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March 22, 2023

Rail trails for parts of Northern Rivers become law 

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Railway tracks between Casino and Bentley, and Crabbes Creek and Condong, will soon be removed for rail trails after the Transport Administration Amendment (Closures of Railway Lines in Northern Rivers) Bill 2020 was passed in the NSW upper house last week.

The controversial decision, tabled by locally based Nationals MLC Ben Franklin, was supported by NSW Labor, who took the trains off the tracks in 2004.  

Walking the Banglaow to Byron rails. Photo Benjamin Gilmore.

While touted by rail trail advocates as a boost to local jobs and tourism, elected local MP Member for Ballina Tamara Smith told The Echo, ‘As it stands, there is nothing in this law to prevent Tweed or Richmond Valley Council offering 99 year leases to commercial tourism operators to lease sections of the rail corridor for anything recreational or tourist focused’.

‘What that means in reality is that if either community wants to return rail to the corridor they face paying legal compensation to break commercial leases – if indeed they can even break those leases, and there is nothing in law that says they have a right to rip up the Rail Trail infrastructure to make way for a train.

‘I am a huge fan of cycle tourism, and I’m passionate about delivering meaningful public transport in the Northern Rivers – but it’s never been an either or scenario’.

‘It’s extremely disappointing that the Greens amendments that would have prevented long leases and strengthened community control over what happens in the corridor, were not supported by Labor or the LNP’.

Nationals MLC, Ben Franklin, in reply said that the proposed amendments were ‘restrictive and prescriptive and constrain how the government can deal with the land to give effect to the rail trail’. 

He did not answer the question, ‘Why did your government support opening up historic public assets for private financial gain and not invest in public transport for the Northern Rivers?’

Mr Franklin did say his government, ‘has not yet decided on the most effective and supportive ownership model for the rail trail’.

But Pat Grier, from the Northern Rivers Rail Trail lobby group, who were instrumental in securing the railway’s official closure, said, ‘That won’t be a problem’.

‘We have 18 months to two years to sort that out. 

‘The government will want to be involved in the process. I see a board being created, with sub committees and this will include Council and rail trail reps. This has to make its own money in the end’.

Mr Grier says a rail trail will ‘provide facilities along the corridor for local people, with bike paths and walking trails. There’s already one in Ballina, which is very popular’. 

Beth Shelley from the Northern Rivers Railway Action Group said, ‘Why is this area, with a rapidly growing population, and huge tourist industry, being singled out for closure while other areas are left alone? 

‘This is not a decision that helps the people of this community, and it is not one they want… a 10,000 signiture petition was simply ignored’.

Cost‑benefit analysis 

One Nation MLC Mark Latham told NSW Parliment during debate, ‘I asked the government for its cost‑benefit analysis, its economic justification for the bill. I was told it did not exist and that it was an election promise’.

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  1. The Echo continues its campaign to stop a new kind of low key opportunity for recreation and tourism in this area. While it asks not unreasonably at the end of each article for support as a small business struggling to put food on the table, it ignores the strong bilateral support given in speeches for thie rail trail as an opportunity to support small businesses along the disused rail corridor. Indeed I was surprised by what Latham says he was told, as there is a business case done for both stages one and two that shows positive economic benifits..
    Tamara Smith tried to example the Elements train as an example of rail beside trail, ignoring the advice in the original C-M study was that it is not feasible along most parts , but that some sections such as that through Byron Bay were an exception. By contrast Ben Franklin gave a good outline of the complex safety and engineering difficulties of that idea. The Greens’ ammendment bundled a clause limiting leases on the corridor with one requiring the rails to stay in place, which defeats the intention of closing the line. It is plain the ammendment thus presented was a token effort to appease the rail lobby, without any chance of it being accepted. .The Greens are concerned to keep the rail lobby onside as they are increasingly aligning with the Shooters Fishers and Farmers, and One Nation, who get support from anti cycling motorists.
    The article ignores the comments by Ben Franklin on the investment in improved public transport in the region and the soecifif reference by the Nationals Member for Tweed to 450 new bus services in the regiion.
    Beth Shelley as usual refers to a growing population in the region, ignoring that that growth is largely in the coastal parts of Ballina and Tweed, and that the number of of public transport households along the rail corridor are few and declining. That’s why the regional transport strategy is to improve the bus services.
    It is to be hoped that we have a better informed discussion about the future of the disused Bentley to Crabbes Creek rail line.

    • Peter,
      You write a lot of political cynicism that backtracks over yourself.
      The Greens made an amendment to keep the rails in place.
      Question Peter: Then just who is the rail lobby group? The leaders of the Greens do what Green members want them to do.
      There is also a push/pull action. You push towards something or you pull away from something.
      Would it not be that the Shooters and Fishers are pulling away from the National Party.
      Would that not be so? And One Nation would be be doing the same.

      • The corridor had not been used for fifteen years. This is about preserving it for the future by putting it back to a public use, while keeping it in public ownership. It is not feasible to build a rail trail beside the tracks on much of the corridor. In NSW you cannot remove rail lines without the Parliament closing the line. The Greens ammendment to leave the lines in place would not have allowed the rail trails to be built as they were designed and funded. The Greens will be able to tell their supporters “we did what we could” ; in reality it was token and impossible gesture. Fortunately Labor had the sense to support the legislation which will ensure it is once again available for public benefit.

  2. At long last, our poor neglected corridor will get some long deserved TLC and appreciation.
    The Greens have some fabulous concerns at heart for the survival of life on Earth, but are sadly “off the rails” when it comes to disused rail corridors.

    It becomes clear to anyone who has actually walked many parts of the corridor, that “putting the trail beside the track” is utter nonsense for the majority of its 130kms length, for the many reasons that the train dreamers remain doggedly deaf to: the many steep cuttings, steeply raised formations, narrow bridges, tunnels, complex high rainfall drainage systems, flood plains, etc.
    Even if it were physically possible, there would be massive safety issues if the trail ran beside the train infrastructure.

    The rail trail would have to go in the future, if it was deemed necessary to put a train on that corridor again. At least the corridor would still be there, and cleared ready to go.!
    The Rail Trail will offer custodianship of the corridor, to protect it for any future transport use, to maintain it as a wild life corridor and to make sure it stays in public hands.”
    The NSW government vote, is a win for the corridor, both for Rail Trails and for future public transport. Let’s celebrate to these wins.

  3. Hang your heads in shame !
    These vandals have successfully destroyed a possible transport route, in order to down grade to a hobby horsey bike track, about as useful as tits on a bull. What a pathetic bunch of losers !
    …And this is supposed to be some sort of tourist trap. Where are all the tourists that will miraculously frequent this track to nowhere ? Oh yeah ! There’s a virus that will kill you if you travel and congregate in tourist traps. Idiots. G”)

    • Yeh….. What Ken said… The railway line should have been closed to begin with either.

      How ridiculous is it not having a railway line to Byron Bay or even Murwillumbah? Outrageous.. This rail-trail idea is pure nonsense….

  4. Greens spokesperson for Transport made a fool of herself by reading from the NRRAG hymnbook when she claimed that the Northern Rivers was the fastest growing region in NSW. In fact it isn’t even close to the growth rate around Newcastle and Lake Macquarie where the government is investing in railways to connect them to the rest of the eighty percent of the NSW population that lives between there, Sydney and Wollongong.

    But she showed just how far lost the Greens have become with this from Hansard.
    Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: I move:
    That standing and sessional orders be suspended to allow the presentation of an irregular petition from 60 residents and visitors to the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales requesting that the Government provide regular commuter train services, extending to Tweed and the Gold Coast, immediate repair and extension of the Casino to Lismore service and the purchase of sufficient diesel rail cars to operate a train service from Lismore to Brisbane.”

    Sixty people want a multibillion dollar railway so the Green parliamentarian presents it. Especially note the words, “Diesel rail cars”. And that is supposed to be Green?

    Never mind that the Queensland and NSW railways use a different gauge. No intelligence there at all.

  5. It’s another clear case of how corruption works in Australia. They plan everything from the end goal back to the now and have everything covered. It’s like dealing with a narcissist, you can’t win, you can only leave. If we all came together and threw what we all had on the table, then we could create a brand new self- sustainable community that had an excess of high quality food and energy to deliver back to wider community. And all set up at a fraction of the the current cost of a plugged in town house. Or we can all keep focusing on our new bomb proof Hi-Way that is designed to keep us in debt for another 100 years.

    • It’s got nothing to do with corruption – if it does tell us who exactly corrupted whom. The corridor was closed in 2013 because it didn’t serve the area’s transport needs. You either use it for another public purpose, a rail trail or a perhaps a tourist rail, or you privitise it. Most people want to keep it as public land, so we are using it for a rail trail – a walking and cycling path – a use that any sustainsble community would be proud to host. It means our community are custodians of the corridor land, both of its rail history but also for any further transport use.

  6. Between Billinudgel and Byron, the rail sleepers were much rotted many years ago already, and the very numerous bridges almost completely deteriorated, and there are tunnels. Between the bridges however, in the middle of the tracks, the ground is firm and level, so although much work would need to be done, it is viable to make a useable pedestrian and foot powered wheels trail. My understanding is that the government has recently put up for grabs 250 000 000 dollars for bush fire recovery purposes: ( https://www.echo.net.au/2020/10/250m-to-councils-for-bushfire-recovery/#comment-3016011 ), Much wildlife has been displaced by the fires, and people need a safe walking and riding trail connecting villages and towns. The trail could serve both. The track could be planned for easy walking, riding, horses, and even wheelchairs, and both sides could be planted out with native species serving koalas and other wildlife, aswell as native fruiting trees and bushes for people to have a bite along the way, encouraging outdoor lifestyle and restoration of nature all at the same time. The plantings could be maintained by the community, and guided walks could open up a new love for nature to tourists who otherwise rush in and rush out, taking quick selfies all over the place, without ever actually stopping to relax and breathe the beauty of the area in. To have reverence for nature, it helps to allow people to experience it, to be involved with it.

  7. Beth Shelley asks, ‘Why is this area, with a rapidly growing population, and huge tourist industry, being singled out for closure while other areas are left alone? ‘

    This is because our corridor is the second to be selected in NSW (after Tumbarumba-Rosewood) as ideal for conversion to a rail trail. Many others will follow as the process becomes established. Our corridor is turning out to be an interesting test case with Byron Council looking into more complex arrangements. The way will be paved for more trails in rapid succession once Byron’s folly becomes apparent.

    NSW government has been very slow to realise the benefits of rail trails. Victoria converted many of their unused branch lines to trails last century and have reaped enormous benefits for the towns along them. They are still adding to their trail network and continuing to invest in this eminently appropriate and sustainable tourist industry.

  8. There should be a shared corridor for a low speed tourist focused train, similar to the one in Byron Bay, to be accompanied with a riding trail.
    Any plan that favours a cycle way above all other options is short sighted and a waste of tax payer dollars

    • Byron Rail engineers estimated a cost of $30 million to repair the track to Mullumbimby for their train to run on it but had to do so without actually seeing the state of the multitude of bridges that we now know to be totally decrepit after some gallant efforts by locals to fight their way through the jungle on the corridor.

      Railway projects, especially tourist railways, are notorious for blowing out budgets by huge factors and for operating at a loss. Nobody has come forward offering to make such a huge risky investment with so little prospect for returns.

      The government is not interested in contributing to tourist railways but have already funded the full construction of the Murwillumbah to Crabbes Creek and Casino to Bentley sections of the rail trail. Byron could have been in the same position had it focused on an achievable trail goal rather than their railway fantasy. Unfortunately they will have wasted millions of dollars on reports by consultants before the reality sets in.

  9. Byron Council is spending about 110 Million dollars on widening Ewingsdale Rd and the 1km of bypass and roundabouts. The NSW gov is spending billions of dollars on new Sydney rail lines and hundreds of millions on new rural train lines, on top of susidising every commuters train ticket. Qld gov is building new rail lines to the border. Victoria established a very successful tourist train south of Melbourne. It is not about money or use. Well the die has been set. When the ‘excess to our needs’ sale of rail land is advertised I hope the Rail Trail proponents speak out.

    • $110 million figure for Ewingsdale Road? Wow that is a lot of money. Can you provide a link to how it is being spent and who funded it? Clearly not Byron Council as that is well beyond their resources.

      In any case pointing to large expenditures does not make a case for funding the resurrection of the C-M line but shows how money is being spent on worthwhile projects rather than squandered providing luxury public transport to a tiny minority who happen to live near and need to travel to places along the corridor.

      The NSW government is investing in upgrading railways around Newcastle to connect them with the eighty percent of the NSW population that lives in the region from Newcastle to Woolongong. The Casino Murwillumbah corridor runs through barely one percent of the NSW population connecting a handful of small towns to Lismore. Basically nowhere to nowhere significant.

      Which “new rural train lines” are you talking about?

      Queensland is slowly extending their railway to the Gold Coast Airport. That railway runs between two the six largest urban areas in Australia with a combined population of three million people.

  10. The worst of it is, the government knows rail trails fall into decay in just a few months, after the novelty wears off. The funding fight inevitably leads to piles of litter, vermin, snakes, potholes and safety hazards, and it dies. But in the meantime, the government has achieved its real aim – vandalising a public utility to the point where it can’t come back to serve a growing population.

    Bottom line: the government doesn’t believe in rail trails. It gets behind them to shirk their public transport obligations outside of Sydney. I can’t believe why this isn’t more obvious to more people. Wake up people – please – and oppose this.

    • The rail trails in New Zealand, Victoria and QLD have not fallen into disrepair, any more than our popular paths in Ballina have . Indeed, based on their popularity and the benifits that they bring, councils and governments have extended most of those rail trails to extend to most or all of the original track. Use of rail trails continues to grow. I was told last year Regional Development Victoria the popular Wangaratta rail trail will double its use over five years and apparently, like our paths in Ballina, usage of Victorian rail trails remained strong even during lockdowns.

      Far from shirking its public transport obligations, the Government decided not to restore train services, so it could focus funding on better bus services around the state. In 2017 it rolled out thousands of new bus services in NSW, including in regional areas where people had the sense to focus on road transport that follow people’s needs, not legacy rail lines. It had just rolled out 450 new bus services in the region. Hopeful more public transport activists here can put behind them the distraction of putting trains on tracks, and lobby for more real public transport improvement.

    • The claim that rail trails are failures is very common along with the notion that the track is in good condition and wouldn’t cost much to repair or that the trail could be built next to the rails.

      Far from falling into decay, rail trails continue to increase in popularity with many tens of thousands of users counted on trails in Victoria and Queensland despite attempts by the anti-rail brigade to tamper with them in an effort to disguise the true numbers.

      Every level of government continues to invest in upgrading trails long after the rails have been removed. Why would they do so if their goal were to simply destroy the railway? Investment continues because of the proven benefits to the towns and villages along the trail which brings a significant level of economic stimulus to otherwise declining locations.

      The neglect of the corridor brings litter, vermin.and weeds. What it needs is the attention of people who will use it and make it their own recreational space. There is every reason to believe that our trail will become one of the most popular, not only in Australia but in the world.


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