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March 2, 2021

Rail trail exasperation

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Dave Lisle, Goonengerry

A wave of exasperation impels me to scribble this note. Over the years, your articles, whether opinion pieces or so-called reportage, have consistently opposed the idea of a rail trail. They’re always strongly slanted towards ‘returning’ trains to the tracks. Of course, you’re entitled to stake out whatever position you choose. But it’s also important to occasionally examine your assumptions.

One of the key assumptions driving your editorial stance is that a rail-trail deprives us of public transport. I won’t delve into how absurd it is that this ‘green’ paper is so anti-bicycle – a posture shared by the wider community which I bear witness to daily as I ride my bike about the place – but rather, focus on your assumptions.

Last week’s front page took a swipe at ‘NSW Labor, who took the trains off the tracks in 2004’. What this statement fails to appreciate, and what train zealots frequently ignore, is that shutting the Murwillumbah–Casino branch line was a modal change which deprived no-one of public transport. When the train to Casino was replaced with a bus, the service was actually enhanced by connecting such places as Bruns, Ocean Shores and many others not previously serviced by the train.

So let’s be clear: public transport improved in 2004 when the line was shuttered. It’s just that you and the other train fiends objected to the type of transport being offered by the NSW government.

I’m a train lover too. But I don’t allow the pursuit of policy perfection to cloud my judgement. So whenever I need to go to Sydney and don’t feel like riding my bike, I present myself at Mullumbimby train station and board a bus for Casino. The link is seamless, and I enjoy the thrill and romance of the train journey [from Casino] to Sydney.

The rail trail is only ‘controversial’ because [ITAL]The Echo and your cohort of train zealots perseverate about the train that was supposedly stolen sixteen years ago.

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14 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for your common sense Dave! I know a lot of people hanging out for the rail trail. A group of us caught the morning bus from Byron to Lismore last week just to see what it was like and it was wonderful! Great scenery and a lovely, friendly driver. Pity hardly anyone got on!

    • Marie Lawton, Your words re the trial go of taking the train-link bus to Casino Railway Station and saying how great it was, well, your comment says it all: Pity hardly anyone got on!
      Simple – that shows what so many people have all been saying ever since our train service was taken away by the Sydney pollies (Northern Star article and huge coverage – ‘We were there,The day the Sydney pollies took our train’ and ‘they do not like, or cannot travel on a bus’.

      • What Marie’s observation of the buses on the corridor tells us is is what you would expect. Public transport in our area is heavily used by older people. The 2016 census shows the population along the rail corridor is significantly younger, with only about 10% over 70 in Lismore and Byron, compared with nearly double that percentage in Ballina and the Tweed. Since the era of the much loved day trains, car ownership in households along the corridor has grown to some of the highest in regional NSW, with fewer households without a car and dependent on public transport than Tweed and Ballina. As you would expect use of the buses is also lower on routes along the rail corridor like Lismore – Byron Bay than those in and out of Ballina or Tweed Heads (the Tweed Coast patronage now supports a bus every fifteen minutes).
        The older people in our region can travel by bus as they do wherever in Australia. It is younger people – here predominating along the rail corridor – who have cars and choose not to use public transport.There is no evidence to show putting trains back would make more than a marginal difference to car use, and it would strip away a large part of the funding that has delivered better bus services and community transport to those that need and use it. As the Government correctly advises,trains on the Northern Rivers rail would not meet our transport needs.

  2. You seem to have a massively oversimplified view of this and have completely missed the point about what rail advocates are campaigning for. Rail is about alternatives. It’s about providing locals with alternatives to traffic congestion, alternatives to spending time on busy roads with B-doubles, providing people who may not be able to drive with options. Buses may be great if you are prepared to sit in a cramped, uncomfortable seat for long periods of time on a bumpy journey over crumbling roads. Make no mistake, it’s a poorer alternative to rail transport. Back injuries often means buses are not an option. Tell me Dave, with the “vast improved transport services since 2004”, what are they to do now? Anyone with leg injuries will also find buses difficult due to the cramped seating. Tell me Dave, what are they to do now? Maybe buses aren’t the holy grail you perceive them to be. Rail can also be utilised by tourists who want new ways to see the area. The incredibly scenic line means they could visit the local towns and villages on the comfortable train and be back within a day, as opposed to packing them onto cars and buses and worsening road conditions while they are at it. Of course, the “buses buses buses” approach is perfect for people who don’t really need to use them and would much rather be pushing pedals in their retirement days. But sadly that’s not the reality for all of us. No, many of us would appreciate the alternatives that rail would provide and the opportunities it would create in allowing for safer, more comfortable and enjoyable journeys for locals and tourists alike.

    • Clearly Gary A doesn’t use the buses around here. Anything but cramped because they generally have hardly anyone on them. Why not campaign for better seats on buses? There is so much space they could have an en suite bathroom and fully reclining luxury seats, especially for those with leg and back injuries. It would still cost far less than a train.

      The goal of the rail trail is exactly the opposite of a train taking tourists out and back to Byron in the same day. The hinterland towns and villages are looking forward to thousands of tourists travelling out on the trail and NOT going back before nightfall. Instead we want them to stay the night while being provided with food, drinks, accommodation and entertainment. We know from other rail trails that providing services like this is a massive boost to the prosperity of local economies as the money tourists spend circulates around and around the community in a sustainable and very appropriate industry.

  3. These people trying to tell the community a trail trail is public transport are deliberately trying mislead people. Rail trails are NOT public transport.

    Can’t wait to see these people try and push their wheel chairs up the bike track at St Helena when age overtakes them and they can’t even walk, or sit on a bus for hours, let alone ride a bike! But they would be able to use a train.

    Some uninformed people, who obviously have never spent two hours on the bus to Casino, may think buses are the accessible, affordable, sustainable alternative to trains on the C-M line, in one of the busiest tourist regions in the country. They’re not accessible, affordable, or sustainable- they are costing taxpayers’ the earth. Free trains would be cheaper.

    The trains were stopped as governments had allowed the condition of the line to deteriorate over decades, and dodgy politicians, who you wouldn’t allow near your toy trains, let alone the state transport system, then used that as an excuse to stop the service. It had nothing to do with cost or patronage.

    Engineers, and others, who’ve bothered to do their research, know that buses are not affordable if you compare the cost of building and maintaining roads, compared to the cost of building and maintaining rail, let alone the cost to communities of road deaths, injuries, and pollution. People with any type of knee, back or leg injury cannot use buses for long trips. That’s why the expensive coaches are mostly empty. But hey, it’s only taxpayers’ money. They may be veterans or seniors who’ve worked hard all their lives and just want to visit rellies or grandchildren, so who cares. As long as the government appears to be providing public transport and voters are happy pay through the nose to be conned.

    The cost so far of $107.7 MILLION for roadworks on just six kilometers of Ewingsdale Road to try and keep the traffic flowing into Byron is just one cost, replicated all over the Northern Rivers, of no trains. Then there’s the cost of the mostly empty, diesel spewing, monster coaches that replaced the trains-estimated cost (the government won’t tell taxpayers the exact cost so it’s obviously too much) to be over $100m over sixteen years. Then there’s the $100 MILLION plus to rip up the valuable line for a bike track that won’t take one car of our congested roads. That’s a total of over $307.7 MILLION and nowhere near the total cost to communities of ripping up the valuable Casino to Murwillumbah line for a bike track.

    The MP for Tweed, Geoff Provest and the LNP, knew a train service on the C-M was what the community wanted and needed. They knew getting trains running on the C-M line and building the rail connection to Coolangatta was important, and not too expensive, when they promised for years they would do it.

    Now Geoff’s investigating building whole new light rail service, not a bike track, to connect Tweed to the Gold Coast-can’t wait for that.

    • What ever type of transport you want to call it, the rail trail certainly can be very practical transport system, particularly from Mullumbimby and Brunswick Heads through Byron to Bangalow. Electric bicycles on the relatively flat rail formation allow anyone to travel at 25 kph for very considerable distance making the 35 minute commute from Mullum to Byron perfectly practical especially when it is combined with great exercise and relaxation. That would takes some cars of the road.

      The notion that buses are less accessible, less affordable for tax payers and less sustainable than a train on the old corridor is utterly ludicrous particularly when buses would still need to service all the other routes where the train doesn’t go. The roads that are used by virtually everyone would still need to be developed regardless of any train.

      Rail campaigners are becoming increasingly ridiculous with their platitudes and unsubstantiated nonsense. With a stark demonstration of their incredible sense of entitlement, they seriously expect obscene amounts of public funds to be spent providing luxury public transport to a tiny minority who happen to live near and need to travel to places near the old corridor. Most of them care nothing for what others would have to forgo to pay for it as long as they ride for their $2.50 daily fare. Even if they got their train they would start demanding that a dining car be included.

      • A bike track is only one form of transport and only when it is part of a fully integrated public transport system that is accessible to people of all ages and abilities, locals and six million tourists.

        Can’t wait to see these selfish people demanding that the train line be destroyed (costing taxpayers a fortune) for a bike track, pushing their wheelchairs on a bike track up the St Helena Hill, in pouring rain or heat, to medical facilities in Lismore when age overtakes them and they can’t walk, ride a bike or sit on a bus for hours.

        People have always driven, or caught the bus to the train station, as they do on the Gold Coast and the Central Coast. They’re very happy to have a train service and CERTAINLY wouldn’t swap trains for a bike track!

        • Criticising the trail on the basis of cost is hilarious coming from someone who wants billions spent on resurrecting a decrepit line and extending it to the Gold Coast.

          The Gold Coast is part of a metropolis comprised of two of the largest six metropolitan areas in Australia, home to over three million people. The Central Coast is part of Newcastle-Sydney-Woolongong, home to eighty percent of the NSW population. Comparing those situations to a corridor that connects barely one percent of the NSW population is nonsense particularly when only a tiny fraction of them could make regular use of a train. Lismore only just scrapes into the top fifty largest populations in Australia and is second last in terms of growth rate on that list.

          It is not a matter of “swapping trains for a bike track”. The trains have been gone for over sixteen years and are not coming back. The trail is the only way we have managed to avoid the corridor being closed, sold and disposed of forever as was foreshadowed by Regional Development NSW in 2016.

  4. Buses can pick you up from almost your front door step and drop you almost at your destination. Catching a train requires either walking/car/taxi/bus to a station , waiting for train and at the other end you will again looking for a taxi/bus/car to deliver you at your final destination.
    The Northern Rivers line was built in 1894 for movement of milk and other agricultural products every day of the week and as a plus had passenger trains running on weekends. The railway was built in the steam age era when all the train had to compete against was horses .
    The trip from Casino to Murwillumbah took 2hrs 45min for many years until most of the stations closed . The final few years it only stopped at Mullumbimby, Byron Bay and Lismore .
    Keeping people in cars was and always will be easy with the slow meandering Northern Rivers line but luckily we have Tweed Shire Council who have written into their Transport Strategy document that the future train system will be running beside the M1 highway corridor with stations at all the off ramps .
    None of this nostalgic slow train will sway state governments to invest in heritage tourist trains as they are financially unviable.

    • Yes, people can’t wait to ride their bikes to work, Uni or specialist appointments in Lismore in all weathers. Of course it would be much easier and quicker than using the train-the old clapped out XPT took 55 minutes from Byron!

      Who needs modern, fast, low emission, 21st century trains on a decent, well maintained train line when they could have an expensive bike track instead?

      Bike tracks work so well that the government is spending untold billions of our money on a new light rail service and new train lines all over Sydney. Those people should just ride their bikes.

      • The railway corridor doesn’t even go anywhere near university campuses or any hospitals. Its out-of-date route based on nineteenth century needs is one of the main reasons the trains will never return to that corridor.

        Nor would it be a fast. The tight curves on the corridor mean trains, however modern, cannot be fast. You need to educate yourself about deign speeds on railway curves. It is a well established science. The curves were designed for steam trains. Modern fast trains would need a new much straighter corridor like the one connecting Brisbane to the Gold Coast.

        Nor would it be low emissions .Massive diesel locomotives towing a line of what are effectively buildings are not low emission solutions especially when they have very few passengers onboard. And please don’t bleat on about the Byron Battery Powered train. It does three kilometre runs at less than 20 kph and is not the incredible innovation that rail advocates like to believe.

        Trains in Sydney and the surrounding regions carry more than a million passengers a day. The government invests in these services because they are essential in a high density population that comprises eighty percent of the people of NSW. A train through our sparse population connecting a few small towns to Lismore would represent an extraordinary extravagance provided for a tiny minority who happened to live near and need to travel to locations near the corridor.

      • Louise
        I have never heard anyone ever try and suggest a rail trail is public transport. It’s a community path to be used by walkers, cyclists, and where possible horse riders. The experience is that like other community paths they are used by people of all ages. My friend Ron Phillips who older Byron and Ballina residents will know still walks on Ballina’s path with his wife at 97.
        Your comments on buses are quite erroneous. Plainly a free train costs as much to run as a subsidised one and far more than any bus. The popular Coolangatta airport bus to the Bay charged just $15 – $12 without any subsidy at all – a tenth of the cost of the Legislative Council was told it cost to provide a seat on the train form Casino to Murwillumbah.
        People in Canberra regularly travel more than two or three hours without complaint on coaches to Sydney or to catch the XPT to Melbourne And if you think two hours on a bus, while Ballina-ites have had to spend well over three hours to get to the XPT in Grafton, something train advocates have never thought worthy of commenting on. No one is suggesting buses are for everyone on longer trips. That’s why we have the main North Coast line, although increasingly people who do not drive fly which is again cheaper than the un-subsidised cost of train travel. Trainlink coaches use diesel as do trains. The Legislative Council Inquiry was told it was not possible to conclude that the coaches caused more pollution than the trains they replaced, and the impact they had on roads was too small to measure. And of course with EV busses running in Australia now for hundreds of kilometres on a charge of 100% renewable electricity, buses are more carbon friendly than any NSW train.
        Buses are not of course an alternative to the “C-M line” because there is no longer a “C-M line”, and the Bentley to Crabbes Creek rail line will not serve any transport purpose for the foreseeable future (the initial draft of the Byron Transport Strategy shows the transport consultant’s conclusion that there is no transport role for the line in the Byron Shire over the next decade, although Byron Shire does want to “activate” the line for what would be essentially a tourist rail). The service under investigation in Tweed is to Tweed Heads only. The NR 2036 Regional Plan and the recent closures of part of the line show the Government has no intention to restore rail services in the Northern Rivers, and in October last year Transport for NSW advised Byron Shire’s consultants that any rail service in the Shire would have to be funded privately or by the Shire.
        The business cases for the rail trails are based on the recreational and visitor spending of over $100 a day – $200 for overnighters – that they bring to our region. The alternative is not a train but an unused corridor of weeds. The consultations show people in Richmond Valley and Tweed support a rail trail on the corridor; the Byron Shire Cycling Plan shows the community considered a path on the corridor was a priority A ; and a rail trail is one of five high priorities in Lismore for recreational infrastructure. It is time to forget about trains on the Bentley to Crabbes Creek rail line and put it to a public use that will preserve the corridor for any future transport need.

  5. Dave Lisle, Goonengerry
    Dave, your words below, to say after the train was stopped & the service was actually enhanced by buses & public transport; also improved in 2004 by connecting such places as Bruns – (yes, having to drive through the traffic! It’s just that you and the other train fiends objected to the type of transport being offered by the NSW government. Ocean Shores pick-up was on the old highway until a couple of years ago after much battling to have the bus go there.
    The link is not seamless. You say: I enjoy the thrill and romance of the train journey [from Casino] to Sydney.others not previously serviced by the train.That is why people love the train trip instead of a bus – across the vast Northern Rivers Region!
    No, people were not considered at all for decent, safe, enjoyable train transport for all the reasons noted in the other ‘for train transport’ replies.

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