19 October 2020

Path to redemption for old regional rail network

| Edwina Mason
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Demondrille Railway Station.

Demondrille Railway Station, near Harden-Murrumburrah, may get a new lease on its 132-year-old life. Photo: Gary Stephens.

These days, it seems there’s not much exciting about railway lines unless they’re turned into bicycle trails. However, some lines built in the NSW South West Slopes as early as 1888 are on a path to redemption.

The Cowra Lines aren’t huge in the grand network of rail lines, but they extend from Demondrille, near Harden-Murrumburrah, to Blayney, and west to Eugowra and Grenfell, and were always vital in linking the main western and southern railway lines in NSW.

From locomotive to load, these tracks have seen it all – wool, wheat, produce, passengers, flood, fire and upgrade, until they were progressively suspended between 2007 and 2009, with efforts to put them out to tender in 2015 failing.

Nowadays, it’s mostly mobs of sheep, cattle and the odd horse that can be seen chomping sporadically along its weedy 310km route as local producers look wistfully at trucks hauling grain and produce to market on heavily trafficked roads.

It’s unlikely there has been a more studied, well documented rail network in country NSW than the Cowra Lines as debate crested and declined around its viability in parliament, councils and the communities it chugs through.

However, good news comes from NSW Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole, who is dedicated to giving the old tracks a new lease of life, thanks mostly to the inextinguishable efforts of local councils, the Cowra-based Lachlan Valley Railway Society Co-operative, and two decades of local MPs.

The minister has announced a feasibility study into reinstating operation of the Cowra Lines network.

Key stakeholders from Blayney, Cowra, Forbes, Hilltops and Weddin shire councils are party to further design work and costings taking place.

“The Cowra Lines served regional NSW for many years until they were progressively suspended between 2007 and 2009,” said Mr Toole.

Railway line near Maimuru.

The railway line leading to Maimuru grain silos, near Young, was long used to haul grain to market. Photo: Gary Stephens.

“Since then, a number of studies have been conducted on sections of these lines, focused on lower axle loads, which is why we commissioned the study to investigate the Cowra Lines in their entirety.”

He said while the study found the reinstatement of the Cowra Lines did not achieve the required benefit-cost ratio (BCR) it showed the potential in the lines to drive new opportunities and boost regional resilience.

“Many projects in regional NSW are not captured by a BCR assessment, but may have economic, social or safety benefits that can change the lives of people living in these areas,” said Mr Toole.

He added that with the long-term freight task increasing across NSW, and the need to build a resilient network to cope with natural disasters and pandemics, 2020 has shown it is an opportune time to further investigate the state’s rail freight capabilities.

“The Cowra Lines have the potential to be economically viable when freight capacity on the Main West [Main Western Railway] is constrained in the future,” said Mr Toole. “That’s why I have asked for this study to be taken to the next stage, to complete a high-level design and some investigation works to determine a closer project delivery cost.”

Member for Cootamundra Steph Cooke said the next stage of design work would provide the community with certainty on whether the Cowra Lines could progress to construction phase and, ultimately, reinstatement.

“Commissioning this further work recognises the potential of the region and the opportunities that reopening of the rail lines would offer in terms of improving transport links, supporting regional economic growth and increasing efficiency, connectivity and access through the Central West,” said Ms Cooke.

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It may very well be sensible to turn some of the 3000 odd kilometres of non-operational rail corridor in NSW into bike trails, depending on attractions & dollar capture – for instance the Goulburn to Crookwell line ticks these boxes, being in close proximity to cashed up & cycling mad ACT.
Many others could be revived as freight, commuter or heritage rail use.
Whatever the case we need leadership from the State govt to start sorting out the wheat from the chaff.
It’s unacceptable to not have a viable master plan, probably thrashed out via submissions and through our parliamentary process.
The politicians are sitting on their hands, while communities gnash their teeth & argue over the multiple possible uses for their piece of dormant rail infrastructure.

Eddy Wilkinson5:33 pm 05 Mar 21

More Madness from Government. We have just had bush-fires and flooding (Major Embankment collapse between Leura and Katoomba which closed the Western Line completely for over Xmas through New Year 2020 For anything to get to the East Coast it had to go North via Dubbo, Werris Creek to Maitland and into Newcastle or South Via Parkes Stockinbingal Cootamundra, Moss Vale and Unanderra to get to Port Kembla. This is third world standard by any account.
The Freight Traffic constraints over the Blue Mountains increase daily because of competition with commuter traffic.
Inaction in arriving at a long term solution is moronic to say the least and negatively influence by the shadows of “Road Industry Lobbyist”s,in the 40’s the Americans led by Macarthur were aghast at how little redundancy we had in the face of the Japanese aggressor. Little has change.
The Cowra lines have in the past provided a safety valve on many occasions with both the Southern Aurora and the Indian Pacific being rerouting to avoid line failures East of Blayney along with countless tons of Freight including Livestock and Produce of every imaginable kind.
re-opening Blaynet to Demondrille is a cheap fast short term no brainer in lieu of a new tunnel to a port Kemble or Newcastle!

Government needs to realize how much value our Regional area produce for our economy.

Greg standen10:46 am 21 Jan 21

I was the inaugural secretary of the Lachlan Regional transport committee inc it is in its 38 years the next meeting will be held at young on 13 Feb 10am at council. I was an assistant station master h.s.blayney and I worked at many stations including Woodstock,Cowra, young and Blayney.the government of the day treat the bush as 3rd class citizens.the January edition of the railway digest the Australian Railway Association obtained the services of Delores access economics it it as great report please access the report

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