The railwayline near Woodlawn.
The railwayline near Woodlawn. Marc Stapelberg

Scenic rail trail bridges are 'stuffed'

THE historic timber bridges along the rail corridor between Lismore and Eltham are in such a state of disrepair they would need replacing as part of the proposed rail trail, engineering analysis has revealed.

And the cost of replacing the bridges is one of the biggest components of the latest $32 million cost estimate for a trail from Casino to Eltham - $15 million, in fact.

The Lismore to Eltham stretch has been costed at $17 million because it features a concentration of bridges, including some of the largest along the entire 123km Murwillumbah rail line.

Northern Rivers Rail Trail spokesman Geoff Meers said while these were an absolute highlight of the route, they were also costly to repair.

"Two of the members of our association are engineers, one is working, one is retired, and they have support from a bridge engineer in Brisbane," he explained.

"The three of them have inspected every bridge between Casino to Eltham, and they have got a whole pile of standard designs to meet all the requirement of the bridges in terms of span length and height and flow of water.


The railway line in South LIsmore.
The railway line in South LIsmore. Marc Stapelberg

"We think we have the costs of the bridges nailed down pretty well.

"The rest of it is basic road engineering, as in putting a surface on the trail."

While Mr Meers said it would be visually preferable to repair the timber bridges, as it would resemble the original rail line, the engineering analysis had shown they were, frankly, "stuffed".

"They could find no economic way of repairing any of the timber bridges or trestles," he said.

"It would be cheaper both in the short and long term to replace them a similar structure (but made of galvanised steel)."

There has however been some discussion of salvaging enough useable timber from all the bridges to repair one or two of the bridges using timber alone.


The railway bridge near the Lismore Turf Club.
The railway bridge near the Lismore Turf Club. Marc Stapelberg


Mr Meers said there were also discussions that in parts of North Lismore, the rail trail might actually divert from the rail corridor to provide better access for locals to Richmond River High School and for others who live in the area to access the trail.

He also said the council was looking at options to better develop the area around Lismore train station, although that was tangential to the NRRT focus.


Mr Meers said there were "two schools of thought" on the surfacing of the rail trail.

"There is a strong drive by rail trail users who think a hard pack surface, not sealed, provides a more visually appealing experience," he said.

"If it's a good smooth surface, it's the same as riding on asphalt, but it has a rural scenic look.

On the other hand, there are not many areas with the intensity of rainfall of the North Coast - and asphalting the trail would save on maintenance costs long-term.

It would also provide a more "premium" riding or walking surface.


Northern Rivers Rail Trail is preparing a professional business case for the rail trail thanks to its successful crowdfunding campaign last year which raised $75,000.

Like the Tweed trail, there will be a strong focus on job generation and employment, because of the local business boost associated with the use of the trail.

There is also a focus on community connectivity, health benefits, and environmental benefits - both from less cars on the road but perhaps more importantly, cleaning up what is currently what a weed infested corridor.

The business case will support Lismore City Council and Richmond Valley Council to have a strong case to government to receive funding for the project.


Tweed Heads, meanwhile, is pushing ahead with their 26km section of rail trail from Murwillumbah to Crabbes Creek costed at $13 million.

The council decided earlier this year to go to tender with their rail trail, allowing options both on and beside the train tracks.

The tender process is expected to take most of this year.

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