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March 8, 2021

Foolish guestimates

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Louise Doran, Ocean Shores

The article in The Echo titled A short history of our rail line debate is anything but. It’s full of personal assumptions, rumours, guestimates, and lacks any research or accuracy. (Echo 13/1)

There’s no comparison with the slow, once a day XPT train service with a light commuter train service providing public transport for locals and six million tourists.* They are very different, as are the costs and benefits, but the writer doesn’t bother with this vital fact.

The claim that the community was slow to react to the Casino to Murwillumbah (C-M) branch line’s closure, ‘probably because of the branch lines trifling impact’ is contrary to all the evidence and shows the writer has no idea what he’s talking about, or is being dishonest.

To quote the submissions of former MPs Don Page and Thomas George to the Legislative Council Inquiry in 2004 ‘[T]here is a genuine feeling of betrayal and anger in the community and I want to emphasise that this feeling is not local; it is across the region’ said Don Page. ‘[T]he feeling about the loss of this rail service is unprecedented during my term in parliament’ said Thomas George. They were referring to numerous large meetings, thousands of signatures on petitions and mass rallies on every North Coast train station.

The community knew that the Labor Party’s estimated $188m over twenty years for repairs to the line was excessive, as noted by the Legislative Council Committee. The Manager of Infrastructure, Planning and Support with RIC stated at the time [T]he problem with the line is not the track – the track is pretty stable – the problem is the bridges’.

Most of the line still is ‘pretty stable’. Many of these 130-year-old timber bridges had needed replacing for decades, and have since been removed. They would have to be replaced to build a bike track – and the cost would be similar.

When calculating the cost of necessary maintenance of the C-M line, there was no estimate of the cost to the community and taxpayers of traffic congestion, road building and maintenance that would be needed as a consequence of cessation of the train service.

Recently $24m has been spent on the three kilometres of the controversial Byron bypass, while it cost just $1.8m to restore three kilometres of train line to run the Byron Solar Train.

It’s estimated $78m needs to be spent on the Byron exit of the M1 to move dangerous traffic congestion off the highway – that’s $102m cost for road works on six kilometres of road into Byron. Add to that the estimated cost of $100m, over sixteen years, (the government won’t tell taxpayers the cost so it could be much more) of several large coaches that replaced the train service. 

That’s a total of $202m, for no return on investment, which dwarfs the cost of a train service. What the heck, it’s only taxpayers’ money.  If a private business wasted shareholders’ money this way managers would face serious consequences, possibly gaol.

Contrary to the claim in the article, and despite the slow trip on a line with many clapped out bridges, the Legislative Council Committee noted that an average of 398 passengers used the XPT service daily, or 2,786 per week.  That’s after a decline of 25 to 30 per cent in passengers owing to the poor timetable that precluded locals from using the train for local trips – as they had previously.

As Member for Tweed Geoff Provest said in his maiden speech to parliament in 2007 ‘I was armed with a Coalition commitment to introduce six light rail services a day (on the C-M line) and to start planning the (rail) extension from Murwillumbah to the Gold Coast.

Essentially this was the same policy of Trains On Our Tracks (TOOT) the local train lobby group’. Geoff Provest, along with Don Page and Thomas George, needs to be held accountable for this appalling betrayal of the community, and jumping on the bike track bandwagon, while furiously pedalling misinformation.

So what derailed those promises?  When the Eddie Obeid mess hit the fan and the Coalition knew they could ignore election promises yet still romp in at the 2011 election, they did. It took a further two years for their so-called ‘study’, designed to justify this betrayal of the North Coast community, to emerge.

The billion dollars often quoted for repairs needed on the C-M line to justify spending many millions of taxpayers’ dollars to destroy a valuable train line for bike track, is complete fiction.

The expensive bike track has nothing to do with saving the line for future train services, or the economic benefits of a bike track over train services. It’s about a government willing go to any lengths, and waste atrocious amounts of taxpayers’ money, to silence the community who have always known the social, environmental and cost benefits of a train service for locals and millions of tourists.

The community who have worked hard for many years to ensure this valuable piece of public infrastructure is used for the greatest benefit to all, need to be given credit, not ridiculed.

There’s much more evidence and information that can be easily accessed on line about the social, environmental and cost benefits of a train service on the C-M line. No need to look foolish making erroneous assumptions or guestimates about anything.

*Tourism Research Australia.

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  1. Thank you Louise Doran for your correction. Your thinking is on the right track.
    Let alone the feelings of the community, there are the facts of the matter.
    Look at the economy of Murwillumbah today compared to 2004 when the train stopped its comings and goings to that place.

    • Alice is clutching at straws to suggest the downturn in the Murwillumbah economy is all about the loss of the train sixteen years ago. The world has shifted to giant retail outlets local shops cannot compete with and many more people from Murwillumbah now work in Tweed or further north.

      Hardly anyone travels south from Murwillumbah and a train in that direction would be virtually useless to the vast majority of us. If you doubt this, just stand on Tweed Valley Way at Burringbar and count the cars. My son-in-law used to be a traffic controller and commented on the vast difference between north and south of Murwillumbah,

  2. The train lobby make endless accusations around the history of the the closure of the services on the rail line and particularly the LNP’s failure to restore services , described here as a “betrayal.” They make absurd comparisons between a 3km tourist rail that carries a handful of passengers every hour, with the cost of road construction carrying thousands of cars, and try and convince us such a tourist train is going to take cars off the road! Is it any wonder they have not been able to persuade the successive governments they denigrate that they have a message worth listening too?
    And when you consider their message, they have never related their wish to bring back trains to any analysis of public transport demand and needs. Every study undertaken that actually looks at alternatives to rail – the Kearney Sinclair Knight study in the ’90s; the Arup study on the Casino Murwillumbah Rail; the Tweed transport Strategy; and most recently the draft Byron Transport Strategy – has told us that trains are not the best way to meet the regions transport needs. The rail is poorly aligned to the serve the majority households that do not have access to a car, and the large costs of restoring and running rail services would be at the expense of the improved public and community transport to meet their needs. The Sustain Northern Rivers Transport Survey found the main barrier to public transport was not a train but service provision. Only 9% thought not having a train would help increase public transport use, compared with frequency/regularity (27%) and availability (17.5%), issues that are only feasible to address with road transport. That is why the Northern Rivers Social Development Council (NRSDC) submission to the Government’s inquiry into access to transport for seniors and disadvantaged people in regional NSW, did not once mention the train or the rail, but offered practical and affordable suggestions on how to make the buses more accessible.
    The Government has been focusing on delivering better bus services, and has no intention of reopening the now closed line to Murwillumbah. The rail lobby is now trying to convince us- without any show of any funding – it can “Reinstate Murwillumbah Rail”. In reality they have nothing to offer the community beyond unused overgrown former corridor land. Their current moves are nothing more than ane attempt to block the rail trail and so block public access to the publicly owned corridor land, and prevent our region enjoying the rail trail’s economic, social and recreational benefits.

      • Alice
        The important thing is not to focus as does Louise on the train line, but on people, and where they live and need to go. The demographics and transport needs of the area have changed. The population along the rail corridor is younger, has only grown slowly and the number of households without a car has declined . Car ownership was already growing before the train ceased operating and because of the high cost of rail the Kearney Sinclair Knight study in 1994 identified inequities in transport funding. The concentrations of households without a car are much larger among the older population away form the rail corridor, particularly in the coastal areas of Ballina and Tweed Shires. That’s why the Government has focused on improving bus services to those areas , which would be difficult if you shifted a large chunk funding back to the rail corridor.
        People along that corridor deserve good transport too of course, which is why the draft Byron Shire Transport Strategy proposes improving its bus services.

  3. If our XPT carried 398 passengers per day they certainly were not all coming onto the branch line. I met the train at both Murwillumbah and Lismore a number of times in the 90s and a handful of people would get off. Timetables had to consider the rest of the route and other trains using the lines all the way to Sydney on its daily loop. It is ridiculous to expect the whole train to be scheduled just to suit the Far North Coast.

    In any case, this is a tiny number of travellers and certainly does not justify the spending of hundreds of millions of dollars on a railway. Resurrecting the old line would make no appreciable difference to the road traffic. Tourists to Byron would still drive their cars from SE Queensland as most do, or fly into Coolangatta and hire a car or catch the $15 express bus from the airport.

    Many of them are day or single night visitors and have no interest going anywhere else that would be connected by a train. Those staying longer would drive to their places of interest wherever they might be and whenever they want without being limited by train timetables and having nowhere to keep their valuables while enjoying the beaches and other attractions.

    $202 million does not “dwarf the cost” of returning train services and criticising the road upgrades on the basis of such cost is utterly ridiculous. These roads are used by many thousands of people every day. Anyone who expects a railway service to make a return, particularly one that connects so few people and places, is obviously delusional. It would link a handful of small towns to Lismore and go nowhere near most of the larger population centres in the region, particularly those with the highest populations of the elderly and car-less.

    The LNP kept their promise to investigate the return of train services. Unfortunately a comprehensive study by a independent infrastructure consultant revealed that it would be a very expensive and ineffective measure. If anyone has any evidence that the government was involved in influencing the outcome of the report or any other form of corruption then they should contact the ICAC rather than making baseless allegations.

    The railway would be outrageously expensive and and would not make a significant contribution to the public transport needs of the region, serving only a tiny minority. There is no study with any other outcome, so claims that the railway would bring net benefits are indeed “erroneous assumptions”. The rail trail project stages where construction is about to start have demonstrated their potential to benefit the economy of the region. That and the fact that they far less costly than the pointless railway.is why these projects are being funded by the State and Federal Governments.

    The people in the community who have worked hard for years to save the corridor in public ownership are the rail trail advocates. Without their work, the rail corridor matters raised in parliament last year would have been about its sale and disposal.

  4. Thanks Louise. Spot on! You’ve been targeted by the usual suspects in the replies I see. Certainly, the 1%ers around Bryron and surrounds would love their leisure filled hours to come complete with rail trail, but for the rest of us, those who are too, busy, too poor, environmentalists who choose not to own a car, the old, the incapacitated and those who’d merely like a trip to the beach are the forgotten ones.
    The environmental and economic cost of more roads, buses, and road transport and associated upkeep are incalculable!

    • Too busy but you want to ride a slow train running on a tortuous steam age alignment and somehow connect to one of the few stations at each end of the journey to get from your home to where you need to go. Then back again.

      Too poor but want trains that cost far more than buses to operate and required hundreds of millions of dollars of specialised infrastructure exclusively for their use? Trains are massively subsidised, especially in sparsely populated rural areas.

      Environmentalists but want vast amounts of resources dedicated to trains while buses already servicing the limited routes run almost empty. Buses are generally considerably more environmentally efficient than trains. They connect better to where people live and where they need to travel.

      The oldest people and mopst of those without cars in the region don’t live anywhere near the railway corridor. The vast majority of the railway advocates are old age pensioners who do have all day to get where they want to go while expecting to pay $2.50 towards the hundreds of dollars their journey would actually cost to provide.

      The road network needs to be maintained so that people can actually get to their final destinations and travel beyond the handful of small towns that would be serviced by a train on the old corridor.

  5. Me thinks he doth protest too much !
    This whole insane debacle, just screams political corruption. The idea of vandalizing publicly owned infra-structure, in order to line the pockets of a few ruthless vested interests, bus companies and those capitalizing on the private takeover of facilities already paid for and developed by those “The oldest people and mopst of those without cars in the region ” , who like all of us now, in these post-carbon circumstances, will be increasingly forced to rely on the more efficient and low emission alternative of rail transport. The ludicrous assertion that rail is subsidised, while gas-guzzling cars, and highways ( how much did that stretch of environmental madness between Maclean and Woolgoolga cost? ) are somehow the RIGHT of the wealthy and trucking magnates who have assiduously connived to trick the public into demolishing rail infrastructure and paying for facilities for B-doubles, that should never have been allowed on public roads.
    While I note Greg points out the buses are generally empty, and thus must be considered a failure in catering for the public need, I still have grave reservations about his motives for his hysterical advocacy for public asset destruction in favour of, what amounts to being a playground for the indolent and a wedge for real-estate profiteering.

  6. Spot on again Ken. Unlike our empty-taxpayer subsidised buses-the Gold Coast trains are never empty as they cater for the public need.Those responsible for this political bastardry and criminal waste of taxpayers’ money need to be held accountable!

    • Gold Coast trains are well patronised because they connect two of the six largest metropolitan areas in Australia, together being home to three million people. It runs on a modern alignment powered by electricity, supporting speed of up to 140 kph, getting people from where they live to where they need to travel faster and more conveniently that a car. Thousands of people us them to commute to work.

      It cannot be compared to the old Casino-Murwillumbah line with dozens of tight radius curves limiting speed to about 60 kph and connecting a handful of small towns to Lismore. The equivalent original steam age Gold Coast line was rendered obsolete in the 1960s and removed. The real pity is that it was sold off instead of being converted to a trail. Just imagine the iconic tourist attraction it would have been today, and the Gold Coast would have been a far more livable city.

      Unlike the bus services running on the route adjacent to the old corridor, those running along the Tweed coast are well patronised. Buses run nearly empty when people choose to use their car. There simply isn’t the demand for public transport along the old corridor to justify the grotesque amount of money that would be needed to return a train to service.

  7. Stuck without the slightest evidence for their beliefs that are contrary to the findings of independent reports by professional consultants, rail advocates like Ken inevitably resort to unsubstantiated accusations of corruption. It is pathetic nonsense.

    People chose to use road transport and support governments that prioritise road over rail. There has been widespread support for the M1 project since its conception over thirty years ago by the NSW coroner, who concluded that a divided highway all the way from Sydney to the border was essential to avoid more catastrophic fatal crashes like those of 1989. By all means, campaign for and vote for parties that would refuse to invest in this vital project but you won’t attract many voters. Then accept the outcome of the democratic process.

    Returning train services to the old corridor would be incredibly expensive and cannot make a significant contribution to the transport needs of this region. Our choice was between building the trail (a project that has been funded) or the sale and disposal of the corridor an outcome that was alluded to by NSW Regional Development in 2016. Thankfully the hard working people promoting the trail have succeeded in producing the best outcome for the region.

  8. “independent reports by professional consultants” ( hired by whom ?)
    “the NSW coroner”( who inexplicably failed to consider the alternative of banning B-doubles and other road freight that would be safer for the public , and more efficiently handled by Rail.
    ……and the fact that a bunch of horsey, bikey enthusiasts have been conned into supporting the destruction of a vital rail corridor to link with Queensland and that enormous financial potential, is irrefutable evidence of the accusations of corruption that I, and any unbiased observer, will level at this travesty of democracy, government and political failure.
    Greg, I think any Australian of sufficient age and awareness are all too familiar with the fact that what you are referring to as “the democratic process.” was privatised back in 1975 and has been franchised by the likes of Lindsay Fox, Gina Rinehart, Clive Palmer etc. with long term leases to Adani and even the Chinese Govt., leaving the various levels of government the task of facilitating these atrocities with the help of certain rabble-rousers, Greg.
    Happy Australia Day, G”)

    • The report was commissioned by the Liberal National government. They were investigating the possibility of returning trains to the corridor as they promised prior to the election. What reports do you have that show contrary outcomes to that report? Absolutely nothing. Your assertions based entirely on your religious beliefs about trains.

      The coroner did not recommend banning B- doubles. B-doubles were not involved in the 1989 bus crashes. Neither did they recommend moving all the freight onto trains because it would not be practical. People don’t chose to use rail freight because it is very slow and the double and triple handling makes it uneconomic. As I said before, the M1 project had the support of the people of NSW. Go and campaign against modern roads if you want. I suggest you start by convincing people who lost family members in head on crashes on the old highway. Most of them died in accidents that didn’t involve trucks at all. But you don’t care about facts.

      There is no evidence whatsoever for “enormous financial potential” of resurrecting the old corridor. Moreover, the old railway was never “a link to Queensland”. It terminated at Murwillumbah. Extending it to Coolangatta would be a multi-billion dollar project including a tunnel under Tweed Heads costing over a billion dollars alone. It isn’t going to happen in our lifetime. The Tweed Transport Master Plan available at the Tweed Shire Council website includes the most detailed investigation of the possibilities for rail in the shire.

      It clearly indicates that if any railway were to be built from the Gold Coast it definitely would not come though Murwillumbah. The same distance as Murwillumbah but instead down the M1 route would reach within eight kilometres of Yelgun where the M1, Tweed Valley Way and the old rail corridor converge. This route would save nearly twenty kilometres off the journey, avoid having to resurrect 26 kilometres of some of the most decrepit track on the whole corridor through the Burringbar Range, avoid having to build a viaduct across the acid sulphate soils of the Tweed floodplain and pass much closer to the growing Tweed coastal townships.

      All we ever hear from rail advocates are unsubstantiated claims that the benefits are undeniable. Doesn’t cut it. Nor do your accusations of corruption. You have nothing to counter facts so like most rail advocates you resort to name calling and personal insults. There has been nothing of substance in any of you posts.

      It is obvious the section of the corridor between Murwillumbah and Crabbes Creek will never see trains again. Let’s just get on with building what will become one of the most popular rail trails in the world.

    • Exactly Ken.

      As stated in an Echo editorial in Jan 2015 Don Page MP (National Party) claimed closing the service “…….is short sighted because the North Coast is a rapidly growing area and this infrastructure is central to our future. In future we will need more, not fewer trains. We will need more commuter services and tourist trains; WE NEED TO CONNECT INTO THE QUEENSLAND SYSTEM”. (my emphasis)

      Now the LNP want to spend untold millions of our money ripping up this valuable train line ‘that’s central to our future’. That’s called corruption. It’s questionable whether these people could even spell ‘democracy’ let alone practice it. Bikers are the unwitting tools being used to facilitate this disaster.

      • The arbitrary musings of a has-been politician like Don Page trying to retain his seat are no more valid as a basis for making multi-billion dollar decisions than the ill-informed opinions of rail advocates. Moreover, Page lost his seat in the subsequent election, indicating that the voters were not swayed by his claims. The vast majority of people in this region don’t care about trains and would never use them if they existed. Hardly anyone used the services when they were running decades ago.

        The untold millions of dollars would be required for the resurrection of the railway and the incredibly unlikely extension to Queensland. Nobody knows where these millions and billions would come from. Both sides of government accept the findings of the professional studies which show that putting trains on the old corridor would not make a significant contribution to the transport needs of the region. It would indeed be corruption if the old railway were to be funded despite the findings of the report.

        The costs of the trail construction have been told and have attracted the necessary funding from state and federal governments. Governments everywhere at all levels from local to federal continue to invest in rail trails because the benefits are well established. They don’t invest in decrepit railways and financial black hole tourist trains which is why will never be another train on the Murwillumbah to Crabbes Creek line for the multitude of reasons that the likes of Ken and Louise completely ignore in favour of their religious belief in trains.

        Bikers are not “unwitting tools”. We are far better informed about the reality of the old corridor than the rail advocates who are still unable to present a coherent case for the return of trains, citing their unsubstantiated opinions as the basis for all arguments in favour of railways.


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