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Byron Shire
October 22, 2021

Community input sought on Casino to M’bah rails

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NRRAG at the Murwillumbah station. Photo supplied.
NRRAG at the Murwillumbah station. Photo supplied.

The question of community input into if, and how the train or rail trail should proceed is being questioned by Tweed Shire Council mayor Katie Milne at the next council meeting on September 21 in Tweed Heads.

I have a notice of motion on this Council agenda regarding my concerns about whether the community as a whole has had much involvement or input into this very expensive project,’ said mayor Milne.

The Greens mayor will then also be speaking at an open public forum about the rail corridor from Casino to Murwillumbah, to be held at the Murwillumbah Community Centre from  6pm on Monday September 25.

Beth Shelly from the Northern Rivers Railway Action Group (NRRG) said, ‘We are not aware of any consultations that have taken place with the community and there are issues that many people are not aware of and this is an opportunity to share this information.’

Other speakers who will address the forum include  NSW Greens transport spokesperson Dr Mehreen Faruqi and  Northern Rivers Railway Action Group member Geoff Reid.

‘Come along and grab the opportunity to discuss real public transport options for the future. An eight train a day commuter rail service that extends to the Tweed and Gold Coast is the big picture for this region. Connecting cycleways with rail and buses to develop an integrated plan to get cars off the road will cut transport emissions and deliver real transport and ecotourism outcomes for all people,’ continued Shelley.

‘We are totally supportive of having both the rail trail and the train. In Victoria there are areas where they have rail trails beside the trains that works well.’

Dr Mehreen Faruqi says, ‘I would like to talk about the shambles that is transport planning from this government as well as the need for a sustainable and integrated public transport plan for the long term, with a focus on the environment and community, not private interests.’

Other issues to be considered are ‘local farm biosecurity plans and livelihoods to proposed unregulated tourist movements through property boundaries along the rail corridor,’ said Geoff Reid.

The concern is that the current legislation that is before the state government will allow the rail corridor to become crown land removing current protections that keep the land from being sold off of leased to developers.

Given the Tweed Shire Council has once again resubmitted their rail trail proposal for funding to the federal government we believe we need to engage the communities of Murwillumbah and the Tweed in helping to protect the rail corridor,’ finished Shelley.


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20 COMMENTS

  1. It is ironic to read Dr Faruqi referring to transport planning as shambolic. I have never once read a comment from any of her party, from Tweed mayor Milne, nor from any of the NRRAG supporters, on the Northern Rivers Regional Transport Plan, or the Tweed Shire Transport Plan If they had read those documents, read the 2036 Strategic Plan showing the projected population growth will be a away from the corridor, they might realise that a train service would not meet the needs of the majority of transport users who increasingly live away from the corridor. Monash Institute of Transport Studies recommends 5,000+ passengers an hour is needed before rail is worthwhile; even the Australian transport academic and light rail advocate Ginn considers a population of 200,000 within 400 metres walking distance is needed for light rail. This is reflected in the C-M Corridor study which found a shuttle rail would be expensive and would not shift more than a small number of people from cars, and that additional bus services within corridor would be more effective. I wonder too has Dr Farouqi read the 2013 Sustain Northern Rivers Transport Survey which like the C-M corridor study shows most of the priority transport routes are away from the corridor and shows people are more concerned with timetabling issues than a train, or the Northern Rivers Social Development Council submission to the Government’s inquiry on access to transport for seniors and the disadvantaged in rural and regional NSW which provides advice on improving accessibility by better bus services which would be much more effective and affordable? NRRAG and the Sydney Greens advocates a transport that would have users needing to transfer to buses where a bus can be routed past important destinations like the Byron hospital or down town Murwilllumbah. They talk about connecting buses, but they reality is there will be nothing left over to fund them. Their rail dream will be hugely expensive in both capital and recurrent costs that would either be at the expense of higher priority new or existing bus routes and the provision of more wheelchair and mobility scooter buses on priority routes that serve the elderly in the Ballina Shire and the Tweed Coast, or would likely lead to cuts to existing buses, or alternatively, if they follow Canberra’s approach, increase of rates by hundreds of dollars a year, all to achieve nothing that better bus services cannot do just as well.

    • Very well stated Peter Hatfield.

      Mehreen Faruqi and NRRAG think a rail line is possible alongside a rail trail.. Hah..
      What about the 525 meter tunnel between Burringbah and Stokers Siding eh?
      They can’t see any issue at all. The ground goes up 100 meters above that tunnel.
      How would re-routing the rail trail around THAT work?
      Have these people given this whole train thing, any thought at all, beyond the hopeless dreams?
      Obviously not.

      And with all the impossibilities aside, who do they expect will pay for rebuilding the 123 year old line, then put rolling stock on it, then finance the operating costs, with fuel, maintenance, wages, sick pay, holiday pay, workers compensation insurance,other insurances, superannuation, relieving staff, and all the hidden costs as well???

      Dreamers..

      Good luck with your meeting…

    • Thank you Peter Hatfield! The most sensible and informed response I’ve seen about restoring rail to Casino. I have thought it was a silly idea since moving to the area in 2008 for the same reasons. I’m guessing that’s why the trains stopped in the first place. I don’t know a single person in the area who would regularly take the train to Casino…

  2. The obvious answer is that this rail should be linked to the Queensland Varsity Lakes station from Brisbane, and the NSW section gaige installed with Queenland’s narrower gauge, thus giving the Southern Cross. University Campusses at Tweed Heads South and Lismore, plus Murwillumbah and even the. Byron Bay line, linked in to both Brisbane andSydney access for the present and future development that is inevitable. Then it would have the patronage it needs (subject to cooperation coherced from Quensland via the Commonwealth Government). The land is all there, including for an even better walkink/bike tract, and much of the reconstruction from the old tracks! Victor Cusack. Ocean Shores

  3. This opportunity is both timely and important. It is an event where local communities can come and be educated about what kind of transport future the region will have for future generations. In particular, realising the inherit value a passenger rail service can provide to a broad cross-section of the community; from young to old. It has the potential to affect everybody.

    It is time for the community conversation to move on from the nay-sayers or those who, for their own selfish reasons, continue to find dubious reasons to denigrate what is an relevant and logical transport solution for the area. It is no longer acceptable to hold the position that a bike trail is the only option and that ripping up the existing tracks is somehow going to benefit the broader community in the future.

  4. Peter the aim of reintroducing rail is for the environment. It is to get cars, that are increasingly more unaffordable, in cost and environmental impact, off the road. What you say is unfundable may well be the best cost option in the near future. You do not really say what you do want – rather you say what you don’t want and offer other peoples reasons, that seem ideological.

    • It is not about what I want Biff. There is no ideology behind what I argue for – I worked in Commonwealth funding for decades and I take as a given that public spending is informed by good analyses written to good Terms of Reference that focus on people’s needs and are open to the best way to achieve objectives. That is why I urge people to read the Northern Rivers and Tweed transport plans, the corridor study and the Transport Survey that work from identifying where the demand for services are . All of them, along with the Northern Rivers Social Development Council argue for improving the bus services, with more disabled friendly buses, and along the key routes more frequent clock-faced timetabling for longer times in the day and week. It is the same approach that helped Brisbane since the Commonwealth Games turn around its decline in public transport use faster than any other capital, but even more appropriate here with our dispersed population and the shift of the older population to the Ballina Shire and the coastal areas of the Tweed and Richmond Shires. The idea that a train would help the environment is never evidenced. Teh Legislative Council inquiry asked the Director of Transport Planning with the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources whether rail travel is environmentally preferable to bus travel and was told “In that context, again, it can be better, it can be worse. In some cases, given the energy consumed in the moving of rail carriages and the like. depending on the number of passengers, it may actually have an adverse result…” The C-M Corridor found a shuttle service like NRRAG proposes would only reduce 1.83% of car traffic – less than better timetabled and routed Countrylink buses would. People in our region prefer to use cars, which are much safer than they were when the corridor was closed and outside high density peak hour urban commuting use less fuel per passenger than public transport does. Public transport is important for those that need it – too important to waste money in ways that we already know do not work for the environment or for people.

  5. The train line itself need not a lot to fix up between Murwillumbah and Byron Bay ,it’s the Line to Lismore that needs a new connection as the trestle between Bangalow and Lismore was removed .
    Light weight passenger trains could roll right now as they are lighter than the 100 ton loco’s that the government were using that can’t be used because the bridges would need a complete overhaul or replacement .
    I got my information from a track maintenance manager who used to work on that line so if anyone really knows the truth of the matter ,,it would be him .
    The Byron train would like to connect to Murwillumbah but the red tape in the long grass is hindering it’s prospects .

    • Neville,

      The XPT engines are 76 tonnes, not 100 tonnes that your expert claims.

      To replace and or repair the tracks, sleepers, bridges, station infrastructure and safety equipment like fencing boom gates and lighting etc., up to modern standards, is Ridiculously Expensive, and NO government has any plans anywhere in their files, to spend a solitary cent on a train service on our C to M corridor.

      May I suggest you get used to it, and find another pet project for your neurons to play with, as you may well be so much happier for it.

      • Anyone who has been paying attention for five minutes knows that NO ONE IS CALLING FOR THE RETURN OF THE OLD HEAVY CLAPPED OUT XPT!

        The line can be repaired for a fraction of the cost the state government has claimed-as it has been in Byron- for small, light, airconditioned,fuel efficient, low impact commuter trains.

        Roads cost much more to build and maintain than rail and destroy the environment, wild life and human lives.

        People will not allow the valuable C-M line to be destroyed for an expensive bike track that will not provide transport for anyone.

        • Louise
          I have read a variety of commentary from rail proponents that indicates they some would like a return to a direct XPT service to Sydney, and the convenience of direct connections to the light rail on the Gold Coast or to Brisbane airport or Brisbane airport (the latter suggestion without specifying whether the NR line would be replaced with QLD gauge or a standard gauge would be built into QLD). I asked on NRRAG’s Facebook site if the advice I had received from one supporter “Toot and nrrag are campaigns for a local commuter service nothing else lol “ was indeed correct, but NRRAG has not responded to my question. do accept that it is the main thrust of you campaigning, but I do not accept your premise that concerns about the capital and recurrent costs of rail are nonsense. Without seeking tenders we will never know the cost of refurbishing the line to carry a rail service.
          Even if you do not accept the advice of Arup – which is a reputable rail consultancy firm – that it would cost $900m even the low cost estimates quoted by rail supporters are some $200 million; PwC’s comment was : “assets in poor condition. Significant replacement and reinstatement required.”. You would then need to add recurrent costs. At the time of closure RailCorp forecast maintenance on the line would rise to”… $9.4 million per annum over the subsequent 20 years” , PwC estimated after the line was upgraded it would cost $2m per annum, but only after the extensive refurbishment of the line it envisaged. PwC found a rail transport solution would require ongoing subsidies of between $4 – $6 million annually, but that was 13 years ago and RailCorp at the time thought that estimate underdone and htat there was insufficient staffing and attention to safety. What is your estimate for the recurrent cost of a safe properly staffed shuttle rail service in 2017 that would not draw adverse comment from RailCorp?
          And all that expenditure to what end? The corridor can be perfectly well serviced with buses, which can carry bikes, wheel chairs and mobility scooters and which these days can run double the length of the corridor and back on renewable power. Every study on people’s movements shows the train would not address the key transport needs of our region. Only 40% of the population live along the corridor. The largest numbers of bus passengers in our area by far are between Pottsville and Tweed Heads, where there is a regular hourly service – in 2011 it was already double the number traveling from Murbah to Tweed Heads, and far more than any route along the corridor. Ballina to Byron Bay and Ballina to Lismore also have significant numbers. While you suggest the community knows the value of the C-M line, travelers through, and in and out of the Byron Shire along the corridor show less interest in using public transport than do people who live away from the corridor. That is unexpected when you understand over 80% of public transport users on our region are 65 and older, and that the Byron Shire and those who travel to and from it are on average a younger population, brought up with cars and happy to use them. And how will your rail service the new Tweed hospital to be built between Tweed Heads and Pottsville, let alone existing Lismore base and Byron hospitals?
          Forget the nonsense about road lobbies – a shuttle service will remove just 2% of traffic of the corridor, private cars do only minimal damage to our roads, and motorists will continue to rightly demand a safer faster road system. And forget the idea of shuttle rail – it was panned in 2004 as expensive and providing no environmental or other benefit, and every other reputable study has dismissed it as not serving people’s needs. Lobby instead for more services like that to Pottsville, including along the corridor: regular bus services through a longer period of the day and week. Most people will still prefer cars, but you will ensure they are not totally dependent on them, that they do not need to have two and three cars per household, and our elderly and other transport dependent people will have regular services where they live and where they need to go.

  6. Very well said Peter, unlike the vast majority of proponents you have a very good handle on the large body of work which has investigated this issue and shows overwhelmingly why trains are not viable.
    The trump to everything though, the icing on the cake, the cherry on the sundae, the single fact all the dreamers fail to acknowledge and which, with respect, you have overlooked as well, is the lack of a rail reserve between Murwillumbah and the Queensland border. All talk of commuter services involve a connection to the Gold Coast and link to the SE Qld rail system, but the land is not just ‘there’ as one commenter has claimed, the ‘opportunity’ does not exist and rail is not in any way a ‘relevant’ or ‘logical’ transport solution for our area.
    Anyone fancy a guess at what a 35km long, 100m wide strip of far north coast real estate going right through the middle of Banora Point and Tweed Heads would cost? You are looking at many billions of dollars – before you lay a track, before you build bridges across the Terranora Inlet and Tweed River and before you settle lawsuits from residents who suddenly have trains running through their gardens.
    Trains are a great transport option where and when they are economically viable. They will never be in this region.

  7. This is about what is the best, most cost effective public transport option for the whole community and the environment in the long term-not a short term, expensive, bike track for a few selfish people.

    People do like to talk nonsense about the cost of a train service despite the evidence of the Byron line being repaired for a fraction of the ridiculous cost claimed by the state government. It’s not so much red tape that is hindering getting trains running-it’s the state government being held hostage by the road transport lobbyists and the millions they donate to political parties.

    The community knows the value of the C-M line and will not allow it to be destroyed.

  8. Rail trail exponents do not mention the massive cost of installing these bike tracks over the top of a railway corridor that would serve the majority of locals and tourists with a regular train service, while a bike track would serve very few.
    They mention the tunnels in Burringbar – I have it on good advice from a retired railway worker that those tunnels are full of snakes – that is a definite drawback, as well as the security concerns for those wanting to ride through them and for farmers and landowners with biosecurity issues of disease being spread to their land and livestock from people accessing their land.
    The myth that we don’t have enough people who would utilise the train is an obvious furphy – two million visitors to Byron alone each year puts paid to that, let alone the masses of locals who are old, young, disabled or able bodied who would love to be able to move around our region easily, without resorting to having to drive on our perilous country roads.
    We are one of the fastest growing regions in NSW, right next to the 4 largest population in Australia behind Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Yet our government sits on its hands and does not support the people’s needs for transport in this region. Large buses don’t cut it for the many elderly who have to attend specialist treatments in southern Queensland – they are dependent on relatives driving them there and back in preference to taking the bus.
    Our infrastructure needs are being ignored – Lismore is the only city in NSW that does not have a train servicing its population. We need to ask the people what they want – that has never been done!

  9. N.S.W. = NewcastleSydneyWollongong. Being the forgotten north has advantages. Save for the coast we’re not blighted by creative use of concrete ; development. We are blighted with miserable employment prospects and a lack of basic infrastructure. Living in the forgotten North is a lifestyle choice. Logic dictates we connect with Queensland. Our health services already leverage their hospitals. Our children, educated in their universities. Transport for the sparse rural north … if you build it they will come. Build transport infrastructure, connect Qld with our rural and regional centres, and the populations to justify the expense, these will materialise. Our lifestyle will change. If we plan that change, we can still be happy to call Northern Rivers home.

    • Donstar Far from being neglected we have had more per capita spending on transport infrastructure than any where else in the State. The M1 provides a linkage through our area that is much stronger than the corridor ever did. I travel up it from Ballina to have morning coffee with family in Tweed Heads, to the Bay for tea, to shop in the Gold Coast, or catch the train to Brisbane. And the best part is it is the same gauge as the QLD roads! What is missing is achieving the its full potential for public transport. When the distraction of the rail is no longer there people focus on how best to use the M1 to improve our linkages within the area and to diverse locations in SE QLD.

  10. You raise a valid question about the tunnels and snakes – it was noted in the rail trail study and the implementation studies will need to cover it off. The biosecurity issues are often raised but have not proven an issue in the trials in Victoria and elsewhere. The trail is no different from a road passing by a property and cars, trucks and tractors moving at speed disperse far more dirt and contaminants from roads and tracks than numerous bikes. On the bicentennial horse trail – that actually passes through their land -and also on the South Burnett rail trail, there is specific advice to horse riders crossing from tick zones but in neither case is any given for cyclists. Those who value the corridor as a public utility should be more concerned about the current push by NSW Farmers to have the New England rail corridor land granted to adjacent farmers; NSW Farmers told me last week they are still working on that proposal.

    But this discussion is about rail transport. Our area is growing but most of the growth is away from the corridor and we do not have a large enough population living within a reasonable distance of the corridor to support a shuttle rail service. The C-M corridor study found there would be little demand by tourists for rails services or connections. And why would you divert NSW transport funding from services targeted at the elderly and other dependent people around the State to tourists? Most come in cars but for those that do not there are shuttle bus services that service Coolangatta and Ballina airports and tourists destinations and in the case of Coolangatta faster than a rail service via Murbah. Elderly people need to travel to a variety of destinations for specialist treatment, but many more of those people live away from the corridor. Few of the medical faculties they need are easily accessible by rail either here or in SE QLD but all of them can be accessed by road, and those in QLD much more directly up the M1. The NSW Government has just called for expressions of interest for land for the new Tweed hospital between Tweed Heads and Pottsville and up to 10 – 15km inland – in the vicinity of the largest and fastest growing proportion of elderly in NSW. This is a higher public transport priority than trains that serve a corridor that by 2030 will only account for 25% of the region’s population and one that is younger than the Tweed and Ballina coastal areas.

    I must again rebut this idea that Lismore does not have a rail service. It is closer to the XPT station in Casino than are most of the residents of any of the four capitals served by the XPT, and unlike them it has a dedicated bus , that meets the XPT, suitable for passengers with baggage and faster than the former XPT was. What Lismore and other centres need is more regular bus services around our region, not a wasteful rail that would serve a limited and younger population at the expense of the needs of the elderly across our region. Its needs are only neglected because you did not lobby for what the NSW provided to other areas – 3,300 new bus services.

  11. For the benefit of those attending this meeting and anyone interested, I have looked at the recent census data that identifies in which Shires older people live – we know that is 80% of public transport users in our region are over 65 – and also which statistical areas have households in our region do not have a car. I analysed the data in the statistical areas within the Lismore LGA, Byron and Tweed Shires – not but not the Richmond Valley or Kyogle Shires which do not appear to be available on profile.id.com .
    Profile.id data from the census notes that Lismore City and Byron Shire have a lower proportion of persons while Ballina and Tweed Shires have a higher proportion of persons at post retirement age than Regional NSW in 2016. There are 11,100 people over 60 in Lismore, 13,000 in Ballina, 6068 in Byron and 29,783 in the Tweed and the projections are that the number of elderly along the coast will grow faster than along the corridor (Lismore population actually fell from the previous year while Ballina’s grew). . In the most transport dependent over 70s cohort Lismore has 11.8%, Byron 10.3%, Ballina 17.5% and Tweed 18%. .
    I compared the data too on households with no car across the region and compared them with the statistical areas the rail line passed through or near too, including those areas of Lismore that are across the river from Lismore Station. That is a much more generous definition of close to the line than that used by LR proponent Ginn, who suggests you need 200k population within 400m of a station for a commuter rail service. Across the four LGAs there were 4,410 households without a car and 1,196 of these are in statistical areas along the line. The only place with a substantial number of no car households along the line was in Lismore (546); the Bay had 159, Bangalow just 7, Mullum 57, Ocean Shores area 58, while Murwillumbah had 250 and Burringbar 35. Away from the line Tweed Heads had the greatest number (1,421), the Tweed Coast 333, and Ballina 687, including the largest single non-car statistical area across the region, Ballina Island (487).
    I know there are other users of public transport than the elderly and households without a car but I do question if the population near the rail which is younger population and has better access to cars should be the target of a major shift or boost to public transport funding such as that which a rail service would need.

  12. I refer to the title of the article “Community input sought on Casino to M’bah rails. According to the article “ The Greens mayor will then also be speaking at an open public forum about the rail corridor from Casino to Murwillumbah, to be held at the Murwillumbah Community Centre from 6pm on Monday September 25.” I commented on this on NRRAG’s Facebook providing the information I have used in the Echo. NRRAG has now advised that : “I think it would be great for you to have your say at the meeting. Anyone supporting rail will be welcome. If people want to talk bike paths and buses at the expense of rail they won’t be encouraged.” Plainly with a limited transport budget all alternatives ways of delivering public transport are at the expensive of others. I argue for improved bus transport, as does the Casino Murwillumbah Corridor Study, the Regional Transport Plan, the Tweed Shire Transport Plan and Northern Rivers Social Development Council. As such I believe this is a reasonable alternative approach to that which NRRAG argues for , and it is an approach that deserves to be part of any serious community consultation. NRRAG’s comment shows this “consultation” for what it is – a publicity stunt to gain publicity for rail while shutting down any alternative viewpoint on transport within the community.

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