Farewell – Final ferry run for Ulmarra-Southgate service

Goodbye to the car ferry. Photos: Transport for NSW

The Ulmarra ferry will be shut down for good on June 10.

While the Ulmarra-Southgate car ferry is further down the river than we usually report on, many of you will have used the ferry in the past 74 years and we thought you should know what was happening.

Transport for NSW announced the service will be decommissioned with the ferry making its final run across the Clarence River before the last low tide on June 10.

Transport for NSW director North Region Anna Zycki said there were several reasons that led to this decision.

“There’s such a build-up of silt on the Southgate side of the river now that for hours each day the ferry can’t run because it gets stuck on the riverbed,” Ms Zycki said.

“The river is constantly changing course and there is nothing we can do to prevent the silt building up. We’ve dredged in the past, but it’s only a matter of a couple of weeks and the silt is back. It’s costly to do and has no lasting benefit.”

Ms Zycki said the age and condition of the ferry was another reason.

“The existing ferry has reached the end of its serviceable life,” she said.

“Because the existing ferry is now so old and requires so much repair, such a large restoration project would take about 18 months and cost an estimated $5 million, which is around a million dollars more than building a new car ferry.

“It’s effectively beyond repair, so this service would have been closed for that length of time anyway.”

The decommissioning of car ferries is not unusual.

“Many will remember ferries between Southgate and Brushgrove, at Harwood, Maclean-Ashby, Sportsmans Creek at Lawrence, Iluka, Goodwood Island, Seelands-Junction Hill and, way back, between Grafton and South Grafton,” Ms Zycki said.

“As road transport networks have improved, ferries at these locations have all gone out of service and people have adapted to the change.

“When the new Balun Bindarray Bridge opened in Grafton in late 2019, patronage of the Ulmarra ferry immediately dropped by 46%. It was anticipated that demand for the ferry would decline once the new bridge opened so it would largely replace the ferry service.

“The patronage hasn’t returned and the ferry – when river conditions allow it to operate – now carries on average about one vehicle per trip, costing taxpayers $22 for each vehicle journey.”

Transport for NSW said it was aware of the importance the community has placed on this ferry and will work with Clarence Valley Council and the community on suitable ways to commemorate its long service.

The information and photos for this report were supplied by Transport for NSW.

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