The issue of rail travel and resurrecting the lines on the far north coast has been the subject of debate, often very heated, ever since May 15, 2004, when the last XPT train left Murwillumbah station, putting an end to 110 years of rail transport in the region.
But, there are many people in the area who would like to see a rail service reinstated.
Local rail group Trains On Our Tracks (TOOT) are asking – ‘Would you like a railway service to Tyagarah and on to Mullumbimby?’.
The group hoisted a 6m x 3m mural recently onto the front of the Mullumbimby Santos building to promote the idea of establishing a railway station at Tyagarah.
TOOT secretary Lydia Kindred says that a ‘park and ride’ system could potentially take many cars off the highway and reduce traffic jams into Byron Bay on Ewingsdale Rd.
‘Growing traffic congestion means more buses are not the answer, particularly with our climate change challenges where transport contributes over 20% of emissions,’ said Ms Kindred.
‘Destroying railway infrastructure and replacing it with a cycling/walking path may well be a good idea in areas of low or declining populations and little tourism, however our region is quite the opposite.’
‘[That strategy] doesn’t help the majority of people with their transport needs into the future, including over four million tourists every year, with over two million to Byron Bay alone, many of whom would love to travel safely by rail through our region.’
TOOT believe that the potential economic benefits to our hinterland towns and villages are huge if we disperse visitor dollars throughout our unique region.
The Byron Shire Multi-Use Rail Corridor study
‘The recent Byron Shire Multi-Use Rail Corridor Study by Arcadis shows that for every $1 spent on rail services with a bike trail beside the tracks $1.50 would be returned, whereas less than $1 would be returned for every $1 spent on just having a bike/walking track.
‘Their engineers were impressed at the good condition of the line and determined it would only cost $67 million to extend services between Bangalow and Yelgun – therefore to Splendour’s Falls Festivals.’
TOOT says a proposed legislation change soon to be presented to the NSW Parliament, that will remove the current protection for the Casino to Murwillumbah railway corridor, would mean the rail track infrastructure could be removed and replaced with a bicycle/walking path. ‘This would also leave the rail corridor open for sale and development, as it would be transferred over to Crown land, which is not protected.’
Bike and rail trails can co-exist
‘Bike trails can co-exist with rail and would not require any change in legislation’, she said.
Ms Kindred says that it is the policy of the current LNP NSW government that they support closing disused railway corridors and repurposing them as cycling/walking tracks provided that there is strong community support, which in our region is not the case.
‘Our local rail groups have extensively consulted with many local communities and businesses and we have found overwhelming support for the return of rail. In fact, over 90% of local businesses want regular passenger and possibly some freight services to return to our region.
‘The Department of Premier and Cabinet is meant to hold extensive community consultations regarding this issue wherever it occurs however there was none conducted in our region. We believe this is because the government knows the community here overwhelmingly want rail services on the existing corridor. The opportunity could then be open to extend the existing line approximately 20 km to the Gold Coast International Airport where QLD rail will eventually terminate.’
A retrograde measure for the far north coast
Ms Kindred says the proposal to remove the corridor protection that the current legislation offers is an extremely retrograde measure for the far north coast of NSW, where public transport is terrible, the population is growing and the level of tourist visitation is second only to Sydney.
‘The proposed vandalism of our railway infrastructure cannot be allowed to proceed and at the very least an enquiry should be held and any other hidden agendas concerning vested interests being able to access valuable real estate exposed.
‘We deserve regular passenger services along our Casino – Murwillumbah line, given that a report done by Price, Waterhouse, Coopers, following the cessation of services, recommended multiple daily rail motor services for our region.
‘If it was needed sixteen years ago then it is certainly needed more so now!’
Service profitable in the past
Ms Kindred says the services on this line were some of the most profitable in Australia, costing $11 million a year to operate but returning $22.5 million. She says that the Motorail was extremely popular, taking 14,600 cars off the road per year, and that was in the 1980s.
‘When we changed over to an XPT, only here late at night, few people used the service locally. The organisation Bicycles NSW also believes that trains and a bike path can be mutually beneficial in offering transport solutions. However the NSW Government says there is no future here for rail services and seem to prefer installing a bike path.’
TOOT is urging those who would like to see regular rail services in the Northern Rivers to please contact your local Members of Parliament, the Ministers responsible for regional transport and Labor Shadow Ministers. Some contacts you might use are:
Phone the Northern Rivers Railway Action Group Red Alert number 0439 743 240 and leave your number if you want to be alerted to any actions to save our tracks. For more information, email: [email protected]