Why the ACT should care about the future of the Cooma Bombala rail line

Jo Clay MLA18 March 2021
Bombala rail line

The Cooma Bombala rail line could be re-opened or repurposed. Photo: File.

November this year will mark the centenary of the opening of the train line from Cooma to Bombala.

It’s a sad anniversary, to be honest, because trains stopped running beyond Cooma 35 years ago this month. An enormous amount of work and expense went into creating a major piece of transport infrastructure that was only used for 65 years.

Two and a half years after the Cooma to Bombala section of the line closed, passenger services south of Queanbeyan were also suspended and eight months after that, it was decided that the bridge over the Numeralla River 20 kilometres north of Cooma was unsafe so freight trains stopped along the route as well.

If you’ve lived in Canberra for a good while, you might remember the scenic heritage train trips that the Canberra Region Heritage Rail used to run from Canberra to Royalla, but those stopped in 2007. These days, there’s a stop block on the line at Queanbeyan and that’s as far south as you can get.

Now the whole line is slowly deteriorating, and it seems such a shame when we know how important it is to find alternative forms of transport to the endless lines of trucks and cars that clog our ever-widening highways.

Last year, the NSW Government released the results of a million-dollar feasibility study on re-opening the line for freight and extending it in the north to Canberra airport and in the south as far as the deep-water harbour of Twofold Bay down near the Victorian border at Eden.

Short answer – it’s too expensive. This is due to the almost 20 kilometres of tunnelling required to navigate the steep and wild terrain between the escarpment and the coast.

But the Cooma and Monaro Progress Association doesn’t agree with this assessment. They’ve commissioned their own feasibility study which has come up with an alternative route that requires only three tunnels totalling a distance of just one and a half kilometres and bringing the projected cost down to $2.9 billion significantly less than the NSW Government’s estimate of well over $6 billion.

With the ongoing – seemingly perpetual – discussion about building a high-speed rail link between Sydney and Melbourne, a branch line to an excellent yet underutilised harbour could make a difference in the viability of both projects.

Meanwhile, there’s another very different plan on the drawing board as well – to transform the scenic and gently undulating rail corridor into a cycling and hiking trail. These “rail trails” are springing up on disused railway lines all over the world, from New York’s High Line on the west side of Manhattan, to Paris’s “Coulee Verte” to the 390 kilometre Katy Trail in Missouri.

Here in Australia, there are now more than 100 rail trails, ranging from ones that are less than a kilometre in length, like Ballarat’s Bunny Rail Trail, to trails of more than 100 kilometres like the Great Victorian Rail Trail.

Canberra is in a unique position with regard to the Queanbeyan-to-Bombala line. It basically runs through our backyard, yet it’s across the border so it’s hard for us to get a say in which, if any, of the above visions for the line’s future is pursued further.

As a Greens MLA, it seems to me that the worst option is for nothing to happen at all. If no one takes responsibility for the abandoned 200 kilometre corridor, it is unlikely to turn itself into a valuable, revitalised ecosystem as the Demilitarised Zone between North and South Korea has done. Instead, it’ll be overtaken by the weeds that tend to proliferate beside railway tracks.

The old wooden sleepers will slowly rot, and the rails will rust. Do we want that? I don’t think we do.

Both the Rail Trail plan and the plan to re-open the line potentially have good green credentials as well as clear lifestyle and economic benefits to Canberra and the Monaro region. A Rail Trail would contribute to eco-tourism in the region and a well-cared-for and thoughtfully planted route would encourage the regrowth of native vegetation and habitat along either side.

A renovated and extended rail line would take trucks off our roads and streamline the movement of goods and waste. At the very least, re-opening the line as far as Hume would provide alternative freight transport opportunities for Hume businesses, especially existing and future waste processing facilities.

I believe that the ACT Government needs to develop a clear position on what we would like the future of the Queanbeyan-to-Bombala rail corridor to look like, so that we can communicate our vision government-to-government with NSW.

Original Article published by Jo Clay MLA on The RiotACT.

What's Your Opinion?

12 Responses to Why the ACT should care about the future of the Cooma Bombala rail line

Anthony Sales Anthony Sales 9:41 am 15 Jun 21

It is tragic that Government negligence and vandalism has resulted in the closure of so many railway lines in NSW. Re-establishing the railway from Canberra to Bombala and on to Eden should be high priority for the current government…quite a change from building countless new football stadiums.

David Cummins David Cummins 12:55 pm 20 May 21

Unless such a group has been formed already, I propose holding a public meeting to form a group of like-minded and interested parties to promote the re-opening of the Queanbeyan to Cooma Railway line.

If such a group already exists, would someone mind letting me know the contact details?

My email address is [email protected]


David Cummins David Cummins 12:16 pm 20 May 21

I would love to see and fully support the reopening of the Queanbeyan to Cooma to Bombala railway line. If cyclists wish to promote the idea of a Rail Trail, perhaps a cycle path next to the rail line would meet their needs.

The Cooma Monaro Railway has done an impressive job with the work that it has been doing. Along the line there are a number of railway stations, such as Royalla, Michelago & Bredbo which could be beautifully brought back to life and used.

As well as the tourism potential for the reopened line, it is highly likely that increasing numbers of people working in Canberra will be living along the Canberra-Cooma corridor and particularly with an upgraded Monaro Highway. It is only a matter of time.

As for funding, there are a number of options for this.

The reopening of the Queanbeyan to Cooma line is both timely and commendable.

Roger Gagliardi Roger Gagliardi 3:35 pm 05 May 21

Exactly, re-open the rail line and put a branch to Jindabyne, this would greatly alleviate the multitude of cars going to the snow from Canberra, and cut down the road toll on the inadequate Monaro Highway.

Esther Esther 3:36 pm 21 Mar 21

Furthermore it is idiotic to think that you can supplement the benefits of reopening a railway with a rail trail as the benefits of increased tourism will never match up with the benefits of a railway, Even if the costs are high it doesn’t matter because made up numbers on a page that get argued about for years on end by politicians will never be good enough justification for withholding a public good. The same people who say that railways are too expensive and not worth are the same people who will support or at least turn a blind eye, when useless highway projects that do almost nothing but increase traffic that they were supposed to decrease.

Esther Esther 3:21 pm 21 Mar 21

Whatever it costs to reopen and extend it is worth it for the benefits the region will receive from the railway for too long railways have been neglected by the federal and state government. There are few railways that serve regional coastal area and we need more projects like the proposed extension and we need them now.

Hugo Berger Hugo Berger 10:37 am 21 Mar 21

Electrified, a rail system would be carbon neutral, free of emissions, due to solar and wind piwer already in this region and growing.

Frank Ward. OAM Frank Ward. OAM 10:02 am 19 Mar 21

I have some sympathy for the Greens as they strive for the ultimate but there has not been a line reopened anywhere in the country as te economics nevervstack up. However the economics of conversion to rail trails is very favourable as is evidenced by the success of the Tumbarumba trail that is celebrating its anniversary next month and has provided a substantial contribution to the community in its economy and revitalised the district.
The pandemic has revitalise the cycling sport and recreational use and now bike sales outnumber cars and the government would get a much bigger dividend in the increased health of community if these abandoned rail lines were put to community use as rail trails as has been shown at Tumbarumba

    Roger Gagliardi Roger Gagliardi 3:39 pm 05 May 21

    Bike riders do not spend tourism dollars. They bring their own lunches, stay in the cheapest possible accommodation if they don’t camp…..we see it all the time down here. Sorry but the benefits of a rail line are far greater, for tourism and for freight.

Tim Coen Tim Coen 7:13 am 19 Mar 21

The line has been largely unused for over 30 years. Will it take another 30 years to do something useful with it? Meanwhile the sleepers, bridges and culverts rot, the rails rust and the fences fail. Use it as a rail trail very SOON for a few $ millions (which will bring just as many millions and more over the years into the area through low impact, low carbon tourism) while the benefits of spending N or NN BILLIONS (remember- a million is one thousanth of a billion) on trains is thrashed about for years and years to come.
The existing rail service from the nation’s capital Canberra to its most populous city Sydney is still a relic of the pre-internet 20th century, providing a slow and often bumpy ride that is an embarrassment for a supposedly advanced nation. So why should anyone spend buckets and buckets of $s more to link Canberra to a smallish fishing and occasional cruise ship port when Canberra can’t support a quality train service to Sydney? Meanwhile every year a rail trail is NOT built is another year without the social benefits and millions of dollars tourists spend while bisiting and enjoying what will easily ve a SPECTACULAR world class tourist trail, jam packed with panoramic vistas, quaint villages, interesting towns big & small and geography and character unlike anywhere else in Australia. A rail trail will be a huge success.

LG LG 9:35 pm 18 Mar 21

Another great piece of potential for the line is the novelty of a Ski Train.

Running this fun alternative transportation to the snow at strategic times of peak travel to/ from the snow would take pressure off of the Monaro highway. Also take fatigued drivers off of the road.
This has been a great feature in Denver, Colorado – USA where the train runs from Denver up to Winter Park Ski resort.
A good time is had by all!


Rachael McKenna Rachael McKenna 6:31 pm 18 Mar 21

I would love to see it re-opened as a railway again, the amount of money it would save on our roads would outweigh the cost of fixing and extending the line, would provide other means of transportation to Canberra, and down the coast, which I feel is desperately needed in this area.