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.
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.
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.