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Byron Shire
June 1, 2023

Northern Rivers Rail Trail will be amazing

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Paul Heymans, president, Brisbane Valley Rail Trail Users Association.

A couple of years ago I had occasion to visit the Northern Rivers region and crossed over the old railway line several times. I thought to myself then, what a stunning rail trail that could be.

I just wanted to congratulate Tweed Shire Council and the Northern Rivers Rail Trail supporters for bringing it all together.

Every rail trail has its naysayers, but when an old railway corridor is repurposed as a rail trail it brings nothing but good to the region.

I can speak from experience, having fought a long and often difficult campaign to get the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail here in Queensland completed.

Many of our landowners who were concerned about biosecurity have come to realise the risk is negligible. There has been no outbreak in crime recorded by the police, apart from occasional illegal motorbikes on the trail.

An old railway corridor is never going to repurposed as a light railway because it would cost billions of dollars to bring the corridor and all those bridges and tunnels up to modern safety standards. In any case, light railway will soon be superseded by new transport technologies that don’t even use rails as we move away from fossil fuels.

By contrast, a rail trail brings in millions of tourism dollars and encourages a more active lifestyle that saves millions of dollars in health costs.

What could be a better use for a disused old railway corridor than giving so much enjoyment and pleasure to so many people?

The Northern Rivers Rail Trail (Murwillumbah to Crabbes Creek) will be one of the most scenic in the country.

It will be an amazing asset for your region. I can’t wait to come and give it a go when it’s completed.


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  1. Thanks Paul for your positive comments. Its been a long struggle with the local “naysayers” but I think we are now making great progress beginning with Tweed Council. Some other Councils are less progressive! I agree that when completed it will be one of the best in the country….or the world!?

  2. Thanks Paul for sharing your views on the Northern Rivers Rail Trail. It is going to be a fantastic asset in our region. It’s good to know that despite the concerns and naysayers the Brisbane Valley Rail trail has been a huge success and goes from strength to strength. I heard that the same thing happened with the Otago Rail trail in New Zealand. At first the farmers and locals opposed it but once it became established these same people opened B&Bs and other businesses along the trail! Build it and they will come is the moto!

    Lets hope our rail trail does not get derailed ny narrow minded nostalgic groups who can’t accept after 14 years the trains are not returning on the Casino to Murwillumbah line.

  3. Paul,
    In writing credibility is extremely important. In the first sentence If you were thinking to yourself and you remembered the thought that you were thinking then you would know the time that you were thinking it.
    That gives credibility.
    In 2016 on June 12 at 4.03pm I got crossed up bit a couple of times as I crossed over the old railway line several times on that day. I had occasion to visit the Northern Rivers region on a cool sunny day. On the second crossing I thought to myself just what a stunning rail trail that could be. I got a bit cross with myself as i did not think of it on the first crossing.

  4. Paul I can reconfirm your comment about negativity before the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail began as I sat and chatted with farmers and residents at the Linville Hotel last year . The publican/owner also joined in the conversation as he was keen too spread the word about how the rail trail had brought their town and especially his business back too life . The publican mentioned just one farmer now still objected to the rail trail but that even if the rail trailers threw gold at this farmer he would object (a stubborn head in the sand type). The welcome mat was put out in every town that myself and 9 other Byron Shire residents visited on the BVRT. I enjoyed the running on the trail while the others rode mostly stock standard mountain bikes . If you went into the towns along the BVRT now and told them that the rail trail was being closed you would be strung up or marched out of town . A bit of rusty steel and rotten timber sleepers is all that is stopping the Northern Rivers rom having a world class rail trail that our children can run,walk or cycle on daily . These rusty steel rails and rotten sleepers is keeping an unused asset in an ever depreciating state of decay that nobody can enjoy .
    Bring on the Rail Trail.

  5. My family and friends have used the BVRT many times over the years since its completion, enjoying camping where possible, and it’s not too far for a day trip either. We are able to ride our horses in a safe environment, utilising a trail that would have disappeared. the towns are friendly and we support local business when staying in the ares.
    We are not too far to make the Tweed Rail Trail a destination, it will definitely be on our to-do list, and have been keeping a close eye on the progress. Thanks for all your hard work. Happy Trails

  6. Paul stay home – weve got 2.4 million visitors already thanks. And why the ongoing train naysayers propaganda? It wouldn’t cost billions of dollars to upgrade the tracks. The actual facts are that both Qld and NSW are spending $Billions building new rail lines. We need public transport, we already have significant recreational areas – you can ride your bike along the beach down from Tweed to Byron. Public transport is a social need issue, that actually allows particularly various sections of our community to access living in our communities, like fit people like you and I do.

    • John I believe the majority of residents across the Northern Rivers do not want a return to the mendicant Northern Rivers of a few decades ago with its high dependency on welfare and at one point the highest rate of child poverty in NSW . As such I most owuld welcome investments that bring employment to our area, particularly environmentally friendly tourism that at most brings no more traffic to the area than the an arrival and a departure several days later. Nor is there any evidence that more than a minority are interested int he return of a heavily subsidise public transport, one that the governemnt was advised in three reviews over three decades would not meet the regions transport need. The first, the1994 Kearney Sinclair Knight review, referred to its “poor targeting”, which if rail were reintroduced would be worse with with fewer public transport dependent households along the rail corridor and more among the fast growing elderly population in the coastal areas of the Tweed and Ballina coasts.

      Public transport is a social needs issue, and I note that the Northern Rivers Social Development Council (NRSDC) submission to the Government’s 2015 inquiry last year into access to transport for seniors and disadvantaged people in regional NSW, offered practical and affordable suggestions on how to make the buses more accessible, but which did not once mention the train or the rail.

      Finally can I point out the absurdity of suggesting that visitors ride their bikes on beaches. That is possible now but few people do not come to the region to tour along the beach – apart from environmental concerns it would soon damage a touring bicycle. There is however ample evidence that rail trails attract tourist, something you apparently acknowledge in your opening sentence.

  7. Yes John they could ride their bikes on the bike track that will be built alongside the rail line, which a rail engineer has estimated can be built for $50,000 per kilometer not the $13m the government is planning to spend. The rest of the funds will restore the line for trains to connect locals and two million tourists to Coolangatta and on to Brisbane.

    Less carbon emissions and less traffic means roads in towns will be safer for cyclists and children to ride to school as they used to do.

    Everyone wins and no one is deprived of necessary public transport.

    • Louise I will not comment on the suggestion that the rail trail can be built for less beside the track; we will see if it is possible if that engineer puts in his compliant bid for the Tweed section for far less than any proposal to build it on formation.

      The rail cannot be connected to QLD without either replacing the whole line here with a QLD gauge line – which would not connect at Casino – or building a standard gauge line to Brisbane airport – whichever way would cost billions. If you have to transfer it’s faster, simpler and far cheaper to use road transport. Unless you shift public transport funding from public and community transport dependent people around NSW to subsidise tourists. I note the example of Sydney Airport where the cost of such a rail service is recovered by a heavy platform fee; that fee would need to be a hundred or more dollars for tourists to travel by rail to destinations like the Bay.

      Unless you spend hundreds of millions more on ugly overhead wires, any reintroduction of rail would be a heavy investment in a non-renewable fueled transport with high carbon impact. As the Arup report found and commonsense should tell you, that service would do little to reduce the use of cars: it does not go along the busiest traffic corridors in our region like Ballina – Lismore; it would not displace the need for road trips within towns; and it does not offer any speed, safety, accessibility, environmental or other significant advantage . It would return us to the days of my youth when people had long waits and trips on trains and connecting buses to get to school and other destinations. For far less money you could follow the example of the ACT and introduce electric buses that can run all day on 100% renewable power, and they can serve those people and destinations on the corridor and the much larger number of destinations and public transport dependent people away from it. It would take sustainable EVs from being the plaything of the wealthy to being available for the price of a bus ticket

      Do you want an expensive, disconnected. poorly targeted second rate, carbon polluting train, or a better value, better targeted, 100% renewable road based public transport network? . .

  8. Speaking the truth Paul , the growth in tourism in the Brisbane Valley over the past years is amazing and you and the BVRT can take a lot of credit for it.

  9. Loving the comments, especially Len Heggarty. It seems I don’t know my own thoughts. Or maybe I do. Depends when I crossed the old railway line. Was it the first time or the second time? Did I even cross it? Maybe it was just a random thought and I wasn’t even in Northern Rivers…but what a beautiful thought it was.

    I actually do remember the occasion. It was 16 July 2016. I was collecting an historical bicycle for the Toogoolawah History Museum that once belonged to the famous Jubilee cyclist, Les Cecil. He was born in Toogoolawah on the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail, so a nice little connection between the two rail trails there.

    Phew, credibility restored.

    As for former local Councillor, John Lazarus, why not come and visit the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail? I’d be happy to give you a tour. A bit of ‘on the ground’ research might help with your credibility.

    And for everyone clamouring for the railway to be restored, my observation about the costs was based on information provided by the manager of the railway corridors team for the Queensland Government in the Dept of Transport and Main Roads It was in relation to another rail trail here in Queensland where there is similar ill-informed opposition.

    Recommissioning any old railway line to modern standards would cost billions, not millions and will soon be made redundant by new developments in sustainable, on demand, mass transport technologies that in the not too distant future will even replace the motor car as we know it.

    In the meantime, what could be more a sustainable than the good old bicycle or shanks’s pony?

    Northern Rivers Rail Trail will be a great investment for the region. It will be stunning.

  10. “Millions of tourist dollars” and “saves millions of dollars in health costs”. Those statements are delusional at best. You have completely overstated the benefits of rail trails. Unless you can provide solid figures (not estimations either and preferably from Government) to support such fanciful claims, those statements are exactly that – fanciful at best. It’s also important to remember that not all rail trails are so successful.

    The statement that it would cost “billions” to restore the railway line for lightweight trains is also completely inaccurate. I’m guessing you are quoting the ARUP report, done by a company that has been discredited and sued for providing inaccurate figures for another project. The ARUP Murwillumbah Line study itself has also been widely discredited and questioned by experts in the field, namely rail engineers and former rail employees. The Murwillumbah Line study estimation was also 50% contingencies (page 126 of the report), meaning the actual cost for infrastructure repair is estimated at closer to $400M (page 125 of the report). Whilst still expensive, this is nowhere near “billions of dollars”. Continuing to say the restoration of rail would cost “billions of dollars” is both disingenuous and completely inaccurate, even when quoting the ARUP report. The abnormally high contingencies are likely a result of the fact that very little of the line was actually inspected. I would have thought it would be very difficult to provide accurate predictions on infrastructure that hasn’t actually been inspected!. Even $400M however sounds very hard to believe for a rail line that has only been closed for 14 years, is only 130km long and largely still remains in good condition today. It is also worth remembering the fact that the most expensive aspects of railway line development are land acquisition and earthworks, which are all already existing on our railway line.

    I fully support rail trails, provided they go beside existing rail lines. The two can work hand-in-hand to the benefit of this region, and that is a vision I fully support.

  11. Yes Wayne. People who continue to make such wildly inaccurate, unsubstantiated assertions, and continue to quote the long discredited ARUP ‘study’ have no credibility.

    The Northern Rivers region, which most the C-M line traverses, has over five million tourists each year and cannot be compared in any way to the Brisbane Valley.

    Obviously these people have never used the Gold Coast train, which is always packed. But they just don’t want to know about that as it doesn’t suit their agenda.

    The majority of North Coast residents know we must have a train service to reduce the traffic congestion and carbon emissions, with a cycleway along side, which will cost little more than our appalling politicians are willing to spend to destroy a rail line worth BILLIONS!

    • Louisie, I would really like to know why you think the ARUP study has been discredited? Because you won’t accept the findings? Please try and back your statements with evidence and not just make unfounded assertions. There is no study in existence that supports the return of the trains as it not feasible nor does the corridor serve the current and future growth areas in our regions. Sorry for your loss but after almost 15 years it is time to move on. The rail trail is going to a fantastic asset in our region and it is FEASIBLE and has FUNDING right now!

      • Damon, the ARUP report has been discredited a number of times by rail engineers and experts in the field, including ex-rail employees. It has been regarded as an overestimated work of almost total fiction.

        An example of a report that supports and recommends the immediate reintroduction of rail services would be the Pricewaterhouse Coopers report. This yielded a favourable result for the repair rail infrastructure. A Parliamentary Inquiry also recommended the immediate introduction of a frequent rail shuttle service. Our population and annual tourism levels have grown since then, making a compelling case for rail reintroduction.

        • Wayne, who are these so called engineers and experts? I’m unable to find anything on record that says the ARUP report has been discredited other than vague statements from TOOT and NRRAG. The 14 year old Price Water House was an assessment done back in 2004 when the line closed. As far as I can tell this assessment only looks at the running costs and does not look at the ‘whole’ picture ie is the train the best and most viable option to move people around in our region. The detailed ARUP report in 2014 that was done by transport engineers and planners, not accountants and looks at the bigger picture. TOOT and NRAAG are misleading people by saying the ARUP report has been discredited.

          • There are a few examples of the study being discredited, one of which being from ex-State Rail employee Phillip Hill. Being on the inside, Phillip knows about costs associated with infrastructure and the plan regarding funding for the Murwillumbah Line. I don’t see how “TOOT and NRRAG are misleading people by saying in the ARUP report has been discredited”? Fact is it has been discredited by experienced experts. Wether you agree with their position or not is beside the point.

            The 2012/2013 ARUP report hardly examined the ‘whole’ picture either, despite the fact it looked at other transport options. For starters, it only inspected very little of the railway line itself. Second, it only considered the track restoration costs associated with XPT reintroduction and timetabling, and based its transport option conclusions on this. It did not consider the tourism benefits of rail or the economic contributions of tourism, which by contrast was a major focus of their rail trail report. The fact very little of the line was inspected combined with the narrow focus regarding rail type/usage is likely part of the reason the costs associated with track restoration for the Byron Solar Train, a lightweight frequent railcar shuttle service, contrast so sharply with the estimates provided by ARUP.

          • Wayne Brown comments of the Arup report: “Fact is it has been discredited by experienced experts. Wether you agree with their position or not is beside the point. ” What is more to the point is that successive governments have heeded the Arup report which is the only recent published assessment of the cost and benefits of refurbishing the line. It is telling that when the Greens came up with its “estimate” of $50m for Casino Lismore all it could rely on was the per km cost of rural Victoria. Both Labor and the LNP have ended up following the advice of not just the Arup report, but of RailCorp to the 2004 Legislative Council Inquiry that commuter rail would be expensive and attract little patronage, and the Kearney Sinclair Knight review in the nineties that referred to the poor targeting of any investment on the line. They have concluded that the rail line does not provide good value transport, that it does not serve priority populations and routes, and that its recurrent as well as capital costs would be high – and that all stands regardless of how many hundred million refurbishing the line would cost. The number of households without a car has declined along the line but grown along the Ballina and Tweed Coasts, as has traffic in and out of Ballina and of Tweed Heads, exacerbating the poor targeting of investment in rail.

            Australian Bureau of Transport Safety data show a rail service would not be any saf,r and while EV buses are now running on renewable power for hundreds of kms, a rail service along the length of the C-M line would still need dirty diesel . It is time to stop arguing about the costings of Arup report and focus on its key message – that rail will not get people out of cars and will not serve our transport needs of those who depend on public transport as well as better buses that go near where they live and go past where they need to go. If you want a dirty diesel public transport that does not go where the elderly and other users live and need to go, vote for the Greens; if you want well targeted 100% sustainable road-based public transport running on properly maintained roads preference the Greens last. .

          • Replying to Wayne Brown about ex railway worker Philip Hill and his so called knowledge of the line but after reading his letter in The Echo dated 22 June 2014 I am not sure if he was asleep when driving the trains .
            His use of words ie
            ‘Being a former State Rail employee I spent many years working these sections and I know that between Mullumbimby and Bangalow is some of the best track on the branch line. It has only a small number of low level bridges, has excellent alignment and surface and was carrying locomotives of up to 130 tonnes in weight.’
            Excellent alignment is far from the truth with 22 curves having a radius of 400 metre or less that kept the train at a maximum speed of 65kmh and many sections at 50kmh. Also about 30 bridges or culverts between Mullum and Bangers. The Curve and Gradient Diagrams charts from the Rail Access Corporation dated July 1999 will give readers the true slowness of the Northern Rivers line .
            Keeping people in cars will be so easy if they reinstate trains on the old corridor with its steam age alignment .


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