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Byron Shire
June 23, 2024

Rail trail has no social licence

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The NSW government currently has a large surplus budget thanks to the sale of public infrastructure i.e. the poles and wires which carry our electricity.

Victoria has a Regional Rail Network Development Plan jointly funded by the federal government.

However, in NSW our government is not providing suitable sustainable transport to the Northern Rivers even though there is existing infrastructure in the Casino to Murwillumbah branch line.

The public has a willingness to use trains which run on a regular daily timetable. The Byron Solar Train has demonstrated the popularity of such a train service by carrying over 19,000 passengers in the initial weeks of operation.

Since the closure of the Casino to Murwillumbah line, Trains On Our Tracks (TOOT) and Northern Rivers Railway Action Group (NRRAG) have collected 18,000 signatures demanding reinstatement of train services on the line.

The government and local councils have not undertaken any community consultation on this issue but unilaterally decided to fund a bike track on the line itself.

This is not a much needed transport option for the Northern Rivers and will cause the overturn of legislation which decrees the gazetted rail corridor remain in public trust for use by railway services.

There is no social permission to create a recreational bike track which dictates the destruction of local rail infrastructure.

This is a valued transport corridor which once lost will never again be reinstated.

Thousands of voters are feeling betrayed by NLP politicians who previously made pre-election promises to bring back our train service if re-elected.

Take note local politicians, there will be a voter backlash at the next election if we lose our transport corridor.

Dian Flint, NRRAG

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  1. The majority of older households and those without a car in our region live away from the rail – there is no social licence for anyone to shift the bulk of limited funds for public transport to provide a rail service for the minority who live along the line. The NSW government spent some of the surplus in the last budget on thousands of new bus services around NSW. But because of the obsession by some people with the train and the lack of interest in lobbying for true sustainable public transport that actually focuses on people’s needs, our region received just four. Every properly done survey on public transport shows that while some would like a train overwhelmingly people’s main concerns with public transport are about connectivity, routing and timetabling – all issues much more easily and economically addressed by better bus services. Back in 2003 the Richmond Valley Council Transport Working Group undertook a survey in which 60% of respondents indicated they would utilise public transport if issues such as availability, times and frequency of services were addressed; the Sustain Northern Rivers Transport Survey a decade later found only 9% thought not having a train would help increase public transport use, compared with frequency/regularity (27%) and availability (17.5%) – all concerns better bus services can satisfy.

    The Byron train is a tourist service that quite rightly was popular over the school holidays. While some people doubtless do use it regularly, there is no data that shows it is providing a significant impact on the Bay’s public transport needs and there has been no attempt to integrate it with existing transport. The Tweed Coast bus services has carried similar numbers of passengers over a longer period and shows regular timetabled bus services are popular with people who need public transport – not just a pleasant tourist trip. Unlike the train, bus services can be routed to places users need to go, like hospitals, campuses and airports; the Byron Easy bus and similar shuttle services show buses that focus on users needs and have good connectivity with other public transport run with very good levels of patronage.

    As there is no interest in providing a rail service by any current or likely future NSW government, and there has never been shown any interest in ratepayers or passengers paying the hundred or more dollars down the rail line. People have expressed the view they would like the corridor to remain, but there is no social mandate for spending large sums of money to keep the rails and more importantly the ballast on the corridor when the latter is unlikely to be used if rail ever were to return. People have voted for a council that has long supported the rail trail, and for state and a federal governments that are have policies that aim to provide opportunities for economic development, and to sell off underutilised publicly owned assets. The NSW government has agreed the rail trail provides a high value use, and that will help protect it from further consideration from the sell off to adjoining farmers and others that would likely have otherwise occurred.

    Voters should be concerned by representatives like those Greens whose want to redirect money away from real public transport for our elderly and want to redirect rates needed for our roads – or raise rates as they did in the ACT – to invest in rail dreams that are unlikely to happen in our lifetimes.

  2. Peter Hatfield does not seem to understand the significance of retaining the rails on the C-M line.
    They are the expensive part of the infrastructure, and while they are retained rail services can easily and quickly and cheaply be restored. Once they are gone restoration of services is a major expense, and would require re-compliance with standards and a long bureaucratic process such as a new railway would go through. It is not sufficient to say that a rail trail would protect the corridor – that is a minor point. It is protected by legislation at present, and the rail trail proposal will require that protection to be removed to enable the track to be removed. No case appears to have been made as to why the trail needs to be on the track bed at all. In view of the serious implications of removing the track, a very strong case would need to be made that the trail cannot be placed elsewhere in the corridor. It would seem very strange to expect a minor recreational facility that does not provide transport usable by most people in their daily travels could take precedence over an existing major public transport facility. It would be like closing the Pacific Freeway to build a cycleway on the route.

  3. Robin Restoration of rail services is a major expense whether the rails are there or not (the Casino Murwillumbah transport study found the rails were not the problems but the ballast and wooden sleepers. It is not an existing transport facility, it is a disused corridor that passes through communities whose use of public transport is insignificant , which is away from most of the elderly transport dependent households and the Tweed part does not align with the NSW governments plans to protect a corridor for any extension of rail south of Tweed Heads. The NSW government advises it has no intention of opening the line as studies by successive governments have found it “…would not meet current or future transport needs”. No government can justify continuing to outlay millions to maintain a corridor it does not intend using If the rail trial is not built on any part of the corridor the Transport Act can easily be amended to sell the land to adjoin farmers or developers. We will see if the tenders propose a rail trail that meets users expectations of a level, completely off road experience that can be built beside the rail. In the absence of any proposed use for the rails a strong case would need to be made for spending money to retain them.


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