It’s good news for rail trail enthusiasts, but not for those wanting light rail: a state government-commissioned study released Friday gives a strong case for a regional rail trail but suggests removing existing track to accommodate foot and cycle traffic, ‘in a majority of locations’.
The Casino to Murwillumbah Rail Trail Study comes in at 68 pages, cost $80,000 according to the deputy premier’s office, and estimates a rail trail will cost $75.5 million and that it would add 88,320 visitors the region per annum.
Consultancy company Arup was commissioned after the Casino to Murwillumbah Transport Study was released in 2011.
But that study, which cost an astonishing $2m and totalled 130 pages, inexplicably omitted light rail as an option, only surveyed a small percentage of the entire line, bloated costs and estimations which were at odds with previous studies, and largely ignored Byron Bay’s traffic congestion and exceptionally high tourist numbers.
$750k spent on lines
And while the state government and rail contractor John Holland refused to disclose to The Echo the cost and quality of rail maintenance work – if any – being undertaken in the area, the new rail trail study claims that there is an ‘approximate annual budget of $750,000 allocated for the purpose of maintaining the corridor.’
Byron a focal point
The report suggests removing the existing track to accommodate foot and cycle traffic, dashing the hopes of the line co-existing with light rail.
‘In a majority of locations,’ the report says, ‘the removal of track, sleepers and ballast material will be required, where a trail cannot be economically formed adjacent to the existing line and remain within the existing railway corridor boundary.’
But it’s not all bad news; the study says, ‘Byron Bay forms the focal point for the rail trail and it would be logical to consider Byron Bay as the starting point for the rail trail development.’ Additionally, the ‘section from Murwillumbah to the shire boundary at Yelgun could be timed for delivery to coincide with a similar progression north from Byron Bay.’
Grab The Rail supported
Surprisingly the report supports the Grab The Rail proposal, which is at odds with mayor Simon Richard- son’s advice and position.
Grab The Rail, made up largely of residents likely to be adversely affected by a Butler Street bypass, is promoting, ‘an alternative vehicular bypass through Byron Bay town centre utilising a section of the rail corridor from the existing Shirley Street level crossing to Old Bangalow Road level crossing, a length of approximately 2.5km.’
Unlike other sections of the 130km track, it is ‘considered likely that a shared corridor could be laid out that meets the needs of both a rail trail and road bypass.’
Byron’s light rail
Ironically, the fossil fuel sector is leading the charge for light rail in Byron Shire.
QLD-based coal min- ing baron and owner of the North Byron Beach Resort, Brian Flannery, has plans to establish a railmotor service ‘between the existing Byron Bay station and the proposed North Byron Beach Resort located to the north of Bay- shore Drive.’
Entitled ‘Byron Bay Community and Tourist Rail Shuttle’, the report says that as the corridor width is ‘generous’, it will be ‘likely allow for both rail and trail to co-exist for the majority of the proposed operating route.’
Meanwhile, ‘Tweed Shire Council are promoting the connection between Murwillumbah Station and the Tweed Regional Gallery as the ideal “pilot” for the development of the trail.’ Remarkably the report,authored by James Robinson, suggests that the northern rivers region partner with its ‘emerging gas industry’ to help fund the project. ‘For example BHP Billiton contributed over $200,000 to the Victorian Coast to Crater Rail Trail.’
Funded by gas?
But local state MP Don Page (Nationals) told The Echo, ‘The rail trail will be in no way coming from anything to do with gas.’
‘It will be funded by state and hopefully federal government. I’ve done the submission to the state government and I’ve been talking to [fellow Nationals federal MP] Kevin Hogan regarding a federal contribution. The state government announced on Friday a Regional Tourism Fund which contains $110m, [and] I expect after Treasury checks out the Arup report they will indicate the state government’s response financially. I expect this to be positive.’
As for maintenance costs, the report’s author estimates between $6,800 to $8,900 per annum per km. ‘At 130km, this indicates an operating and main- tenance cost of $884,000 to $1,157,000 per annum’.
Meanwhile Greens NSW MP, Dr Mehreen Faruqi MLC, slammed the study as a ‘blatant exercise in justifying a pre-determined outcome.’
‘The estimated cost of the rail trail will be $75 million, which comes to around $600,000 per km’, Ms Faruqi said. ‘Railway lines in regional Victoria have been reinstated at half the estimated cost per kilometre of this rail trail.’
The report can be found at http://bit.ly/TXZ9RM.
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