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Byron Shire
June 23, 2024

‘Significant challenges’ with sharing rail: report 

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Building a rail trail for bikes and pedestrians in the northern and western sections of the Byron rail corridor is far more feasible than attempting a mixed-use option that combines trains and a trail, an investigation commissioned by Byron Council has found.

In two reports coming before this week’s Council meeting, engineering consultants Burchills explored the areas of the rail corridor north of Mullumbimby to Crabbes Creek and west of Bangalow to Booyong.

The investigations found that pursuing an option that combined rail with trail in these parts of the corridor presented significant challenges. 

In particular, it found that endeavouring to keep the track itself available for rail use in these areas would significantly impede, and add to the cost, of building a rail trail for bikes and pedestrians. 

Northern Rivers Rail Trail. Photo Aslan Shand

Rail trail only findings

This was because, in spots where there are bridges, tunnels, and embankments, there is not enough space for both the rail line and a bike path, meaning that the latter would have to be diverted around. 

As a result, is was recommended that Council instead implement only a rail trail in the northern and western sections of the corridor, and seek funding to achieve this aim.

The findings of the investigation adds further momentum to the ongoing campaign to use the entire Casino to Murwillumbah rail corridor for a Northern Rivers Rail Trail.

The trail, a pathway for cyclists and pedestrians, is already being progressively implemented; the section from Murwillumbah to Crabbes Creek opened earlier this year. With all other councils along the corridor, except Byron, indicating their support for a rail trail option, Byron has been left as the last Shire holding out for a return of trains to the tracks.

The Burchills investigation and report further erodes Byron Council’s pro-train position, which has been gradually losing momentum during the current term of Council.

Northern Rivers Rail Trail. Photo Aslan Shand

This is despite rail advocates recently securing access to the disused line for a line condition study. A similar study has also been approved for the area of line between Bangalow and Lismore.

Independent Byron councillor and train advocate, Peter Westheimer, said that the rail condition studies will show that it would be affordable to have rail with trail, contradicting the findings of the Burchills reports.

‘Council should not have FOMO [fear of missing out] for not joining the rail trail bandwagon, but should be proud and glad like we are, as the only council in the Northern Rivers who choose not to fluoridate’, Cr Westheimer told The Echo.

‘We chose that path, despite the naysayers in the bureaucracy telling us we were making a big mistake, and it’s the same situation now’.

Meanwhile, a petition started by Labor Cr Asren Pugh which calls for a rail trail to be built in Byron Shire, has attracted over 5,150 signatures. 

Visit Support Rail Trail for more info on the petition.


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28 COMMENTS

  1. Oh my – the railway / dental health analogy is comedic gold!
    Just get on with it BSC and make a SENSIBLE decision – please!

    • Indeed, Peter. Let’s be different by having the worst teeth in Australia! Let’s not have any traffic lights in Byron Shire – they spoil the vibe? – let’s have clogged and dangerous intersections instead.

  2. From the story: ‘Independent Byron councillor and train advocate, Peter Westheimer, said that the rail condition studies will show that it would be affordable to have rail with trail, contradicting the findings of the Burchills reports.’

    Cr Westheimer has clearly chosen to presuppose the outcome of the degradation study despite the fact that it only began last week and much of the railway is still buried in vegetation. Of course that is what those doing the “study” have already decided would be the finding. Volunteers have only just started clearing the seventy kilometres of the corridor covered in their license by hand, using gardening tools .

    The study is being done on behalf of Northern Rivers Rail Ltd at no cost. What professional consultant works for free? The truth is these “rail companies” are nothing more than a front for the same few railway advocates who have been campaigning for years and hoped to gain credibility by registering companies.

    NRRL wasn’t even registered until after two sections of the corridor were closed and dedicated as trails. Their Company Secretary and spokesperson, Lydia Kindred has flatly refused to name the people responsible for the study and their relevant qualifications. The reasons are obvious.

  3. So fluoridation of our water, and a Rail Trail, are connected.!!
    Because we then “stand out” !?
    My goodness, no wonder Byron Shire has been in a pickle of aged embarrassment over our poor languishing rail corridor.
    But clear good sense appears finally to be on the way, to hopefully end our exponentially rising embarrassment of our standout inaction.
    ANYONE who bothered to LOOK at our corridor even 10 years ago, would have come up with these latest findings.

    This Thursday will be critical to how outsiders will view this shire.

    It’s Time.
    To redeem our credibility.

  4. Well with the Olympic s in Brisbane and possibly the gold coast commenwealth games why would you not want rail and the rail trail plus and conditions like last year’s floods will close the rail trail for months plus in summer the rail trail is far to hot with little shade other than the tunnel so use will mornings or night time both rail and the rail trail should co exist

    • Clearly you have not been on the rail trail. There is a lot of shade and it will continue to increase. But there would not be much shade at all if the trees were torn out to build a trail beside the formation.

      A test section of the trail was built before the biggest flood in history in the region and it stood up well. The Hazells engineers first hand experience of these floods was invaluable. I asked them if it had affected their design. The reply was that they had decided to make the concrete causeways a little thicker. The high level crossings will avoid the damage of the kind seen on the low level crossing on the likes of Brisbane Valley Rail Trail.

      A railway between a couple of small towns on the Northern Rivers would be irrelevant to a sporting event in Queensland. Moreover, a two week event is not a justification for a multibillion dollar railway to connect a small sparse population to the Gold Coast.

      The independent engineering advice is clear. The trail and railway cannot both use the corridor.

      There is no funding forthcoming for the railway despite many years of campaigning by the Byron Council and other advocates. The trail will easily be funded. It is an iconic part of the government’s active transport policy.

    • They are not on offer, Anne. Do you want to deprive kids of safe cycle paths, people who want to keep fit of low cost pleasurable opportunities, and discourage cycling as a way of getting around generally?

    • …and some of us walk
      …and some of us run
      …and some of us use walking frames
      …and some of us walk dogs
      …and some of us use wheelchairs
      …and some of us push prams

      I have seen people in all these categories on the Tweed rail trail – it’s simplistic to say the trail is just for bike riders

  5. Councillors it’s time.

    People I’ve discussed the trail with have shared how they’d give their right arm to be able to use it. Better still to be able to enjoy the local environment without the constant fear of being run down by a vehicle.

    Please make it happen.

  6. Great news if Council decides to pursue the rail trail. My concern is that by stipulating no go areas because some just have to persist with a train – where several buses a day already go – we will jeopardise the application for funding.

    Over five years ago Council commissioned the Arcadis report to consider the feasibility of light rail. Why weren’t they simultaneously calling for EOIs or other investigation to gauge the interest out there in a financier.

  7. We’ll have a statewide injunction. We’re filing the class 4 application in the Land environment court which will involve judicial review from the axing of the Gold Coast Motorail to the closing of the line, every aspect of the legalities and validity of decisions made.

    As it is a public interest matter we are immune from costs orders.

    They keep overreaching.

    The injunction will be the end of the rail trail from Casino to Murwillumbah, and across the state. It will simultaneously look at the Great Northern line, Cooma line, Mudgee and Cowra lines.

    • Come back and tell us when you get to court. You do realise the judge can decide that the application has no merit and decline to proceed at all?

      NRRAG were going to get an injunction to stop the Tweed Valley Rail Trail and absolutely nothing happened.

    • Why not spend your energies finding interested financiers rather than simply looking for endless ways of denying the community.

    • All these threats of injunctions yet none ever seem to eventuate.

      Just ask the Save our Rail Group in Newcastle how the immune from costs due to public interest worked for them. 800k in govt costs, plus their own costs, and lost their houses.

  8. Only a fool would remove the rail , cr pugh , you are very short-sighted and foolish to present a concept like you have , with only a trail when we can and will have both . Your petition has only a fraction of the signatures in favour of retaining rail and having a dual purpose corridor . Byron will be the first rail trail in northern rivers with a train , rail and trail . Or Mr pugh will be famous for isolating the world’s first ever solar train on a test track , pretty sad .

    • The engineering reports are explicit that the corridor cannot support both a trail and a railway. Perhaps you should try reading them? This fact has been repeated over and over again on every credible investigation into the corridor and is obvious to anyone who actually looks at the corridor.

      Check out the Tweed Valley Rail Trail. Come back and tell us which side of the formation the trail could have been built on. I’ve made this challenge repeatedly and not one rail advocate has taken it up. They prefer to indulge their fantasies and have never even looked at the corridor.

    • Dr Green, you don’t believe the findings of yet another, latest report for which Council paid out good money? Do you want to keep paying for reports ad infinitum in the hope of one coming back favourable to a multi modal concept? Meantime the tracks rot further and the community is deprived of a magnificent facility.

      Talking about the solar train as a “test track” just shows how much into LaLa Land that some of you are. Did anyone tell the Byron Bay Railroad Co Ltd? The train was not put in place as a test, but as a commercial novelty and way of letting guests avoid the impediment of Ewingsdale Rd to central Byron Bay. The group has never suggested they have plans to extend.

      The excitement the solar train created in TOOT etc, who immediately had visions of a vintage train powered by solar energy traversing across the shire with all its gradients and bends, did not represent a solid grounding in reality. If I were you I wouldn’t bring it up!

  9. CLR Pugh ,don’t you just love these consultants they tell all levels of govt what they want to hear . As seen recently on ABC ,The glee club on revenue. PWC, Deloitte’s and all the others . Ripping off our levels of governments, billions over decade. You tell the government the answer they don’t want .Meaning , the consultant doesn’t have a job .Total permeation of the government by consultants.
    We can have both .
    Don’t repeat the mistake that Tweed council did with their section. My grandchildren can’t cycle the 26 klms distance. Having a train to get on and off the rail trail with their bikes is what’s needed.

    • Byron Council has stood for dual use for years. If anything, the answer they wanted was that dual use was possible.

      If you have evidence that Burchills have written anything but the results of independent professional research then you need to take it up with the NSW ICAC. If you don’t have that evidence then you need to stop with the offensive slander of their good name.

      Tweed made a decision based on facts and have a brilliant outcome. There was no mistake. The only problems they have had is the trail turned out to be almost eight times as popular as anticipated and the have serious catching up to do.

    • Peter how come your grandchildren cannot ride a bike at least 5km only the rail trail ? Surely as a grand parent you would be making sure that your grandchildren are fit and healthy rather than obese .
      Take your grandchildren riding or walking along the rail trail weekly , they will love being with you and will strip their body fat to become healthier , fitter and faster children .
      FYI – My 5 year old grand nieces and nephews ride many kilometres along the rail trail .

  10. I’ve been on the rail trail between mooball and the burringbah tunnel and there is is only a few shade bits and only one area to sit down plus bikes fly by nearly running you over . It’s very NIMBY not to want the train and rail trail to co exist very NIMBY indeed the greatest national party leader tim Fisher would be rolling in his grave plus those who don’t like train hope you never get on the gahn or indian Pacific or any other train . Come clean and say you don’t like the noise of trains past your house .

  11. I have been on the trail between mooball and the burringbah tunnel and yes it is nice though bikes rule on it and there wasn’t much shade but good for tourism but like puffing Billy in Victoria it could be shared with rail which would make it fantastic don’t be a NIMBY rail and the trail can vo exist

  12. If you have over three hours to endure a bit of torture you can listen to yesterday’s debate. Don’t let me put you off, it really is worth learning just how determined some councillors are to maintain the rage no matter what. Some highlights for me:

    * An effort, some months ago, to get a commitment that might save the Bangalow cycle/pedestrian track was delayed by most councillors in the anticipation of yet one more report. This report – before yesterday’s meeting – suggested that rail + trail would not work. However it was dismissed as lacking sufficient expertise, there were even suggestions there were conflicts of interest etc

    * There were suggestions that, because there is funding and new interest around freight by rail, that Council should be exploring this avenue. How interested will government, state or federal, be in investing in restoring the rail line for freight within the Byron Shire?

    * Much was made of the Arcadis report as suggesting that the track was in restorable condition. Now is my memory mistaken in the impression that most of this investigation was made aerially ( when most of the track is covered by vegetation) and came with an estimate of the cost of assessing each bridge with many bridges missed in the count?

    * There was also yesterday much made of yet another study – only now emerging – carried out by a group of volunteers to clear vegetation and determine the state of the track!

    Surely it was incumbent upon those councillors so determined to deprive the Lycra clad elitists of a rail trail, to be pushing to find some source of financing, private or government via application of EOIs to test the viability of running a rail service on any parts of the line. It would also be a good idea for them to clarify whether they are interested in rail for public transport or tourism or either and whether either of these options is likely to attract the necessary investment.

    How dare they continue to sit on their hands for twenty years and just reject any suggestion of a rail trail while they demand time to receive yet one more report.

    Do they really want to see a rail service in the near future, just feel better if the rails stay there even if they’re doing nothing, want to stay loyal to the dwindling train lobby or are they just determined to stop the rail trail for ideological reasons?

    Thank goodness there was just enough support yesterday to allow Council staff to investigate funding etc for an on formation trail.

    Well done the brave councillors who were prepared to stare down some Byron mythology!

    • There was more than “just enough” support. Definitive result, 6-3 in favour with both Crabbes Creek to Mullumbimby and Byron Bay to Booyong to progress towards a trail.

      Byron Bay to Mullumbimby will be addressed in December. The detailed Northern Rivers Joint Organisation report for the whole Norther Rivers Rail Trail including covering the possibilities of that section for both rail and trail is due next month. Northern Rivers Rail Ltd have until December to provide the business case they didn’t get around to doing in time for this meeting, despite promising it weeks ago. They also suggested their degradation study would be available by then.

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