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February 25, 2021

Response to ‘A short history of our rail corridor debate’

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Cr Basil Cameron, Goonengerry

The article A short history of our rail corridor debate is better termed a history of the rail trail lobby (RTL) along with the same myths and inaccuracies that have underpinned its determination for a single use corridor rather than the community preferred multi-use corridor, rails with trails.

As always the RTL reduce the community’s campaign for trains on our tracks to ‘nostalgia and symbolism’ as the ‘paramount concern’. The statement that it was ‘never really about… public transport’ is gobsmacking. Our community was not ‘slow to act’ to the closure of the line.

For over a decade prior to closure there were ongoing calls for local services on the line. Services that were all about addressing the deficit of public transport. A deficit that is growing every day along with the gridlock on our roads.

Yes there was symbolism in the last train. Neglect of community. Neglect of existing rail infrastructure located in a high growth corridor where even the Federal government was forecasting the traffic gridlock we are now experiencing. It was the rail and its potential for local commuter services, not the train, as the RTL insist. The former being a most inconvenient truth for those that would remove our tracks.

This myth has allowed the RTL to give credibility to the National Party’s attempted sleight of hand, by way of the 2012 rail study, that effectively was about the train and not local services for our community. The same National Party MPs who gave into coalition demands to slap down community expectations for rail and better public transport. Remember the Nationals had previously campaigned for commuter services on the line, then reneged once in office. Is it any wonder that they subsequently lost the seat of Ballina?

The Multi Use Rail Corridor Study (MURC) demonstrates that the line is in far better shape than the RTL like to propagandise. The line is capable of operating rail services for substantially less than the scary amounts that the RTL throw around. That is, rail vehicles that are lighter, even lighter than the existing solar train. Rail vehicles that can easily move from rail to road with the potential to provide on-demand public transport that is faster than gridlocked traffic.

The MURC model is for rail with trails for bicycles and pedestrians. So why are the RTL persisting in their push for a rail trail only? Go ask the National Party.

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  1. The Multi Use Rail Corridor Study (MURC) is supposed to be independent but the council refuses to reveal its terms of reference document. This would no doubt be because aim of the report was to make a positive finding for the practicality of running trains. The trail was clearly a secondary consideration which is why the discussion of the benefits of the trail were based on urban cycle usage and completely ignored that it would be part of the Northern Rivers Rail Trail. Arcadis, the company that prepared the report, had no experience with rail trails. Their inexperience shows throughout the report.

    The report was paid for (at rates up to $345 per hour, no not for a whole team of consultants, that is just the “lead author”) so surely it is the right of the ratepayers to see those terms of reference. Byron ratepayers should contact the council and insist on it being released. Ask them what they are hiding if refused.

    The report repeatedly indicated only that the line was in “reasonable condition” but never once defined the meaning of the term “reasonable”. It is a completely meaningless description. Any “reasonable” assessment would conclude that a track buried under thick vegetation for more than a decade would be in decrepit condition as rotting plant matter is quite acidic, leading to rapid corrosion of steel and the accelerated decay of wood. Instead Arcadis determined the condition of large sections from drones and in at least one case, the conditions of many hundreds of metres of track based literally on the basis of “the one metre that could be seen”.

    The report indicated that “between five and ten percent and ultimately 25 percent of the sleepers” would need to be replaced. All costing were then based on replacing just one in twenty sleepers. They never question if a suitably qualified and insured railway engineer would be willing to certify such a ludicrously inferior construction and disregarded the millions in delayed costs of replacing the other sleepers. I certainly would not risk my life riding a train on that shadow of a track.

    The report showed images of “Very Light Rail” vehicles which are somehow half the weight of any existing rail technology and claimed they were “currently being tested” in the UK. I found every one of those images online and they were all computer generated. None of the vehicles in the images existed. The Hi-rail image was from the only surviving example of eight built in the 1950s in Germany. They were discontinued very quickly as impractical.

    I can’t find any reference to passenger services using Hi-rail vehicles anywhere in the world. Carrying the gear for both road and railway, they would be very heavy, expensive and inefficient, not doing the job well on either the road or the tracks. Be aware that building a Hi-rail isn’t just a matter of popping down to a welding shop. There are stringent modern safety standards to be met for vehicles to use our roads. I certainly would not want to be involved in a collision with a bus that had massive railway bogies strapped under each end.

    Perhaps Cr Cameron can explain how miniature trams with less capacity then a coach, running to Mullumbimby, is going to relieve the congestion involving thousands of vehicles on Ewingsdale Road. Running at the proposed 50 kph on a single track, the line couldn’t even support a couple of services each way per hour. Stop dreaming and do the maths Basil.

    The report suggested that the cheapest solution to the foundation of the trail was a 150 mm layer of “yellow sand”. This includes the section through the Tyagarah wetland where anywhere off the formation is regularly waterlogged. They plan to seal this “yellow sand” with bitumen. Clearly Arcadis know very little about road construction. There is no solution to “trail beside rail” in such locations other than building a prohibitively expensive and environmentally destructive second formation for the trail.

    Now the council proposes to pay Arcadis a further $200K to do a “digital assessment” of a sample of seven of the unknown number of decaying wooden bridges between Bayshore Drive and Mullumbimby. One should always be wary of promising more work to a company engaged for a feasibility study. Nobody will find a project unfeasible when they stand to make millions in the subsequent consultation. They know they have landed a chain of suckers and will milk it for all they can.

    All this money is being spent without a clue of how construction would be funded. The state government knows too well that railway projects are financial black holes and will not contribute money for tourist trains. Millions will be squandered by the council on this pipe dream before reality bites. The people of Byron have one chance in September to end this nonsense or come 2025 they will be asking why there is still no railway, no trail and no money for anything else.

  2. Forget it Basil!
    Transport for NSW made it clear to your Transport Strategy consultants there will not be funding for your train dreams and Byron Shire has not come forward with a “strategic partner” to fund them. And while we know the Byron community would like a shuttle rail, do you seriously think they want to go down the track of the ACT Labor Greens government and fund a light rail with rate rises of thousands of dollars for each household?
    We know the Byron community through your very intensive consultations found a path along the corridor was a Priority A in your Bike Plan. A path along the corridor will link to the rail trail through neighbouring shires. Cyclists and walkers would pass quietly through the Shire, without generating the traffic congestion of other visitors, but at your Council’s behest Arcadis put no value on their spending in small businesses and helping provide jobs, not any value on the spending in other LGAs of of visitors walking or riding the 130km . We know from what is happening in the Tweed the NSW and/or Commonwealth governments will fund the clearing of the corridor a path along the corridor – (a final decision will not be made on whether it will be on or off the formation until tenders are received). So unless your vision for your Shire and our region is more about backpackers in vans and tourists driving to doof parties than active travelers, transport and recreation why are you not pushing ahead with getting funding to clear the corridor and build a world class path along the corridor? You claim you are confident it can be done of formation and with a clear corridor the designers will soon tell you where that it is feasible.
    There is no planned shuttle rail and your draft Transport Strategy tells us why there is not going to be one . How about doing something for our region, instead of using unfunded rail dreams and veiled National Party conspiracy theories to try and stop the community and our visitors from enjoying active recreation and travel through our region

  3. I agree Basil. The words from David were rather strange indeed. He seemed incredibly out of touch with the community, it almost seemed as if he wasnt in the region when the line closed. Surely if he was, he wouldn’t have said what he said! Reducing the community’s desire for rail services to something propagated by “train enthusiasts” and “nostalgics” was frankly disgusting. Was he not in this area when the line closed? Did he not hear the pleas from locals, or hear of their issues? Not a lot has changed, and those transportation issues are just as real as they were. How out of touch he must be!

    • The consultants for the Byron Shire transport strategy investigated “transportation” issues in the Shire, and they recommended improving the bus services and did not see a role for a train in its ten year time frame. They were contracted by Byron Shire so the rail lobby cannot dismiss the advice with the usual conspiracy rubbish they go on about the ARUP report. The finding is the same as ARUP’s – buses are better value transport here than trains. In a similar way Byron Shire contracted ARCADIS report confirmed ARUP’s advice that it was not economic to repair the line for heavy rails.
      The reality is behind the grandiose plans for rail is they have no money and so nothing to offer the region except a continuation of the status quo – rails on an unused corridor. It’s time they worked with the Government to open the rail corridor to the NSW people who own it , with a public use that the Byron community told them was a priority – a walking and cycling path. If they are confident in the advice from ARCADIS it can be done off formation, they have no reason not to get on with it.

  4. Fantastic work by our Green council keeping the corridor deteriorating for yet another 16 years . So maybe by 2036 the Greens will pull their heads out of the sand and put solar powered electric buses on our shire roads that will pick you up from your front door and drop you at your final destination.
    These tired Greens may even realise that riding bikes for work or shopping on a rail trail is the best solution instead of a slow very light unknown toot train .


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