Rail costings put govt study into doubt

← Byron Echo, Local News | December 16, 2014 | by Hans Lovejoy

The cost to establish a privately owned diesel rail shuttle service from Byron Bay’s Arts and Industry Estate into town has put the credibility of a $2m government-funded rail study into question.

At around $300,000 per kilometre, the 3.4 km railway project planned by the North Byron Beach Resort will come in just under $1m, according to manager Jeremy Holmes.

He told The Echo that only one in seven sleepers need replacing, along with repairs to the Belongil Creek bridge, platform construction and upgrades to level crossings at Kendall and Shirley Streets. And a 100-seater two-car currently being restored is, ‘Technically not light rail, but is regarded as lighter than normal rail,’ he said. Ongoing costs would be subsidised by a passenger fare in the order of $3 for a one-way journey, according to the resort’s website.

No government analysis

So what does the 2013 government-funded Casino to Murwillumbah Transport Study say about railcar shuttle costings and viability?

While no detailed analysis of light rail or rail shuttle was undertaken, consultants Arup claimed that the estimated construction cost to ‘reinstate rail line to a level suitable for XPT services’ from Mullumbimby to Byron Bay would be $202,326,700.

Light rail and rail shuttle costings were not analysed, according to the report, because, ‘It has also been recognised that a rail commuter service (either light or heavy rail) would not be viable without a significant level of ongoing government subsidy’ [page 8]. Additionally the report concluded, ‘Light rail provides fewer transport benefits than heavy rail’ [page 67].

But those comments are at odds with findings from a 2004 Tweed Shire Council study which compared XPT (heavy rail) and railcar shuttle. Included in the Arup report, it claimed railcar shuttle could be ‘implemented with little or no impact to current main line services.’

Overall, the Tweed Council report found it provides a ‘good rail service at frequencies that are relevant to customers’, despite the assets ‘being in poor condition’.

The Echo asked MP Don Page (Nationals) if he was concerned with the lack of costing analysis for rail shuttle in the rail report, and whether it could result in skewing poor public transport outcomes.

He replied that the section of rail between town and the North Byron Resort is in fairly good shape.

‘It’s much better than in other places including through the Tyagarah area, which is in very bad shape.

‘The costings in the transport study were only one factor which led to the conclusion that any combination of trains, regardless of cost, would not meet the public transport needs of the northern rivers region.

‘Rail not being able to serve two of the three largest populated centres (Ballina and Tweed) was a major reason trains were ruled out, as was likely patronage levels.

‘The original transport study was not skewed towards a rail trail. The rail trail proposal was subject to a separate study later on which said if trains aren’t viable at this point in time, rail trail is a good option.’

Byron Council’s position

And with the most recent government-funded rail trail study supporting the removal of the tracks, what is Byron Shire Council’s position?

At the October 9, 2014 Council meeting, Cr Ibrahim put forward a contentious motion that saw Council writing to minister Don Page ‘fully supporting’ the Northern Rivers Rail Trail (NRRT) project, despite it being far from united; the vote was 5–4.

But the motion also says, ‘In the preparation of the concept plan and design for the rail trail, considerations of multiple uses such as that already approved for the North Beach development [should] be incorporated.’


Cr Ibrahim told The Echo the motion was about ‘securing regional investment’, referring to the promise of $75m from the government and the recent rail trail study.

‘I had it on good advice that the northern rivers was in a good position to secure a massive investment in regional tourism, the precise sort of tourism that our own strategy is aiming for.

‘I campaigned for the rail trail and many people I spoke to during the campaign told me that the rail trail was a no- brainer, and that trains would never come back for the simple reason that hardly anyone would catch them.

‘It was time for a resolution just about the rail trail so we could join our [Council] neighbours in supporting the project.’

No accurate information

But mayor Simon Richardson told The Echo that, ‘The whole rail corridor debate has been underpinned by a lack of accurate information and a lack of goodwill from protagonists to find a solution for the good of all the community.’

‘When thinking about the most important piece of infrastructure we have in the shire, isn’t it rational to do our due diligence and look at all the options, cost and design them, and then choose the best option?

‘I applaud the efforts of NRRT to turn a disused piece of infrastructure into something that may be used by ten per cent of residents and ten per cent of visitors. Ten per cent is better than zero per cent. But is that the best Byron can get?

‘Shouldn’t we expect that costings be provided about services that may be used by the other 90 per cent?’

‘With some of the TOOT leadership not wanting to have a trackless transport service costed even if it meant a light rail service would be costed also, and the NRRT leadership not wanting their stated belief of a rail-based service alongside a rail trail to be costed either, the opportunity to get out of the trenches and to shake hands rather than fists, for the good of all the community, has been lost.’

The mayor added the only winners would be the state government, as they could ‘finally kill the albatross of broken public transport promises that has been hanging around their necks.’

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1 Response to Rail costings put govt study into doubt

  1. Alan McGregor says:

    I’ve been studying this situation for quite a while, and even now, there’s a huge factor that is not really seen properly by rail trail supporters in particular, and the wealthy, healthy, politicians almost across the board. I have decided to say ‘we’ when talking about ‘the disadvantaged’, ‘people with disabilities, chronic and life-threatening illness, and it’s close enough to say the elderly’. I have noted that amongst rail-trailers and younger people keen on cycling, there’s almost a sense that as long as ‘they’ heep cycling ‘they’ will never die, and we, that sickly minority are kindly given volunteer services etc. to access medical facilities. This is condescending for human beings that need to access far more than just medical services.

    We should have access to education, work, recreation, to visit our friends and family, or just go to the beach. However this oil-based, huge corporation controlled Australia, falls down behind the world in reducing carbon emissions. Especially with Northern Rivers road transport, it isn’t emphasised that the best, most equitable way to do this is by getting the highest amount of people [and freight] off the roads and using efficient integrated rail-based public transport.

    We also need to stop the segregation of the ‘poor’ in ‘transport for the poor’ ideas. Bronwyn Bishop and the majority of politicians will never be seen actually taking a bus. One may take a horse to water, but you can’t make it ride a bus, is true in regional areas, where especially over longer distances than in larger cities, people keep driving risking Russian roulette of the road rather than take a bus.

    It’s no coincidence that just as petrol exceeds $1.50, people starting thinking about public transport, and then forget, as it drops to its lowest in years. There’s pressure on people to keep driving, and this takes from equitable transport and supports rail trail mentality. It more than removes our easy way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions; putting in rail trails is similar to demolishing a hospital building for a skating rink, and destroying the only equitable way people can reduce their chance of dying or being injured on the road. Rail is recognised as the safest way of mobilisation by far.

    So what does equity mean? It means that just about anyone can use it. It’s not just wheelchair users that need level access to vehicles; Walking frames, shopping trolleys, bicycles, surfboards or even mobility scooters may find a safe nook onboard. The 17% of adults who have continency problems can access toilets with their wheel chairs; something difficult on a coach. Many people don’t mind a short bus ride to the station, or may use a reduced taxi fare if necessary. But using volunteers and taxis to take people right in to Brisbane, or to the station at Varsity Lakes is just ridiculous.

    Government subsidises so much road transport. People with illness, on chemo etc, find rail offers a comfortable way, with food, water and usable facilities that buses never can offer. Everyone’s time is important. On well designed rail, we use aptops, do our homework, and can socialise. Mobile venue possiblities haven’t properly been looked into. Time can be used well on these medium length journeys,

    Studies done showing people with no preference between buses and trains, omitted that this was for small city journeys. Even since 13 km of light rail started on the Gold Coast, total Gold Coast public transport usage increased by 25%. People were even happier using buses if connected to rail!

    No rail trail supporter has been able to explain to me how I can access my medical specialist in Byron or in Brisbane starting from Kyogle and returning in daylight hours.

    At a quarter of XPT [country] fares, in Bathurst, at $15 return people go 230 km to Sydney, arriving before 9am and returning after 5.30pm. – the exact rail distance to Lismore from Brisbane. at more than $35 on a coach via the coast, while the only safe way up passes Kyogle before 3am. with no return possible on the day to Kyogle.

    I would say there’s something dreadfully wrong for services to be ‘user-pays’. Our hospitals are not ‘user pays’. It has been shown that if we have lower road accidents, better access to health and our needs, we’ll have more productive lives, more employment with more taxes going into the system. Scraping money from the poorest most vulnerable people and giving tax cuts to the wealthiest, just makes things worse. Let’s support the whole community with a variety of efficient, no carbon, innovative social mobile venues even NOROC committees can use while on the move. Let’s design them ourselves, and not let large profiteering corporations stipulate what they want to sell to us.

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