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Byron Shire
September 26, 2023

Rail trail: senseless destruction

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After numerous protest rallies and over 30,000 names on petitions collected locally calling for Trains On Our Tracks, six Byron Shire councillors think it’s a good idea to spend almost $900,000 per kilometre of taxpayers’ money to needlessly destroy the train line for a bike track for ‘cycling tourism’. 

In 2004 the Member for Richmond, Justine Elliot, promised $150m for trains and the state opposition promised $100m for a 16-trains-a-day commuter train service. They said this service would cost less than the $2.8m cost per year of the huge, empty coaches which replaced the train service.

After politicians promised train services and a rail connection to the Queensland service for so many years, people need to ask why the state government is now willing to provide funding for a more expensive bike track on condition the train line is needlessly destroyed.

When it costs just $660,000 per kilometre to repair the line for the Solar train, spending $900,000 per kilometre to destroy the line for a bike track is not value for taxpayers’ money.

In an area desperate for sustainable, affordable, accessible public transport this is a gross misuse of taxpayers’ money. The bike track is increasing traffic in the Tweed as people drive to it in their huge gas guzzlers with their bikes on the back. Just what we need in Byron Shire. 

Louise Doran, Ocean Shores

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  1. Again Louise wheels out her confused treatise detailing the ancient musing of politicians with no railway experience proposing costs for services that were utterly discredited by the authorities actually operating the railway.

    No political party with any plausible chance of forming government has promised any funding for the railway over multiple elections in a decade. The comprehensive two million dollar government funded study in 2014 found that running trains on the old corridor could not make a significant contribution to the current or future transport needs of the region. That report was accepted by both sides of the parliament. No government is going to reinstate the railway and that is the end of the matter.

    A railway to Queensland has not “been promised for so many years”. In fact nobody has ever promised it at all.

    We also know that the cost to repair one short straight section of the track between Byron Bay and Bayshore Drive cannot be extrapolated to the costs of resurrecting any other part of the line. This has been repeatedly stated by engineers, including the engineer who managed the refurbishment of the line for the Byron Train. It is absolute nonsense to claim that this decrepit railway could be repaired for less than the cost of building a trail.

    No business case has ever been provided by anyone proposing to reconstruct the infrastructure and operate services, despite the spokesperson for Northern Rivers Rail LTD, Lydia Kindred, saying at a June council meeting that their business plan would be available “in about three weeks”. The story of it being “almost complete” continues while implausible anecdotes are made about trains carrying eight hundred passengers a day between Byron Bay and Mullumbimby, and making a three million dollar a year profit, are bandied about without even the slightest supporting documentation.

    The council is quite rightly making decisions based on professional advice rather than the unsubstantiated fantasies of wildly optimistic railway enthusiasts. The vast majority of the community is supporting their decision and eagerly awaiting the commencement of the project so they are not forced to drive their “gas-guzzlers” up to Tweed Shire to enjoy a lovely ride on a trail.

  2. Please stop dissing our local bus services, Louise. They are certainly more sustainable than everyone driving individual cars and probably diesel train engines. They certainly affordable, accessible and FLEXIBLE public transport. They only continue, given the numbers who don’t use them, because they are subsidised by the school routes – a service (given where our schools are) that a train could not hope to replicate.

    The 2014 report noted that a network that didn’t service the main population centres of Tweed and Ballina was ever likely to be justifiable expenditure.

    Despite what’s been promised in the past, circumstances change. The trail was not “conditional” on ripping up the tracks – this was not decided through malice but engineering reality.

    Communities throughout Victoria have been delighted to see infeasible rail infrastructure put to great purpose. Council did the right thing by accepting the advice of the report they themselves commissioned and salvaging the corridor for the community.

  3. I can’t wait to cycle in the summer in 35.C plus heat to Bangalow and Mullum from Byron , who needs trains when we can all get on our bikes and ride 30km in the heat , even the oldies can join in , and free up space in the nursing homes . Maybe just set up hospitals every 5km just in case?

    Let’s be serious , most intelligent countries around the world INVEST in the Railways , as it is a public form of transport that EVERYONE can use.

    With ALL the traffic in this region only getting worse every year , it’s a no brainer to have other forms of transportation which don’t rely on our clogged up pothole filled roads.

    The cycle path will benefit a few and NOT the majority , if we had a council with some sense of long term vision , they would realize we need rail in this region . Thanks mayor , once again in your interview you have given up on the residents when only last year you said you would look at light rail from Byron to Mullum and or Bangalow . Please mayor just go back to sleep , you always look tired on TV. And to all the other councillers who voted for the bike trail, you got it so wrong !!

    what a bunch of morons running this town to the ground at the moment ,

    • As usual, a rail advocate resorts to insulting those he disagrees with because he has nothing intelligent to contribute to the discussion.

      The old railway would be useless to the vast majority of people because it doesn’t connect from near where they live to where they need to travel. There is no evidence whatsoever of a need for trains for the small sparse population of this region.

      The Tweed Valley Rail Trail attracted 70,000 users in its first four months. Numbers will be available for summer patronage early next year and I have no doubt the trail will continue to be immensely popular as it has already been, especially during other school holidays and public holidays.

      Like other countries, Australia is investing heavily in railways that actually provide useful services to large numbers of people, such as in the Sydney basin where more than eighty percent of the state’s population lives and works, and where trains normally carry more than a million passengers per day. Millions are being invested in improving safety and increasing speeds to 200 kph to cut travel times substantially for many thousands of passengers who use the trains every day to commute to work. Nobody anywhere in the world is investing in returning trains to decrepit steam age infrastructure where trains run at 60 to 80 kph due to the tight curves.

      The bottom line is that nobody is going to fund the resurrection of the railway, nor subsidise the fares for the privileged few who would use a train if it were provided. Byron Council has tried for many years to attract funding and it isn’t happening. At some point that reality has to be accepted, which is what the majority of councillors have decided to do.

      The train isn’t coming back and the best use for the publicly owned corridor is a publicly used trail that everyone can enjoy. The alternative is to leave it sitting there with the tracks and bridges continuing to decay until it is eventually disposed of by a cash strapped government.

    • Hi Peter, I get the felling that you haven’t done that much bike riding. I haven’t either for 20 years or more (since I moved to this area) because there’s nowhere I feel safe.

      From memory, you usually get some cooling breeze from cycling – unlike running or walking. If using an e-bike, and not building up lots of body heat, you actually get quite a lot.

      If you’re going to have a 35 degree scorcher most sane people would plan their ride for early morning or late evening. Magnificent and plenty of pleasant summertime hours! At other times of the year riders can enjoy what would have to be one of the kindest climates in the country to be out and about.

      But I agree, we should be investing in sustainable forms of public transport (Victoria in particular is), but that would mean directing the investment where it might be used, not bypassing the main population areas.

      But try to be fair. The mayor said he would give train alternatives a year to come up with a viable source of funding. Guess what, it’s been more than a year but those who drove the rail trail motion still accommodated those maintaining the dream and allowed more time for the feasibility investigation of rail with trail, and rail funding between Byron and Mullum.

      Without something materialising – eg a deep pocketed venture capitalist – those who’d like to cycle again and see the community with this wonderful facility, are well and truly over the blind ideology of a minority who would rather see nothing in the corridor than give in.

    • Tell me Peter, I’m always curious when I read statements like yours, how you’d use a train service if it came back to this shire. Where do you want to go, for what purpose and how often?

      • Most of the rail advocates want trains “to get cars off the road”. Of course they are talking about other people’s cars so there would be more room for their car. They wouldn’t dream of giving up the convenience of their own cars.

        Others are wanting trains so they can take nostalgic journeys around the region while contributing their $2.50 concession fare to the thousands of dollars it would actually cost for their luxury travel.

        You can’t have food on a bus but you can get a hot meal on a train and sit in complete comfort as a huge engine drags a row of buildings across the countryside. Who cares what it costs if they aren’t paying? Little wonder Baby Boomers have such a bad reputation among the young.

  4. I think you are all forgetting the bigger picture here, With the NSW state government requiring Byron council to have a plan for at least 5000 more homes in the next 20 years , how will the current infrastructure cope ? not to mention increased population and housing in the Lismore and Tweed council region , I agree the current rail network has been run down to the point that no one could see a future use for it. BUT imagine the rail line was connected from Murwillimbah to the Gold coast airport ( the QLD government announced that eventually the line from Varsity lakes will connect to GC airport ) Imagine getting on a train in Byron Bay and connecting to Gold coast airport and on to Brisbane . Saving traffic on the road and reducing CO2 emmissions. Imagine the line was connected again to Lismore , young people could visit the beaches in Byron for the day and be back in Lismore later in the day . as well as many Byron students which could get to Lismore for schools etc. and University . Elderley people could use the train for medical appointments etc in the tweed or Lismore. AGAIN people have no long term vision , only short termism . Have a bike trail yes , but don’t destroy rail infrastructure in the process. Lizardbreath I have just explained how the rail could work and for what routes , but it needs to be connected to other routes ie SE QLD and Lismore . but if people want to continue to drive on dangerous roads ie to Lismore from Byron , or sit in traffic on the M1 then go for it, it’s only going to get worse with the increase in population in the region , Don’t forget that with a lot of these bike routes or rail trails people are still going to have to put their bikes on the car to get to a start point for the journey . I can’t see people using the rail trail to get from Byron to Tweed or Lismore , it’s better building a bike trail for short trips in the hinterland and small villages . As mentioned in original comment intelligent countries and councils and state governments INVEST in rail infrastructure , Unfortunately in AUS with have the petroleum industry and road building lobby groups pushing the government to build roads and not rail. AGAIN you need to be thinking 20-30 years down the track , no pun intended !!!!!

    • Nothing wrong with big picture thinking, Peter but if this population explosion occurs and justifies investment in rail, sensible long term thinking would not look at spending billions patching up an old alignment that is unsuitable in both routing and engineering to be a truly modern and effective service for the major population centres of the norther rivers region. It would start again with an alignment that would best cater for contemporary/future demographics and need. That’s INVESTING in rail infrastructure.

      But you didn’t start with the big picture – beginning and end were devoted to having silly shots at the rail trail as worthwhile infrastructure and the councillors who supported it. Looking closer to home at the present, it’s not very likely that young and old will be travelling from Byron to Lismore and Tweed given those LGAs’ commitments to the rail trail concept. This was the context of their decision, a decision taken after a decade of exploring every possible avenue for little bits of light rail service around the shire.

      I was curious about your own plans for rail as I wonder whether the stalwart adherence to rail is largely theoretical. “Kids in Lismore could come to Byron surfing” but would they? Louise in Ocean Shores could get to an appointment in Tweed by accessing yet to be delivered tracks. First she would need to get to a station in Byron Shire but where and by what means of transport?

      It’s not unreasonable to ask rail (and I mean the current track) devotees how they would use the service. It’s fine to think about the general community but perhaps don’t make assumptions about what they want, especially if you are going to dismiss studies that have been undertaken a little more rigorously. I’d love to go to the Bangalow market but I don’t expect to see billions invested so I can do this a few times a year. And I’m a boomer, Greg Clitheroe!

      I also wonder if TOOT etc ever use the buses. I do, and I’m always impressed by what a great, comfortable service they provide.

      But what’s with the no paragraphs? It does my aged head in!

      • I’m a Boomer too and I am tired of rail advocates, who are mostly Boomers (check out any photos of their campaigns if you can find any), and I am tired of our generation being given a bad name by people who seem to think everything should be about them.

  5. Greg , I think you are talking about trains of the past , maybe you are being nostalgic , modern trains are much more fuel efficient and better for the environment than cars or planes, and can operate from 1 -5 carriages in regional areas. maybe time to get out and see what other countries are doing with regional trains , With the new XPT replacement fleet rolling out next year it would be good to have proper onward connections from Casino. I am only in my 40’s but realize that we must plan for the future transport requirements 20-30 years ahead , anyway good luck , many people will probably look back and say why did we remove rain infrastructure for a bike path ?? Good luck with all the traffic jams .

    • Railways are only efficient where they are operate frequent services carrying large numbers of passengers between places where many people live and the places they need to travel. The old corridor cannot meet that specification. Trains running with a handful of passengers are among the least efficient of all forms of transport.

      I m well away of what is happening with rail across the world and I am yet to discover any project remotely similar to the proposal to restore services to decrepit steam age lines snaking their way between small towns. I would be happy to consider the merits of such a project if you would kindly point out one somewhere in the world.

      People use the word “proper” when they don’t have a meaningful adjective to describe something they desire. That connection is already present with an appropriate bus service. I met that service in Murwillumbah on Friday morning. My wife was the only passenger going south. While we waited, the north bound service arrived. One passenger got off and the passenger joining was the only one for the rest of the trip to Tweed.

  6. Lizardbreath just wait 20 years and you will see what I mean , the rail trail is just a novelty that will wear off over time , Good luck with it, It’s pointless trying to talk common sense with people that can’t see 5 minutes into the future !!!!!

    • On what evidence do you base your assertion that ‘the rail trail is just a novelty that will wear off over time’? Rail trails the world over keep increasing in popularity which is why governments of every flavour at every level continue to invest in them.

      Sounds a lot like rail advocates for years before the trail opened, who asserted that the “fail trail” would hardly be used by anyone. So failure in the future is now their position, because they were completely and utterly wrong about the popularity. They are wrong about the future too.

      In twenty years, a whole generation will have grown up with the benefits of having the trail and will be taking their children on it too.

      It’s pointless trying to talk common sense with people that can’t see 5 minutes into the future !!!!!

    • Peter, I grew up in NE Victoria and return frequently for family and old friendships. I love the trains that I use frequently to get to and from Melbourne and other destinations along the Melbourne to Albury service. This is viable and can run multiple daily services as it joins the major population centres that clustered along the old Hume Highway.

      Elsewhere in Victoria, decades ago, there was a decision to use the routes that became unviable rather than let those cleared, graded networks lie wasted. They are still extremely popular and expanding into new stretches all the time. I don’t think many people say they shouldn’t have been done. And talk about 35° scorchers. The temperatures there range from -8 – 48!

      As I said, seeing more than 5 minutes into the future would see a proper fast service constructed to service the high population areas of the East Coast.


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