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Byron Shire
April 24, 2024

Rail trail – Murwillumbah to Crabbes Creek

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A rail trail, walking and cycling track, has once again been backed by the NSW state government between Murwillumbah and Crabbes Creek today.

Member for Tweed Geoff Provest MP said the state government had confirmed $7.8m in funding for the route.

‘When completed, the Tweed stage of the Northern Rivers Rail Trail will connect Murwillumbah with the villages of Stokers Siding, Burringbar, Mooball and Crabbes Creek, providing a great recreation and tourist destination for locals and visitors,’ Mr Provest said.

Deputy Mayor of Tweed Shire Council Chris Cherry told Echonetdaily that she was really pleased that the state government had reconfirmed its funding of the project.

‘Two years ago the state and federal government committed $6.5m each to the Northern Rivers Rail Trail. We welcome the in crease in funding from the state government for the work.’

An old bridge section of the disused Murwillumbah rail line.

Protecting the land from being sold off

Mr Provset highlighted in his press release that ‘The NSW government is committed to amending the legislation required to formally close the railway line between Murwillumbah and Crabbes Creek, however the COVID-19 adjournment of Parliament means this will be delayed until later this year.’

However, Tweed Shire Mayor Katie Milne says that the state government needs to consult more widely with the community on their needs.

A key concern for any people with the rail trail is that the land, currently held by transport NSW, and that is proposed to be turned into crown land for the rail trail, will be at risk of being sold off by the state government in the future for profit.

‘I would encourage the state government to consult more widely with the community as there is significant division within the community over changing the legislation from its current status,’ she told Echonetdaily.

‘there has been no public consultation with the community on this. They don’t know if it has community support. Byron Shire Council has shown with their study that light rail may be feasible. The state government may be making one of the biggest mistakes of this generation by changing this legislation.’

Deputy Mayor Cherry sais, ‘We are really grateful that the state government is committing to this project. But people want to ensure that the land does not go out of public hands.

‘We would like to see the land held in perpetuity for public transport needs now and into the future.’

According to Mr Provest construction is expected to begin shortly after the legislative amendment is approved.

Image of a bridge in Stokers Siding. One of 18 historic bridges on the proposed Murwillumbah to Crabbes Creek rail trail route. Photo supplied.

Dual use track

The Tweed council have committed to considering off track formations during the tender process for the rail trail. This means that they are interested in viable proposals that would keep the rail tracks in place while facilitating the rail trail beside the existing tracks. This would allow the development of a possible rail based service in the future or the use of the route for other appropriate forms of transport.

‘Rail trails are popular around the world for walking, cycling and horse riding as they encourage healthy lifestyles while also boosting local tourism, which brings dollars into the region, support local jobs and attracts further investment,’ said Mr Provest.

‘The Tweed stage will help drive growth for the regional NSW visitor economy and increase tourist numbers to the Northern Rivers, which in the coming years will be more important than ever, in the wake of the current COVID-19 crisis.’




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  1. Fabulous..
    Bring on the Rail Trail.
    It’s a way out in front leader in logical use of this wonderful publicly owned corridor.
    There’s no way a multi-use dream, makes any sense, especially economically, but it engineering terms, it would be a heartless nightmare to all adjoining land formations and aesthetics to try to divide the corridor into two unrelated uses.

  2. There is no viable option for retaining the tracks and building the trail in the grunge down the side of the corridor. The route includes tunnels such as the 500 metre long one which passes 100 metres below the Burringbar Range. There is literally no option for bypassing it.

    Our trail needs to be world class to succeed and the budget would not cover the vast earthworks required for widening the cuttings and embankments to accommodate both rails and trail. It would also require the destruction of thousands of trees that would otherwise be one of the most attractive features of our trail.

    Those who think that rail services could be practical need an urgent reality check. Nobody is going to invest tens of millions of dollars resurrecting the line in order to lose millions more annually running services that cannot meet the transport needs of the region.

    The $300,000 squandered by Byron Shire on the Arcadis report provided them with a fantasy document that includes willful misinformation regarding Very Light Rail vehicles that the authors claimed were “currently being tested in the UK”. In fact the images in the report were all computer generated and none of the vehicles exist.

    The Dudley VLR research and testing centre is nothing more than an artist’s impression and has not even been funded let alone constructed. Their website has not been updated in more than six years and is still showing “project completion” in July 2019. The notion of VLR is that somehow railway vehicles can be built that weigh half of any existing technology. It is nonsense.

    The image of the Hi-Rail bus was of a German prototype design from 1950s. The services were discontinued after a short time because they were found to be impractical. I can find no examples of Hi-Rail passenger services anywhere in the world. There is a good reason for that.

    There is no future in pretending that any kind of train would ever run on the Murwillumbah – Crabbes Creek line again. Retaining the tracks as they corrode into two long piles of rust is ridiculous. The only future is the trail. Let’s get on with it.

  3. Apologies to the lycra elite, but the actual utilisation of rail trails is demonstrably so poor that it is the trail itself that makes no economic sense.

    With congestion and environmental concerns growing with the region’s population, it’s time to re-open the railway as a public good, rather than rob the whole region to suit the entertainment of a few. Get behind Byron Council’s plan to get trains back on the tracks.

  4. I’m with Daniel. The Nationals are digging in with their notion of a rail trail whose claims of benefit to the community have been stolen entirely from the intelligent and reasoned narrative that the pro-rail folks have been saying for years in regard to economic and tourism development. But they being Nationals, with their localised and inter generational sense of entitlement which, while currently in the political majority, is a castle built on quicksand. This rail trail idea for the Tweed, which is arrogantly populist driven, ignores pragmatic concern for the current and future generations and their transport needs to become a farce of a powerplay. If it succeeds,it will be a tragic legacy of an era of when the Nationals ran the show their way; inward looking, dumb and unable to see the forest for the trees. Affected communities right the way along from Casino to the Tweed, need to be proactive about their anger and take immediate action. Once it’s gone, it’ll be gone forever.

  5. Sad that Byron Shire is missing out on being part of this. It would be one of the worlds most iconic rail trails. People (and not just the lycra set) travel from all over the world to do these trails, And those of us that actually ride bikes instead of driving cars around would actually like safe routes between Ocean Shores, Mullum , Byron and Bangalow.

    As for the dream that one day we will have a rail service like in the good old days, get over it, a rail line going from Byron Bay to Murwillumbah is not going to service anyone. It was closed because it wasn’t viable. Have a look at a map. The main population is on the coast far away from this corridor. Perhaps you could use sections of the rail corridor for express bus routes integrated with a broader improved regional bus service that includes the coastal communities and Ballina, Make them electric buses, be imaginative. The idea a rail service along that corridor being viable ranks right up there with bright ideas like the 5G network causing the Corona pandemic.

  6. Totally agree Daniel Hanna, there are some very selfish elements within the rail trail only camp. They go on endlessly and negatively about our railway they say has no future for trains yet the public owned corridor it sits on will, according to them, become the north coast go to destination bringing huge economic benefits despite it generating no direct income and an annual maintenance bill that will eventually fall on council’s ratepayers once the govt two year maintenance sweetener expires.
    The best return on investment for every dollar spent is for dual use as found in the BSC Arcadis study yet the vocal minority denigrate BSC’s vision at every opportunity.
    I think the majority of the public would prefer inclusive use of a public owned asset rather than exclusive use for a minority interest.

  7. Daniel Hanna
    Councils in Victoria and QLD have extended the initial stages of their rail trails, because of their popularity and the business they bring to their region. Interestingly in the South Burnett someone was apparently so concerned about the number of people using its rail trail that they were willing to vandalise the counters so the its popularity could not be enumerated. What you call “entertainment” – walking and cycling – are the two most popular recreation and exercises in Australia, and if you have spent any time in a place like Ballina with relatively good paths during the lockdown you will know how popular they can be.
    The very light rail that Byron Shire is investigating is nothing more than a tourist service that a few locals might use. It would not be able provide the day long 100% renewablely powered travel that EV buses are delivering to commuters in Canberra, would not serve the busiest routes in our region, most of the public transport dependant households in our region, or any of the campuses or hospitals. The suggested tourist rail is very much focused on the Byron Shire, ARCADIS did not examine in any detail the engineering of rail beside trail , and the proposed tourist rail dea would not be able to provide the sort of multi day journey through our region that a rail trail will deliver and governments are willing to fund.

  8. How is it possible that anybody in this day and age can be so short-sighted and stupid enough to believe converting a viable rail route between Brisbane and NSW into a horsey/ bicycle track is a positive benefit to society ?
    These people could be convinced the Opera House would be fabulous converted into a skate park or be interested in buying the Harbour Bridge for a slippery dip. There is obviously a very dark and destructive hand at work here , opperating on an extremely gullible and superficial cheer squad.
    Cheers G”)

  9. There’s some big claims being made here for bike trails, in far off places. The case for light rail can be made by looking much closer, just across the border, where the Gold Coast light rail has been a huge success. Developers are tripping over themselves to build apartments near the line.
    Can anyone explain to me why light rail in Byron Shire wouldn’t also pay for itself, and then some? Park-and-ride stations where the line meets the highway would take cars off the streets of Byron Bay; higher-density residential (and tourism) development at stations along the line (including some affordable housing) would surely be more economically valuable than a bike track.
    Architecturally appropriate, carbon neutral villages along the railway (I’m picturing something like the iconic Hundertwasser residential and hotel projects in Germany and Austria), could be attractions in themselves. And, by all means, bike riders could visit them all as well. It’s not hard to build a bike track.

  10. Adam I am not sure what you mean by a light rail paying for itself ? If we look at Sydney Trains they run at a 70% loss and NSW Country Trains run at an 80% loss . Verify by looking at the Financial Statements released every year , available on the net .
    Light rail is fine in compact high density living but not in sparse population spread over many kilometres as light rail is limited to 80kmh , again check all the specifications worldwide re light rail .
    Heavy rail like the electrified twin track between Brisbane and Gold Coast will continue south post 2035 following the M1 corridor with stations located at the highway off ramps .
    Dawdling nostalgic tourist trains don’t get workers out of cars , fast Government subsidised trains do . The old steam age alignment Northern Rivers will not be resurrected as a subsidised commuter line , it wanders all over the countryside without hitting the majority of residents or passing institutions that require a train ie hospitals or universities.

  11. Ken, the difference might be that the Opera House and SH Bridge are well rather well utilised and thus have been well maintained. Central Sydney is a bit different from inland regional NSW where the demographics have significantly changed over a century. There is also the slight problem that the Casino to Murwillumbah track does not service the current major population centres along the coast nor does it cross the Tweed River to Queensland – a minor glitch?

    I would agree that if the revival of the track was sound transport planning it should not be used for a bike trail but Although the benefits of rail are obvious, I would suggest that if we want to go that way it would be better to bight the bullet and expend the capital on a whole new realignment with tracks that might support some viable 21st century speeds and service a greater population. Meanwhile in Byron Shire it would be very feasible that many commuters might decide to ride, particularly an electric bike, between Mullumbimby and the bay.

    Cycling infrastructure is now a vital aspect of transport planning but it needs to be safe. Unfortunately the the geographical features of our shire and its roads have greatly constrained the capacity to safely combine motor and cycle transport.

    Maybe I’m part of the gullible cheer squad but not gullible enough to be swayed by such a primitive technique as the use of dismissive words like ‘horsey’ to suggest a tone of superior analysis. I’ve also watched the area gradually wasting away for over 16 years – potentially a valuable community asset laid waste by ideology and intransigence.

  12. This is great news for the Tweed section of the rail trail. We have had drought, floods, fires and pandemic – we need some positive news! Many more people have been walking and riding bikes during lock down and they are loving it! Hopefully that is one positive aspect of Corona that might continue post pandemic as people realise they love the simple things in life!

  13. Adam
    The difference between the Gold Coast and our region is that it has more than half a million people along a relatively narrow corridor. A commuter rail service might be viable if it was part of a city building project like that along the Canberra light rail that brought Gold Coast development and population to our region, (and with it massive increases in traffic and environmental issues as most people in the Gold Coast and Canberra still drive). This area and particularly the Byron Shire has fiercely resisted such development since the sixties. The growth in our region has been along the the Tweed and Ballina Coasts while the population along the much of the corridor has declined, and it is a younger population , with high car ownership and very low use of existing public transport. Any rail service would be very marginal to transport needs and like the Elements train – closed in the crisis as it does not provide essential transport – it would do nothing to relieve traffic issues.
    No government will waste scarce transport funding on poorly targeted expensive transport that does not meet the region’s transport needs. That leaves the corridor unused. The options are to leave it as unsightly weeds until it’s sold off, or to retain it in public hands for a recreational path that we know form the experience in Victoria and QLD – will attract visitors and their spending. And if we had any doubts about the the popularity of recreational paths, the good mixed use paths around Ballina have been carrying double or more their usual popular traffic during the crisis. Carpe diem and give people safe places to walk and cycle.

  14. John
    ARCADIS is a Dutch urban transprot company. Its study based its flawed cost benefit analysis
    of rail and path options was based on transport mode share in cities . Arcadis’ lead consultant Carol Teather told me she understood Byron Shire has a much higher share of cyclists and a lower share of public transport users than our cities, but they needed a simple way to try and compare options. She explained that if the Byron Shire pursued any suggested use of the corridor a more appropriate methodology would be used and be likely show a much better return for the path. I pointed out the risk of using such an inappropriate methodology was that train supporters would latch on to it and that is what has happened.
    And it is a completely inappropriate, not only because Byron Shire has far fewer public transport users and more cyclists than any Australian city, but because ARCADIS did not consider the whole point of a path – that it is part of a 130km rail trial aimed at attracting visitors and there spending to our region – was a significant benefit to present to the Byron Council. It’s misleading cost benefit analysis was compounded by its failure to undertake any engineering assessment of the viability of rail beside the trail and its attempts to gloss over the obvious finding that that multi use will never be possible between Mullumbimby and Billinudgel by presenting a “temporary ” solution of building a narrow non-Austroads compliant path between the rails.
    The sad thing is the ostensibly green shire will likely be the last to enjoy its recreational benifits and economic benifits of cycling travelers arriving from Casino or Murwillumbah and quietly spending their way through our area.

  15. Ocean Shores needs funding for a normal footpath from the shops to the Beach something that any other council would have done years ago!!!but sheeesh we’re still stuck in the dinosaur era, Mums walking prams on the road…

  16. Reality check time. The Gold Coast light rail is currently a 13km long route and connects major centres such as Broadbeach and Pacific Fair (largest shopping complex on the GC), Surfers Paradise, the new GC University and Hospital and a bunch of major business, residential and tourist areas along the way. And it was eye wateringly expensive, lets not forget that point. Hardly an appropriate comparison to what the proponents of a light rail for the Northern Rivers are suggesting. The Gold Coast is the highest density ‘regional’ area in the country, whereas the Northern Rivers region is quite obviously something other.

    The refurbishment of an old train line built in the days of steam with all the twists and turns and narrow tunnels that misses a number of the major regional centres and does not even connect to the airport is not likely to be a viable option suitable for public transport in the 21st century. No one is going to fund a return to the good old days. If you had something worth digging up I doubt even the miners would touch it. If members of the train fan club want to see economic benefits, (actual and quantifiable) look no further than the excellent Brisbane Valley Rail Trail. Very comparable and embraced by the locals. I see no points to the negative referencing this trail ever coming up in the ‘bring back the trains’ arguments.

    The good news is that if ever a public transport initiative using this route was to become a viable option at some point in the future then the rail trail will have been its saviour.

  17. So the Queensland government has a plan to extend the Gold Coast line to Coolangatta airport. There’s just 40km between there and the end of the NSW rail in Murwillumbah.

    A rail link from Brisbane and Coolangatta to Byron Bay seems like a no-brainer. And going on to Lismore even.

    Cycling is great – and existing roads and a few extra bits could be built if the economics stack up. If you come to NE NSW for a cycling trip you probably want to visit some of the scenic attractions rather than follow a old rail route, even if it means climbing a few hills.

    Keep the rail reservation.

  18. True, Chris but that 40km of track needs realistic costing given that it isn’t just about rehab of an existing track. I’d love to go to Coolangatta airport by rail but the whole shire is just 35,000 – can we demand this expenditure for our convenience when we have regular bus services to the front doors of Ballina airport? Sure there are lots of tourists but the number is made up significantly of day trippers who want to drive to carry surf boards to wherever the surf is working best. How much the service would be used by other visitors is likely significant but sufficient return for expenditure when the service is so inadequate to the needs of local public transport ( for all the reasons others have outlined).

    Great to read a pro railer actually conceding the merits of cycling rather than demonising its proponents – refreshing! But to give the shire safe and usable bike infrastructure will take more than an few extra bits’!

  19. Any railway south from Coolangatta airport would begin with a billion dollar, seven kilometre tunnel under Tweed Heads because the resumption cost and social disruption of creating a corridor through this area would be prohibitive.

    Continuing south for the same distance as Murwillumbah but instead along the M1 would bring the new line within eight kilometres of Yelgun where the old corridor, M1 and Tweed Valley Way converge. This would avoid the cost of reconstructing 26 kilometres of the most decrepit section of the old line running through the Burringbar Range. It would also avoid an environmentally fraught and incredibly expensive construction across the acid sulphate soils of the Tweed River flood plain likely requiring a viaduct for most of the way.

    An M1 route would also run much closer to the expanding coastal communities on the Tweed rather than the small town of Murwillumbah (population about 9,000) which has very little room to expand. It would shave nearly twenty kilometres off the journey for most passengers.

    Either way, no government is going to spend billions of dollars to provide rail services to a sparse population. Even if ten thousand people used the services it would still amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars for each of them before considering the operating costs. Clearly, trains will never be returning to the Murwillumbah-Crabbes Creek section under any circumstances.

    Let’s just get on with building the most important infrastructure opportunity this region has ever seen to the very best standard we can.

  20. Visitors flock to rail trails because they are relatively flat and are separated from roads, providing opportunities for young and old of any level of fitness to travel long distances without the fear of having cars, trucks and buses passing close by them.

    The disused rail corridor runs through some of the most scenic areas in the region, passing through several iconic locations. All indications are that it would quickly become one of the most popular rail trails, not only in Australia, but across the whole planet.

  21. One of the advantages of the rail trail is that it does provide a public use for the length of the line from the Casio to Murwillumbah that help protect the rail reservation for any future rail.. For the foreseeable future thoguh, it will provide a very scenic walking and cycling route that passes through six towns and through villages on the way – as many or more than other rail trails that have proven so popular in QLD or Victoria. But you are right that we also need good road cycling routes to other attractions in the region. Some of us are considering how to signpost and put in place linkages to make a safe enjoyable on-road cycling experience from the rail trail at Bangalow down the Hinterland Way through Ballina, across the ferry to the pre-1964 highway to Wardell, and along what will shortly be the former Pacific Highway to Woodburn. The Byron Shire Cycling Plan includes at my suggestion one such short connection, linking Ballina Road in Bangalow to the Hinterland Way. Riders will be able to enjoy the pleasures of gentle hinterland and riverside cycling, lots of accommodation, cafes and restaurants along the way, and of course the thrill of seeing the Big Prawn at her Bunnings abode!

  22. Public transport is becoming an even less attractive prospect in a post-COVID19 epidemically aware world. Many see bicycles as a very viable, fast, non-contact alternative to public transport with many extra health benefits. Bicycle sales are stronger than ever now that commuters have started to go back to their workplaces. Bike shops are literally unable to keep up with the demand.

    Cycling is the new transport reality for vast numbers of people and recreational cycling is set to boom over the next decade. The arguments for rail trails are doubly reinforced. Rail trails are the new arterial roads in the walking and cycling networks that the people of the 21st century are clamouring for. Real solutions to sustainability in a modern world, not nineteenth century anachronisms that could never meet our regional transport needs.

  23. Bring on the rail trail, it’s really a no brainer! There is no way trains are coming back on this corridor after 16 years and as other contributors mentioned the corridor does not even serve our major population areas in the region. The covid situation has seen a huge surge in people of all abilities taking up cycling, bike shops have never been busier! This rail trail will be a huge boom to the area as it provides a safe, off road trail accessible for all with stunning scenery to connect our villages and towns.

  24. Extend th3 line from Murwillumbah to Coolangatta. Qld to extend their domestic an$ light rail to Coolangatta @nd there we have an interstate railway station which services north and south plus the airport


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