Byron Shire has given the go-ahead for the development of Northern Rivers Rail Trail through its territory, opening an opportunity for the next stage of the 132 km project.
The proposed path would connect with the popular rail trail in the Tweed Shire north of Byron Bay, and a forthcoming trail through the Lismore Local Government Area inland to the west.
Together with a 13km path between Bentley and Casino that is currently under construction, these legs will ultimately come together to form the continuous Northern Rivers Rail Trail.
The leg that runs through the Byron Shire is a vital piece of this puzzle, and the project has been hotly debated one in the local community.
The proposed trail would run along a rail corridor that has been disused for 20 years. Many had held onto hope that trains would return to the tracks for serve as public transport.
“However, as I said in my speech, it was four years ago that we were investigating the feasibility of rail on a multi-use corridor and since then, we haven’t been able to meaningfully advance the case for trains on our tracks in the Byron Shire," says Byron Shire Mayor, Michael Lyon.
“Whereas the business case for the rail trail is concrete and real and it’s on show in the Tweed Shire and it’s been funded by government."
At a meeting on Wednesday 24 August, the council resolved to proceed with the planning, approval processes and applications for funding.
The council also resolved to seek a lease over as much of the corridor as possible in an effort to keep it in public hands, enable environmental rehabilitation and explore other options for public transport along the route.
The resolution followed the council's consideration of investigative reports on the rail corridor and a multi-use option with trail running along the rail line.
This did present a number of engineering challenges for both options, relating to tunnels, bridges, embankments and land tenure that are expected to add significant cost to the project.
“We owe it to our community to deliver on something now that can happen, that can be used by our residents and their families and that can be optimised to bring a whole raft of other benefits to our community," says Mayor Lyon. “I think it’s time we take the opportunity before us to deliver something meaningful for our community."
Main image courtesy of @kiffandculture/@thetweed.