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Byron Shire
March 22, 2023

Return of Rail Rally at Billi

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Optimistic train lovers a the Return of Rail Rally in Billinudgel. Photo supplied.

Two groups who want to see trains run again on the Far North Coast banded together for a Return of Rail Rally at Billinudgel.

Trains On Our Tracks (TOOT ) and the Northern Rivers Railway Action Group (NRRAG) hosted an afternoon of speakers, musicians and a poet recently in the grounds of the Billinudgel Pub.

Speakers included locals Jan Mangleson and Kevin Basing, the 93-year-old last station master of Billinudgel Railway Station. They recounted historical connections to the Casino – Murwillumbah line.

A horse and buggy would collect travellers from the train at Billinudgel Station to ride to New Brighton, the first surfing beach in Byron Shire.

The groups wanted to highlight what they say is the importance of the railway to the local community, since it was established in 1894. They say the current lack of rail services in the region affects the old who have trouble travelling to hospitals and to visit family, while the young leave the Northern Rivers to live in other regions that have workable public transport.

They also say that 2.2 million visitors to Byron Bay each year are not being catered for.

Many at the rally, of over 200 people, were older members of the community seeking the return of rail to service those unable or unwilling to brave the increasingly congested and dangerous roads.

NRRAG’s Beth Shelley urged those wanting the return of rail to vote for the Greens first, ahead of their other preferences in the state election.

Past TOOT president and Byron councillor Basil Cameron spoke, as well as Bill Fenelon, current president of TOOT, who is running as the Tweed Greens candidate.

An avid bike rider, Mr Fenelon said he supports a bike track beside the railway line, not the demolition of the tracks as is being promoted by rail trailers and election candidates from some other parties.

Rally organiser Lydia Kindred said the cost of refurbishing the whole 132 km rail line according to rail manager Brian Fisher is between $50 and $100 million. ‘It’s not the $7.25 million per km stated by the government via the questionable ARUP report.’

Artists supporting the cause included Clelia Adams, Ray Essery, Stan Ceglinski, Wendy Ford and Chris Fisher, the all-girl Cheryl and the Muffin Tops as well as the entertaining youngsters and older Alohahula dancers.

Greens Lismore candidate Sue Higginson spoke passionately about policy commitment to safeguard the rail corridor for future public transport services.

Those attending the rally demanded the continuation of the current protection of the Casino–Murwillumbah railway corridor for future commuter and tourist rail services, with some freight, and a bike trail running beside the railway line, what they see as a win-win outcome for all.

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  1. Sounds like a great idea bring rail back – this would mean the bypass should go ahead on butler st with the bus interchange, leaving the track and corridor free for the return of trains.

    Think the butler st people need get over it!

    • The Butler st people have continually identified that the bypass would fit on the Rail Reserve, with enough room for a train and a cycle path. Is your actual reason for putting a bypass road through the wetlands to allow development of presently inaccessible privately owned blocks in the wetlands (granted private sale from Sydney about 120 years ago), or to facilitate the rumored major Coles development on the present caravan park at the end of Butler St?
      And presume that you will just ‘get over it’ if the bypass doesnt eventuate

  2. Perhaps when the train returns we could also bring back the horse and buggy?? And we could re-introduce the sailing ships after the jetty is rebuilt at Byron. How about some Zeppelins over Ballina. Dream on guys….

    • We do have several horse and buggies that regularly come into Burringbar near the rail line.
      I am sure many more would come up and down the line to cater for tourists, as would Uber and smaller buses.
      There are whole industries that would spring up from some of the plans promoted here.
      The benefits would be so much more expansive than in the past as we have an evolving tourism base to work with.
      Don’t be negative and cynical.

  3. What the rail lobby and Sue Higginnson and Bill Fenelon never tell you is that the high cost of the rail the Greens have brought to the ACT is no faster and runs less often than the bus it replaces. no direct commuter buses for lower income households in outer areas , cuts to school bus services and hundreds of dollars of higher rates. They pretend a government is going to use half of the budget surplus to put a train for the relatively small population along the line – a population only growing slowly – that does not go near the fast growing population of older public transport dependent people along our coast. They do not mention either that buses can now carry passengers the length of our region on a single charge of renewable energy, whereas the ACT’s train off the grid can only go a few flat kilometers.

    Meanwhile the Greens make great promises about the most sustainable from of transport – the cycle – but have not shown they will get anything built. No one outside the “train bubble” believes Fenelon’s unworkable cop out of building a rail beside a train track Does Mr Fenelon seriously think people who come for a enjoyably flat cycling holiday if that means riding along main highways or over St Helena or the Burringbar range? The reality is the Greens are now hostile to recreational and cycling and cycle tourism. The independent Mayor of Ballina who has delivered good planning and well maintained infrastructure, with a network of cycle paths that people come from the Byron and Lismore LGAs to enjoy, and he is not endorsing the current Green member – he knows they will not deliver funds for cycling infrastructure.

    If you don’t want what we know happens when the Greens get power :
    – a dirty diesel train
    – school buses cut
    – Byron Shire under-funding and destruction of our area’s and our state’s roads
    – no money for new EV buses
    – stagnation in real public transport targeted at those who need it
    – four more years of neglect of development around town and inter town cycling infrastructure
    make sure this time you preference the Greens last:
    …if you do not want a distorted neglected unsustainable transport system with cyclists forced to dodge death on decrepit poorly lighted roads: preference the Greens last.

  4. Although twenty metres or so wide, much of the width of the rail corridor is taken up by cuttings and embankments. There simply is not enough width to build a second formation for a trail. And what about the tunnels running through ridges up to one hundred metres above?

    Even if there were enough width, the cost to construct drainage would be enormous and the the resulting trail would be incredibly compromised. To succeed, our tail needs to be a world class facility, not a goat track scratched down in the grunge along the edge of the corridor. Retaining the rails would also blow out the maintenance cost only to crumble into rust.

    The notion that the dozens of decayed trestle bridges can be replaced and services restored for a few tens of millions of dollars is utterly ridiculous. Even that huge amount of money is not justified for so little return. The corridor does not even connect the most populous areas in the region.

    Trains will not return to the corridor, no matter how much a noisy minority with a hyper-inflated sense of entitlement agitates for luxury public transport to be provided for a tiny fraction of the population at enormous cost to the tax paying public.

  5. The train lobby group have no evidence that the Arup report is “questionable.” The costings given by their “rail manager” are completely misleading. We have 132 bridges on the corridor with many of them needing replacement or repair. The few kms that they base their figures on (The Elements track) was the straightest, easiest part of the corridor. Even so the cost of repairs was a lot more than anticipated.

  6. Anyone that truly believes trains have any chance at all of being reinstated on our corridor within 30 years or so, is delusional. And in that time, if it’s needed for public transport, it almost certainly will be something far more efficient than a train.
    The Greens are continuing to waffle on to keep everyone hoping to get what they want, just to get everyone’s vote.
    As an avid Greens voter since its inception, their crazy fence sitting on our corridor, and failure to grasp reality on the prohibitively expensive train dream, my vote is going to Asren Pugh. He is a realist.

    • You are quite right Tim and the Green’s fence sitting will cost them votes. If anyone is under any illusions about how disingenuous the Greens are should watch the recent video of Sue Higginson on public transprot. Sue speaks fine words in support of their planned study of public transport standing in front of a station and rail lines, without once making any commitment ot trains. Why would they when they know an independent review will simply tell us what we already know: trains do not serve our transport needs.

      Voters who want sustainable and equitable public transport and an unequivocal commitment to improving cycle infrastructure both in and between our towns should preference the Greens last this time.

  7. Exactly which hospitals would the rail corridor help the elderly get to?

    It doesn’t go anywhere near Byron Hospital, Lismore Hospital, Murwillumbah Hospital, Ballina Hospital or Tweed Hospital (either the old or the new wherever it ends up).

    Nor does it go anywhere near where most of the people in the region live. It doesn’t even go into the CBD in Lismore which is the largest city it is supposed to service.

  8. Train to where the population is.The train needs to go where the people who will use it live – Tweed to Byron, Balina – along the coast, along the highway..
    Do you really think Murwillumbah folk will board a train to go to Byron or Lismore when the Tweed is half an hour up the road? Think it through, what would a the train ticket cost and how often would it run?
    We struggle to get half decent health services, have the TAFE funding cuts yet demand this train line as a priority.
    The only way to keep the line in public hands, the entire line, is rail trail. So what if the tracks are pulled up? Do we really know what technology will deliver in 10 years. In the meantime we will have the green tourism that a rail trail has delivered in many many communities, around the world.
    I live in a community near the line and know only one person who supports the train. Would she ever catch it I asked, Of course not was the answer.

  9. Reminiscing of the good old days when the train was faster than a horse and buggy as public transport may be a beautiful nostalgic way of protesting but the politicians and decision makers will only look at it as a bunch of heritage train enthusiasts wanting a slow and expensive nostalgic tourist train on the Northern Rivers Line . Could someone please give Mariner Bill Fenelon a copy of the Tweed Shire Transport Strategy that has the preferred option and direction of a twin track heavy rail line extending south from the Gold Coast Airport from Chinderah to Yelgun following the M1 motorway. Of course Byron Shire does not have a Transport Strategy Document after years of being a Greens dominated council , a sad state of affairs for a ‘progressive’ council.
    Conclusion from the strategy document- “H eavy Rail:
    An underground heavy rail corridor from the Gold Coast Airport Multi Modal Transport Hub to Barneys Point would require little corridor preservation, except for access/ventilation portals and stations.
    The above ground corridor south of Barney’s Point is proposed to be located adjacent to the existing freeway between Chinderah and Yelgun. Development immediately adjacent to the existing freeway reserve that would impact on a future heavy rail corridor in this rural area is likely to be limited.”

    • A further addition from the Tweed Shire Transport Strategy document-“From Tweed Shires Transport Strategy document-(Part 2
      Overland through Chinderah following Pacific Highway alignment with proposed stations at Chinderah Interchange, Bogangar Interchange and Pottsville Interchange and merging with the existing railway at Yelgun.
      This alignment would be the most achievable as a corridor along the freeway would only require incremental widening of existing property resumptions. A new corridor would fragment many currently unaffected properties and create a barrier across the Tweed landscape that would adversely impact on the social amenity of the area and the environment.”


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