Murwillumbah railway line
The Murwillumbah railway line is a mostly disused railway line in far north-eastern Northern Rivers New South Wales, Australia. The line ran from Casino to Lismore, Byron Bay, Mullumbimby and Murwillumbah, opening in 1894. It is one of only two branches off the North Coast line, (the other being the Dorrigo line). Train services to the region were ceased in May 2004.
Bridge at Mooball
|Track gauge||1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in)|
Currently, a solar-powered rail service operates over a short three kilometre section of the track near Byron Bay. It is widely considered to be the world's first solar-powered train.
The first section opened between Lismore and Murwillumbah, connecting the Richmond and Tweed rivers. Passengers and goods were transported to Sydney by coastal shipping from Byron Bay. Nine years later, an extension from Lismore to Casino opened (and later south to Grafton - it was not until 1932 that the line was fully connected to Sydney). As early as 1889, feasibility talks took place into extending the line north from Murwillumbah into Queensland, discussions that continue to the present day. The line became a branch line when in 1930, the North Coast Line was extended from Kyogle to South Brisbane.
The North Coast Mail was the premier train between Murwillumbah and Sydney after the North Coast line was completed in the 1930s.
Additional local trains plied the tracks between Casino and Murwillumbah, connecting with other services such as the Brisbane Express and Brisbane Limited. The 3km extension from Murwillumbah station to Condong was for sugar mill traffic. 620/720 class railcars also worked this line (set 638/738, which was specially modified, and also hauled a small van). The line to Condong Sugar Mill used to run over a section of the old Pacific Highway (now Tweed Valley Way) - when cane trains would unload, they blocked north and southbound traffic, disgruntling some impatient motorists. The level crossing was removed following the closure of the old sugar mill and subsequently, the trains did not travel any further than Murwillumbah station from 1975 onwards.
From 1973, the Gold Coast Motorail provided passenger and car transport between Sydney and Murwillumbah, along with the introduction of the North Coast Overnight Express in 1978 to meet increasing popular demand. The Gold Coast Motorail took 26,000 reservations at Murwillumbah station alone in its first year of operation and in 1980, that number had increased to a staggering 51,000. The services cost $11.5 million annually to run, but the profit was over $22.5 million - nearly double than what they cost to run.
In February 1990, the Gold Coast Motorail and North Coast Overnight Express were replaced by an unnamed CountryLink XPT that ran primarily as a night service to the region, severely reducing its own capability of serving the communities that the line ran through.The replacement of these two services reduced total seating capacity from 1,600 to only 434 - resulting in a drop of patronage.
In September 1997, FreightCorp contracted out of the operation of freight trains on the line to Northern Rivers Railroad. These services ceased in 2002. Freight traffic primarily consisted of bananas and flyash from Wyee. In May 1999, a tourist service called Ritz Rail was introduced. This train was stationed at Murwillumbah and was ordered off the Murwillumbah line in 2002 by the NSW Government, eliminating any tourist service on the line.
In April 2004, the NSW Government closed the railway line on purely economic grounds after advising that it was "unprofitable" to continue providing services to Murwillumbah. On 15 May 2004, the last XPT train left Murwillumbah station, putting an end to 110 years of rail transport in the region.
As of 2019 the line remains closed and disused, with the exception of a solar powered 660/720 series railmotor which operates a shuttle tourist service on the line in Byron Bay.
When Queensland's South Coast line reached Tweed Heads in 1903, there were immediate calls from local Members of the Parliament of New South Wales to extend the Murwillumbah line another 18 mi (29 km) to Tweed Heads so the two railways could meet. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works Committee examined the proposal but narrowly voted against it in 1904. There were three other proposals to extend the railway to Tweed Heads before the idea was dropped in 1928.
A 1994 study by Kearney – Sinclair Knight for the State Rail Authority of NSW entitled ‘Review of Investment Options – Casino to Murwillumbah line’ did not favour the extension of the line to Robina. It found the mooted connecting line between Robina in the Gold Coast and Murwillumbah would merely reinforce this existing poor targeting of the service and that "...the present population density in the area is too low to provide adequate benefit to cost ratios on investments in the line.
In 2011, the NSW Department of Transport commissioned a feasibility study to reopen the Murwillumbah line, including to extend rail services in northern NSW to connect with the Queensland Rail system and Coolangatta Airport. The feasibility report was released in April 2013 and concluded it would take $952 million to bring the line back to a required standard (over $7 million per km).
Current State of Railway
The line is completely disused apart from the 3 km section north of Byron Bay used by the Byron Bay Railroad Company. The line has had very little maintenance since the last train service ran on 15 May 2004. There are many wooden bridges and structures which have been removed because of safety concerns. The stations at Lismore and Murwillumbah are now unstaffed.
Current Use of Railway
A heritage rail shuttle service began operations in Byron Bay in December 2017. The section of track to the north of the town centre has been fully restored by private investment at a cost of about $300,000 per kilometre. Track work on the section commenced on 23 May 2016 and was completed in late November 2016. A two car self-propelled diesel rail car train (661/726) has been refurbished by the Lithgow State Mine Heritage Park & Railway. This restoration was completed in 2015. New platforms and a storage shed were completed in April 2017. The train arrived in Byron Bay on 3 November 2017. It was officially confirmed in early January 2017 the train would run on solar-hybrid operation, making it the world's first solar-powered train.
On Thursday 11 January 2018, Byron Bay Railroad Company announced they had taken over 10,000 passengers on the train, just 19 days after service began.One year later, that number had increased to 100,000. The service continues to increase in popularity and feedback from the general public has been extremely positive.
Future Uses of Railway
The line is not included in the Northern Rivers Transport Strategy or the North Coast Regional Plan.
Byron Line proposal
On 25 August 2016, The Byron Line proposal was announced by Byron Shire Mayor Simon Richardson. The Byron Line is a proposal including the refurbishment of the rail line from Bangalow to Billinudgel for light rail or rail shuttle services to be used by the local community and tourists. It was to investigate construction of a rail trail beside the tracks, where practicable. A feasibility study on this is to be completed in 2017 which would form the basis for seeking State funding, but the Terms of Reference available on the Byron Shire website at the time of tendering for the study did not include any reference to the rail trail nor to how the rail service would fit with road based public transport. In June 2019 the report was released, which estimated the cost of restoring the track for a light-rail service and placing a bike path alongside it at between $30 million and $60 million.
A small group called the Murwillumbah Railway Historical Society had made a proposal to re-open the line from the Condong Sugar Mill to Ocean Shores railway station and run it as a heritage railway and museum. The museum would be based at Murwillumbah railway station and would be a major tourist attraction for the local area. It will be run on a club basis and would rely on grants and donations. This would preserve the railway track and infrastructure for the future use of a passenger service. The group is awaiting government approval.
Rail Trail proposal
There is a proposal for the line to be converted to a rail trail from Casino to Murwillumbah, in an attempt to boost tourism to the villages and towns along the line. On 19 June 2015, the Rail Trail proposal missed out on state funding. A 2.6 km pilot Rail Trail section from Murwillumbah railway station to the Tweed River Art Gallery and Margaret Olley Art Centre is supported by Tweed Shire Council due to its existing Public Transport Strategy.
Part of the proposal is for a 25 kilometre Tweed Rail Trail, stretching from Murwillumbah railway station to the Shire border at Crabbes Creek. On 17 July 2017, The NSW State Government announced $6,300,000 to fund half of the proposed Rail Trail. This funding is conditional on the Federal Government matching the commitment of $6.3 million towards the Rail Trail to fully fund the $12.6 million venture. Community consultation will formally begin in August 2017, and the Rail Trails construction depends on the result of this.
The NSW Government have stated they will only move forward with the project if there is "enormous support." The issue is extremely controversial in the area where it has caused significant and widespread community division over the benefit to the community and the usage of rail infrastructure. Those who agree with the proposal believe a rail trail running on the track formation would increase tourism and preserve the railway corridor. On the other hand, rail advocates insist that it would spell complete and permanent destruction of the railway infrastructure. Consequently, this would lead to the sale of the railway corridor and the elimination of any future possibility of train services returning to the region.
On 10 August 2017, it was confirmed the Rail Trail proposal missed out on Federal funding. The NSW Government subsequently withdrew their offer. This was the third time the Rail Trail proposal has failed to attract funding at both State and Federal levels.
The State and Commonwealth agreed in 2018 to fund the rail trail and the Tweed Council accepted the offer, has conducted community consultation and a review of biodiversity issues and is currently selecting a contract to construct it. The design is for a rail trail on the rail formation but with the possibility of bids to construct it off-formation. The Northern Rivers Rail Trail raised $60,000 in crowd funding to undertake feasibility on design work on stage two of the rail trail from Casino to the village of Eltham. The rail trail project narrowly missed out on a My Community Project grant from the NSW Government in September 2019.
- "Legislative Council Questions and Answers No. 25" (PDF). Parliament of New South Wales. 2 August 2011.
- Broome, Hamish. "World-first Byron rail line to create 19 jobs". Northern Star. Retrieved 22 July 2017.
- "The brainchild of a NSW millionaire, is this the world's first solar train?". ABC News. 16 December 2017. Retrieved 18 December 2017.
- Casino to Murwillumbah Transport Study Transport for NSWApril 2013
- Elloise Farrow-Smith. "Northern Rivers rail trail runs out of puff - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)". Abc.net.au. Retrieved 31 March 2016.
- "Rail costings put govt study into doubt – Echonetdaily". Echo.net.au. 16 December 2014. Retrieved 31 March 2016.
- "Northern Rivers Railroad Beats Austrac as First Private Rail Freight Operator" Railway Digest October 1997 page 8
- "Northern Rivers May Target Export Traffic to Brisbane" Railway Digest November 1997 page 7
- "Flyash to Murwillumbah" Railway Digest April 1990 page 129
- The North Coast Line "Railway Digest" August 1996 page 24
- "Ballina to Booyong Railway (Cessation of Operation) Act". Act No. 13 of 1953. Retrieved 7 November 2016.
- "Public Works Committee. Murwillumbah-Tweed Heads Railway". Sydney Morning Herald. 29 May 1903.
- "Murwillumbah to Tweed Heads Railway. The Scheme Rejected". Sydney Morning Herald. 10 March 1904.
- "Proposed Railway. Unfavourable Report. Murwillumbah-Tweed Heads". Sydney Morning Herald. 20 September 1928.
- "Legislative Council Questions and Answers No. 25" (PDF). Parliament of New South Wales. 2 August 2011.
- [*Casino to Murwillumbah Transport Study Transport for NSWApril 2013
- "Byron Bay Train » History". byronbaytrain.com.au. Retrieved 22 July 2017.
- "Train hits track, powered by solar – Echonetdaily". Echonetdaily. 7 November 2017. Retrieved 19 December 2017.
- Broome, Hamish. "Solar train clocks 10,000 passengers after 19 days". Northern Star. Retrieved 13 January 2018.
- Tweed Shire Council, Transport Plan: http://www.tweed.nsw.gov.au/Download.aspx?Path=~/Documents/Community/Transportation/TSC01557_Public_Transport_Strategy_Report.pdf. Retrieved 2017-07-22
- Poate, Samantha. "Rail trail would be 'extremely valuable' economic boost". Northern Star. Retrieved 22 July 2017.
- "Fight continues for railway line". Tweed Daily News. Retrieved 22 July 2017.
- Broome, Hamish. "Rail trail cops funding setback".
- The Byron Line, June 2016
- Refurbishment of the Casino to Murwillumbah Rail Corridor and its Extension to the Gold Coast Airport Byron Shire Council 14 October 2008
- Closure of the Casino to Murwillumbah rail service Parliament of New South Wales 24 November 2004
- Feasibility study for passenger and/or commuter services on the Murwillumbah to Casino branch line - September 2004