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Byron Shire
April 21, 2024

Time to ride the election cycle

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Who is pushing the bike agenda? Photo David Lisle

Bicycle advocacy is vanishingly rare in our community. Amid all the noise about net zero, my search for bicycle advocate candidates to vote for on Saturday only turned up vague references to ‘reducing our reliance on cars’ and ‘increasing public transport connectivity’. The closest thing to policy was: ‘It’s time to create bike paths all over the Shire.’ 

In lieu of pro-cycling policies, some candidates support developing the disused Casino to Murwillumbah rail corridor into a pedestrian and cycling trail. 

Leading the rail trail charge is mayoral candidate, Mark Swivel, who recently defied political orthodoxy by unambiguously declaring he did not support bringing the train back because there was simply no prospect of it happening. Asren Pugh, Alan Hunter and Bruce Clarke also back the rail trail. 

The rail trail has been historically associated with the National Party which has fed the narrative that it is a bad idea. Besides, who would choose a bike path over a commuter train? 

Backing trains was a vote winner for Simon Richardson four years ago. But the salience of the issue is waning as it becomes clearer that the train is an empty promise. The departure at this election of train activist, councillor Basil Cameron shifts the political dynamic further.

Depending on the make-up of the new Council, the rail trail might still be thwarted by the Greens. They have traditionally resisted the proposal because they like trains and support ‘public transport’. But their once grand vision for a Northern Rivers commuter train has withered.

They’re now spruiking light rail between Mullum and Byron – possibly a Toyota Coaster adapted to run on the tracks, at speeds of up to 35km/h! There is no funding. No business case. No demand modelling. Perhaps a private operator might step into the breach and deliver the service, or the State government will develop the appetite to fund another boondoggle?

Mayoral candidates Cate Coorey and Michael Lyon support the Greens on this. Michael told me he wants to try for another year to get rail funding before acquiescing to the rail trail, which he sees as a bit of a vanity project. 

In the meantime, though, the rail trail approaches from two directions, as adjoining municipalities flush with State and federal funding, commence construction. I asked Greens mayoral candidate, Duncan Dey, if he thought it conscionable to thwart the 130km Northern Rivers Rail Trail, for the sake of 15km of ‘light-rail’ with very uncertain prospects? His answer: ‘Yes’. 

The rail trail has transformational potential. It could encourage a decent cohort of the traffic-wary onto their bikes and catalyse a virtuous cycle. Backing the project would signal support for low impact mobility and car-free tourism.

The bicycle is a potent symbol of ecological frugality and independence, of freedom even. Yet in our green idyll bicyclists are squeezed to the margins, of the road and of politics too. 

♦ David Lisle is a committed cyclist and sometime worker at the bike shop in Mullumbimby.

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  1. Thanks for your thoughts, David – they are so pertinent. I agree with you that a rail trail in this Shire would be truly transformative. I wonder if anyone who views it as a “vanity project” has really investigated or explored one and what it has given the local community.

  2. Here’s a letter I sent to some of our Councillors that I’m yet to here from…

    I sit back aghast at the evident intransigence in your beliefs that it is still worth languishing for even yet another year of rail corridor inaction in Byron Shire, that there may be a chance that somewhere out there, funds will materialise for a rail service, however light.

    I’ve sat back waiting for an explanation for this, especially with our neighbouring shires getting on board with the Rail Trail option, seen as the obvious liberation of our corridor into public use and advantage.

    At last, last night, I heard Cate offer a sentence that clicked. Something like this.. “The reason is that a rail trail will cost annually, whereas a train service won’t”.

    My estimations are that after repairing the ~16km Bayshore Drive to Mullumbimby line for say as little as $20m, the operating costs would be about $1m per year in wages, superannuation, workers comp insurance, other insurances, track and rolling stock inspections and maintenance.
    This would require a minimum of $2,740 average per 7 days a week return via fares, to avoid subsidies.

    A rail trail would yes, have an annual cost in maintenance, but would be a small fraction of a rail service’s.

    Byron Shire is in the box seat to gain State and Federal funding for its section of the Northern Rivers Rail Trail, thanks to the foresights and efforts of its neighbouring shires of Tweed, Richmond and Lismore.

    So with much respect for your council efforts in many other areas of governance, I feel duty bound to implore you to at least finally look into this issue with clear objective minds in order to see the increasing laughing stock we Byronians are becoming on this sole issue alone.

    Please, please, go and have a good walk along the corridor, with engineering and financier hats on, and clearly envision as much as you can muster, the realisation of your best outcomes for our corridor.
    Keep in mind too, where the rainwater is going to go, and the costs of multi use formations and drainage.

    True leaders on this issue will have done this, and at least realised that for one small aspect alone, all timber sleepers would need to be replaced, as they are no longer able to hold the vital track nails that prevent the tracks from folding over, as carriages sway side to side.

    It’s not too late for true visions of reality.

    Yours in hopeful faith,

  3. David Lisle is spot on about lack of safe bike and walking tracks. What is not green about walking and riding? So many of these tracks start gloriously enough and then peter out into nothing but roadkill ground. For example, the road between brunz and mullum. Have a look next time you drive. I would bet you wouldn’t be game to ride and I haven’t seen any candidate talk about this.

    • When it’s possible to have trains run on renewable energy most intelligent people know there is nothing ‘green’, equitable or accessible about spending millions destroying a valuable rail line that can take thousands of CO2 spewing cars, that also kill and injure people, off our roads.

      It’s not an either or proposition. Train supporters support bike tracks and reducing traffic in our towns making them safer for pedestrians and cyclists. But rail trail supporters obviously don’t.

  4. It needs to be stated (again) that the northern rivers rail issue is essentially the bastard child of failed state government policy, enabled by impotent local political action by those who sought to represent the area, and now the domain of a vocal clique who have systematically stolen the narrative that the pro-rail lobby had claimed over the years. It would only be a matter of time if the government held out against the reasonable requests for a return of a rail service, knowing full well that people would eventually tire. It is also reasonable that communities having to live among neglected railway infrastructure would eventually seek to improve the situation; hence the arrival of the rail trail lobby. However. as has been stated time and time again. the two can coexist together. Imagining the needs of future generations is difficult for some. It requires an awareness that isn’t focussed on the selfish needs of immediate political gain. The arrogance of the “inevitability” of the rail trail, tainted by the pork-barrelling of local politics and the refusal to think beyond the vested interests is something that future generations will find hard to understand when contemplating the potential lost opportunity.

  5. To keep pushing for a rail trail without some other means of transportation being able to use the trail is pretty morally bankrupt. Unbridled self interest. Cycling is great. But not everyone can cycle or walk for long distances …. when pregnant, have a mob of kids or a frail aged parent in tow, when older, when they have a disability or acquired injury from falling off a bike etc etc. But yes they’d still love to get out and enjoy the trail route. And not everyone wants to ride from Byron to Mullum on a blistering hot day or when it’s pouring. Interestingly the demographic of people pushing for a bike /walking trail and poo pooing the idea of sharing this wonderful resource with some other, no matter how humble, means of transportation accessible to all ….. is very skewed indeed. Yes access and equity or a fair go for all …might just require a little bit more sharing and caring than these letters sadly demonstrate.

    • Yes morally bankrupt and unbridled self interest is exactly what it is Anne.

      There’s NEVER been a single large rally of people calling for the Casino to Murwillumbah line to be destroyed for a bike track. There have been many large rallies of thousands of people, petitions collected locally with over 30,000 names, 10,000 were presented to state parliament last year, have called for, and are still calling for, the line to be repaired and train services accessible to all reinstated.

      Time they were listened to rather than a small minority of cyclists determined to see the valuable line destroyed.

    • Yes it’s true Anne, not everyone will want to use the rail trail so clearly that makes it inequitable – the obvious answer is to just leave the corridor unused and deteriorating for ever.

  6. We do believe that having both rail and a bike/walking track within the rail corridor is the best outcome for the most people not just an elite few. When people realise that we can all contribute, have input, create jobs for the young and older ones with skills to impart and to make our corridor a model for around the world that provides eco friendly public transport coupled with a great exercise path that complement each other we all can rest easier at night.
    Having an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality is what is ruining so much in our world. When we can work together for the best outcomes for all we will truly become conscious planetary citizens. Selfishness is not the way even though you think yours is the only way as the government is not wanting to support our region with bringing back rail services.
    A community based enterprise such as our not-for-profit railway company could be the basis for a local economy where everyone wins and shares the abundant vision and reality that many of us have come to this region to live.
    Co-operation is the best policy, especially when it will provide a life changing outcome for so many who struggle to get around in this region and to move people in the safest way possible, to achieve a healthier happier community and a more environmentally sound way of transporting our visitors around.

  7. For decades NSW governments have been corruption central.

    The small rail trail lobby group are a convenient tool enabling the current government to destroy the train line and sell off the valuable rail corridor land for squillions as Labor’s David Campbell intended to do in 2009. That’s the only reason they’re persisting with trails without rails when it has been shown to be more a expensive option and quite unnecessary.

    People who keep stating unsubstantiated economic and tourist benefits of bike trails and their ridiculous ‘estimations’ of the cost of repairs to the train line when the actual costs are easily accessible in the public domain, have zero credibility. The $32.4m cost of the one kilometre Byron by-pass and bus interchange far exceeds any cost of repairing the train line for trains. They ignore the cost of the empty coaches which replaced the train-$2.8 MILLION per year in 2006- and who knows how much today they won’t tell us so it’s obviously way too much. And the cost of building bigger roads, road maintenance and traffic gridlock to the economy and people’s lives-way more than any train service.

    The study done by SCU found that 90% of locals would use a train service connected to the Queensland line at Coolangatta. Then there’s over six million people using Coolangatta airport, 40% of which travel south and would also use a train. No need for a car in Byron, Bangalow, or Mullum when the train station is in the centre of town and there’s a good local bus service. It’s not locals cars clogging our towns-it’s millions of visitors.

    Fortunately the Northern Rivers community have seen through this nonsense, and thanks to the ICAC have seen the corruption that is euphemistically called ‘government’ and the way eyewatering amounts of public money is misused to buy votes and win elections, rather than providing the services communities need, and are not having a bar of it.

    They expect public money to be spent equitably in the best interests of the whole community, not in the interest of corrupt politicians.


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