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Byron Shire
September 20, 2021

Our most disadvantaged need transport too

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Beth Shelley, NNRAG, Booerie Creek.

One of the reasons I’m passionate about having trains on the Casino to Murwillumbah railway line is I used to work in a Domestic Violence Housing service in Lismore where over 50 per cent of tenants were Aboriginal women and children. About 90 per cent of these women didn’t have a car or even a licence.

Often the school system had failed them so they dropped out in year 9, had anxiety about doing the learner’s computer test and other barriers in the way.

If they weren’t local they took buses or walked, with small children and babies. If they were locals they’d call on family for lifts. We had a staff member from a local family and all through her work day she would get calls from family needing lifts.


The women and children in our service didn’t have the luxury of a day at the beach or a train trip to visit family. Their lives were narrow and limited, stuck at home and in poverty.

When I worked at Casino Youth Service I met large numbers of young Aboriginal people and only one that had a bike. Other youth workers said that in the past young people could catch a train to the beach and now they can’t.

Politicians have forgotten the most disadvantaged groups in our region. We need trains to be fair to those who can’t drive. I would love to live in a community where everyone had the same opportunities to a reasonable quality of life. Wouldn’t you?


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  1. This Beth for the greater part is the most sensible letter you have written on this subject as you are now focussing on the public transport needs within our community. The only jarring note though is the suggestion that we need trains to be fair to those who can’t drive. None of the issues you around transport dependency cannot be addressed more fairly and comprehensively by providing a network of regular accessible buses throughout our region – and that includes along the corridor. A train service would be far more expensive and would not serve the majority of transport dependent people in the region.
    Over 80% of public transport users in the region are over 65. Profile.id data from the 2016 census notes that Lismore City and Byron Shire have a lower proportion of persons at post retirement age than Regional NSW while Ballina and Tweed Shires have a higher proportion than Regional NSW in 2016 . In the most transport dependent over 70s cohort Lismore has 11.8%, Byron 10.3%, Ballina 17.5% and Tweed 18%. The 2016 census data shows that only 25% of people in non-car households live in the statistical areas along or near the line, and only a smaller proportion again live within the 400 metres that transport planners normally use as a reasonable distance to get to train or bus stop. The proportion of car owning household in the areas along the line has grown since the last census, but in coastal areas away from the line the proportion has stayed the same. The Byron Shire argues for a for a shuttle service on the Byron line for a tourist service that might also provide a transport into the Bay. That would serve just 122 non-car households in the statistical areas along the Byron line, but it will do nothing for the 687 non-car households in Ballina or the 1,756 non-car in the coastal area of the Tweed Shire. Casino is one centre of aboriginal population along the line, but other areas with relatively large populations like Goonellabah, the lower Richmond and West Ballina are not. Even for Byron Bay the transport movements are now greater to and from Ballina than Lismore.
    At the recent NRMA Roadshow on road and transport issues in Lismore public transport was one of the top three issues. The closure of the train was raised but just as many people accepted that it was not coming back as advocated for its return, and all agreed that, regardless of whether it was a train or not, connectivity was critical and “first mile – last mile” issues – how do you get from your home to the transport and from the transport to your final destination. Those comments reflect the Sustain Northern Rivers Transport Survey 2013 which found the largest barrier to public transport use was timetabling constraints (30%) – only 9% thought not having a train would help increase public transport use. The Northern Rivers Social Development Council (NRSDC) submission to the Government’s inquiry last year into access to transport for seniors and disadvantaged people in regional NSW focussed on timetable, routing and accessibility issues on the buses.
    I know NRRAG and its supporters have tired of hearing these arguments but they remain valid. Those who cannot drive deserve regular, more frequent transport, and for longer periods in the day and for longer during the week. Restoring rail services is costly and would strip funds from needed to provide better road transport that goes where those transport people live and takes them where they need to go. The Government has again announced thousand of new bus services in NSW this week – when will public transport advocates start lobbying for them here?

  2. Another great reply by Peter H. I agree, rather than focusing on the train if Beth had campaigned for better transport options such as a mini bus that could serve this disadvantaged group then maybe we would actually have such a service today. This service would cost a fraction of the cost of bringing trains back and could be implemented almost immediately. A small regular mini bus service also has the advantage of servicing to communities that aren’t along the railway corridor.

    • Thanks for your support Damon and to the Echo too for continuing to ensure there is a forum to express all viewpoints on this matter. I understand the private bus operators generally do not use smaller buses because they already have larger ones to take kids to school, and like any business they need to balance fuel savings against the higher capital cost of buying additional smaller units. If you were to put on more frequent services – such as the hourly service along the Tweed Coast – they might find it worthwhile to purchase smaller units . If point-of-use pollution is an issue or locals consider it an imperative, government or councils could be subsidise the purchase of 100% renewable electric buses now in use in Canberra and being produced in Adelaide, and do so for a lot less than the capital costs of restoring the rail to a condition it could provide an efficient and prompt commuter service. It is interesting to note that the private sector has responded to the demand for express direct transport from the Bay to Brisbane and the airports using smaller buses. But of course those private shuttle bus services respond to real rather than imagined demand and do not attract the public subsidies that rail supporters expect.

  3. Some interesting comments from you Peter.
    I’m unsure how often you commute on the roads between Brisbane and the Northern Rivers but since I do, I can tell you that road congestion is increasing and access into Byron Bay, Ballina, Lismore and Casino regularly grinds to a halt due to traffic accidents, roadworks, and peak hour traffic. Other issues like flooding, and increasingly larger trucks can cause mayhem.

    These are not problems you would expect on railways that have their own corridors and single travel time occupancy..

    Local and international tourism demands are increasing in the area.
    Have you ever tried carrying your bike, surfboard or wheeled luggage on a bus? The volumes that are transported in comfort on rail far exceed the services offered by buses.

    We need diversified transport options. The state and federal governments have abrogated their responsibilities in off-loading public transport to a user pays private sector, in rural areas, tending to spend billions only in capital cities. These private operators run their services to make a profit and rarely run services outside of peak times.

  4. My comments referred to the size of buses not on the suitability of road transport to Brisbane compared to rail. Since you mention it though, while I do not suggest some congestion is not possible with accidents and road works – it is not a serious issue on the Pacific Highway this side f the border. There are peak hour delays on the highway in QLD, but given it took longer for the XPT to get from say Lismore or Byron Bay to the Murbah than it takes on the highway to Tweed Heads, spending billion dollars connecting the old rail line to QLD will not make for faster journeys. To upgrade the rail to the point that it could provide a transport service faster than road vehicles within our area would again be prohibitive, and would still leave people with longer journeys because of first mile last mile issues, because it does not service the places of greatest public transport dependence and because it does not services the key public transport destinations. All transport modes are subject to disruption. Flooding blocked the M1 this year but only for a short time and vehicles were able to use alternative routes; by contrast the – the rail to Canberra closed for months for repairs a few years ago, but few people noticed because they have availlable faster and cheaper buses to Sydney almost every hour.

    I carried my bike daily on buses in Canberra – they have racks just for that purpose – and they also carry wheelchairs, double strollers and mobility scooters (I might also ask have you ever carried a bike on a NSW rail train – they make you put it on a box). You do not need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to come to ensure buses meet your transport needs.

    In respect of private operators contracted to run public transport, of course they do so to make a profit. What time they run depends on what they are contracted to do. Instead of wasting the additional cost of providing a shuttle service by rail, why not spend it on providing more frequent bus services, clock-faced and over a longer period in the day and week. We do not need diversified services – diversification in transport for its own sake – that just means higher cost and more changes in service to get where you need to go. What we need the best possible transport for limited funds, and as most people in our area concluded in the 30s road can deliver a better transport services.


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