Did Tweed Shire Council support the closure of the passenger rail services?

    The Council was not supportive of the State government terminating rail passenger services in April 2004.

    The decision to cease the rail passenger services on the Casino to Murwillumbah branch line was made by the NSW Government in April 2004. Tweed Shire Council was not supportive of the Government’s decision to cease rail services, as evidenced in its submission (no.169) to the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Closure of Casino to Murwillumbah Rail Service and reported through the Legislative Council General Purpose Standing Committee No.4, Report 10 of 2004. 

    For further information, there are several reports prepared by the NSW Government that provide insight surrounding the operating cost, the closure of passenger services, the then existing political situation and reuse of the railway. These include the Casino to Murwillumbah Transport Study 2012 prepared by Transport for NSW and Casino to Murwillumbah Rail Trail Study – Final Report, May 2014, prepared by the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet. 

    Why isn’t Council supporting bringing back the train?

    The NSW Government’s Casino to Murwillumbah Transport Study examined the feasibility, benefits and costs of reinstating passenger services on the 130km line. The study found the rail line would not meet current or future transport needs because the line did not service two of the three biggest centres in the region: Tweed Heads and Ballina. 

    It also found there was no commercial demand for it to be reinstated to carry freight. An engineering examination found the infrastructure has deteriorated significantly with more than $900 million needed to clear the vegetation, stabilise landslide areas, replace timber bridges and sleepers, extensive replacement of ballast and bring the system up to the current safety and operating standards for frequent and quick train services.

    An outcome of the Casino to Murwillumbah Transport Study was the recognition that the region’s transport needs would be better met through an integrated approach and that there was potential for the Casino to Murwillumbah rail corridor to be converted to a rail trail for use by pedestrians and cyclists. 

    The community had clearly shown interest in using sections of the line as a rail trail, with Byron Bay as the focal point. The study identified that a rail trail was worthy of further investigation to assess potential demand, benefits, costs and feasibility.

    As a result, in November 2013, the Department of Premier and Cabinet appointed Arup Pty Ltd to undertake a scoping study to investigate converting the corridor into a rail trail.

    On 15 February 2018, Council resolved to accept the Federal Government’s grant offering of $6.5 million to construct the 24-kilometre long Murwillumbah to Crabbes Creek section of the rail trail project, with a number of safeguards put in place to ensure the rail corridor remains. The resolution included the following wording about safeguards:

    “To ensure that appropriate legislation is in place that would: 

    i.  Maintain the corridor in public ownership in perpetuity for exclusive use as a Rail Trail, for the Return of Rail or public transport 

    ii.  Allow under lease or license to the Trust uses complementary to the success of the Rail Trail (for example rail carriages used on parts of the disused line that would add character and services to the rail trail such as a coffee cart, art and craft, bike hire, accommodation, etc) and that income derived from these be quarantined for maintenance of the Rail Trail, Corridor and associated infrastructure (former stations). 

    iii.  Require an Act of Parliament as opposed to Ministerial approval for the sale of any part of the corridor.”

    Consequently, Council agreed to call tenders for the design and construction of the rail trail on the current track formation but to also allow the opportunity for contractors pricing the project to put forward proposals to construct the rail trail beside the train tracks, preserving the tracks in place. 

    The NSW Government also has committed funding of $6.5 million to the project.

    Has there been any consultation?

    The NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet led a stakeholder consultation on the potential closure of the Tweed section of the Casino to Murwillumbah railway in October 2017. Read the Stakeholder Consultation Report(External link).


    What benefits will the rail trail bring to the community?

    Rail trails around the world are popular tourist attractions, bringing economic benefits to rural towns and villages which would otherwise be in decline. Businesses that can flourish include B&Bs, cafes, bakeries, art galleries, farm produce, wineries, caravan parks, bike shops etc. For rail trail users and the wider community, the benefits include recreation, social and health benefits.

    Rail trail tourists are typically middle aged, well-educated, cycling enthusiasts who prefer quality accommodation and good food and are willing to pay for it.

    A rail trail also would ensure the corridor is maintained, free of weeds, and that some of the existing and decaying rail infrastructure would be restored.

    My farm is next to the corridor. How can I benefit from the rail trail?

    How landowners benefit from the rail trail through business opportunities is up to them and their entrepreneurship. However, Council’s Economic Development Unit will be actively working with those who express an interest in a business venture to maximise that opportunity and their success. Also, Council’s Project Director for the Rail Trail has a wealth of experience in the Planning and Regulation Unit and is committed to ensuring the right zonings are in place along the rail corridor to support the business proposals that will arise.

Design and Construction

    What will happen to the rail that is being removed?

    The majority of the removed rail is likely to be reused as pylons within the foundations for new building construction in Taiwan.

    A small length of reclaimed rail will be kept by Council for potential incorporation into rail trail infrastructure such as seating, sign/fence posts, or tables along the rail trail.  

    The metal sleepers and jewellery (plates, clips and bolts) are earmarked to be recycled at the Newcastle Steel Mill.

    In general, scrap steel merchants purchase scrap steel in Australia and trade it on the scrap steel market for recycling.  The bulk of this steel is melted down overseas for sale to manufacturers for a whole range of new products, some of which comes back to Australia in various forms, e.g. steel components for the construction industry or new consumer products.

    Who will pay to build the rail trail?

    The NSW and Federal governments together have committed $14.3 million to build the rail trail from Murwillumbah to Crabbes Creek.

    What is Council’s position on an on-rail versus off-rail trail formation?

    The Council is supportive of a rail trail that serves the interests of the Tweed community and is open to considering an off-track design where that can be achieved within the funding made available by the Australian and NSW State governments.

    Tweed Council resolved to proceed with the repurposing of the abandoned railway corridor for a rail trail. The concept of rail trails generally is a shared-user path that follows the alignment of a former rail line. Council developed a concept design that mainly uses the alignment of the railway tracks and with key sections of off-track. The off-track (also referred to as “off-formation”) sections were largely guided by accessibility considerations such as the need to bypass some bridges owing to their poor condition and high cost of repair; the need to retain rail infrastructure in key locations where there is, or could be; high pedestrian usage; exposure and accessibility to the trail and the locality’s cultural and heritage benefits. 

    Although the Council’s concept plan was used as the basis for securing funding from the Australian and NSW governments, at its meeting of 15 February 2018 the Council further resolved to take a more flexible approach with the tendering for the ‘design and construct’ of the rail trail and to allow for alternative ‘off-the track formation’ designs. This removes any requirement for the tenderers to conform to the Council’s concept design and allows for their own design. 

    All designs are subject to the same considerations and requirements regarding such matters as: retaining heritage value and significance; achieving a finished trail surface and gradients to maximise operating cost efficiency and accessibility to the widest class of user and ultimately they must be within the allowable budget. 

    The Council does not have a predetermined view or objective about the level of on or off-track design and to-date its own concept design is based on the engineering, environmental and cost opportunities and constraints assessed. Council has allowed flexibility for tenderers to tender an off-track (in whole or in part) design if they choose.

    Who will maintain the trail and how will that be paid for?

    As yet no decisions have been made on who will maintain the trail nor how that will be funded except to say it will not be funded at ratepayer expense.

    Can the rail trail be built next to the rails so the infrastructure can be retained for trains in the future?

    On 15 February 2018 Council agreed to call tenders for the design and construction of the rail trail on the current track formation but to also allow the opportunity for contractors pricing the project to put forward proposals to construct the rail trail beside the train tracks, preserving the tracks in place.

    Council has not yet invited Expressions of Interest from the market for Design and Construct so has no clarity around what on-rail and off-rail proposals may eventuate. However, all proposals will be considered.

    How will the rail trail be constructed?

    As yet we have no clarity around this. While the trail is likely to be some form of compacted crushed gravel path, with perhaps a bitumen seal or concrete path in urban areas, details will not be known until all tenders for Design and Construct are assessed and a preferred tenderer recommended for Council’s consideration.

    Do the temporary structures being used during the construction of the Rail Trail increase flood erosion?

    During flooding and severe weather in early 2022, high flows and velocities through the creek caused scouring along the banks. This displaced riparian vegetation.

    Temporary creek crossings contributed to a small impact on increased water levels, but they also reduce velocity and are unlikely to cause erosion along banks or damage to riparian vegetation. 

    All temporary culverts are permitted under the project’s Fisheries permit and are constructed in accordance with the ‘Blue Book’ guidelines on stormwater management, including erosion and sediment control during the construction-phase of urban development.

    Under the Fisheries permit stipulations, debris must be left in place and no snags or trees that have fallen into the creek are to be removed. 

    What will happen to the heritage stations, rail bridges and tunnels?

    Protecting rail heritage is an important benefit of a rail trail. Tunnels will be retained and bridges retained where possible, with necessary measures put in place to ensure the safety of rail trail users. Stations would be preserved and hopefully revitalised and converted into commercial hubs (kiosks, bike shops etc) servicing rail trail users. 

    Are there any remnants of toxic chemicals used on the rail corridor? Is there any risk to rail trail users?

    Initial investigations of the corridor have not revealed significant levels of contamination and have shown there is little likelihood of harm to users and the environment during construction and operation of a trail. Further, investigations into potential contaminants associated with past use of the rail corridor would be considered as part of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

Operation of trail

    Who will be able to use the rail trail?

    No decisions have been made on who will not be able to use the rail trail. Essentially, rail trails can be used for walking and cycling by everyone. Decisions around mobility scooters, horses and dogs are yet to be made. The community will be invited to participate in this conversation.

    How will motorcycles be kept off the trail?

    Motorcycles will not be permitted on the rail trail. Access control measures such as bollards, locked gates, stiles and chicanes will be considered to prevent access to the trail by motorbikes.

    What happens in an emergency?

    Emergency vehicles will have full access to the rail trail. An emergency response plan would be developed in consultation with local police, fire and emergency services and would be incorporated within an overall Rail Trail Management Plan.

    Where will trail users go to the toilet?

    As yet no decision has been made on this issue. However, in Tweed Shire villages with existing toilet facilities are spaced closely enough along the rail corridor that it is possible that no additional facilities would be required. 

    Will there be rubbish bins along the trail?

    As yet, no decision has been made on this issue. While the placement of bins may appear to be common sense, evidence shows that bins invite rubbish. Many national park trails do not have bins and operate successfully under the protocol of ‘carry out what you carry in’.

    Illegal dumping of rubbish is a problem in some areas of the rail corridor and it is believed it is more prevalent along the rail corridor because the corridor is effectively not used and poorly maintained. With use, illegal dumping along the corridor is likely to become less of an issue.

    In other rail trail areas, littering has not been a problem. The Lilydale to Warburton Rail Trail in Victoria and South Australia's Clare Valley Riesling Trail are kept spotless, with little or no signs of litter. The Gippsland Plains Rail Trail was involved with Clean Up Australia Day but stopped its involvement because volunteers had no rubbish to collect. 

    Will people be able to camp on the trail?

    As yet, no decision has been made around this issue.

Adjacent landowners

    My property backs onto the rail corridor. What if somebody trespasses on my land and gets injured? Am I liable?

    Concerns about trespassing are a regular theme for rail trails throughout the world. Concerns are commonly expressed during the initial phases but trespassing is extremely rare, or non-existent, in practice. Typical rail trail users are not the type of people likely to trespass.

    A rail trail would be a public thoroughfare, the same as a road. The situation would be no different from somebody trespassing via a road, driveway or the existing disused rail corridor. If somebody trespasses on private land and hurts themselves, the landowner cannot be held liable unless they were shown to be negligent. The onus would be on the trespasser to prove negligence.

    Landowners may already have public liability insurance included in their home and contents or farm insurance packages.

    Public liability while on the rail corridor would be the responsibility of the trail manager. The trail manager would be required to have public liability insurance in place.

    Will a rail trail affect my home and contents/farm insurance premiums?

    No. Council's insurance consultant has indicated this is not an issue. A rail trail would be the same as a road passing your property and would not be a factor in insurance premiums. 

    What if somebody comes onto my land and steals or damages some of my property?

    The same laws that protect people everywhere in NSW would protect rail trail users, adjacent landowners and property, and would be enforceable by police.
    Removing existing overgrown vegetation along the rail corridor would minimise hiding places and create long sight distances. The regular presence of rail trail users would provide passive surveillance, reducing the likelihood of crime.

    Research and anecdotal evidence suggests conversion of rail trails tends to reduce crime by cleaning up the landscape and attracting people who use the trail for legitimate reasons, such as recreation and transport.

    Numerous testimonials from law enforcement officers where rail trails exist confirm that anticipated crimes rarely or never occur. 

    Is Council going to fence the entire corridor to keep people separate from stock and adjacent private lands?

    This issue will be assessed during design on a case-by-case basis and fencing would be

    installed if it is necessary to:

    ·  separate rail trail users from farm operations

    ·  clearly delineate areas where access is prohibited

    My driveway crosses the rail corridor. Will I have 'right of way' at the intersection?

    Yes, vehicle access at roads and driveways would take priority. Signage and line-marking would be installed on the rail trail at driveways to show this. Chicanes, or other calming devices, would be installed at trailheads and road crossings with high levels of traffic. 

    My house is close to the rail line. A rail trail will reduce my privacy. What will be done to avoid this?

    Where houses are close to the proposed rail trail, the site would be inspected and the resident/owner consulted. Measures to maintain residents' privacy would be implemented. This might include planting trees to form a screen or, in extreme cases, installing screen fencing or detouring the trail to keep it away from houses. 

    I keep livestock on my farm adjacent the rail corridor. Could users of the proposed rail trail spread disease or parasites to my stock?

    Council is engaging the Local Land Services veterinarians to conduct a Biosecurity Risk Assessment for all primary producers along the rail corridor.

    For the Tumbarumba Rail Trail, Local Land Services conducted a Biosecurity Risk Assessment that identified all the risks associated with biosecurity and proposed management measures to address them.

    The Tumbarumba Biosecurity Risk Assessment can be found at http://murray.lls.nsw.gov.au/biosecurity/disease-control/rail-trail-biosecurity-risk-assessment

    I farm crops adjacent to the rail corridor. What if pesticides sprayed along the rail trail drift onto my farm?

    Spray drift has not been an issue for other trails. Grapes and flowers are cultivated very close to the Lilydale to Warburton Rail Trail, by tenants renting rail trail land.

    Tweed Shire Council maintains a 'Do not spray' register of properties that object to nearby spraying of chemicals. Landowners can have their properties added to the list by calling Council on (02) 6670 2400. 

    What if somebody starts a fire on the Rail Trail?

    The rail corridor will be maintained when it becomes a rail trail and will be less prone to bushfire risk. Some landowners have expressed concerns around the risk of unintentional fire-lighting and ways to mitigate this risk will be looked at in detail in the design phase of the project.

    A well maintained rail trail has the potential to act as a firebreak and would be more accessible to the Rural Fire Service should there be a fire.

    There are a lot of weeds on the rail corridor. What will happen to them? How will they be stopped from spreading?

    The corridor will be cleared of obstructing vegetation. Weeds will be identified and disposed of appropriately.

    A maintenance program for the rail trail would include weed management. 

    I have paddocks on both sides of the rail corridor and frequently transfer stock across the line. Will I still be able to do this if a rail trail is established?

    Yes, existing farm access will be maintained. Gates and fencing will be installed to separate rail trail users from stock being moved across the corridor. 

    Will a Rail Trail decrease the value of my land?

    There is no evidence that trails decrease adjacent property values. A study in the US found property values either increase or remain constant as a result of a trail. US real estate agents list proximity to trails as a selling point in advertisements. In the Northern Rivers there is anecdotal evidence that this rail trail is part of the real estate pitch.

    I have livestock in paddocks next to the corridor. What happens if somebody's dog gets loose and attacks my stock?

    If dogs are permitted on the rail trail they would need to be kept on leashes, in accordance with a code of conduct. The Companion Animals Act places responsibilities on all pet owners. A dog in any public place other than an approved off-leash area must be under the effective control of a competent person and restrained by an adequate chain, cord or leash.