Community Rallies while Council Meets
Thursday 17th June, 2021
There was a show of solidarity in Murwillumbah at the Save Our Tracks Rally on Thursday 17th June. Young and old came out in droves to voice their strong opposition at having the railway tracks removed from the Tweed section of rail corridor. At this crucial hour, knowing Council were about to vote on a tender, these passionate community members made a last ditch attempt to get their message across.
It was wonderful to see many young faces attending from various local high school's. Including some from as far as Mullumbimby High and Shearwater Steiner High School in Mullumbimby, where students have been highlighting their desperate need for sustainable public transport in various projects and presentations. These young people (ranging in ages 14-18 from the schools) are justly frustrated with government and council and are not hesitating to stand up for their rights to access public infrastructure and demand public transport. It is, after all, their future in the hands of the decision makers.
The Rally began with a congregation at Murwillumbah Train Station beginning around 3pm which was lively and uplifting for all arriving. Many came waving placards and there were musicians roaming through the gathering crowd on guitar and piano accordion. A number of speeches were made to the crowd by various representatives of Train Groups and Environmental Advocate Groups.
The group then marched from the station across the bridge and onward to the Murwillumbah Council Chambers, whilst a second group boarded a charted bus and made their way to Tweed Council Offices in Brett St where the Council meeting was in full swing.
Our Civil Engineer Tom Rayner made his presentation to the Councillors in that meeting delivering our WIN/WIN proposal. A proposal that is FACTUAL and correct. Tom Rayner is a highly experienced Civil Engineer with over 30 years experience in the contracting industry building multi-million dollar projects throughout regional Australia. We feel that it's important for our followers to understand what was delivered to Council, here is the full transcript of Tom's address to Councillors ~
"In the February 2018 council meeting I presented a case for Off Formation, with a cost of approximately $8m.
Next March 2018 I presented at the Murwillumbah Rail Trail forum, where I undertook a more detailed cost estimate of approximately $10m + gst for Off Formation.
Since 2018, Council Staff, some Councillors, and the Rail Trail groups have dismissed my claims that an Off-Formation Rail Trail could be construction for your budget.
In council staff discussions, in the media and publicly. Claims of Off Formation costs being far greater have been made in the past.
But now councillors – you know different.
I am a Civil Engineer, and work in the same business environment as your 4 tenderers, and I know the contracting industry well.
I know that for there to be 4 On Formation prices, and at least 1 Off Formation price submitted with qualifications, that the contractor would only submit two options if that second option (the Off Formation price with qualifications) if that Off Formation price was substantially cheaper than the fully conforming price.
The qualifications are there because of a lack of information provided by council for Off Formation
In the agenda for this meeting it states the Off-Formation proposal does not include for bulk earthworks alongside steep sections of the railway formation, and council staff states that could be significant cost.
I disagree. I have recently closely examined the most difficult, steep sloped, sections of the railway line, and produced a YouTube video of that, and I claim that an Off Formation bike trail can be built alongside the railway tracks without any significant bulk earthworks and significant additional cost.
I know the contractors have not studied in detail the earthworks options in this area, due to lack of survey and time, and I know that their estimate of financial risk is minimal – and that if they were given that additional month to confirm – I am sure that they would bring in an Off Formation price well within your budget.
I told you that you could build the rail trail Off Formation well within your budget and that it would be more expensive to build the Rail Trail On Formation
Your Council Staff have said Off Formation will be far more expensive than On Formation – they were wrong
You need to start believing me – when I tell you – that you can build Off Formation within your budget – and have money left over.
The Off-Formation price that has been submitted must be less than their On-Formation price, and therefore even if 1 or 2 million was added to it to deal with all those current design unknowns, we will still be within your budget.
The month the contractor needs to finalise the Off Formation bid, will easily be regained off the contract construction duration, as Off Formation will be quicker to construct, as their will not be the lengthy process of removing the existing railway track in each section prior to new trail construction, and supplying prefabricated light weight bridges and lifting them straight into position is far quicker than on site retro-fitting of the existing timber bridges.
So – I am stating; Off Formation can be done – for the budget and the time.
There is a Win Win Solution
You need to listen to the Tweed Community.
In only 10 weeks we have collected and presented to you petitions with approximately 2000 saying Do Not Rip Up The Tracks – Build the Rail Trail Off Formation
We have collected many of the email details of those Tweed community members, and they will want to know which councillors voted for what option – and we will tell them – and then they can decide where to place their votes at election time.
Council has not undertaken the required level of Community Consultation. You have not asked, and you need to listen to what they want.
I know that you have been bombarded in your email inboxes by Pro Rail Trail supporters, we’ve seen the posts they have put on their National websites and facebook posts – but the majority of those people are not our Tweed Community.
Our Tweed Community have put their signature on a piece of paper – 2000 in only 10 weeks, and day by day we get more and more – we are limited only by getting the petition to the community.
Overwhelmingly – Our Community do not want the Tracks Ripped Up
Our Community are the voters, Our Community are who you are to represent, Not Rail Trailers from outside our community.
Let’s consider the Business Community:
In the council meeting of 6th May we presented 25 Business Surveys which stated businesses supporting the Off-Formation construction of the Rail Trail.
The business surveys were rejected in that meeting
On Tuesday we submitted to council a total of 193 business surveys.
So, if you are representing the business community as you say, and want their votes this time, here are the results;
187 of the 193 (96.9%) want the Rail Trail constructed alongside the railway tracks
Now I am sure that everyone is going to have an opinion of how the surveys were undertaken, did they understand this or understand that – you are always going to look for the excuses.
But what is evident – that the Community has not been consulted, and there is a massive amount of evidence to show that a large number, I would say vast majority, do not want the Tracks Ripped Up, they want the Off Formation Option and they do not want the On Formation option.
We Want a Win Win Solution.
I do not understand the Rail Trail group’s insistence of the Rail Trail having to be where Our tracks are now.
In the March 2018 Rail Trail forum there was agreement that Dual Use was acceptable.
In our neighbouring shire Byron Shire, the detailed study undertaken in 2019 found the best return on investment for the rail corridor is to construct dual use, Light Rail + Bike Trail.
So the Rail Trailers want the Tracks Ripped up so that their Rail Trail can run On-Formation, then when they eventually enter Byron Shire – they will continue Off Formation beside the railway line?
So Byron in the future are likely to run Light Rail, and Queensland Rail (so the Nationals say) will bring Light Rail to Tweed Heads – but here in the Tweed Shire our National councillors are saying Rip the Tracks Up – the Train will Never Return.
Well they are right – if you Rip Up the Tracks
So why do the Rail Trailers, and by the looks of it, your council staff, so desperately want to Rip the Tracks up when there is a Win Win solution for all
On ABC radio this morning, did you hear the Northern Rivers Rail Trail Chair Cameron Arnold say when asked ‘What will cyclist do when they get to Crabbes Creek’ his reply was ‘ they can catch a bus from Crabbes Creek to Pottsville or Byron’
Cameron obviously wasn’t thinking, because as we in the community know – there are No buses that go anywhere from Crabbes Creek – nor most of the other villages in our community. This is why the community support the Light Rail Byron to Murwillumbah concept.
Anyway – where would the cyclists put there push bikes. This is an example of lack of understanding of what our community need.
We all can find a Win Win solution.
As councillors are aware, our community will not be happy if you vote to Rip Up Our Tracks.
You have been warned by way of solicitor’s letter that legal action is likely if you do.
You need to understand – the railway tracks belong to the community – you are proposing to remove them without asking.
You must undertake the correct community consultation and demonstrate community support prior to removal of Our Railway Tracks.
THE WIN WIN SOLUTION
the majority of the community demand that the Track be Not Ripped Up
the majority of the community want the ability to have future community transport
the fact that There has been No Effective Community Consultation
the fact that many landowners have not had their concerns addressed
There is funding to construct a Rail Trail from Murwillumbah to Crabbes Creek, whether it be On Formation or Off Formation
There is an Off Formation bid submission, that with further negotiation, will enable construction of the Rail Trail to occur within the $ budget, and allow for additional expenses to meet landowner needs
The rail trail groups want a rail trail
The rail trail groups at the conclusion of the Murwillumbah Chamber of Commerce Rail Trail forum agreed that a Dual Use of the rail corridor would satisfy them
The several community groups that intend to take legal action if council go ahead with Ripping Up the Tracks.
On the 6th June I was approached by a wealthy Tweed entrepreneur, who is part of a business consortium, enquiring on the Capital investment needs to get a Light Rail tram system up and running to bring Byron Bay visitors to Murwillumbah and to provide community transport, with the interest of providing that Capital $ investment. Note I have not had time to pursue those business meetings, although I’ve received correspondence requesting I do so, due to my time commitment to this Win Win proposal.
There is a business proposal to run a tourist only tram service upon the line from Byron to Murwillumbah, by business group outside of the shire – although I am not totally supportive as I want transport for our community.
There are two train groups that in the future want to run trains along the track.
The Win Win solution is:
Negotiate with the contractor that offered the Off-Formation proposal, and eventually award a contract to construct the Rail Trail Off Formation.
I believe there not to be a risk to the Design & Construction overall construction period, as constructing Off Formation will save time due to there not being the activities of removing the existing track prior to trail construction, save time in not having to deal with the contaminated railway ballast, and save time due to using pre-fabricated light weight off formation bridge structures instead of the on-site (and therefore slower) retrofitting of the existing timber bridge structures.
The rail trail groups get their rail trail.
The community save the Tracks
The current division in the community, especially in the social media arena, will dissolve
We Can Ride Together will attempt to join forces with the Rail Trail groups, and work together in promoting the Dual Use concept in the Byron Shire, and help to secure funding for the (I estimate $40m) required to upgrade the Byron to Murwillumbah line to Light Rail standard, and the funding required to construct a Bike Trail alongside in the Byron Shire – thereby enabling Rail Trailers to ride all the way – and entrepreneurs to invest in providing Light Rail solutions."
There were other various speakers, for and against the ON Formation construction, during the council assembly, including Mr Cameron Arnold (Chair of Destination North Coast and Vice President of the Norther Rivers Rail Trail). Mr Arnold spoke of his recent private discussions with Deputy Premier, John Barilaro, and made a somewhat shock announcement that the Government Rail Trail funding was "only ever awarded for an ON Formation construction", he stated that to award an OFF Formation tender at this stage the Council would risk the funding entirely. This statement had Council staff scurrying for verification as it completely contradicts the Council Resolution of 2018 where Councillors voted to accept ON or OFF Formation tenders. So who is lying here? Council all along? Or Mr Cameron Arnold, who has recently had private meetings with the Deputy Premier?
The Councillors then presented their opinions in a short address each to the gallery. We will share below a key statement/s from each of the Councillors so you can also understand where each one stands on this issue.
The votes were done following the Councillors speeches in a confidential session with Councillor James Owen citing a conflict of interest and therefore abstained from voting. We now know Council voted 4/2 for the ON Formation tender, favouring to remove the railway tracks for the construction of the Rail Trail to take place on top of the railway formation. We can Ride Together are very disappointed with this outcome. Having presented a WIN/WIN opportunity for the entire Northern Rivers Community. We are aghast that the petitions presented and business surveys were not considered by the voting Councillors and that they still completely disregard the lack of community consultation as an issue in this case.
We Can Ride Together supports the various groups who now intend to proceed with further legal action in an attempt to preserve this valuable public asset - the Northern Rivers Rail Line.
See key quotes from the Councillors speeches below with a full transcript attach as a link at the bottom should you wish to read their every word.
Mayor Chris Cherry "Councillors are in a very very hard position tonight, we have received more than 2000 signatures from mostly Tweed Shire Residents asking us not to remove the railway tracks. We have at least 200 emails from people all over the country to build it ON Formation, to remove the railway tracks, so we are being very much pulled either way. I think if we read through the report in the summary section of the report under consult it says “actively seeking the communities views, exchanging information” and I guess I have to ask when this has really been done on this issue. I think that as far as I know that is the biggest thing that the community feels on this, that they haven’t been asked. And I as a Councillor feel very strongly about that. I guess I don’t understand why people keep saying it’s not possible to bring back any kind of light rail, when we see what’s happening in Byron Shire, when they’ve had the feasibility study to show that their dual use of the corridor is sustainable, what they’d like to do, and you know that’s right next door. I think there is a way forward for us tonight. There is a way that we can try to get a Rail Trail that we can all stand behind that we can all support as the great asset that it is and I would really love it if we could take that off formation option, at least keep it, and go forward with doing that and I believe that there is a way to do that both within budget, within time and I just hope that we can get that outcome tonight."
"So way back when the line was being closed I did actually put on a TOOT Shirt and did try to save the train back in the day. It changed the way Tweed operates, we pulled down all the stop signs, we’re able to flow through the Tweed uninhibited traffic wise. To me that was a real blessing when we started to realise the freedom that was there without the rail crossings. And having said that the rail crossings were rarely ever active, it was a two train a day type scenario where the train would come in and leave and they were the times. But we still had streets with stop signs and people were booked at those stop signs for not stopping even though we knew a train was never going to cross the line. The hard work was done early by a lot of people, and I wasn’t one of those people, but when I finally decided that I was going to run for Council my platform, and I didn’t want to call it a platform, but one of the things I actively said was “I support the rail trail”. That was what I was running for Council knowing that I was part of the business community believing that this would bring benefits to our business community and residents within the Tweed. So I’m right there thinking that this is a great initiative. I guess I get around the Tweed a lot, I deliver LPG for a living and I talk to a lot of people. Tonight we are voting on accepting the tender, not on how it should look. How it was gonna look, to me, was determined many many years ago and we’ve now got the chance to take the tender and we can accept it and build a rail trail and we can start to develop our community. So let’s vote. Katie Milne
"To me this is a really sad day I can see how this is gonna go down, no doubt about it (tears) but I have to say, and I’d like to say it in a public forum, that you know Councillors are actually sitting here, endorsing a position for a very significant piece of public infrastructure that we have done an appalling job on consultation. That I hear Councillor Allsop say that he was out there protesting with TOOT when the railway line closed down, it sounds like you were very displeased Councillor Allsop that the railway line was closed down without consultation, yet here you are doing exactly the same thing to the community to rip up those tracks without consultation and I can’t understand. Yes of course we’re all going to love the rail trail I will be on the rail trail if it’s on Formation too, but my heart will be very sad. Because I know that we will have betrayed the trust of our community in doing that. Like, what is wrong with you? Why do you just so stubbornly accept these rhetorical statements, like typical of a fascist dictatorship, that just says 'this will never happen'. 'I don’t care how important it is to you, it will never happen'. 'You see down the road it’s happening, but no, here it will never happen'. You know we have rail trails beside the formations? No this is not good enough for us, no we are willing to upset huge, significant portions of our community who have come to us and begged us to listen to them, to be flexible, to try to unite the community of which we have an opportunity to do that today. To have a compromised situation so that people who want a rail trail, get the rail trail but the people who want to save the tracks, get to save the tracks. I don’t get any Councillor here who says that it’s not possible. We’ve all seen the tenders, we’ve all seen what’s in there and there’s not one of us who could say that that is not possible anymore and if you did you’d actually be lying to the community. That there is even a window of opportunity for that to happen, to say, to keep repeating those statements that it will never happen is a lie. There has not been one feasibility study that says off formation can not happen, nowhere has it been demonstrated to the community or to us off formation is not an option. We have gone down this one track of ON Formation, ON Formation, ON Formation and you know, despite all begging and pleading over the years I have raised it time immortal, can we please try and preserve the tracks, what is it so hard? But no you Councillors you want your gold plated, apparently in your eyes. I’ve shown you videos where expert Rail Trail planners who did the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail, did the Ipswich Rail Trail, did the user analysis on the Goulburn Rail Trail have said 'it’s a sub-standard option to go ON Formation'. That people want to come to rail trails to look at the rail furniture and the old heritage rail infrastructure which is the lines. I think you’re doing the whole community a disservice by ripping up those tracks. Don’t forget that this rail would be assisting the frail, the aged and the young people who want to get around towns and into our Northern Rivers areas. We have promised, and it’s in our requirements, in our planning documents, in our strategies to be a connected community but you want them to bicycle all the way to Casino? Honestly it would be great if we could connect a little easier than that in the future, obviously it can’t happen right now, but we have this opportunity that you will be blowing. So I think there will be a lot of people who will not thank you for it including me."
"The debate of these issues will always divide a large portion of the community on one way or the other. You get a lot of information coming to you from both sides of the debate, with very articulate presentations of their beliefs and their support and their recommendations from various organisations from all over the world. And that’s something that I acknowledge and support. But at the end of the day we as the elected body, like we are the elected officials in government, have got to make a determination on our own as an individual, what we think and what we believe would be a great outcome for the community. Look if you look at what we’ve got in the Tweed now we’ve got Mt Warning, an Art Gallery and we’re gonna have a rail trail. What other small country town in Australia would have 3 icon developments or tourist developments to bring forth great opportunity for them and Tweed or Murwillumbah Valley? Out of this proposal you could create quite a unique internationally recognised area in the whole of the Country and you’ve got 3 icons to do it with. One of the biggest things you find in local government is that if people don’t agree with you they're always gonna say the lack of community consultation. I have heard this that many times, on that many issues, it’s because a portion of our community does not agree and there’s those people who agitate that’s lack of community consultation. I ask the question where do you draw the line on communication?
So you know it’s a matter of opinion on whether the consultation has been correct or incorrect or been opportunist to one and not to the others but we as an elected body will make a determination on the contract and I’m sure that that will not please everybody." Reece Byrnes
"I think we can all say that from whatever side we’ve been on, on this debate for 5 years. It’s probably come to a point with all of us who are quite frankly, quite tired, the number of times this has come up before the community and before the chamber. I’m tired of saying the same thing and reiterating that, but I guess it gets back to the point that yes in 2004 the train line was closed. For me the Rail Trail has always been an opportunity for this community despite the way we have all felt to and fro of the train to at least do something with an asset that is sitting there doing nothing. Neither party of government has ever gone back to committing to returning large scale rail to this area. It doesn’t stack up. Rightly no one has come forward with a plan for light rail because frankly that will not stack up either. We do not have the population here yet to sustain that. Maybe one day we will and that is evident in the light rail coming down the coast, I’ll acknowledge Councillor Milne’s comments there, it is coming down (to Tweed) Whichever way this goes tonight I, like Pryce, I went through an election backing the Rail Trail I’m not going to apologise for packing in a position that I went to the public with."
"I’m a good deal older than Councillor Byrnes and he was nostalgic well I was really nostalgic for the loss of the train and I kept thinking “backwards” how I loved the train. What this Council has taught me to do is look forward. I didn’t come in thinking forward very much, I thought you know working out of the present, getting elected out of the present, but I’ve since thought more seriously about the future. The idea that this Rail Trail is just a bicycle trail doesn’t suit me. It should be that there will be bikes on it but if we look further into the future we can see, well I can see, I shouldn’t put it on everyone, that families and electric buggies and eventually autonomous vehicles, which is the safest way to work the trail, can be brought to play on it. And if you wanted to come from Byron to Murwillumbah ultimately, to be able to sit comfortably with your family in a cart and perhaps stop overnight at some place on the way, which I would hope some farmers might pick up, would be one of the great trips in the Tweed. I think that would make a great holiday. I think it’s something that me and my wife would like to do frankly and have that freedom to sit in a cart and really enjoy the scenery. We do it in a car pretty regularly just travelling around this area finding all the back roads and we enjoy but it’s pretty dangerous at my age I shouldn’t be doing that in a car for a start. But to be able to do it without having to worry very much is a much better idea, it could extend my life considerably. So I like the idea of the rail trail, I’d like it to be set up on formation because I think that gives us the most accessible option for travel. If we have to get off formation we’re going to find ourselves in the terrain that doesn’t suit that. A lot of the terrain for this area is just to up and down and my feeling is people are going to get caught. More likely to get caught in an off formation trail in storm water flooding as well.
"I’d like to close this discussion just by mentioning, the difference between this and the art gallery is that the community didn’t need to lose a big piece of community infrastructure to get the art gallery. (Polglase referred to the Art Gallery in his address)
And I’d like to read a short exert from Rail Trails Australia, from their Guidelines on the Establishment of Rail Trails. And they had a section there on rail side trails or rails with trails, which is our off formation option that we are talking about and it says ‘it’s particularly relevant to NSW where some of the proposed rail trails still have the rails in place and have railway heritage groups wanting to run trolleys for some of the length. Most lines have rights of way conducive to rail side trails which should allow both to exist to the benefit of each’ and that’s from Rail Trails Australia. So I hope our Councillors can think about that when they vote tonight.
You may like to view the full transcript of Councillors speeches here