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Byron Shire
June 16, 2024

A light at the end of the tunnel for the rail trail

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One of the tunnels on the Byron Shire section of the rail trail. Photo David Lisle

The first section of the Northern Rivers Rail Trail opened yesterday on 1 March, a decade after the idea was first floated, and almost two decades after the last train plied the line. Tweed Council has rapidly transformed the 24km stretch of derelict rail corridor between Murwillumbah and Crabbes Creek into a bike and walking trail, allowing access once again to this public space.

The Rail Trail was officially opened with a Welcome to Country and smoking ceremony performed by the Biren Cultural Group. Joining them from back left are: NRRT Inc President Pat Grier, NSW Deputy Premier Paul Toole, Tweed MP Geoff Provest MP, Tweed Mayor Chris Cherry and Lismore MP Janelle Saffin.

The trail is proving popular even before it opens. Tweed Council has been spraying social media with requests for riders and walkers to stay off the trail while the finishing touches are applied.

With the Tweed section now complete, Northern Rivers Rail Trail Supporters, the group who have campaigned for a decade for the old Murwillumbah to Casino line to become a trail, said they’re not slackening off. Their vision of a trail spanning the 130km corridor is not yet realised. 

The Tweed leg of the Northern Rivers Rail Trail was officially opened today amid much excitement from local walkers, runners, cyclists, school students and trishaw enthusiasts.

But they’re buoyed with the recent announcement of a state government grant of $481,115 to develop the business case for the rail trail in the mid-section of the corridor – 75km between Crabbes Creek and Lismore that is yet to be funded. The rail trail group partnered with the Northern Rivers Joint Organisation (comprising the seven Northern Rivers councils) to apply for the grant, the aim being to establish a sound basis for councils to make decisions about their sections of the corridor.

Richmond Valley Council aim to complete their section of railtrail between Casino and Bentley by year’s end. Lismore Council is pushing ahead with Bentley to Lismore City – also fully-funded.

Lismore to Crabbes Creek is the missing middle and most of this unfunded section of corridor is in Byron Shire. Byron Council has historically been the hold-out, spurning the idea of a railtrail the state government is eager to build, preferring instead an illusory train service, one unlikely to be delivered because no-one will finance it.  

Byron Shire Mayor Michael Lyon joined Tweed Mayor Chris Cherry and Richmond Valley Mayor Robert Mustow at the opening of the Tweed section of the Northern Rivers Rail Trail on 1 March.

Byron Council finally on board?

But change is afoot. Byron Council has resolved to push forward and develop the rail-trail between Crabbes Creek and Mullum. Mayor Michael Lyon said, ‘I’m doing what I think is appropriate to advance the railtrail now that Tweed has done it’.

Byron Council also hopes to access funding for the Mullum to Bruns cycleway – a track along the rail corridor branching off at Synotts Lane towards Brunswick Heads. 

But Byron Council is not giving up on the train just yet. The mayor is talking to the state government and thinks it might be possible for light rail to operate between Mullum and Byron. Apparently, building out the corridor with ‘affordable housing’ might boost the business case for the train.

Completing the railtrail will be expensive, but there are solid funding pathways. Byron’s section alone will cost $40 million, big numbers but a small fraction of what re-establishing a train service would cost. 

Byron Council rightfully talks about prioritising public transport. Buses already operate between Mullum and Byron and I think if they were serious, they’d be loudly advocating for enhanced bus services rather than chasing a mythical train. Who seriously thinks duplicating a 20km bus route with 15km of light rail and calling it ‘reactivating the rail corridor’ is a good idea?  

The four councillors I spoke to for this story presented a range of perspectives so disparate they were almost impossible to synthesise. Every mention of the train was couched in the vaguest possible terms, or abruptly dismissed as ‘dreaming’. The raitrail group have a clear vision though, and rafts of spreadsheets and detailed costings. 

Byron might dither but the railtrail is open in the Tweed. I’ve made a few stealth runs in recent months and can assure you the ride is a joy.

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  1. It’s great to see Byron’s Mayor Michael Lyon’s beaming smile as he samples Tweed’s brand new Rail Trail with its mayor Chris Cherry and Richmond Valley’s Mayor, Robert Mustow.

    Let us hope that Michael Lyon’s witnessing of the Tweed excitement, will shed greater light on his shire’s potential for its section of our magnificent rail corridor.

    It’s only a matter of time whereby Byron Shire’s voters will ultimately determine best outcomes, in the light of Tweed’s, Richmond’s and Lismore Shire’s initiatives.

    Luddites have only ever had a short lifespan in history.

  2. Well there’s impartial journalism for you. You’d think reporting on the rail corridor would just describe the situation without using words like “mythical” and “illusionary” to apply to what a sizable percentage of the community still refer to as a preferred reality. Did not journalist David Lisle think to include words like “pork barrel project” or “turncoat politicians” or “stealing the narrative” when referring to the North rivers rail trail?

    • Firstly the popularity of a delusion does not make it any less mythical or illusionary.

      Secondly those who claim that a railway is the preferred reality for a sizable percentage of the population are grossly overstating the numbers. Virtually nobody besides the organisers attended rallies held in August last year in support of the return of railway. This was the situation repeated across the region where no photos of the “crowds of supporters” were published by any of the organisers because they attracted an embarrassingly trivial attendance. Ten people is a big turnout at a pro-rail rally and usually comprise the same core group brought in from all over the region.

      “Pork barreling” is something that is done to buy popularity but contrary to sound reasoning and due process. Hence by alleging pork barreling, Milton is actually acknowledging the rail trail is a very popular cause. Moreover, the trail project is backed by a very sound professionally prepared business plan.

      By “turncoat politicians” he refers to cases of those who had initially argued for the return of trains but turned in support of the trail after discovering the facts. It has been a common situation among the regional population. In fact I even signed a pro rail petition in the early days based on the misinformation fed to me by rail advocates seeking support. Many of the names on the the very stale petitions they like to quote numbers on got there the same way.

      “Stealing the narrative”? Anyone is welcome to present their own narrative but need to understand that the principle of free speech affords a right of reply which in the case of rail advocacy has repeatedly resulted in the demolition of their misinformation and outright lies. Unfortunately Facebook advocate groups have effectively canned the right of reply by blocking people who post responses, not only on their own sites but wherever their content is shared on any site on Facebook. Thankfully The Echo believes in free speech.

    • Well Milton if this “rail trail without rails” is such a wonderful idea which has so much community support why aren’t the politicians knocking themselves out to hold the big opening before the election rather than after people have voted? Why does the MP for Tweed never mention it in his weekly full page ads in the Tweed papers? They couldn’t possibly be concerned that drawing peoples’ attention to the destruction of the $billion train line, and the deviousness of politicians, would disadvantage them at the ballot box?

      How anyone can support this Liberal/National Party bike track disaster is beyond the comprehension of decent people. These are the same mean, tricky politicians who did the bidding of their fossil fuel mates and repealed the carbon price. And we’re all living with the consequences. These are the same politicians who won votes telling the electorate that they would get the trains running as the “social, environmental and cost benefits would be enormous.” They never went to an election telling people “we’re going to waste your money destroying the valuable train line.” They have no mandate for this destruction!

      All the community will get out of this massive waste of their money destroying the $billion train line is more traffic gridlock, more carbon emissions and more climate disasters.

      As if things aren’t bad enough. We have a housing crisis as well as a climate crisis. Politicians are unable to provide housing for so many people who are forced to live rough, having lost everthing in catastrophic floods, but they can very smartly waste huge amounts of taxpayers money on a recreational and tourism gimmick which is costing almost as much as the repairs to the Byron line fto run a train. Charming!

      If humanity is to survive, we must ensure we elect decent people who condemn this outrageous waste of taxpayers’ money. Our very survival depends on voting for politicians who will put the needs of their community and environment first, as voters did at the last federal election. We cannot afford any more career politicians who promise everything to get elected, then deliver nothing. All they do is line their own pockets with our money.

      • The timing of the opening of the trail was governed by the completion of the project by the contractors and not an arbitrary date to be decided for political expediency.

        In case you hadn’t noticed, the opening was held last week. Thousands of people used the trail last weekend. Meanwhile your pro rail protest outside Geoff Provest’s Tweed Heads office a couple of Fridays ago was attended by just nine people. Nine versus thousands should tell you something.

        The trail funding has gone to an election. State funding for the trail was announced before the 2019 State election. The outcome was perfectly clear with long time rail advocate and TooT President Bill Fenelon running for The Greens and getting nowhere. His next foray into politics was the Tweed Local Government elections where his pro rail team managed a paltry 2.4 percent of the vote despite drawing Group A and receiving the benefit of the donkey vote. The people have made a clear choice. Your insulting remarks about decency say more about your attitude than anything else.

        Can you also please move beyond the myth that the government has promised to reopen the railway. The matter was settled in 2013 with both sides of government accepting the report by an independent internationally recognised civil engineering and transport consulting firm that trains on the old railway could not make a significant contribution to the transport needs of our region and would be a gross waste of money.

        We are now approaching the third state election since that decision was made. Time for you to move on. Your position is shared only by a tiny minority and you need to accept that reality.

        The trail is not an outrageous waste of taxpayers’ money. It is backed by a comprehensive professional business plan that indicated it would ultimately bring far more money into the towns and villages that hosted it than was spent to build it. The thousands of people who turned out to use the trail last weekend are testimony to that fact. Far from being a “few fit Lycra clad professional cyclists” the crowd consisted of a full range of people in every shape and size from preschoolers to the very elderly. There was a lot more cotton than Lycra.

        The community has made its preference clear through multiple polls at both state and local government levels with the trail attendance last weekend putting the facts beyond any doubt.. It is time you heard the clear voice of the community and accepted the fact that the trail is here and the train has gone.

  3. Well done Tweed. Byron Council needs to let go of its Mullum train dream. The real no brainer is a fast train connection to Varsity Lakes up over the border. That gives us a decent public transport connection to our nearest capital city. Yes it requires cross-border, inter government support and yes it requires a new, straighter rail corridor. But a fast train supports work and tourism. It will take years to complete so Councillors need to stop dithering about and apply a bit of vision to their long term planning.

  4. Enough dithering Byron Shire Council.

    Its time to bridge the gap and extend the Tweed section of the NRRT into Byron Shire to join up with the Lismore Shire trail when it’s up and running ✅ Make it so!

  5. Connecting a rail service from Mullum to Byron to Bangalow has good reasons. The commute opportunities, tourism dollar, the environmental benefits taking cars off the road, more affordable housing outside of Byron Bay. It has been proven in many parts of the world. And a rail trail and rail do not mutually exclude each other. The benefits of rail have never been properly accounted for, just the costs, whereas the viability of rail trail relies heavily on counting economic benefits. The Byron Shire section of the rail is unique and deserves separate considerations. Lets wait and see, how the rail trail pans out. Byron, don’t get pressured from vested interests.

    • A $2 million independent study by an internationally accredited civil engineering and transport consultancy company concluded that trains on the old corridor could not make a significant contribution to the transport needs of the region and would be hideously expensive to resurrect the tracks and operate services for a tiny minority.

      Operating a train between a few small towns is never going to be a viable proposition.

  6. The rail trail is fantastic! Well done Tweed Council and Hazel Bros. It is so lovely to be in nature without worrying about cars!

  7. If there was a business case for trains they would still be running. Meanwhile kudos to those who have brought the rail trail to life. It is a valuable community asset that will bring enjoyment to many and revenue to businesses in the region.


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