Train services on the Casino to Murwillumbah railway in north-eastern New South Wales were suspended in 2004. Before its election in 2011, the Coalition promised to restore services and spoke disparagingly of "Labor intransigence". However, no restoration has happened. Rather, the new Government commissioned ARUP in 2012 to investigate; the investigation found restoration would require investment of $953 million plus running costs. Restoration costs per kilometre were estimated to be lowest between Casino and Lismore but much higher north of Mullumbimby. Community groups feel that the estimates are exaggerated.
There is a community group called Northern Rivers Railway Action Group (NRRAG) formed to promote the early return of these train services and extension of the line northwards into Queensland.
NRRAG's core objective is to have diesel railcars operating a frequent commuter train service from Casino to Murwillumbah with linked bus services to the off-line communities. The line could be re-opened in stages with the first stage being Casino to Lismore. This would enable the immediate return of the XPT service to Lismore, which has a university campus and a population of over 30000.
The reintroduction of train services would of course create many new jobs for the region. However, the whole coastal strip from Tweed Heads to Byron Bay and perhaps Ballina is rapidly becoming a satellite of the huge Gold Coast urban area (population 640000, more than that of Canberra and Darwin combined) where many jobs are available. The project is an outstanding candidate for Federal funding to benefit the whole region. Given funding, the line could be extended from Murwillumbah to Coolangatta in due course, where there could be an interchange with electric trains from Brisbane.
However, there are other options available - a totally new line from Coolangatta following the coast to Ballina would appear to be worth investigating. The Gold Coast light rail was extended north to Helensvale railway station in December 2017, in good time for the 2018 Commonwealth Games. A southward extension to Burleigh Heads is planned. Heavy rail from Brisbane runs as far as Varsity Lakes; it once ran to Tweed Heads with a few metres of track across the NSW border. We understand that extensions as far as Elanora and further to Coolangatta have been planned and some allowance has been made for heavy rail at the Gold Coast airport. However, the extensions can't be constructed until more rail capacity becomes available on the line to Brisbane.
A privately-owned rail service running about 3km north from Byron Bay station to a resort opened in December 2017. While that would not necessarily preclude later sharing of the track with longer-distance services, it has also been reported that part of the rail corridor through Byron Bay has been sold for development.
In the shorter term, protection of the rail corridor from developers and "rail-trails" (bicycle track proposals which sometimes require the rails to be removed - learn more) is essential and urgent, especially around Casino and Murwillumbah. Perhaps the rail-trail advocates are chums of developers who would like to see the corridor rendered useless for transport purposes.
See the NRRAG Facebook page.
Also see their December 2017 video.