Around 100 people packed into the Guyra Bowling Club on Tuesday to voice their opinions on a proposed rail trail for a section of the Greater Northern Rail Line.
The NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC) called the meeting to gauge the level of interest in the proposal and to assemble a database of the issues that would have to be addressed before any proposal could progress.
The area in question extends from Armidale to Wallangarra.
The current proposal, backed by the Guyra-based New England Rail Trail (NERT), calls for the conversion of a 34 kilometre section (from Black Mountain to Ben Lomond, straddling Guyra) of the 214 kilometre corridor.
DPC executive director Chris Hanger said legislative amendments to the Transport Administration Act 1988 are required to enable any rail trail project to begin.
Glen Innes Severn Council Mayor Steve Toms attended the Guyra meeting and said he’s keen for further discussions locally to see how a rail trail could boost tourism.
“There’s an underlying passion that people would love to see rail come back but the reality is is that it’s not going to happen,” Mr Toms said.
“In fact it could be argued that the best way to keep the corridor available is to have it used.”
The rail line runs through Glen Innes to the Queensland border – but the town’s railway station was closed in 1988.
“It would come back to council to maintain it and obviously there would be a cost,” Mr Toms said.
While many are in favour, some question where the money will come from.
“At the moment the local council can’t afford to spray the weeds,” Black Mountain resident Gordon Youman said at the meeting.
“How are they going to deal with this extra (maintenance)?
“At the moment the council vehicles are trying to raise money to spray the weeds.
“If you don’t face up to the reality of this weeds situation it’s going to ruin a lot of this agricultural country.
“This is real.”
But Mr Hanger said part of the assessment would be a cost-benefit analysis to make sure the project could be maintained.
Depending on the proposal eventually received, parliament may determine how much of the track to close to avoid multiple revisits to the issue, and consider making legislative changes to close the full length of the corridor, thereby impacting all those along its length.
Mr Hanger said there is a $300 million fund for regional tourism infrastructure programs such as the rail trail project – with the NERT project’s estimated capital cost at $4.08 million.
A meeting was also held in Tenterfield on Monday to gauge the communities response to a rail trail.
Tenterfiled councillor Tom Peters, who owns land on the rail line and said he already had trouble with trespassers going for a swim then picnicing and leaving rubbish, said he’s fine with a rail trail as long as it stays south.
“Not in by backyard,” he said.