LET’S explode some rail trail myths. Much misinformation is circulated around the region. Myths may seem appealing but inevitably lead people to wrong conclusions.
Myth #1: The rail trail will lead to a loss of the rail corridor to private interests.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The government has always stressed that the corridor will remain in public ownership.
Don Page has said the rail trail would not affect public ownership. Northern Rivers Rail Trail supporters have consistently advocated for the corridor to remain in public hands so that train services can be returned when they become viable.
Not building the rail trail is a bigger risk to the corridor staying in public ownership. The government will not leave the unused corridor to deteriorate for ever. If it is unused, there will be pressure within government for a sell-off.
Encouraging private entrepreneurs to run tourist ventures in the corridor also risks public ownership. These business people will want long term leases over what is currently public land. This will restrict access to those who can afford to pay for a tourist ride.
Only the rail trail will ensure locals and tourists alike will be able to use the corridor, for free, whenever they like.
Myth #2: Returning the rail service will solve our public transport problems.
A rail service on the existing line cannot be effective in delivering public transport.
The line does not go to/from where most people need it. Services could never be frequent enough to meet the needs of the few who would use it.
Instead of campaigning for a poor public transport solution, the rail line, we should be advocating for more frequent, faster and more flexible bus services that will actually meet our needs.
The rail trail will allow more people to walk and cycle for local trips and reduce the number of trips made by car.
Myth #3: Building a rail trail will close off options for the return of rail.
The rail trail will preserve the rail corridor.
Constructing the trail will protect the existing rail formation and maintain it in perfect condition for the return of rail services.
Removing rails and sleepers at this stage will reduce the future costs of reconstructing the line for trains.
Any decent rail service will need new ballast, sleepers and much of the rails to run safely at a speed that meets public transport expectations.
Myth #4: The obvious deterioration in the current rail asset can be repaired cheaply.
Numerous studies have confirmed the poor state of the rail line between Casino and Murwillumbah.
Two years ago, the state government report indicated a repair cost of $900 million.
Some have suggested this was inflated. But this is to repair the 164 bridges (rail over road, creeks and flood plains) total length 5.5 km, nine tunnels (total 1.8km), hundreds of culverts and 40 registered level crossings; to say nothing of the repair of landslips and other geotechnical issues, the fencing, stations and the line itself.
This would still only get the line back to operating safely with all the speed restrictions of the 1890s alignment.
Given inflation and further deterioration, the 2014 cost would be in excess of the 2012 estimates. The rail trail is far less costly for much greater return.
Myth #5: The rail corridor services most of the region’s population.
Standard public transport calculations of numbers likely to use a rail service are based on a radius of 800m from a station.
All of Ballina, most of Tweed, most of Lismore and a fair proportion of Byron Shire fall outside those circles.
A very small proportion of the regional population is within the rail catchment.
Once people have to use their car to get to a train station, they will only get out of the car if the train service has a significant cost and time saving. This would not be the case if services were reinstated.
If cycling and walking facilities are made available on the rail trail, more people will walk and ride for many of their daily journeys.
* Geoff Meers is a committee member of Northern Rivers Rail Trail Incorporated. He was an infrastructure program manager at the Queensland Department of Transport looking after public transport and cycling infrastructure in south-east Queensland. He lives in Suffolk Park and sees the rail trail as a “great example of effective use of valuable infrastructure for all the community”