Murwillumbah to Casino line to be closed for rail trail

Sections of the Murwillumbah to Casino line from Crabbes Creek to Condong and from Casino to Bentley are closer to being turned into a bicycle and walking trail after legislation to close the line passed the NSW lower house.

Trains last travelling along the Casino to Condong line in 2004, and the trail has sat idle since. According to a spokesperson for the Department of Regional NSW, the plan is to construct a rail trail from Murwillumbah to Casino.

“The vision for the Northern Rivers Rail Trail is a 137 km trail completed in three stages, from Murwillumbah to Crabbes Creek; Casino to Bentley; and Bentley to Crabbes Creek,” said the spokesperson.

Byron Shire Council is currently investigating the feasibility of a shared rail and walking/cycling trail between Bentley and Crabbes Creek.

Local group the Northern Rivers Railway Action Group argues that with the northern section from Crabbes Creek to Condong closed to rail traffic, the potential for future connections to Tweed Heads and the Gold Coast would be lost.

NSW Greens MLC Abigail Boyd said the local community needed better transport connections.

“The Northern Rivers community has been campaigning for a real public transport solution since the Labor government closed the Casino-Murwillumbah line in 2005. The community rightfully wants commuter transport that connects Lismore, one of the largest regional centres in northern New South Wales, to other cities and towns.”

A study in 2013 found that the cost of reopening the Casino to Murwillumbah would be prohibitive, with the cost of rehabilitation estimated at $900 million and yearly maintenance found to be $2m. Limited freight and passenger demand meant that the report recommended improving the bus network to reduce road congestion.

“The Casino to Congdong line was closed in 2004 and there is no customer or economic case to support the significant investment required to bring this line back in to full heavy rail operation,” said the Department of Regional NSW spokesperson.

Boyd countered that the positive impact of reinstated rail services would outweigh the cost.

“By returning rail services to the region the government would be connecting regional towns, reducing demands on roads (particularly important in Byron Bay where the existing road network is already overcapacity during summer), creating high quality, secure, long-term jobs in the industry and investing in the future prosperity of the region.”

Inquiry into Sydenham to Bankstown conversion released

The New South Wales upper house Transport and Customer Service Committee has delivered its report into the conversion of the Sydenham to Bankstown line from heavy rail to metro.

The conversion is part of the Sydney Metro CBD and South West project and will involve heavy rail services terminating at Bankstown and driverless metro services running from the city to Bankstown, via Sydenham.

The inquiry has found that the conversion should not proceed, and that the Sydney Metro CBD and South West project should not proceed beyond at Sydenham, where new tunnels meet the existing rail network.

Abigail Boyd, chair of the Committee and NSW Greens Spokesperson for Transport & Infrastructure said that the full business case should be released.

“The case for the South West Metro project has not been made out. If the government was confident that the project would stand up to scrutiny, they would have released the full business case long ago.”

The NSW government has only released a summary business case for the project and the Committee found that the government and its partners had not been able to make the case for the project.

A spokesperson for Sydney Metro said that the project is well underway and consultation has been ongoing since 2011.

“Following feedback, significant changes have been made to the Bankstown Line metro upgrade, including reduced closures during construction and retaining the heritage character of stations.”

Boyd recommended that other rail projects be funded instead of the conversion, including digital signalling upgrades.

“The South West Metro must terminate at Sydenham, with the billions saved being redirected into funding new rail links to communities in Sydney that currently have none,” said Boyd.

In a dissenting statement the Liberal and National party members of the committee stated that the NSW government would deliver the South West component of the metro project as well as upgrade trains and infrastructure on the Sydney Trains network.