The New England Rail Trail from Glen Innes to Ben Lomond is moving forward, but Glen Innes Severn Shire Council will need more money for ‘revised costs’.
The controversial rail trail proposal will see the currently disused railway corridor converted into a recreational trail designed for cyclists and pedestrians, stretching the 102 kilometres from Armidale to Glen Innes. Last week Glen Innes Severn Council voted to proceed to the first stage of design and lease arrangements for the construction and ongoing operation of the project.
“The vote went six to one, with one Councillor wanting more information before he confirms his position or not. So the support from Council is there,” said Glen Innes Mayor, Rob Banham.
The approved project will reach over 35.5 km, from Glen Innes to Ben Lomond, and connecting with Armidale Regional Council’s planned rail trail to the south and opening new opportunities for our region.
“It will bring tourists to our area. We have just started up the park runs in Glen Innes and with those we have 370 people come and do the runs and majority of those people are out of towners.”
“If you have something people enjoy, they will come and do it.”
“And the rail trail will have the same effect, people will want to come and travel,” Mayor Banham said.
Local supporter of the project, David Mills, chairperson of New England Rail Trail group is excited to see a start and the benefits a rail trail will provide.
“We have a very historic rail corridor and we have a region that is very picturesque in the New England, and the infrastructure has been maintained extremely well by multiple community groups,” Mr Mills said.
Looking at case studies of existing rail trails, Mr Mills is confident Glen Innes will see a return in their investment.
“There has been around eight thousand users on the Northern Rivers Rail Trail that opened on the first of March this year.”
“We know there have been over 14,000 people that have used the Tumbarumba rail trail, people want this.”
“The study by Regional Development Australia was very comprehensive and conservative, and based on similar figures for our region.”
“Given our proximity to the coast and to southeast Queensland we will definitely get the users.”
The project has attracted much debate on both sides of the issue, with public support to see the railway line returned to its glory and not be removed.
“Rather than destroying this railway, that could be used for running trains, they could build this rail trail on the side, like Parramatta has.”
“They have built a cycling track next to the train line; we can do the same thing here.” said Siri Gamage, Co-convener, Northern Railway Defenders Forum.
“The Council should seek State Government funding to make it a bigger investment and give us a restoration of the rail line.”
“We are not opposed to the rail trail, but only against the destruction of the rail line.”
However, according to Council, the return of passenger trains to the region looks highly unlikely.
“I am not a train expert but if they want to put a train line back in between here and Wallangarra they are going to need a figure of $1.5 billion.”
“Now no government is going to support that,” Mayor Banham said.
Meanwhile, the New England Rail Trail group recognises the importance and contribution of local farmers.
“We want to work with landholders to manage the rail corridor with their stock. They are an integral part of the process,” Mr Mills said.
Glen Innes Severn Council has obtained $8.7 million to commence the works, however, is seeking additional funding for revised project costs.
“We were give some money a few years ago and we will need a little bit more,” Mayor Banham said.
The New England Rail Trail has the potential to be 210km long, reaching from Armidale to Wallangarra.
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