Stage 1 of the New England Rail Trail is (almost) a go after recently receiving nearly $9 million in funding.
Currently the major hold up is that an act of NSW parliament is required to close the rail corridor and transfer ownership from Transport NSW to Crown Lands.
About the New England Rail Trail
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 and Armidale Regional Councils planned to revitalise the rail corridor between their cities.
Once complete, the New England Rail Trail will be a 103km long & 2.5m wide path sitting in the rail corridor between Armidale and Glen Innes. The local councils have agreed to assume responsibility for the rail trail including annual maintenance, which is fantastic for the longevity of the rail trail.
Currently, the plan is for a 2.5m wide trail enclosed with fencing producing a 6m wide corridor. The remaining areas of the rail corridor can be used by landholders for grazing stock. Grazier’s access rights and lease arrangements are maintained.
Stage 1 Plan
Last week, 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 Council are also enthusiastic about the rail trail and are currently seeking funding from the Building Better Regions Fund to connect Armidale to the Ben Lemmond section (67.5 km).
Pushback and 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 (compared to $234,000 per km for a rail trail), and maintenance costs of $25,000 per km per annum (compared to $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 $5.8M of additional visitor expenditure each year and 26 full time jobs.
Armidale Regional Council have further outlined the benefits as:
- 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.”
Follow the New England Rail Trail updates here.