23 September 2019

Rail options for Canberra - Monaro - Eden chugg forward

| Ian Campbell
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Nimmitabel Railway Station. PhotoL Ian Campbell.

Nimmitabel Railway Station. Photo: Ian Campbell

The long talked about Monaro Rail Trail is chugging forward with Snowy Monaro Regional Council progressing a feasibility study of the project.

The proposed vision is to turn the disused rail line from Queanbeyan to Bombala into a 208 km bike path, adding up to a three to five-day journey.

Those excited by the idea point to the many interesting rail features along the ride including heritage listed
bridges, sidings, sheds, and old train stations, as well as the region’s pastoral story and heritage that unfolds along the ride.

However, there has been a level of opposition to the idea particularly from some landowners directly impacted by the proposed route. Those farmers point to biosecurity concerns as well as, privacy and stock movement issues.

The other conversation is one supported by the NSW Premier Gladys Berijiklian, who on a trip to Cooma last year announced $1 million to conduct a feasibility study into re-opening the railway line to trains and extending it to Canberra Airport in the north and the Port of Eden in the south.

Bombala Railway Station. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Bombala Railway Station. Photo: Ian Campbell.

At last month’s Council meeting, Snowy Monaro Councilors decided to seek quotes from interested companies to conduct the Monaro Rail Trail Feasibility Study, $75,000 has been set aside to do the job.

“The consultant will be asked to look at two possible starting points,” Mayor John Rooney explains.

“One starting point in Queanbeyan and one in Michelago and report on the advantages and disadvantages of both.”

Councilors had previously raised questions about the Queanbeyan to Michelago leg, given that it takes in geography beyond the council boundary.

Members of the Monaro Rail Trail Committee, however, see the Canberra market as key to the tourism potential of the project.

With both views in mind, Cr Rooney says the study will guide the final decision.

“Quality rail trails and riding experiences bring cyclists and walkers to regions and small communities,” Cr Rooney says.

“The feasibility study will highlight the specific impacts for the Snowy Monaro region.”

It’s estimated the project may result in an increased tourist spend of $3,735,185 per annum in the third year after the trail is completed.

Nimmitabel Railway Station. PhotoL Ian Campbell.

Nimmitabel Railway Station. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Council expects that the feasibility study will include suggested stopping points, features of interest, accommodation options, and a detailed assessment and modelling of market demand. As well as community consultation advice that includes a ‘well-rounded and representative working group’ and a cost estimate of the total project.

The pre-feasibility study commissioned by the Monaro Rail Trail Committee put the cost at close to $38 million, but stressed the need for more detailed costings.

Mayor Rooney says Council is also keen to acknowledge the potential of having trains run through the region again with connections to Canberra Airport and Eden.

“It is very exciting that there are two proposals to consider for the use of the Queanbeyan to Bombala rail line, it could be used as a rail trail for bicycles, for freight and passenger trains, or it could be used for both,” he says.

“This is a pretty exciting time with the State Government looking at the feasibility of reopening that rail line.

“We need to consider if that went ahead how the two different uses of the rail corridor could coexist. Ideally, you’d want to see both – freight and passenger train services and a rail trail.

“Obviously, the existing rail line would need to be straightened out to allow heavy freight trains to travel at speeds of 80 to 100 km/hr,” he says.

“Opening the possibility of our curvey, steam train line being set aside as a rail trail.”

Council’s rail trail feasibility study is due back in September, Cr Rooney believes the NSW Government’s investigation into reopening the rail line will report back in June.

Bombala Railway Station. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Bombala Railway Station. Photo: Ian Campbell.

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Gintis Kaminskas10:36 pm 29 Jul 19

I think it’s a great idea.

If the rail line was reopened it would be good for the area. I like the thinking of “straightening out” the line so that freight trains and passenger trains could run at a high speed. When these lines were built originally they were built using the cheapest alignment so lots of tight curves and steep gradients. The only way for the line to be viable is to have a high speed line for if road traffic moves faster than rail traffic and the line is not “straightened” and follows the original alignment then it will be doomed to failure. Lets all hope that a realigned railway comes to fruition for the benefit of all.

Caitlin Byrne9:22 pm 09 Jun 19

As a Canberra resident with a developing property in Eden, Im interested in this rail development proposal. Keen to see it work, but understanding of difficulties in cost, time, and disruption to lives enroute. I see lots of business benefits between towns.

Jeff Ibbotson11:24 pm 24 Apr 19

Will rail freight revenue meet the financiers’ cost of line straightening, bridge building etc? Will the slow-moving rail trail users sustain and build accommodation providers and other small businesses along the line? Let’s see what rail and rail trail studies reveal. If the success of NZ’s Otago Rail Trail across Monaro-like country is anything to go by I’d be backing the rail trail.

Rosemary Stewart-Beardsley2:40 pm 25 Apr 19

The success of the Otago Rail Trail is due in no small measure to factors which do not pertain to the Monaro. It runs through a region which has strong, pre-existing tourism infrastructure; a greater number of small towns within a smaller geographical area, a vastly different climate, and spectacular scenery (with all due respect to the barren beauty of the Monaro, it doesn’t compete with towering mountains).

Kerry donald6:48 pm 24 Apr 19

Just put it out to tender a do both. We all can only gain from both options and yes Cooma-Monaro shire that includes you. Move us all forward trail-walk track, train service oh yes another great idea dual carrage highway to cooma to service coast and mountain traffic which is now all year round.

Robyn Wilkinson10:58 am 23 Apr 19

Love both ideas however a train would be fantastic and I would use it.

Paddy Penton8:59 am 23 Apr 19

Get trains back – public transport is safer and less polluting than driving and getting trucks off highways has to be safer. In the long term we need railways.

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