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Byron Shire
May 19, 2022

Extend the Byron backbone

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I loved the idea of a train from Mullum to Byron. But let’s consider adding Brunswick Heads to the north and Bangalow to the south. Connect the whole shire. Amazing. Give the Shire a backbone – so to speak.

It would be something special.

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  1. Link to Bangalow, yes but the existing tracks go nowhere near Brunswick Heads. The whole idea is to use existing infrastructure – and thats why widespread use of the rail corridor wont work on a large scale – it doesnt service key population centres like Ballina or Ocean shores etc. But a micro line from Mullum to Bangalow has some potential, but will any investors want to gamble the $$$?

  2. In the meantime can we please not continue to stand in the way of any Government funds that might still be forthcoming to build a rail trail. Byron Bay was identified with Cairns as being the two most likely to be hardest hit by our present crisis. Any extra local employment afforded by building the rail trail will be most welcome as would be an injection of clean green facilities to attract home grown tourism. When the time is again right and when we may be looking at a whole different visitor profile for some time. It will also help provide some decent local cycling for travel connections.

    Please don’t assail me claims about selfish elitist cyclists – cycling is one of the greenest and most affordable activities, for all age groups, promoting health and wellbeing – that almost anyone who wants to get off their arse can do.

  3. Can the pro railtrailers please not insist on ripping up a $4 billion train line and depriving Northern Rivers locals and over six million tourists to the region of necessary, sustainable public transport!

    Why do cyclists insist on destroying the train line when there’s plenty of room along the twenty meter wide corridor for trains AND trail? In the absence of any other coherent explanation the community can only assume selfishness as the reason.

    Unnecessarily depriving so many millions of sustainable public transport is NOT green or socially responsible, and does not promote community health and well being. As traffic congestion and emissions continue to increase at a dangerous rate, illness and deaths from pollution will also increase.

    Trains with trails is the optimal solution and only selfish people would deprive the community of this.

    *PS. The last thing Byron needs is MORE TOURISM! When this crisis is over and Australians are able to travel again few will be going OS for a while, and places like Byron will be inundated.

  4. Nothing against public transport – it’s vital – but if there is such a crying need for more, for tourists and locals, why are our present bus services so under-utilised? Even though they have the flexibility to service a greater range of routes more regularly to more populous centres and to more strategic facilities, they need to be hugely subsidised by the school runs (that would not be so easy for trains). There is also the potential to convert to electric vehicles which may be a much more sensible investment.

    How many of those clamouring for trains actually use the public transport we already have? How many, and how often, actually used the trains when we had them? I don’t know how many insist on ripping up the tracks but what I object to is the moral high ground of those intent on precluding other desirable and equitable outcomes on the strength of a shakily researched nostalgic whim.

    Lastly, I don’t know that it’s safe to predict too confidently the shape of any industry in the future. Much of Byron’s burgeoning tourism popularity is due to its reputation as a youth, particularly backpacker Mecca. If we are to experience a period of home grown tourism we may have the chance to diversify our appeal and brand and many would see that as an opportunity to grasp.

  5. The plans for the Tweed and Lismore bike tracks STIPULATE track removal at great expense to the taxpayer, while train supporters also want trails along side the track, which an experienced rail engineer has publicly stated can be done at the same time the line is repaired for little extra cost.

    Once the legislation that protects the line is removed to allow the tracks to be ripped up, the state government can sell off valuable rail corridor land for development such as apartments, cafes, anything. Then the trains will never come back and locals will be doomed to increasing traffic congestion and emissions.

    Thousands who used the train regularly, despite the slow, torturous trip due to lack of maintenance, know it was usually packed, especially at holiday times and schoolies, and returned more on investment than Sydney trains.

    Like so many government decisions, the cessation of services wasn’t based on sound financial or social necessity, but on propping up Sydney services after years of neglect. Many locals can remember when local trains were the way people traveled around the region, including school children getting to school. People who use the Gold Coast to Brisbane train know how popular and convenient it is.

    This corona virus crisis has once again shown it’s not wise to have all your eggs in the tourism basket which is so vulnerable to anything that reduces peoples ability to travel, whether it’s a virus or striking airline workers. It will be a long time before our borders are open again. But there’ll be opportunity for Australians to travel at home. If we had a train service they could bring their cycles with them and safely ride around towns with little traffic, as we used to do many moons ago.

    Anyone who’s had the misfortune to travel around the region on the slow, local bus services ( two hours to Lismore-the slow train took forty mins, or eleven mins Byron to Mullum) knows why they’re empty. Local buses are great for short distances to the shops or train stations.

    If we want to avoid local towns becoming increasingly choked by traffic, we need a 21st century, sustainable, safe, accessible commuter train service to connect our major population centers once more, and to connect us to Coolangatta and on to Brisbane and the major airports. With a cycleway alongside.

  6. A really lovely idea, Louise and I hope some day it can all be achieved. I wonder though whether a propensity to see the rail trail as the devil incarnate has been a major blocker to us realising this great opportunity. However, as someone who has made quite a bit of use of the bus services I really think they, compared with many regional areas, offer a terrific, regular and comfortable service that I’ve thought myself very fortunate to have. Sure they are not as quick as jumping in a car and going direct from A to B, but how many train services are feasible on a single track in one day and how long might I need to wait to start my 11 min trip to Mullumbimby? Or how do I get to Ballina Shire (with its burgeoning population and facilities including airport) by train? What if my destination is the new hospital – how do I get there? I don’t think it’s appropriate to divert limited PT. Funding from this necessary service for a largely untested one for many many years (and under current demographic conditions)

    I’m sure you remember kids travelling by train to school but how many schools now are close to the tracks?

    For many years the service was an infrequent XPT that used to bring travellers in from much further afield but its viability as local PT is dubious for many reasons.

    Yes the train from the Gold Coast to Coolangatta is fantastic and how I’d love to be able to join it here but – have you taken a look at the population density along its entire length. Where do you propose the extended route should go and have the economics been gauged?

    Even if we have reduced traffic for some time there are few opportunities for safe cycling in our towns or countryside. The roads are narrow, pot-holed and winding. Byron’s layout in particular, and lack of wriggle space, does not lend itself to safe bike lanes, with all the will and expenditure available.

    Who knows – maybe as federal Labor is now suggesting – the long awaited VFT along the East Coast might just be seen as an excellent stimulus project and a much more forward looking investment.

  7. It’s the ill-informed pro rail trail people who are refusing to share the valuable, publicly owned rail infrastructure who are preventing us from having necessary rail services with trail. Train supporters have ALWAYS stated the need to have both trains and trail.

    The XPT did not provide local public transport, that’s why people have been calling for a modern, fast, sustainable commuter rail service on the line to connect us up to the main line at Casino (and the VFT should our myopic politicians get around to building it) and on to the new Gold Coast line at Coolangatta. This is one of the fastest growing regions in Australia and not only do we have the population to support rail services, over six million tourists per year more than justifies such a service. The North Coast has a large population of people over sixty, as high as 31% in some local areas, some whom are no longer able to drive and need safe, accessible public transport.

    While the line doesn’t connect up to Ballina, (a 1997 state gov study recommended a rail connection be built from Byron to Ballina) Ballina people can see the benefits of being able to drive, or get the local bus, to catch the train in Byron/Bangalow, just as they do on the Gold Coast and other regional areas.

    Yes, the economics of building 22ks of line to connect to Coolangatta is a much more cost effective option than spending billions to maintain and upgrade local roads to accommodate the inevitable increases in traffic and emissions, and the cost of increasing traffic congestion to the health and well being of locals. There’ll be considerable damage to the local economy when visitors tire of the mess we’ve created and go elsewhere.

    That’s before factoring in the cost of deaths and injuries from road accidents. How do you calculate the massive health benefits of once again being able to safely cycle around town, to and from school and the train station as people used to do?

  8. Are you suggesting Louise that the rail trail proposal has been the main obstacle to returning a rail service that stopped in 2004?

    Look I love the idea of sharing the valuable land of the rail corridor – if it can be done. If not, and reintroducing rail presents itself as a clear case of the fairest and most viable public transport alternative for the area (given resource sharing across different modes and population distribution) then rail would have to take precedence. If it can’t be done and rail just doesn’t stack up then holding the line just prevents an excellent community resource that would keep public land in public accessibility.

    I haven’t heard anybody satisfactorily make the case.

    Firstly what would it take to restore the present tracks to ‘a modern, fast, sustainable commuter rail service’ ? Where Vic is spending millions in level crossing removals do you want to add to our traffic woes and safety issues by bringing regular trains across Byron Bay’s level crossings. Visions of eliminating our traffic issues to the extent of quiet streets and safe cycling in Byron Bay are incredibly optimistic with any public transport system.

    Continuing, I’m a bit confused with what’s proposed by ‘…on the line to connect us up to the main line at Casino… and on to the new Gold Coast line at Coolangatta.’ Firstly there is no line that I am aware of as far south as Coolangatta (perhaps there are plans though I concede) and do you envisage us accessing this via Casino? Do the economics of connecting to the Gold Coast include crossing the Tweed River so that it would be close to the tourist hubs. But where does the figure of six million tourists come from?

    Yes our older population does need accessible public transport (well catered for on our buses) and they need to get to places like the hospital, Ballina services (yes just continue the line there! Factored in all this costing?)

  9. YEP, the rail trail supporters who demand the line be destroyed and replaced with a bike trail have consistently undermined the community’s need for train services on the Casino to Murwillumbah line by peddling misinformation about the cost and viability of restoring the line for trains. In particularly their insistance that the RT will protect the line for future train services is blatantly untrue. Once the legislation that currently protects the line is removed to allow the rails to be removed to build the RT, the valuable rail corridor land can be sold off for units or other commercial development.

    We know the three kilomtres of line restored for the Byron train cost $1.8m. Even if you double that amount to restore other parts of the line that have not been maintained, it is still more cost effective, and much better for our environment, to have trains running than the cost of building the three kilomtres of the destructive Byron by-pass.

    The Brisbane train came down the coastal strip to Tweed Heads opposite Tweed Mall, until the QLD gov ripped up the line and sold the land off to developers in the 1960s. The Qld gov is now rebuilding the line to Coolangatta (it currently terminates at Varsity Lakes) and it’s costing taxpayers at least $75m per kilomtre to rebuild that line.We only need 22ks of line built from Condong to connect to Coolangatta. That’s why we cannot afford to allow the state gov to destroy our valuable train line and sell off the land, which is what they want.

    There’s plenty of information on the net,,especially from people like Prof Phillip Laird, on the cost and sustainability of train services versus the extraordinary amount of taxpayers’ money our government spends on roads and highways to keep the road transport lobby and fossil fuel corporates (who fund their election campaigns) happy.

    Train services, local bus services and bike tracks, are all necessary parts of an integrated public transport system. Victoria are restoring long dormant train lines and bringing back trains to regional areas which are very well patronised.

    People have seen how peaceful,safe and emissions free our towns are without all the traffic congestion. This can be permanent if we demand the gov invest in better public transport (a train service with bike tracks) to benefit our communities, rather than the pandering to the corporates who are dictating policy.

  10. PS. The six million tourists to the Northern Rivers region came from Tourism Research Australia. We know over two million visit Byron annually.

  11. I think everyone else has long lost interest in this Louise but I’m finding our exchange an informative challenge – and let’s face it we all need some diversion at this time. I’m quite open to be convinced because I truly love regional train travel which I still use extensively when in NE Victoria. I also love Melbourne’s largely unpolluting trams. Victoria though has a very different population density and distribution without the long beautiful Eastern seaboard that has attracted all the concentrated residential expansion that NSW has.

    Some questions from your responses still arise through.

    I don’t really have the inclination or expertise to interpret the relevant legislation re track removal but I haven’t observed this sell off in the areas that have commenced the rail trail route. I’m pretty sure though that if a stalemate continues that sees the land continue to lie unused there will be growing calls and justification to do something else with it.

    I’m also a bit frustrated by the fluidity of the parameters of the discussion. We start with a consideration of the restoration of the Casino to Murwillumbah section and its costing and then switch to how it would all work and make better sense with the restoration of lines that are most probably in greater states of disrepair – the track to Ballina and the goods track extension to Condong (last used?). An extension across the Tweed River to meet up with a future line at Coolangatta. Then there comes the suggestion that this largely inland route will service the six million tourists to the ‘Northern Rivers Region’ which extends south of Coff’s Harbour!

    Then there is the rail restoration lobby’s refusal to accept the costing of the SG feasibility study. Don’t get me wrong, I know these things can be manipulated and opaque but in reply we have mainly the extrapolation of the cost of three kilometres ( of straight track) to the entire project. Depending on white ant damage, bridge degradation and other safety issues I don’t think that just doubling and multiplying (then subtracting the number you first thought of) is a rigorous process. By contrast we have the figure of $75 million per kilometre to rebuild the line to Coolangatta. Given the remediation required to parts of the old track, the base cost of starting again may not be that off the mark.

    I don’t disagree that the destructive bypass has been a travesty but it’s a stretch to suggest the restoration of rail will create the peace we are now experiencing, nor would it be likely to solve our CBD congestion. The bypass in any form will do bugger all but a less destructive route could have seen it down the rail corridor from Old Bangalow Rd ( where the suboptimal Suffolk to Byron bike track could have joined it).

    Although train services are fantastic I think we’ll still need roads and highways? so a direct comparison of the costs of road and rail infrastructure is not that instructive. Don’t we need an integrated PT and transport system?

    As stated, I’ve experienced fantastic rail services in Victoria, as well as some of their highly successful rail trails. I used to take school groups riding on them. I’d love to have the many advantages of rail here but instead of a patch up perhaps we need a feasibility study of expenditure on new modern rail infrastructure on optimal routes rather than throwing figures around. This may not be the Casino to Murwillumbah restoration.

    Also looking at a bit of Council’s recent history, including commissioning a public art structure, I shudder at the thought of any entrepreneurial ventures into building and operating a dual line track from Byron to Mullumbimby.

  12. The real threat to having train services returned on the C-M is the removal of the legislation that currently protects it which RT people demand so that the train line can be removed to build the bike track. The government has twice tried to have the legislation passed in parliament but couldn’t get the numbers due to community opposition. At the last two state elections the National Party candidates for Ballina were very gung ho about their plan to rip up the line for a bike track and both were soundly defeated. That indicates the community’s opposition to the destruction of the valuable publicly owned rail infrastructure.

    This is the same Nationl Party that promised for many years ‘to get the trains running’ and claimed it would not cost any more than the expensive, empty coaches that replaced the train. If you google Barry O’farrell and Casino to Murwillumbah train you will find their claim.

    The $75m per kilometer cost for the Gold Coast line is for a complete rebuild, including a whole new corridor which is the most expensive part of the rebuild. Restoring the C-M can be done for a fraction of the cost, possibly little more than it would cost to destroy the line and build the RT.

    There’s no need to build a dual track as at the most the trains would run hourly, as they do on the Central Coast in off peak times, and there are sidings along the line should trains need to pass. There are stations in the centre of many NR towns and line goes close to the Tyagarah and Yelgun festival sites.

    One of the best studies to refer to is the recent Byron Shire Council’s Arcadis Study which incorporates a comprehensive investigation of the current condition of the line, and a detailed cost/benefit analysis of the return of train services in Byron Shire.

    Traffic coming over the border from Queensland has doubled in the last decade and all indications are it will continue to increase. We must have sustainable public transport to get people here in a more environmentally friendly way or our beautiful towns will become an even worse nightmare for locals and visitors alike.

    Apart from the Saint Helena section of line, and some timber bridges that are over 120 years old and should have been replaced decades ago, most of the C-M line is in surprisingly good condition considering decades of neglect. It would be a scandal to allow the state gov to spend hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money to destroy it when for a little more we could have trains running with a trail. But of course the valuable land around Byron is very attractive to them and they’d love to sell it off to their developer mates.


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