres of disused rail infrastructure across this state because of an archaic provision in the Act. It is ironic that, as Minister of Transport, I can close a rail service but I cannot order the lifting of rail lines. To do so, I must ask the approval of this parliament.’

I would ask the Minister for Transport why close rail lines when so many council areas in regional Australia can’t afford to fix their roads? Why support a bike path instead of public transport that supports the many instead of the few? You can put a bike path anywhere without having to rip up railway lines to do it and its cheaper.

NRRAG believes regular trains on our tracks is affordable, safer and more efficient. All across the world nations are turning to rail as the most equitable and sustainable mode of transport.

Beth Shelley, spokesperson for NRRAG


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  1. As I have promised each time Ms Shelley tries to suggest that the rail trail will change the protections on the rail corridor I will outline the complete wording of the Explanatory Memorandum to the Tumbarumba rail trail legislation that forms a model for other rail trails: “The object of this Bill is to amend the Transport Administration Act 1988 (the Act) to authorise the rail infrastructure owner to close the railway line that runs from McEachern Lane, Rosewood to Tumbarumba in order to create a rail trail for walking and bicycle use. ” Any attempt to sell off or use the corridor for another purpose would fail as it would be inconsistent with the intention of the legislation. This is becoming tiresome and I apologise to readers for doing it but it is important to counter her repeated untruthful, assertions.
    The falsity of her assertions in respect of the legislative framework for the trail mirror the flaws in Ms Shelley’s other assertions. Most of our community lost interest in the rail as soon as they bought a car in the fifties and sixties, but of course not everyone has access to a car. While Northern Rivers Railway Action Group gloats at its stalling of the rail trail, what does it say to the growing number of elderly people along the Tweed Coast or the Ballina Shire or even along the corridor, whose rights to transport are being denied by successive NSW Governments which can so easily dismiss transport activists who only promote a commuter rail service that has been panned by every expert opinion on transport since RailCorp and the other expert witnesses thoroughly demolished the XPT and the PwC commuter proposals in 2004. Once again I have to point you to the region’s 2036 plan which shows that our population is only growing slowly and most of the growth sis away from the corridor. Why would you invest huge sums to provide a train to Murwillumbah which is hardly growing when the coastal corridor is the fastest growing part of our region? Again I urge you to read the Tweed Shire Transport Plan (the Mayor of the Tweed can give you her copy of it, it appears from her transport statements she has not read it nor is interested in it).
    In respect of Councils and roads, the roads that parallel the rail corridor are in the main funded by the State Government and they are not in a poor condition at all. And again can I remind you that the only serious congestion in our region occurs in the Byron Shire and that relates to that Shire’s failure to properly develop its road system for everyone’s sake. The submissions to the 2004 Legislative Council inquiry, the Regional transport plan, and the corridor study all refer to the minimal impact resumption of rail would have on traffic in the region, and the latter explicitly outlines that investments in better buses would provide a greater shift to public transport than commuter rail services (but still quite a small shift). Which part of these consistent analyses do you find so hard to fathom?
    I am unsurprised to read that NRRG has lost trust in our local politicians – either publicly or privately most support the rail trail; indeed NRRG had to drag in Lee Rhiannaon to create an impression of Green support.
    RailCorp found the proposals for commuter rail exaggerated the patronage and underestimated its cost – it would not have been affordable, and that is consistent with Monash University’s advice that you need 5,000 or more people an hour to make ie rail worthwhile. How ironic to suggest it would be safer, when RailCorp panned the proposal as being understaffed and had not properly considered safety aspects. I again note the finding of studies in the US and UK based on very large data show public transport is safer than private cars, but buses are as safe or safer than rail. I am unsure what you mean by more efficient – if it is energy efficiency even in 2004 the Legislative Council was unable to conclude on the expert advice that the train was more energy efficient. There is ample other evidence around to show that trains in rural areas – particularly our dated NSW rolling stock – are not very energy efficient per passenger, and that they are no more able to be adapted to renewable than are buses.

    Again I urge you to and other rail supporters forget the obsession with steel and start thinking about how best to meet the needs of public transport users, while encouraging those who can walk or ride to make good recreational and economic use of the corridor they will protect. .

    • Excellent comment, logical, factual, coherent. Unfortunately it won’t penetrate the TOOT/NRRAG echo chamber. Our indefatigable railway activists are basically spoilers, they have zero chance of achieving their ostensible goal but they’re content to prevent an affordable alternative, it seems.

  2. Commuter trains require large radius curves ie 800metres or greater to allow passenger comfort and reasonable fast speed (105km/hr and above ) , the Northern Rivers between Lismore and Byron Bay plus Mullumbimby to Murwillumbah have numerous sub 400metre radius curves . The best way to keep people in cars and freight on the road is to reinstate the Northern Rivers railway on its existing corridor , keeping everyone travelling at the speed that they have done for the last 130 odd years.
    Or you could be like Tweed Shire Council who are looking at train system that will fit within the existing Pacific Highway corridor between Tweed Heads and Yelgun . This will better serve the coastal population explosion ,give a straight and fast commuter trains, and get people out of cars. You will notice this type of railway construction between Robina and Brisbane , interchange train/bus stations located near highway off ramps or near large shopping precincts.
    Having large carparks and bus drop off lanes are a prerequisite for a train system to work properly , I am not sure if the people of Bangalow would like a multi-storey carpark located in Station St?
    Eumundi Railway Station near Noosa was moved to the south of the town and the railway line was deviated to the east of the town ,keeping the 24/7 trains away from the heart of the town . Bangalow ,Mullumbimby, Byron Bay ,Billinudgel ,Mooball,Burringbar would also need deviating to avoid the joy of 24/7 noisey commuter and freight trains once the line is connected to the QLD rail system at Coolangatta air port.
    You may think this is futuristic but the population is exploding in SE QLD and Northern Rivers , in 20 years a 24/7 freight and passenger train system will be in place, will you want it thru the hearts of these towns or at a location in an already noisy place ie the Pacific and Bruxner Highway corridor?
    Unfortunately we have the heritage train groups feeding misinformation to the existing public railway groups here on the Northern Rivers saying that the existing rail corridor is suitable for trains. Suitable for coal/diesel heritage trains yes but not suitable for a reasonably fast commuter rail system.
    Will people get out of their cars and onto trains if they are slow? No
    Follow Rail QLDs lead with its straightening,deviations and gradient lowering of its railway system, they are getting freight off the road and people out of cars.
    Look at a train timetable and its travel time from Sydney to Casino and you will see a snail train that people don’t use except for the non time dependant and hugely subsidised travellers , it won’t get used by the majority but just a very minority group who have a hate against bus travel . The buses I travel on take 1hr to Coolangatta and 2hrs to Roma St Station , an easy trip ,fast and reasonably priced for the majority but not highly subsidised for the small minority. Reinstating a very slow and very expensive train system for a very small minority group is a waste of taxpayers money ,full stop . As Peter states you would better spending your energy on a better timetabled bus routes and timetables .
    TOOTs and NRRAG have been playing the same violin for over 10 years and haven’t had a retune in all this time , they sound like a broken record and the majority of the Northern Rivers residents hate the sound being emitted.

  3. I do have to add the following link from today’s Canberra Times: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/two-electric-action-buses-and-one-hybrid-bus-to-hit-canberra-streets-20170813-gxvh0v.html While rail fans are describing the five minute tourist tram as “innovative” and “sustainable transport” the ACT is trailing two electric and one hybrid bus for its ACTION bus network. The article tells us the electric buses “… have a range of about 450 kilometres – an ACTION bus does about 350 kilometres per day”. They will of course be as easily charged from renewable power as its wasteful light rail will be.
    An electric bus traveled in 2015 the 1,000km from Melbourne to Sydney (I apologize to my regular readers as it was not Melbourne to Brisbane as I accidentally typed last week). The most sustainable transport is and has always been the bicycle by a long margin, but it is also high time to drop the idea that trains are somehow more sustainable than buses.

  4. TOOT/NRRAG activists employ words like affordable, efficient and sustainable as if these words had some other meaning. Their field of expertise is a fact free zone. The circumstances in which rail transport is more efficient than road transport are few and far between. Rail is best suited to moving large heavy loads over long distances. Its greatest advantage is also its biggest disadvantage, namely exclusive use of the infrastructure. Whereas anyone can access and use normal roads, only trains can use the railway. This leads to a type of inefficiency known as underutilised capacity. The local railway line only ever barely served the transport needs of the region. Its eventual demise was inevitable and irreversible. To those NRRAG/TOOT activists out there I say get over it and move on, stop flogging a dead horse

  5. Hardly comes as a surprise that the Northern Rivers Railway In-Action Group would respond this way. The rail trail funding denial is just a temporary set back.The rail trail proposal has progressed much further than the delusional concept of trains returning to the C-M line. Unlike returning trains the rail trail has actually been found feasible. After 14 years with very little to show other than a badly neglected railway line that is missing mosts of its bridges and barley recognisable in places due to the regrowth, it’s about time these train activists moved on before the corridor is lost completely.

    • Your final sentence is very true Damon. I had previously suggested farmers along the corridor would be offered the land, probably on a first right of refusal basis. Now a National Farmers Federation meeting in the New England has debated requesting the NSW Government grant the corridor land to adjoining farmers. It may be difficult to protect the corridor in the Byron Shire, which is half-hearted about the rail trail, has set a precedent by allowing a resort access to the corridor for a tram to take patrons in and out to the resort, and where groups are trying to use the corridor for parking, a bypass road or for commercial use. We should attempt though to build the rail trail so it protects the corridor for the greatest length possible. Doing so will demonstrating its potential, and the people of Byron might just realise that with same the protections remaining under the enabling legislative arrangements, it is the best way to protect the length of the corridor from further encroachment and a break up.

  6. Hospitals and libraries, parks as well as rail trails are feasible, profitable or economic, but we still have those. Fares from public transport in Sydney covers only 22% of the running costs; in SEQ it’s 23%.

    There’s nothing democratic or beneficial for the general public in ripping up rails for elite bicyclists. Practical cyclists need trains for getting to work and SCU. A student told me he would take his bike to the Binna Burra platform, take the train to South Lismore, then cycle to SCU. Heaps of people commute daily between Byron and Lismore – even the ‘slow XPT’ takes less than an hour from Lismore to Byron. This is about the same driving time even more at times – and with parking fees.

    Real estate agents know that have a railway station [or just a platformed stop] improves the saleability of houses within walking distance. Perhaps we’d stop overbuilding on the coast if we could just take the train there instead.

    Ballina, Lismore and Kyogle have negative population growth lately. Could that be that people will not make the ‘tree change’ when they realise that there’s no rail services? Friends who have been wanting to live in the Northern RIvers will not do so now. In the eighties, things looked much better then when it appeared the region was going to improve rail services – not get rid of them as they have now done!


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