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Byron Shire
July 18, 2024

Rail trail slated for some of Byron Shire

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People enjoying the Tweed rail trail. Image supplied

Significant steps have been taken by Byron Shire Council toward creating a bike and pedestrian pathway along parts of the old rail line in the Shire, moving away from its previous position of supporting a return of trains to the tracks.

After a prolonged and bitter debate at last week’s Council meeting, a majority of councillors voted to proceed with the planning, approval and funding process for rail trails running from the old Mullumbimby station to Crabbes Creek in the north, and from the old Byron Bay station to Booyong in the south. It does not include the section from Mullum to Byron. 

The decision is a pivotal moment in the ongoing and at-times divisive process surrounding the future of the rail line in the Shire after its closure back in 2004 by NSW Labor.

The decision follows the results of a Council-commissioned study, which found that pursuing the multi-modal option in the north and west of the Shire would present major engineering challenges that would make it extremely costly.

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

Housing investigated

Importantly, the motion passed by councillors not only includes beginning the process of creating the rail trail, but also enabling investigation of options for housing within the rail corridor, and the activation of unused space for community use.

It thus represents a move that will transform significant stretches of the corridor from quiet bushland to activated and potentially populated areas of the Shire. 

While the motion ‘reiterates Council’s ongoing support’ for returning trains to the tracks alongside a trail between Mullumbimby and Byron, the creation of a rail trail on either end of this stretch makes it less likely that this will ever happen.

‘This was an historic decision of Council, and it was a tough and long debate as many of us support, or have supported, a multi-use rail corridor in the past to keep the possibility of rail returning to our tracks for public transport,’ Mayor, Michael Lyon said.

‘It was four years ago that we were investigating the feasibility of rail on a multi-use corridor, and since then we haven’t been able to meaningfully advance the case for trains on our tracks in the Byron Shire. We owe it to our community to deliver on something now that can happen.’

However, three of Byron’s nine councillors were opposed to the rail trail decision – in many cases bitterly. They included Peter Westheimer (Independent) Cate Coorey (Independent) and Duncan Dey (Greens).

Cr Westheimer attempted to have any decision on the rail corridor deferred until two degradation studies examining the state of the corridor, currently being undertaken by pro-rail advocates, are completed.

But this motion failed.

The final vote in favour of moving forward with the rail trail went as follows:

In favour: Cr Lyon, Sarah Ndiaye (Greens), Asren Pugh (Labor), Mark Swivel (Independent), and Alan Hunter (Independent), Sama Balson (independent).

Against: Peter Westheimer (Independent) Cate Coorey (Independent) and Duncan Dey (Greens).

Result: 6 votes to 3

Correction:

This story previously reported that Independent Councillor Sama Balson voted against a motion to move forward with the construction of rail trails in the north and south of the Shire. This was incorrect. Cr Balson in fact voted in favour of this motion, making the final vote six votes to three.
Moreover Cr Balson wishes to note that her input to expand the original motion to include exploring housing, wildlife enhancement, community outcomes and other transport options was adopted into the final motion.
The Echo apologises for the error.


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22 COMMENTS

  1. It should be clarified that ultimately only Crs Dey, Coorey and Westheimer opposed the motion to progress the development of the trail. Six to three is not a narrow vote.

    A number of commentators have confused this foreshadowed motion, moved by Crs Pugh and Lyon, with the motion described in the article, which was moved by Crs Dey and Coorey, to delay any decision on the trail until further reports have been received. As noted in the article, that motion was lost with only Crs Dey, Coorey, Westheimer and Balson voting in favor of the delay.

    The presentations by the councillors who carried the foreshadowed motion were not bitter, but well presented and positive.

    • I thought that the Article was somewhat disingenuous in not mentioning the final vote.

      A surprising number of listeners to the Council meeting left after the short break and thus missed the final vote. They assumed that 5 to 4 was the final vote which it clearly wasn’t.

      Having listened to the proceedings and except for the comments from one Councillor in particular, I found most of the discussion to also be well presented including those of Cr Westheimer.

      I cannot quite see the point of this article unless it is opposed to potentially new populated areas along the trail.

      It’s a chance to help much needed housing options in the Shire.

  2. Maybe the writer is generally neutral but if not, it’s hard to know exactly what the intended slant was. A few things though:

    * It was a near thing. The foreshadowed motion that got up 6-3 would not have seen the light of day if the first motion – to delay a decision until yet ONE MORE report on the state of the tracks – was defeated 5-4.

    * With regard to the final statement:“ … pro-rail councillors were narrowly outvoted by Council’s quintet of rail trail advocates: Cr Lyon, Sarah Ndiaye (Greens), Asren Pugh (Labor), Mark Swivel (Independent), and Alan Hunter (Independent), it should be noted that the first three have in the past supported multi-modal use of the corridor but were prepared to change their minds as new facts became available ie the findings of the report commissioned by Council itself. They were not your bunch of “noisy elitist, Lycra clad rail trail fanatics.

    * Of these three I think Cr Ndyiaye showed great courage when it became obvious that, which way the 5-4 split was going to go, would come down to her. Particularly difficult as a Greens councillor, when it had become entrenched folklore that rail = sacred Greens cow and pro-trail = environmental vandalism – regardless of anything factual to the contrary. She explained that she had at least spoken with Tweed’s Mayor Cherry about Tweed’s experience with the feasibility of rail with trail and had visited the trail to witness the vast array of people enjoying it. She also remembered the high hopes for a resurrection of part of the line post Arcadis that failed to elicit outside capital.

    * Crs Ndyiaye and Balson seemed particularly to find the decision difficult along with what the facts seemed to be saying – it was rail OR trail with trail a graspable possibility and rail seeming to have had its chance to come up with financial backers and a realistic business plan. One group was going to have to think less of them

    * It seemed unbelievable that some councillors – having delayed decisions twice before because they were waiting for reports – would ignore said latest report and hold out again. I got the impression that no matter what the result of the “degradation report”, there is no way that removing rails would be acceptable.

    * There seems to be an assumption that, because some adamant advocates have protested for 20 years that the Byron Community wants its trains back. Maybe many would but do we have any idea if they were asked to choose how many really want a rail trail?

    * The councillors who were most adamant that the rails must stay are good, conscientious people who have fought with wisdom and courage to protect amenity and the environment in Byron Shire. I think though that the rail/trail debate has become entangled with emotion, ideology and mythology.

  3. What a sad day for Byron Shire. The council should of deferred their decision until the rail degradation study was completed. Instead they added another 25% of the rail corridor to the railtrail to the motion and included the clause to allow them to add housing to the corridor, which I suspect was the agenda all along and then rushed it all through. Causing them to Abandon their own policy of a multi use corridor.

    The consultants report that they had to go on formation West of Bangalow is a load of rubbish. There is already an existing bike path that runs beside the train tracks, under the road and through the park next to the A&I Hall. It could easily be extended 500m down to Rifle Range road off formation. I have not had a chance to inspect the line north of Mullum, but if this is the an example of the quality of their work, I would say that’s possible too.

    Does anyone else think it a bit disingenuous, that a seemingly cash- strapped, anti-tourism council, has embarked on a major tourism infrastructure programme? Without a Tourism strategy in place, without a dedicated tourism officer to advice them. While at the same time abandoning the future transport needs of the shire? This whole thing wreaks.

    • Wendy there is much that I could take issue with here but the suggestion that anything about this decision was “rushed through” – after the years it has been deliberated and the reports it has considered – is a good chuckle. Generally Byron Council doesn’t do “rushed”.

    • Yes eaxactly Wendy.

      We know large sections of the trail in Tweed has been built beside the train line where there’s more room and it’s much safer for cyclists and more cost effective to build. People need to question why ‘cycling tourism’ enthusiasts and state politicians are so determined to waste so much taxpayers’ money-almost $900,000 per kilometre!!!- needlessly destroying essential public infrastructure. What is their REAL agenda?

      In the most visited region in the state after Sydney, with over 5.2m visitors per year, it’s criminal to even think about destroying a rail line that will take millions of gas guzzzlers off our roads. As we see in the Tweed, rail trail users are adding to the traffic with their massive gas guzzlers. The economic benefits spruiked are pure fantasy as cyclists by drinks or ice creams then leave. Despite perfect weather for cycling, businesses aren’t reporting employing extra people.

      Any credible study would have included an independent evaluation of the Tweed rail trail, not quoted from a RAIL TRAIL organisation’s glowing evaluation of the Tumburumba trail which is not an objective study, nor is it relevant to the North Coast demographic.

      • Louise the sections of the Tweed trail that are off formation are there because that was the easiest and cheapest alternative. The same can happen in Byron Shire but probably not for the whole trail. There’s no reckless waste or malign intentions. No agenda other than the philosophy behind rail trails generally – to put to a great community purpose, areas of public infrastructure no longer stacking up for rail.

        The section from Mullumbimby to Byron has, by the Council motion, been quarantined for further investigation of the feasibility or rail with trail and with a search for a sponsor and viable business case.

        Those so convinced that rail is an economically sustainable option and the best use of transport funding need to do more than just block the rail trail and reject reports. They need to prove their case.

      • Louise is a classic case of rail enthusiasts who live in a different universe where the reality is whatever they want to believe. We get an engineering report saying it would be prohibitive to built an off formation trail and Louise tells us “We know large sections of the trail in Tweed has been built beside the train line where there’s more room and it’s much safer for cyclists and more cost effective to build.”

        This self professed expert has never even been on the trail otherwise she would know only small parts of the Tweed Rail Trail are built off formation and it is not a case of “more room” but the very few places where it is possible.

        It is also a world where a railway that nobody is going to pay to resurrect, running between small towns would somehow take “millions” of cars off the road. Even Lydia Kindred’s fantasies aren’t that optimistic.

  4. On reading the detail of the motion it is apparent the housing aspect that has been conflated with the trail proposal is going to be a major, possibly insurmountable hurdle.

    The Transport Amendment allows the corridor to be leased:
    the use of the subject land for—
    (i) recreation, tourism or related purposes, or
    (ii) roads or road infrastructure,
    The total maximum term of an authorised lease is 30 years

    (9) The regulations may make provision in relation to the following—
    (a) limitations on the structures that may be erected on the subject land,
    (b) the circumstances in which a sublease of an authorised lease may be
    entered into.

    Clearly there is no provision under the current legislation for the corridor to be used for housing purposes. Hence special legislation would be required similar to the bill that transferred the ownership of the corridor to the Tweed and Richmond Valley councils. This on its own would be a major delay.

    Moreover under any of these arrangements the minister for transport retains the authority to take back the corridor for a transport purpose at any time with no compensation payable to anyone. Such conditions will be completely unpalatable for any developer undertaking the construction of housing within the corridor, just as it has been with the Mullumbimby parking area.

    The council does not have the option of turning over the corridor to a developer.

    At the very least, the sections of land proposed to be used for housing needs to be separated from what is required for the rail trail so the trail can get underway.

  5. Sell outs time for new council you know oil is supposed to go to 300 dollars a barrell according to Forbes magazine anyway good luck with that one yuppie Byron here come forget pensioners kids looking for work up and down the coast and the congestion of ewingsdale road etc and parking and being able to bring people into town at Mullum and Byron without a car . If that what the community wants so be it but it seems very narrow minded given the population explosion on the north coast and the link between Queensland and northern NSW with the possibility of the commonwealth games and Olympics enjoy the congestion I guess and when la Nina comes and washes everything away like last year’s flood whose going to pay council and ratepayers Alan Mosley Yamba

    • Alan Mosley, I agree with much of what you say, especially the continuing traffic chaos at Mullumbimby and Byron and the uncaring for all the people who cannot (for all the many reasons as people know why), don’t want to, too young to drive or even own a car, continue to be relgated to the ‘Oh they don’t need a train’ – ride a bike. Parking in Mullum and other towns/villages, is a battle but oh, who cares about that! Not council that’s for sure – eg – the decision to sell the great, convenient car park and a car park will be somewhere ‘across the way’ – who knows – council apparently do – to bad for everyone who cannot walk very far and easily. Whoever i speak to when anywhere, when mention of train services – how fantastic to be able to travel on a train – yes, yes, is the answser so to all the councillors who say people don’t want a train, are way wrong. 2021 Council promoted and held ‘Youth Say’ with Mullum youth re safe, convenient transport, especially weekends. Their result at the time was, ask Transport NSW re extra buses! Problem, they are still on the congested roads and not as convenient as a train. Then pro-trail say, oh, the train only stops at railway stations so is not convenient. Now that is the most stupid statement as, “Do planes go to each town? No of course not, and the same with railway stations – people do the same as people going to an airport, except airports are less airports than railway stations and the way they were here on this huge Northern Rivers Region. As far as leases all rail corridor land, that TAHE Transport Assett Holding Entity of NSW control everything re that land/buildings. At 30yr lease finish, one point is – ‘it reduces the potential for time delays with the transfer of ownership to another NSW Gov entity, such as Crown Lands. Labor were going to abolish TAHE if on ‘winning’ the NSW recent election. It is still in control and ‘discussing’ the rail land with Byron Council! Have we all been ‘sold a pup’ as the saying goes?

      • Jillian, the future of rail between Mullumbimby to Byron is still in the mix to allow more time to see if both rail and trail is feasible in this stretch and, most importantly, whether someone is interested in finding/running it.

      • Jillian has established that “don’t want to” is a valid reason to be anti trail, so lets apply that to the train. Aside from the fact that any train on the old corridor would not connect where most people live to where they need to travel, the fact is the vast majority of people “don’t want to” use a train.

        People prefer to use a car to take them right from their home to exactly where the need to go when they need to be there while carrying the things they need to take with them in complete security. The train services were stopped nearly twenty years ago because people didn’t want to use it.

        The Mullum youth survey indicated that young people did want better public transport but the word “train” did not appear in it even once. It isn’t just young people who have realistic expectations. My wife was involved in research with aged care resident in Murwillumbah a few years ago. The top transport response was the need for buses into town on the weekends. Not even one person mentioned wanting a train.

        Railway advocacy is the pastime of a small group of boomers with an extraordinary sense of entitlement who believe everything should be about them. The couldn’t care less about loading even more debt on the younger generations who would be the ones paying for their self-indulgence.

        Like all rail advocates, Jillian paints a picture of the trail being the one thing that stands in the way of there being a train. The fact is that nobody is going to pay for the train. There isn’t going to be a train. We can either have a trail or leave the corridor sitting idle until it is sold by the government of the day.

  6. A PS to me comment: to be fair there have been different council compositions across this history, so those advocating delay have not necessarily been the ones doing so for previous reports. How many do we need though?

  7. “to Booyong in the south” – There is a 1.5 metre high section of the Byron bypass road which now bisects the rail line, neither Trail or Train to the south can go past the bypass connection to the bottom of Jonson St. But there is a convenently placed roundabout there, which incongruently presently has just one road in and one road out (IE didnt need a roundabout). “Excess” Railway land has already been sold off in Byron Bay, and the (successful) sell of of Railway land at Sunrise was the subject of a recent Council Meeting, where Cr Westheimer raised the issue of keeping the required rail track width that would be necessary for trains, but not for a bike track which will provide much more railway land to further sell off. There is money to be made by creating “excess” railway land to be sold, and despite the NSW gov having a number of Billion Dollar Sydney train extensions, trains are always subsidised, whereas roads generate more revenue from registrations.

    • John, I seem to recall some discussion in Council of the possibility of using the rail corridor instead of the costly and destructive bypass we got – work on which also uncovered a major habitat of a critically endangered species. How much was the rejection of any investigation of this option because of the sacrosanct status of the corridor?

    • The “issue” Cr Westheimer raised about the width of the corridor when the tiny boundary adjustment was made is clearly a furphy to anyone who has actually looked at the map. All it did was align the boundary of one block with a whole row of neighbouring blocks bringing the clearance to exactly the same distance. Rail advocates like Cr Westheimer never miss a chance to misrepresent the reality to suit their agenda but it couldn’t have worried him too much because he voted to allow it anyway.

      Railway land in Byron has been disposed of for years and had absolutely nothing to do with the rail trail proposal. Had Byron joined into the trail project when invited by Tweed, the corridor would have owned by Byron Council, just as the Tweed corridor is now council property. In any case most of the land disposed of has been railway associated and, not the corridor.

      Railways in Sydney region are being developed because they are an essential part of a public transport system servicing the more than eighty percent of the NSW population that live in that region. Without the million passengers per day normally carried by those trains, it would be impossible to move on the roads.

      Those who compare Sydney trains with abandoned tracks that connect a couple of small towns in a sparse regional population are kidding themselves.

      I do wish rail advocates would decide whether roads are costing the public huge unwarranted amounts of taxes as repeatedly described by Louise or making money through registrations as claimed by John.

    • Yes John.

      Roads are more costly to build and maintain while trains reduce the cost and environmental damage of road building and maintenance and SAVE LIVES. They also make our streets much safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

      Don’t forget the many billions of public money spent REBUILDING THE TRAMLINE IN SYDNEY that was ripped up in the 60s, ditto the Gold Coast rail line-more billions to rebuild that.

      How many billions and how many times will taxpayers have to pay to constantly rebuild essential public infrastrucuture dodgy pollies have destroyed? While our education and health systems are a mess, not to mention those still waiting for funding to rebuild or move their houses destroyed in the flood, spending $900,000 (!!!) per kilometre for cycling tourism is a priority for our council and state government. Cycling tourism that’s creating more traffic in once quiet towns which really upsets locals.

      In a fast growing region with over 5.2m visitors per year, crying out for more sustainable, cost effective, traffic busting and emission reducing public transport, this whole thing stinks to high heaven.

  8. The Gold Coast railway that was pulled up in the 1960s was a single steam age line with tight curves that supported speeds that would be irrelevant to the needs of today. The modern railway is on a much straighter alignment and has duplicated tracks supporting simultaneous electric trains in both directions at speeds of 140 kph. It doesn’t even go to the same destination as the old line and anyone who knows the old route would be well aware of the multitude of level crossing that made the railway that spit the community in half anything but “safe”.

    It is part of railway transport network that connects the 600,000 people of the Gold Coast with another 2.5 million in Brisbane passing through suburbs housing hundreds of thousands of commuters. Comparing that with a railway between a couple of small towns in a sparse population is ludicrous.

    Despite the huge number of potential passengers of the Gold Coast trains, the vast majority of people still choose to take a car on the motorway. Translate that to our local situation and we would have trains running with a handful of passengers, as is currently the case with the buses that service the same routes and many more. The effect of a train on the traffic would be negligible, a fact that has been confirmed by professional studies along with the fact that no environmental benefits would be forthcoming.

  9. The train advocates keep pushing for a very slow romantic railway system that will not change commuters transport mode nor will it get freight back into trains .
    In Queensland they have doing major rail improvements since the 1980s with deviations, curve easing , gradient lowering, bridge replacement and twin track building . In QLD on the Brisbane to Cairns corridor bulk freight in 90% on rail , whereas in NSW on the Sydney to Brisbane route it is less than 5% because of steam age alignments causing very slow travel times .
    The Pacific Highway has been deviated and moved at least 3 times in 100 years but the Northern Rivers line has stayed on the same very slow tortuous route for over 100 years .
    We never hear train advocates pushing for modern alignments , all they do is complain about money being on modernising our highways .
    Train advocates in our region only want slow romantic trains , they don’t really care about workers who want reasonably fast transport to allow more time at home with their families.

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