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Byron Shire
April 17, 2021

Trains and bikes

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Jan Mangleson, Northern Rivers Rail Ltd

I believe the Northern Rivers community is about to lose one of its most important assets, taken away by our own NSW state parliament. Federal and State money has been given to a small lobby group intent on ripping up train lines that have served the Casino, Lismore, Byron, and Murwillumbah populations since 1896.

Parliament has removed the protection of railway corridor zoning from the northern and southern sections of the Casino to Murwillumbah Branch Railway line. Only a small bicycle corridor will remain.

It has been a slow, deliberate death. The prize is prime valuable land that has by law belonged to the people of NSW. Until now.

Two meetings in the Byron Shire will give locals an opportunity to examine if it is it too late? Come along on Wednesday 10 March to the Bangalow Bowling Club, and to Mullumbimby on 17 March at the Mullumbimby Ex-Services Club at 6pm.

Northern Rivers Rail Ltd was formed three months ago with the intention of raising money and volunteers from the community to work with governments and councils to restore the line and run train services again. For details go to www.northernriversrail.com.au.

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  1. Trains stopped running over sixteen years ago and made no real difference, so claiming the railway is one of the region’s most important pieces of infrastructure is clearly nonsense.

    Money has been granted by the government for trails because the business cases showed that the trails would make a substantial positive return on the investment. There is widespread support from both businesses and the general public for the trail projects. The benefits of trails is well and truly established at other trails with far less to offer than the Northern Rivers Rail Trail.

    The alternative to the trail is not trains but the sale and disposal of the corridor. Fortunately the trail projects have saved the asset from being lost forever to private ownership as the Ballina branch was when it closed. There is no funding, private or government to resurrect the railways because it simply would not make sense to squander hundreds of millions of dollars to provide a tiny minority with luxury public transport for their entertainment. The railway lobby group is very small, mainly consisting of old age pensioners with a nostalgic desire for the world of their youth and an extreme sense of entitlement.

    The legislation that converted the corridor for the trail included a clause that prohibits the transfer to anything other than a public body. It continues to belong to the people of NSW.

    Northern Rivers Rail Ltd is farcical. Annual membership of $20 is not even going to fund a business case for train services let alone the hundreds of millions of dollars required to repair the tracks and buy rolling stock as well as the money they plan to donate to the rail trail project to construct the trail from plastic.

  2. One can only hope that Northern Rivers Rail Ltd also supports Tweed Shire Councils preferred option for trains following the M1 corridor from Chinderah to Yelgun as per its Transport Strategy Document 2011. Without this support there will never be a railway system heading south from Gold Coast Airport eventually hitting Ballina by 2052. The old Northern Rivers line has over 150 bends/curves with a radius of less 800 metres which is what is called steam age alignment. Steam age alignment only needed to be faster than a horse back in 1896 and it did that beautifully until the 1980s and 1990s when the Pacific Highway was upgraded away from its steam age slow alignment. The new M1 has given us very quick journeys that our NSW Snail Train system cannot match and never will on its existing alignment.

    • Of course any railway from Tweed would be beside the M1. Nothing else would make any sense.

      The same distance as Murwillumbah but instead along the M1 comes within eight kilometres of Yelgun where the M1, t/rail corridor and Tweed Valley Way converge for about ten kilometres. This route would cut eighteen kilometres off the journey and be much closer to the growing coastal population centres in Tweed Shire. It would obviate the need to construct a viaduct across the acid sulphate soils of the Tweed River floodplain and avoid having to completely reconstruct 24 kilometres of the most decrepit track in the corridor, including where it winds through the Burringbar Range.

      Once the vegetation had been removed from the track between Crabbes Creek and Yelgun, an engineering inspection revealed what many already knew. The rails have worn and corroded beyond serviceability, the sleepers have severely decayed and the formation become seriously flood damaged in several places. The section was already slated as needing reconstruction or major repairs when the trains stopped running nearly seventeen years ago. The ensuing neglect has exacerbated the problems.

      Nobody is ever going to build a new railway on the corridor between Murwillumbah and Crabbes Creek. Debate about the best way forward in Byron Shire can continue but let’s just get on with building the very best rail trail that we can in Tweed. The only place to do that is on the formation.

      • Is there a copy of this engineering report available for public perusal? “The rails have rusted beyond serviceability” is a bold claim. Surface rust does not undermine integrity or serviceability.

      • The bikers continue to get their facts wrong and nothing they say is credible. The vegetation is being cleared by TWEED SHIRE COUNCIL from from Crabbes Creek to Murwillumbah, not in BYRON SHIRE to Yelgun. Thanks to the hard work of community and council this valuable train line is not being destroyed in Byron Shire.
        Informed people know the cost of repairing the line for a train in Byron was $660,000 per kilomter, and destroying it for a bike track, for the use of a few fit cyclists, will cost taxpayers almost as much- $569,000 per kilometre.

        • “Crabbes Creek to Yelgun” was a rare but understandable error I made while I threw down a response during my work lunch time. I didn’t take the time to check it before I posted. Of course I meant Crabbes Creek to Murwillumbah. This was pretty obvious in the context of the rest of my response.

          It certainly isn’t the basis for claiming nothing trail supporters say is credible as you continually do without indicating any detail.

          Meanwhile, rail advocates constantly and willfully present misinformation such as in the original letter claiming “only a small bicycle corridor will remain” and the suggestion that the land will be privatised with “The prize is prime valuable land that has by law belonged to the people of NSW. Until now.” We all know the corridor remains intact and cannot be passed to private interests.

          And again you hold up the cost of repairing the three kilometres of line used by the Byron Solar Train despite full well knowing that the engineer who commissioned this work stated that it should not be used as an indication of the cost of resurrecting any other parts of the line.

          If you didn’t already know that piece of information then you are seriously uninformed on the subject of the costs of restoring the line, which of course is quite possible as you completely ignore anything that doesn’t suit your prejudices.

  3. Prosecuting your opponents rather than the facts is a sure sign of a shaky position. I’m heartily sick of having the rail trail advocates dismissed as representing some sort of exclusive, select group. Almost anyone can ride a bike and even more can use a walking trail. Encouraging people – of all ages or fitness levels – to be active, outdoors and socially engaged is a huge social benefit. A usable corridor into some breathtaking countryside is a much bigger incentive than the bloody-minded retention of a decaying track that is not fit to serve the public transport needs of of the 21st century.

    We’ll either have a fantastic rail trail that retains the asset for public use or we will continue to have a huge opportunity go begging into perpetuity.

    Then there are all the other economic and practical benefits of providing safe opportunities for commuting by bike. Rail trails around the country, without the attractions of this area, are a huge success and well patronised.

    The supposed $660,000 per kilometre is based on a straight piece of flat track from Elements to Johnson St and even that wouldn’t have been contemplated if not for the need to get people into the action in town. Surely TOOT understands that adding in curves, bridges and greater overgrowth is a whole different proposition. Then there’s the problem that the route was designed to:

    service a hinterland, mainly farming community whose needs are now very different
    deal with steam age speeds
    cater for a local population that has largely concentrated itself away from the line and needs to access facilities increasingly further away from the line
    predate easy and affordable air travel

    I’d ask the immovable train group to really consider whether it’s worth standing in the way of this community opportunity for the sake of a vision that becomes less tenable by the day.


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