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.
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
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.