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June 21, 2021

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Geoff Bensley, Byron Bay

I was dismayed by Beth Shelley’s letter from the Northern Rivers Railway Action Group (NRRAG). She stated that the railway line is being ripped up for a bike path that will only be used by a small number of cyclists with money, inclination and fitness and that the corridor is taken away from the majority of the public.

Beth avoided the fact that rail trails are used by walkers, runners, horse riders and people on mobility scooters as well as bikes.

In towns that have rail trails they have the worldwide phenomenon of Parkruns, a 5km run every Saturday morning that is free and run by volunteers. Lismore, Ballina and Kingscliff Parkruns have more than 100 runners every Saturday made up of adults, children and families.

Getting our residents outdoors doing fitness activities in a safe corridor without cars would lower our health and mental costs plus give everyone a chance to meet other locals and visitors. Walking is free for everyone, running is free for everyone, and cycling can be quite cheap on a secondhand bicycle.

Beth is starting to go down the path of a tourist train on the northern rivers corridor, a service that locals cannot afford for general work-travel and pensioners will not get cheap travel.

The cheapest tourist train is in Qld with a fare of $115 for a 155km trip and the government subsidises each trip to the value of $650. When NRRAG start talking about tourist trains just take a look at what is occurring in Gympie with its Mary Valley Rattler tourist train and its $17.5m financial black hole after blowing out from the original $10m reinstatement cost.

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  1. Whilst Ms Shelley’s primary focus is the establishment of a passenger rail service, which in itself would have substantial benefits to the whole population (of all ages, abilities, etc.), you Geoff fail to acknowledge that tourist trains have huge benefits for the areas in which they run. They offer substantial economic growth and make a considerable contribution to local businesses thanks to large and frequent groups of tourists giving the local areas a big boost.

    The proposed rail trail would be unsealed gravel. A mountain bike would be preferable for this, and a lower quality mountain bike combined with all the necessary equipment would set you back roughly $200 – $300. But given the long length of the proposed trail, something higher-quality and much more comfortable would be required, especially for the long distance events you talk about. A good-quality, long lasting, comfortable set up costs anywhere from $1,000 – $2,000. Professional gear for a superior experience would be closer to $2,000 however. I know if I was to set out on the proposed rail trail with the intention of enjoyment, I would need good quality equipment, not a secondhand bucket of bolts or a cheapie from Big W. The truth is the cheap’n’nasty approach simply wouldn’t suffice for the long-distance cycling that would be required. Not sure that I would walk/run from say Casino to Lismore (roughly 12 hours) either.

    The Mary Valley Railway is not a good example as it involves a different track gauge, old rolling stock and the restoration and running of old steam trains, which immediately makes it unique. A much more relevant example would be a recent occurrence in the Mudgee valley, where 7km of railway was restored for $1.1 million, with regular tourist trains commencing operations this year using a dedicated railmotor set currently being refurbished. But even if you did want to use the Mary Valley Railway as an example, at $17.5M for 40km, it’s excellent value for money and will pay for itself in tourism dollars. Then compare this to the proposed Casino to Lismore rail trail, at 30km for $32 million, that makes the said tourist train look very cheap indeed.

    • Wayne the original Mary Valley Rattler was 43km but has been scaled back to 20km and the town that it visits only has a one shop , a general store . I can only imagine 100 people alighting from the train and finding a shop that can not cater for this mad rush in a short period period.
      After seeing how many people do the 6km walk to the Byron Bay Lighthouse from Main Beach every day I can see that people love walking , it is free . A heritage tourist train cost approximately $1 per kilometre one way or $1.50 return fare .
      Even the Puffing Billy with 340,000 users each year can only make a profit of $2M after avoiding a $4M wages bill from 900 volunteers . If our local council goes down the path of running a tourist train our ratepayers will get stung like is occurring at Gympie .
      The Mary Valley Rattler is still not running and may end up hitting a $20M reinstatement cost , this is for an existing tourist train not a new train .

      • Addendum- Amamoor (20km from Gympie) has a general store and 1 cafe. Imbil (43km from Gympie) the original turn around point for the Mary Valley Rattler was already geared up for rail tourists but sadly has lost out. The Mary Valley Rattler loco was derailed twice in 2012 and 50% of the sleepers needed replacing.

    • Gary
      It is all very well to suggest the benfits of rail touriam but aside from the current Elements train – who is proposing to invest in restoring the rails and providing a tourist rail? No one has identified any transport need that a rail servvice would meet and unlike the rail trail there is no proposal to attract tourists with a rail service. (the Byron LIne proposals specifcally states that is not its intention). As such there is no justification for public funding of restoration of the rail infrastructure. There is an opportunity cost to retaining the rails in case someone does want to run a service – unless bids to construct the stage one in the Tweed show otherwise we would expect it will add to the costs of building the rail trail and could compromise its design and add to maintenance costs.

      On your comments on the rail trail. A mountain bike will not be needed to enjoy it. If it is gravel any ordinary bike – aside from a very narrow tyred road bike ie a bike built for racing – will be suitable. People with cheap bikes might only ride from one town to the next and back but if they want to ride the length of it it will just take a bit longer. Rail trails in an area often provide a catalyst that helps people realise how easy it is to cover distances on any bike, and that can help people reduce their dependence on their car or even tthe need for a second car in the household, with attendent economic, environmental and health benifits.


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