Rail trail proposal for Great Northern Rail Line being gauged by DPC

Tenterfield Shire Council sees potential for automated guided tours of the region -- such as those offered by Railcruising in New Zealand -- should the tracks be retained instead of  being converted to rail trails. (Photo from www.railcruising.com.)
Tenterfield Shire Council sees potential for automated guided tours of the region -- such as those offered by Railcruising in New Zealand -- should the tracks be retained instead of being converted to rail trails. (Photo from www.railcruising.com.)

It’s been a topic of hot debate for some years a little farther down the track, but the discussion on repurposing the rail corridor linking Armidale to Jennings to instead become a rail trail is coming to Tenterfield.

The NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC) is hosting a community consultation session at the Tenterfield Golf Club on Monday, December 11 to gauge community sentiment on the proposal. A second session is being conducted in Guyra the following day.

“The workshops will also provide information on a proposed rail trail program, inform the local community on legislative requirements and respond to local quesitons and concerns,” workshop organisers said.

There’s a growing push to convert unused rail corridors into paths for walking, cycling and horse riding, with necessary refurbishment of the tracks potentially funded through the sale of hardware (tracks and sleepers) along the corridor.

Some farmers have registered their opposition to the move, fearing biosecurity and privacy breaches from having public access paths adjoining or dissecting their properties. There are railway enthusiasts who would prefer to see the return of regular train services although that possibility seems remote.

Despite the resistance, Guyra-based New England Rail Trail group has been pushing since its establishment in 2014 to convert the corridor into a rail trail in order to tap its tourism potential.

Armidale Regional Council provided in-principle support for a rail trail on the Great Northern Rail Line at a meeting last year, and Glen Innes Severn Council is establishing a committee of interested parties to discuss the proposal. 

Tenterfield Shire Council, however, has yet to be officially approached except to be invited to recent meeting that was subsequently cancelled.

Council’s new chief executive Terry Dodds – a keen tourism advocate and a railway buff to boot – has already made his feelings felt, submitting a letter to the DPC taking the position of maintaining the status quo of the rail corridor.

“It is hard to predict the future, but removing access to rail would limit what that future is,” Mr Dodds said in his submission.

He pointed out that sections of the line have been used by hand and powered shuttle cars in the past, and he’s a big fan of concepts like ‘railcruising’, using small fully-automated rail cars to give tourists a guided exploration of the area surrounding existing rail tracks.

“The historic significance of the rail line cannot be understated, particularly around Bolivia,” he said.

“If the tenure were to be altered and access to rail infrastructure on the corridor changed, future economic potential, access to current historic sites, and benefits to current and future tourism enhancements would be lost.”

The Tenterfield Railway Station Preservation Society has already voiced its opposition to the rail trail proposal, fearing the negative impact on its already-successful tourism operation.

While rail trails exist in other states, NSW earlier this year sanctioned its first with the dormant train line between Tumbarumba and Rosewood on track to be converted into a cycle trail.

The DPC is accepting comments and feedback on the Great Northern Rail Line proposal via email at regionalnsw.business@dpc.nsw.gov.au. Register attendance at Monday’s workshop, running from noon to 3pm, at (02) 9228 5188 or regionalnswengagementsandevents@dpc.nsw.gov.au.