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Byron Shire
June 1, 2023

Tender to build rail trail from M’bah to Crabbes Creek awarded

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The Tweed Shire Council voted to award the tender for the Rail Trail at last nights meeting. Photo supplied.

The debate over the tender for the building of the rail trail between Murwillumbh and Crabbes Creek was ultimately held behind closed doors, Mayor Chris Cherry (Independent) and Councillor Katie Milne (Greens) voted against a confidential debate, following the information that there could be a legal challenge against the decision to go ahead with the rail trail.

Tweed rail trail.

James Owen removed himself from the debate and voting due to a conflict of interest and all other councillors voted for a confidential discussion based on legal advice.

However, before entering the confidential session councillors were given an opportunity to say a few words on the issue of the rail trail.

Tweed Mayor Chris Cherry. Photo supplied

With more than 2,000 signatures against the rail trail being built on formation (on formation means getting rid of the existing tracks rather than building next to the tracks) Mayor Cherry challenged the notion that the council had actively sought the communities views on the creation of the rail trail as required.

‘I, as a councillor, feel my part very strongly in that. We didn’t spend the money on community consultation,’ she told the meeting.

Mayor Cherry pointed to Byron Shire Council’s study for an off formation rail trail that would leave the rails intact for potential future use as a preferred way forward.

The Murwillumbah group wants the tracks left and the trails shared with bikes. Photo supplied

‘I don’t understand why people say that it [the train] can’t be brought back. When you look at Byron Shire who have seen that it can be done,’ she said.

‘I do see a way forward. I believe there is a way forward to do that. I hope we can get that outcome tonight.’

Tweed Councillor Pryce Allsop.

Conservative Councillor Pryce Allsop remembered back to when the line was first closed and how he had ‘put on the TOOT t-shirt’ and must have attended his first protest. However, he said that the line was closed and ‘we didn’t get any consolation [on that] but here we are with an opportunity’.

‘When I ran for council I said I actively supported the rail trail. I’m right there thinking this is a great initiative,’ he said.

Tweed Cr Katie Milne.

Councillor Katie Milne told the meeting passionately that ‘to me this is actually a really sad day. Councillors are sitting here about to support [removing] a piece of infrastructure and there has been such an appalling job on consultation. You are doing this without consultation.’

‘I know we will have betrayed the trust of our community in doing this. What is wrong with you? Why do you just accept these rhetorical statements [about not being able to do both rail trail and light rail]. We are willing to upset huge, significant portions of our community who have begged us to be flexible, to have a compromise situation. I don’t get any councillor here who says that is not possible. We’ve all seen the tenders, there is not one of us who can say it is not possible. If you did you are lying to the community.’

Tweed Shire Councillor Warren Polglase.

Disagreeing Councillor Warren Polglase said he thought the consultation had been well done.

‘You get a lot of information coming in from both sides of the debate. But on the day, we as an elected body, we have to make a determination on what will be a great determination for the community. We have Mt Warning, the Art Gallery and we are going to have a rail trail. What other community has three such icons?

‘They always say that there was lack of community consultation [when they don’t get the outcome they want]… where do you draw the line on community consultation?’ he said.

Tweed Shire Councillor Cr Reece Byrnes. Photo supplied

Deputy Mayor Reece Byrnes (Labor) told the meeting that the population number just didn’t stack up for light rail and he didn’t believe they would for decades.

‘That train lines was closed by the government. The reason behind that were purely economic. Not enough people were catching that train to Sydney at that time,’ he said.

‘For me the rail trail is an opportunity to something with an asset that is sitting there doing nothing.

‘No one has come forward with a light rail [proposal]. We don’t have the population to stack up. When that eventuality comes that will be decades away. After COVID this is an opportunity for our community.’

Tweed Shire Councillor Ron Cooper.

Reminiscing Councillor Ron Cooper (Independent) said ‘I am a good deal older than Byrnes and I was really nostalgic for the loss of the train. I went to school in a train that was a rattler. But what this council has taught me to do is look forward.’

Councillor Cooper talked about a vision of the rail trail with families in electric powered carts enjoying the spectacular scenery and business opportunities for farmers and land holders beside the rail trail.

‘I’d like it to be set up on formation as it gives us the best option for travel. People are more likely to get caught in an off formation trail in storm water. I think from a safety point of view, to accommodate all the people I’ve been talking about, [on formation] would be the safest situation,’ he explained.

The meeting went into a confidential session for the final discussion and vote.

‘It did get awarded to Hazel Bros (Qld) as per the [staff] recommendation, 4:2 vote, Cr Owen recused, Katie and I against,’ Mayor Chris Cherry told The Echo.

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  1. It’s so easy to assume that the simple solution was to have both a rail trail and a rail service.

    Look, I just said that.
    It’s that easy.

    But when you study the situation by walking sections of the line, like so many of us have; you can easy discover that running the two together, is simply NOT possible.
    So this heavily protracted argument has been an endless battle between the dreamers and the clear thinkers.
    That endlessness, finished last night, thanks to the clear thinkers.

    The truth is, that by having the Rail Trail, we all save the corridor by maintaining public ownership, due to it being (finally) re-activated, and therefore available for decades ahead for whatever the community needs it for.

    It wont be sold off.

    If our future population and transport needs alter, the councils and governments of that day, can easily utilise the corridor as they see fit. But any visionary can easily imagine that its future use will likely be something we’ve never seen, or even yet imagined.

    All emotions aside (and we ALL LOVE trains; they’re in our DNA), our corridor WILL live again, and she’ll love this fact, and reward all of us that enjoy her.


  2. I’d like Warren Polglase to outline exactly the scope of the consultation conducted on this important issue. I’ve read the Council notes & consultation consisted of canvassing a few property owners adjacent to the railway line; it occurred in door knocking & letter dropping in South Murwillumbah; & establishing a webpage about it on council’s website…which you have to go looking for…if you knew about it. When & where did broader community consultation occur? This is not representing your constituents. Talk about the head in the sand approach!

    • I attended at least two Council run community consultation meetings, one at the RSL club in Murwillumbah & one in Burringbar. All information has been out there constantly on social media as well as on council’s website for more years than it should have been. I am so glad it is going ahead finally.

    • Apart from the formal consultations undertaken by Department of Premier and Cabinet which anyone could attend and make submissions to, there were public conultations with Department of Primary Industry on biosecurity with the report available for comment, and more recent information sessions, which were available on Zoom. That does not count the extensive discussions over the years, including when the Greens candidate made the rail trail an electoral issue, without any electoral success. The NSW Government, the Commonwealth, the Parliament, all three members representing the Tweed and the minority of Tweed Council all support the rail trail. As Janelle Saffin told the Parliament this issue has been discussed for years, and ultimately you have to make a decision, and it will not please everyone . Unfortunately there are those who do not accept democratically made decisions. It’s no longer about trains or even about leaving the rails in place, it’s just about stopping the rail trail.

  3. Community consultation my Rs,
    If there was any consensus, why are these brave conspirators hiding their nefarious activities behind closed doors ?
    Why do these nitwits believe they have the right to collude on the fate of assets belonging to the people of NSW ?
    You don’t have to “love trains” to understand that rail is the most economical and least carbon polluting method of mass transport And you don’t have to be Einstein to see that rail transport doesn’t have to pass by your door to be effective, as rail is the most efficient method of moving large numbers of people or goods to distribution centres, thus replacing the need for B-doubles and other dangerous transports in suburban areas .
    It is time to investigate this on a State and Federal level, and hold these conspirators accountable.
    You know it’s right, G”)

    • Electric Buses-either trolley buses or battery powered are far more economical,less polluting and flexible in their routes than any form of rail for passenger tramsport.

    • Exactly Ken.

      People keep talking rubbish about needing more buses when there are many taxpayer subsidised buses running around on some of our most dangerous roads empty as they are inconvenient, uncomfortable and not accessible for everyone and they don’t connect our towns as the train will. If buses are so convenient and cost effective why won’t the state government tell us the cost of the empty coaches which replaced the train in 2004? Because It’s obviously way too much!

      But when local government is controlled by the same dodgy political parties that control the state, who just want to see the back of billions of dollars of train line no matter the social, economic and environmental cost, after they fed the communities lies about the cost of repairing the line and that a bike track would save it for future use, there was little chance of any other outcome. Despite thousands of Murwillumbah locals signing petitions for trains compared to 150 emails from bikers from all around the country. So much for listening to and representing your local community.

      This will cost Tweed and North Coast people much more than the cost of ripping up the line. Many local councils are already struggling to maintain roads and without trains to reduce traffic they will need to find even more funds to do so. Rate rises for ratepayers are inevitable even though so many want trains.

      When the tourists get sick of the traffic congestion and go elsewhere the same people championing this outrage will demanding taxpayers pay to rebuild the train line, as they’ve done on the Gold Coast, costing us all an outrageous $75 MILLION per kilometer!

  4. Tom Rayner, who was the engineer who who had in 2018 suggested to Tweed Shire Council that a path built off the formation would be signnificantly cheaper, gave a slick presentation on his trail beside rail ideas. But at the end he became quite belligerent, threatening that, if a tender to build the rail trail on the formation was accepted, legal action would follow. He plainly misread the room. The one tender for a path off the rail formation was already more expensive. The councillors were plainly taken aback by such a threat to try and force other than a democratic decision based on the facts of the matter.
    Rayner further told Council he intended running for Council if the decision went the other way. Two of the councillors later noted they had been elected on explicit platforms supporting the rail trail. In the unlikely event Mr Rayner were to run, it would be interesting to see how many Tweed ratepayers want to bring his abrasive, litigious approach to local politics to our region .

  5. This all had been corruption the TSC was supposed to do a community consultation before any thing to do with rail trail this was government ruling NOT DONE this guy Cameron Rail Trail expert had a story in ECHO on Tuesday about if the rail trail didn’t go on formation the Govetnment would withhold the funding He said at council meeting last night he knew that if Council did not build on formation they would not get the funding he said he had been told by deputy premier There is something wrong here big corruption

    • Like many rail advocates, Marie considers any decision that doesn’t go thier way must be a case of corruption. They cannot contemplate that other opinions are valid. The councillors decided 4-2 that the rail trail should go ahead as planned. In fact it would have been 5-2 had James Owen not been recused because he worked for one of the tendering companies. The councillors made the decision based on the evidence rather than hearsay and the majority was clear.

      The trail cannot go ahead off the formation because the “uncosted earthworks” specifically excluded in the single off formation proposal would be huge and way beyond the funded budget. Tamara Smith said she could get more funding to build off formation but she has been strangely silent in this debate. Has anyone asked her what she did towards this?

      Despite his previous civil engineering project credentials, Tom Rayner did not quote for the trail job with an off formation design he claimed could be built for just $8.1 million. Why? Because he knew it could not be done at that price. He wouldn’t put his money where his mouth is. It is not correct that off formation design had no guidelines. They simply had to meet the same safety, accessibility and maintenance criteria demanded of the on formation design. No design demonstrated that it could achieve anything like this within budget.

      The rail advocates have never made a proposal to the State Government or NSW Rail to operate railway services on the corridor in the seventeen years since trains stopped running. They let the legislation for conversion of the corridor go by without mentioning any proposal to run trains. One company that proposes to take on the work was only formed in December last year, several weeks after the trail legislation was passed. The other formed in March 2020. The old railway was formally abandoned in 2013. Why did they wait so long?

      They have no business plan, no employees and nothing like the access to the capital required to even start such a project. It would be a ridiculous corruption of due process for an organisation that cannot demonstrate the ability to achieve its stated goals, without a formal proposal or business plan demanding that a costed and independently assessed project developed of more than seven years must change its plan, or else.

      Well the councillors wisely chose “else”.

  6. Fantastic result after so much hard work by so many people! Well done to everyone concerned. The Rail Trail is going to be world class once we have the whole region.

  7. I’m so much enjoying reading your well worded, sensible and commonsensical, educative and enlightening responses Greg Clitheroe.
    How happy am I there is someone out there who can muster and arrange words in the manner and after the fashion as you do? Extremely happy! You have my gratitude, you better believe it.

    Keep up the good work good sir, thank you 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

  8. Hello concerned citizens of Tweed Shire,

    I add a little more to previous comments…

    We have been fed a lot of untruths, that are unfortunately mimicked by a lot of people in this debate, who then also “throw their two bob’s worth in”.
    Of course everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I totally disagree with people pushing their beliefs when they are guided merely by what they are told, and then peddle their beliefs as facts.
    I wish more people would actually care to educate themselves, and learn more of the facts before blowing off steam, and making false and misleading comments spiced up with selfish attitudes that don’t represent the greatest majority of the residents of the shire.

    I’ve lived in the Tweed Shire for nearing 30 years, and I do educate myself before coming forth with comments.
    I don’t profess to be an expert on railways, but for those interested, my background is mainly aircraft engineering, though with relatively extensive experience in a vast range of fields.

    I ask people to read and absorb what people like Tom Rayner has written (in response to Echo article https://www.echo.net.au/2021/06/pro-rail-trail-association-urges-council-to-award-construction-tender/?unapproved=3043297&moderation-hash=c8365ff32ca3ac7dfc73252d7386bd2a#comment-3043297 ), as he is in fact correct in what he states.
    I have seen some (a very small portion) of the work he has done, and he is most knowledgeable in this issue having spent 1000’s of hours in research, attended many council meetings, and has a sound understanding of the tender process and how it has been ‘railroaded’ (so to speak) towards a predetermined outcome.
    By their own documentation, the council clearly directed the tenders for on-formation (i.e. trail in place of the railway track). And I feel that for people to state the tenders prove that on-formation is the most viable option is absolutely absurd, and unquestionably untrue.

    Bryon shire mayor Simon Richardson was also interviewed about the future uses of the corridor, and he spoke very clearly about this issue. If anyone wishes to increase their awareness, then I believe a video of the informative interview is available online. If people decide not to… then they shouldn’t be writing knowledge-less ‘opinions’

    Re our council direction and their decision of yesterday evening;
    Of course there must be other (undisclosed) intentions for the land within or along the corridor for council to be forcing this. Possibly state government may also have an agenda… though this, as the underlying goal of our council, I do not know. But I feel anyone would be foolish not to realise that something else is going on.
    I truly hope it is not a repeat of the practices that caused the sacking of the Tweed Shire Council some years ago.

    Never-the-less, we should not join so much of the country that has regretted removal of their rail and tram infrastructures, which in many (if not most) cases has eventually resulted in exorbitant costs to put the infrastructure back in place. Unfortunately in our case, if removed it is likely to never be reinstated as the land will suffer the fate of whatever the council has in mind… as removal of the tracks would allow for the non-transparent motive to cement the fate of no future rail services to our region.

    It should also be noted that the infrastructure is in much better condition than reported by council. It was built to heavy rail standard, which would require less work to resurrect for light rail use.

    Also, in order to remove this infrastructure shire-wide consultation should have occurred, yet despite claims by council, I know not of this having taken place.
    I, nor anyone I know, was consulted. And attempts have proven that differing opinions have not been considered.
    I have spoken with a vast number of people, and openly listened to both sides of the argument, and concluded it is undeniable that by far the greatest majority of the people want the rail returned, many not so concerned whether with or without a trail.

    Personally, I conclude that both rail and trail would serve all of the shire, though feel it is unfortunate that implementing both these services doesn’t satisfy the group that are only concerned with their wants.
    The minority (term ‘minority’ used to differentiate from 80+% of people wanting rail) is as evidenced, a very vocal group that demonstrate to want only an on-formation bike trail, with apparent disregard to the needs of the majority of shire, many of which are elderly.

    Off-formation is the most logical solution allowing for the possibility of future services, which would become more necessary with the new hospital.

    Though whether or not light rail services do eventually return to the Tweed, destruction of the existing infrastructure is not necessary… as there’s no need to destroy the rail for a trail. They can co-exist.

    Regarding the ‘trump card’ pulled at the council meeting;
    During a seminar held at the Regent Cinema a few months ago, an attending councillor was specifically asked whether the government funding was limited to being for an on-formation design… to which it was responded this would be checked and reported back.
    So how it can now be claimed (during yesterday’s 17th June council meeting) to have not been known that there was such a limitation (if there actually is) is totally unbelievable! This has the hallmarks of a last minute draw-card to force a decision in favour of selecting an on-formation tender. They can purport all they want, but I struggle with any possibly that this was not orchestrated.
    And if there is such a requirement that the funds for a ‘rail-trail’ are subject to the tracks being removed, then we should ask a big WHY?
    What’s the real agenda?
    If this doesn’t raise questions, I question the basis of how people vote.

    The process has been misleading, unconstitutional and undemocratic. If it were private enterprise it would be seen as bullying tactics.

    Incidentally, pretending bicycle riders alone will bring so much prosperity is far removed from reality!
    A trail alone, which as I understand is against the wishes of the landholders along the corridor, is likely to be neglected… unless accompanied by a rail which can subsidise maintenance.

    People of our shire, please learn more about this issue before commenting. And (no offense) but if possible, please refrain from basing one’s ‘knowledge’ on comments such as “the look on my brother’s face said it all!”
    My father-in-law worked on railway all his life, but I don’t qualify my comments on that fact.

    TSC is making what may soon become a major irrevocable mistake.
    And if our council pursues their current path, the responsible Councillors will surely go down in history as those with the information (and our nationwide experience) at hand, instead decided to act in opposition to their constituents, and for the purpose it is eventually discovered to have influenced them.
    You’ve lost A LOT of votes in the fore-coming election!

    Brad, a very disappointed shire-wide concerned citizen

    • Brad’s opening paragraph makes a lot of sense. Then he spoils it by doing exactly what he warns us against and quotes the deeply prejudiced opinion of Tom Rayner. Tom has no credibility after telling us the off formation trail could be built for $8.1 million while we know from the tenders that this is not plausible. Despite his long time background in civil engineering projects, Tom was unwilling to back his rhetoric by tendering what would have surely been a winning bid, if it met the criteria for the quality of the trail as planned.

      Simon Richardson has presided over the squandering of $300K on a fairy tale report underpinning his fantasy that running miniature trams between Mullumbimby, Byron and Bangalow is going to take 750,000 cars off the road and the whole project including a trail is only going to cost $60 million. Rail advocates are saying that this report “proves” the case for putting something on the tracks while the authors themselves say the report is exploratory. The next report is the $200K,”digital assessment of a sample of seven bridges” of the “unknown number of bridges” between Byron and Mullumbimby. Reports used as the basis for real decisions about a railway would be millions of dollars and still no guarantee of anything coming out of it.

      Perhaps the most telling when someone copy-and-pastes their own work is the parts they leave out in subsequent editions, because these are often the parts they least believe in. In this case Brad omitted:

      “for people to state the tenders prove that on-formation is the most viable option is absolutely absurd, and unquestionably untrue”

      We know the biggest problem with the off-formation construction is that to meet the safety, accessibility and maintainability criteria, a whole extra formation needs to be created for much of its length. This is the “uncosted earthworks” in the only on-formation bid submitted. It is a massive job to build a second formation for the trail and well beyond the budget which was arrived at with a heavy consideration for accessibility. Diverting money to an off-formation trail cannot but reduce the accessibility to the trail for people with limited mobility.

      Any suggestion that an off-formation trail is more affordable is nonsense. Meanwhile the budgeted cost for removing the tracks ids only about six percent of the project budget.

      Those proposing a resurrection of the railway have no business plan, no Development Application and no accessible capital to fulfill any of their aspirations. This is all about keeping the rails “just in case” a billionaire benefactor is found sometime before the rails turn into two long piles of rust. It isn’t going to happen and the whole implausible notion that old Melbourne trams travelling along a wonky old railway is the basis of a modern public transport facility is utter nonsense.

      We can do the very best trail with the resources we have or squander a rare opportunity indulging in a fantasy from a bygone era.

  9. Perhaps if the buses are so unpopular you can explain why the Tweed Coast bus service carries over 200,000 passengers a year? Perhaps you can explain how private buses run to Ballina, Coolangatta, and Brisbane airports without any subsidies? Why the buses from Ballina to Lismore get better patronage than those between towns along the former rail corridor . I can help you with a couple of answers. Many of you the bus routes are serviced by buses that morning and afternoon are full of school kids – it’s cheaper to use than buying smaller buses for use during the day. And the buses between towns along the corridor have fewer passengers, because the corridor population is younger, they have higher car ownership and fewer households without a car than those in coastal areas away from the train.
    These issues have been debated extensivly. The Government had concluded that it should focus on improved bus services for all our region, not spending a large sum on one transport route. That leaves the corridor, now closed by the Parliament, unused and derelict. Fortunately at all three levels of government and with the support of all local members, and the majority of councillors, we will see it opened to the public again, for walking and cycling.


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