Plans for a multi-million dollar rail trail between Goulburn and Crookwell stalled last week after the Upper Lachlan Shire withdrew its support from the project.
Originally slated to progress from near the Graywood siding towards the Crookwell terminus, the decision means the Upper Lachlan Shire would not contribute financially to the building or ongoing maintenance of the rail trail in their LGA.
“We’re letting the dust settle from this setback and gathering our thoughts,” Goulburn Crookwell Rail Trail (GCRT) group chair and Goulburn Mulwaree councillor Bob Kirk said.
The former Crookwell Shire Council conceived the rail trail concept in the early 2000s and it has had the support of successive councils until now.
At a recent meeting Upper Lachlan Shire councillors passed a motion instead that “Upper Lachlan Shire Council provides non-monetary support and advocacy to Goulburn Mulwaree Council for the establishment of a rail trail within the Goulburn Mulwaree local government area”.
The motion was moved by Cr Nathan McDonald and passed by mayor Pam Kensit, deputy mayor Mandy McDonald and Crs Susan Reynolds and John Searl.
Cr Kensit indicated that the council was struggling to meet the demands of current infrastructure and assets without the additional estimated costs associated with the planning and maintenance of the rail trail.
“We have to, as a council, safeguard our ratepayers,” she said.
Goulburn Mulwaree has reaffirmed support of the project and allocated $15,000 towards new planning documents, including the final costs and construction plans. In 2020, the projected project costs were $14 million but are now estimated closer to $20 million.
The project will rely heavily on grant funding but Cr Kirk, who had been pursuing the concept over the past six years, said the project could not progress without the Upper Lachlan Shire’s support.
“We can’t do this without the Upper Lachlan Council being willing to be a joint partner in investigation and looking to establish this, what I believe, the best prospect here for tourism and economic driver for this region…” he said.
“In order to progress it would require that decision of council at Upper Lachlan to be changed and to provide support to enable further investigation to establish such a facility.”
The Upper Lachlan’s decision not to proceed has surprised the project’s advocates and elated its detractors, with one affected landholder saying she was shaking with relief watching the meeting’s webcast.
Despite this, rail trail supporter Matt Ford said the Goulburn Mulwaree Council would have to “seriously consider a rail trail in their local government area that goes from Goulburn siding by siding out towards the border to Crookwell”.
“From Goulburn you have Norwood, the Forest and Graywood Siding,” he explained.
Analysis of projects across NSW showed that staged approaches in a single local government area received more support from the federal and state governments.
“This will take a bit of heat out of it, there is plenty of precedent for stages so far and none yet for what the GCRT Committee Inc is attempting, in what are very complex circumstances,” Mr Ford said.
Crookwell terminus caretakers, the Crookwell Heritage Railway (CHR) group, welcomed the decision.
“We as the CHR are not directly involved but are pleased to know that the potential threat to the railway between Crookwell and McAlister has abated,” CHR secretary Peter Simpson said.
“We had stated that a bike path could potentially run parallel but the hard-nosed advocates claimed that would make the bike path too expensive to build – again ignoring the existence or value of a heritage rail activity.
“This decision by the council facilitates the heritage rail operations from Crookwell to be developed.”
Some business owners have condemned the decision, saying it lacks foresight.
The planning committee for the rail trail will convene on Friday (1 July) to discuss its next steps.