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A new era dawns as Byron Bay joins the Northern Rivers Rail Trail

In a landmark decision, Byron Shire Council has moved a step closer to realizing a long-anticipated rail trail project. This will lead to connected communities, promote outdoor recreation and unlock massive economic potential through eco-tourism.

After four years investigating the feasibility of train services on a multi-use corridor in the Byron Shire rail corridor, the council has voted to pursue its section of the Northern Rivers Rail Trail. (Image: Lismore Council)

The trail will link Byron Shire to the Tweed Shire section of the Northern Rivers Rail Trail at Crabbes Creek and to the Lismore LGA section that will head west from Booyong.

Byron Shire Mayor Michael Lyon joined Tweed Mayor Chris Cherry and Richmond Valley Mayor Robert Mustow at the opening of the Tweed section of the Northern Rivers Rail Trail on 1 March. (Image: The Echo)

The proposed rail trail received unanimous support to proceed with planning and funding applications during a recent Council session.

A significant departure from previous aspirations of restoring regional train services

Byron Shire Mayor, Michael Lyon, acknowledged the difficulty of the decision, stating: "This was a historic decision of Council. And it was a tough and long debate as many of us support, or have supported, a multi-use rail corridor in the past to keep the possibility of rail returning to our tracks for public transport."

However, Mayor Lyon emphasized that the case for a rail trail had become more tangible and compelling. Indeed, the business case is not only concrete but also backed by government funding. As exemplified by the successful rail trail project in the Tweed Shire.

And the heritage station precinct at Byron has been revamped ready for the influx of visitors! The $.2 million dollar upgrade was completed in 2021, creating a beautiful historic space. Walking and cycling paths connect to the new bus interchange and the Arts & Industrial Estate cycleway (Source: Rail Trails Australia)

"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 optimized to bring a whole raft of other benefits to our community."

Indeed, these benefits have  been delivered just one LGA away. The Tweed section of the Northern Rivers Rail Trail from Murwillumbah to Crabbes Creek saw 70,500 visitors in its first 4 months. And it massively exceeded expectations. These numbers are consistent with other rail trails across Australia. The 16km Fernleigh Track in Newcastle, for example, attracts an estimated 200,000 users annually.

The Byron Bay Station precinct languished for years since the line closed in 2004. (Image: We Build Value)

“Rail trails attract visitors from around the world and NSW will begin to see some of the tangible tourism benefits. Victorian rail trails have reaped these rewards for decades,” says Peter McLean, Bicycle NSW CEO.

The vital missing link: From Byron Bay to Mullumbimby (Credit: Northern Rivers Rail Trail)

Completing the link in a 132 km regional vision

Byron Bay is Australia’s easternmost point, world famous for its natural beauty and laid-back coastal lifestyle. But its immense popularity has made housing unaffordable unless you’re a movie star. And it has led to chronic traffic congestion. On a sunny day, beach-side traffic is bumper-to-bumper. Byron, by joining the 132 km Northern Rivers Rail Trail, not only fulfils a regional vision for active transport.

But it will reap many of the local benefits and efficiencies that flow from bikes.  Some are obvious and others less so:

Businesses get a boost

Cafes, art shops, local markets, hotels, B&Bs and restaurants along this trail will get increased footfall and sales. Due to the massively growing sector of bike tourism, the rail trail and all along it gain. This will also positively impact employment.

Fully activated: Families enjoying the Tweed section of the Northern Rivers Rail Trail (Image:

Rail trails connect communities

Rail trails embody connectivity, community, and celebration because they join people to places through beauty and human movement. They promote eco-friendly transportation in so many ways. They also encourage school kids, parents, the elderly and isolated to get active and be social. And this is a unique way to engage visitors and locals with the rich Bundjalung heritage throughout the Northern Rivers. This includes the 13km Bentley to Casino section, currently under construction.

Lights on and inside voice: Tunnel safety and bat etiquette at the Burringbar tunnel, Northern Rivers Rail Trail (Credit: Rail Trails for NSW)

Leasing the corridor to secure the asset

The Byron Shire Council aims to secure a lease over as much of the corridor as possible, ensuring it remains in public hands. By leasing parts of the corridor, Council can secure a source of income that will be dedicated to trail maintenance. This then ensures the sustainability of the project and enables ongoing environmental protection and rehabilitation of the lands.

Activating Unused Space

The rail trail project is expected to breathe new life into currently underutilized spaces, making them available for community use. There will also be opportunity to consider what a newly connected corridor means for future housing and public transport planning.

A fantastic regional opportunity

“This marks the beginning of an exciting journey for Byron Shire,” says Peter McLean CEO Bicycle NSW. “The decision reflects its commitment to creating a sustainable asset benefiting both residents and visitors for years to come. Because rail trails offer a host of advantages for our health, the environment, cost of living and regional economies.”

Tweed Heads Cycling Club 1915  (Image: Rail Trails for NSW)

If you love rail trails…

We’d love you to join Bicycle NSW and support our advocacy for better infrastructure. Last year we managed to secure the Transport (Rail Trails) Amendment Bill 2022 which allows rail trails in NSW.  We’re also campaigning to allow bikes to be rolled onto trains. You will also ride easy, covered by our comprehensive insurance and enjoy many other Member-only benefits.

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