Rail Trail Update

February 27th, 2024

Some issues in Byron Shire keep rolling around forever and ever. Airbnb, the old Hospital Sites and the Rail Trail are a few examples. There has been a lot happening with the Rail Trail so here is an update.


Progress to the North and South

Within Tweed Shire, the Rail Trail has been up and running for over a year. The Northern Rivers Rail Trail, 24 km from Crabbe’s Creek to Murwillumbah has exceeded everyone’s expectations. For those who have not yet experienced it, and the array of businesses along it, a great outing and becoming one of the region’s most sought-after activities. To the southwest, the Richmond Valley Shire section, Casino to Bentley, is close to completion and the official opening is on the 23rd of March. Bentley to Lismore will be not far behind.


Byron Shire Progress?

The Bring Back the Trains Lobby is doing a great job holding up the Rail Trail rollout in Byron Shire. Everyone knows the Monty Python skit where the knight in battle keeps losing limbs but refuses to give up. The advocates of the trains being reintroduced and passionate and dogged, with an unhealthy obsession with choo-choos and rolling stock. I am not against it completely, and believe a light rail is possible under the right circumstances – keep reading.

Northern Rivers Rail Ltd is the company working to return trains to the tracks.  They have spent money on a Degradation Report to survey tracks and bridges to check their viability. Anyone who has walked the track can see it is way past resurrection and it is very unlikely an 18th-century technology is going to be funded to solve a 21st-century problem.


Crabbes Creek to Mullumbimby

Byron Shire Councillor Asren Pugh demonstrated his political savvy and managed to circumvent the train lobby. Promising not to touch the train tracks in the precious Mullumbimby to Bangalow section, he was able to get approval for the Crabbe’s Creek to Mullumbimby Rail Trail. This was voted on successfully in the BSC council meeting last August and its feasibility assessment is underway

Also in the same process was a walking and bike track to connect Mullum with Brunswick Heads and Ocean Shores. There were two routes under consideration. I walked the northern option from Synotts Lane, just north of Mullumbimby, crossing over some private land before following the north bank of the Brunswick River to the highway bridge between Ocean Shores and Brunswick Heads. This route was very scenic and peaceful but the route that was chosen follows Mullumbimby Road and Saddle Road. This route is not so scenic but probably less expensive.


What’s a MURC?

A MURC is a Multi-Use Rail Corridor. This is the idea that a rail trail and a light rail can co-habit the same piece of track. Although it has many detractors, the idea of a light rail side-by-side with the rail trail, at least along the Mullumbimby to Byron Bay section, is not without some feasibility.

For one, a 3 km section of this track already has a functioning solar train. Provided and funded by Elements Of Byron, the solar train rolls between the Byron Industrial Estate and the Byron town centre. This section is flat with fewer culverts and bridges, and usable flat land on either side. Then factor in the possibility of a Park-and-Ride stop close to the highway to help solve excess car usage clogging up the town centre. This will be necessary with Jonson Street becoming pedestrian-friendly as included in the Byron Master Plan.

There is also the traffic problem caused by the too-small roundabout at Byron Central Hospital on Ewingsdale Road pushing banked-up traffic back onto the highway during the morning rush. This is an accident hazard in the making and the Dept of Main Roads dearly wants to fix this.


More New Villages

This brings us to the concept floating around of new villages along the MURC – if it ever eventuates or on the rail trail if it doesn’t. I have written about this before, If the immense amount of money and effort ever does go into this piece of infrastructure it makes sense that more people can take advantage of it, therefore a village or two along it would make sense.

There are parcels of non-flooding land along the rail line between Mullum and Byron where a new village could work. One is at the end of Quarry Lane (off Ewingsdale Road). There is also the end of Gray’s Lane, Tyagarah (More on this one). There is an excellent large rural block at the end of Foxes Lane (at the Gulgan Road Highway turnoff). A possible one is at the end of Dingo Lane and Macauley’s Lane.

The parcel at 29 Buckleys Road Tyagarah is interesting. The landowner there has DA approval already for a resort but wishes to switch the zoning so he can provide a village with affordable housing serviced by a railway station. He would not be the first wealthy philanthropist hoping to do something worthwhile in the shire only to be rebuffed.


Wrap Up

It is time the rail trail wars came to an end. The Bring Back the Train lobby needs to accept the tracks are coming up everywhere north and south of Byron Shire and the Rail Trail will proceed. They can focus their considerable attention on pushing for the light rail on the only piece of track where that is feasible: Byron to Mullum and possibly Byron to Bangalow. Funding could come from the State Gov, which wants to fix the Highway traffic problem. It would need a Park and Ride and new access to Ewingsdale Road. If a Light Rail is approved, then it needs people to use it, pay for its maintenance and get maximum amenities and that means one or two new master-planned villages along it.

The pathway to this outcome is not simple and this next article outlines some of the regulatory issues that need to be overcome before this can become a reality.

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