Stage 1 of the New England Rail Trail is almost ready to proceed after recently receiving nearly $9 million in funding.
Under current NSW law, any new rail trail requires a special act of NSW parliament to close the rail corridor and transfer ownership from Transport NSW to Crown Lands.
This layer of red tape is unique to NSW and is part of the reason that the state lags so far behind all other states, especially Victoria, in rolling out rail trails.
The Great Northern Rail Line between Armidale and the Queensland border has not had trains on it for 31 years and after the work of local advocacy groups, Glen Innes Severn Shire Council and Armidale Regional Council plan to revitalise the rail corridor between their cities.
Once complete, the New England Rail Trail will be a 103 kilometre long, 2.5 metre wide path using the rail corridor between Armidale and Glen Innes. The local councils have agreed to assume responsibility for the rail trail including annual maintenance, which should ensure the longevity of the rail trail.
In early July 2021, the Glen Innes Severn Council received $8,721,095 from the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund in order to build their 35.5km section of the New England Rail Trail between Glen Innes and Ben Lomond.
Armidale Regional Council is also enthusiastic about the rail trail and is currently seeking funding from the Building Better Regions Fund to connect Armidale to the Ben Lemmond section of 67.5 km.
Pushback Overcome by Benefits
After push back from the local communities, a business plan was released highlighting the economic burden of reinstating the train line for use. The capital cost of $2.5M per km for reinstating rail services was more than 10 times more than the $234,000 per km for a rail trail. Projected maintenance costs of $25,000 per km per annum for an operational rail line were over 16 times higher than $1,502 per km per annum for a rail trail.
Additionally, it has been calculated the New England Rail Trail will attract 15,000 new day visits and 14,000 new overnight stays to the region annually, as well as being used by around 37,000 local residents. This will generate more than $5.8 million of additional visitor expenditure each year and 26 full time jobs.
Armidale Regional Council have outlined further benefits that the rail trail will bring:
- The rail trail will provide access to lost history and stories and the rail heritage assets will be preserved.
- An opportunity to promote the Aboriginal stories, flora and fauna along the trail with tribal borders recognised.
- There are a number of small villages along the intended route who no longer have viable retail businesses – the addition of rail trail visitors may reverse this situation.
- Towns along the route from Armidale to Glen Innes are heavily reliant on agriculture, these economies would benefit from economic diversification.
- The quality of the railway stations is outstanding and provide a good opportunity for the development of trail-related businesses, such as cafés, bike hire, etc.
- Landholders along the trail can develop another income by offering a service or product such as farm gate sales, accommodation, camping, meals, drinks, farm tours, etc.
“Rail trails bring so many economic benefits to regional areas and we would love to see the New England community reap the reward of their hard work,” said Bicycle NSW Communications Manager, Kim Lavender.
“Plus people in the community and beyond will have access to a safe space to walk, run, push a pram, use a wheelchair, or ride a bike away from traffic. This rail trail will have ongoing economic and health benefits for many years to come.”
You can see more at the New England Rail Trail Facebook page here.
Most of this article was first published by Bicycle NSW