Butler Street residents in Byron Bay say they are gearing up to save their street from becoming a bypass after a majority of councillors voted against a proposal to pursue the unused rail corridor.
A motion at last Thursday’s meeting by Cr Duncan Dey requested written confirmation from the state government to ‘make land permanently available within the multi-modal rail corridor’.
But it gained only the support of Dey and the mayor; Crs Ibrahim, Cubis, Woods, Cameron, Wanchap, Spooner and Hunter instead voted against.
And while proceeding the current course reflects advice from the general manager Ken Gainger and staff, the Butler Street Community Network’s Paul Jones says that Council’s failure to ‘fully explore bypass route alternatives’ is a fundamental requirement of their application to state planning for the project approval.
‘We feel Council is its own worst enemy as they are so afraid of appearing to be indecisive and delaying the process that they vote to proceed into a legal and procedural quagmire,’ says Mr Jones.
‘As a result this will certainly have the effect of delaying the outcome and wasting precious financial resources’.
But the town’s chamber of commerce, Byron United, remains hopeful of a rail corridor outcome.
Vice-president Adrian Nelson said in a newsletter to members, ‘What was an encouraging outcome is that the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) study for the bypass will need to consider possible alternative options. This may provide for the state-owned and unused land adjacent to the rail line to be considered for multi-modal use.’
During Thursday’s debate, Cr Sol Ibrahim turned directly to the Butler Street residents in the gallery and said, ‘I’m sorry, but it’s too late.’
He said that Council had already allocated and spent much of the $250,000 on exploring the current route.
‘Will the current government say yes? Most likely they will, but we would go back to square one.
‘We don’t have the money for a new EIS. At the start of this council’s term, the bypass was on everyone’s lips. The previous council debated it for four years. All Butler Street residents have known for the last four years if not longer that this was likely.’
It was around that time that Council pest Fast Buck$ interjected from the gallery and demanded to know if a cost analysis of the proposal had been undertaken.
After repeated bellowing by Buck$, the general manager eventually said that the state government asked Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) for one but Council have yet to see it.
Cr Basil Cameron received applause from the gallery when he said that ‘it doesn’t stack up to spend a lot more when we are not going to address the traffic problems in the long term. We are geographically constrained, so it doesn’t matter how many bypasses are built.’
Meanwhile Mr Jones says that he and fellow residents will now ‘object in every possible way to prevent approval of the project EIS submission as Council has left them no alternative.’
He says Council also failed to acknowledge the work done by the GTR proponents in clarifying so many misconceptions and in tabling an innovative proposal that addresses most if not all community, business and environmental concerns.
‘GTR has provided a superior bypass plan that avoids the Shirley Street roundabout bottleneck and enables extension through to Cemetery Road addressing the increasing traffic congestion approaching from the south of town and helping to retune Bangalow Road to far better residential amenity.
‘Butler Street Community Network will continue its work to protect our town’s cultural and built heritage.
‘We love this place in which we live and we will strive to ensure a workable, inspiring bypass solution that will enhance and support our town’s unique people-friendly character.’
n See letters page 11
While proponents of rail trail continue to spruik repurposing the region’s disused railways, Byron Shire mayor Simon Richardson (Greens) is calling on ‘potential providers or users of the rail line for proposals and plans that utilise the rail corridor in Byron Shire, while not removing the tracks.’
He’s organised a meeting at the Byron Community Centre, on Thursday July 17 from 6.30pm and says it’s a chance for the community to come and hear what other options may exist for the rail corridor, ‘aside from a far away train return, or the track-removing rail trail proposal.’
The call follows the second government-funded study on the region’s tracks; the first explored the plausibility of returning rail, while the latest released mid-June examined the possibility of rail trails.
And while that report recommended the track’s removal to accomodate rail trail, it also spruiked a possible $200 million per year injection for the region.
Cr Richardson said, ‘Whether it be festival sites seeking ways to bring attendees to a site via public-transport rail-line options, or developers seeking to establish housing clusters along the line, it is also important that possible users of track-based transport options can outline their vision.’
MP ignores light rail
But that view is not shared with local state MP Don Page (Nationals), who recently told Parliament that he is ‘keen to see a rail trail established on the Casino to Murwillumbah rail line,’ and has been lobbying to have the rail trail funded from the $110 million Regional Tourism Fund.
Interestingly, Mr Page failed to tell parliament that the 2013 independent report into returning rail did not include the potential use of light rail.
According to Hansard’s transcription from June 19, he said, ‘[The report] indicated that any combination of train services on the line would not meet the public transport needs of the region because two of the three largest urban areas – Ballina and Tweed Heads – would not be serviced.’
He said that Treasury and Infrastructure NSW ‘are currently examining the [current rail trail] report to verify the consultant’s cost-benefit analysis and after this is done I am confident further announcements regarding funding for this project will be made by this government.’
Meanwhile the mayor says, ‘It is time now for the community to join the discussion of how best to provide transport options for our community, especially our youth.’
‘It is time for all those who have formalised or well-considered ideas or projects that utilise the rail tracks to come forward and share them with the wider community.’
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.