A new campaign to establish a rail trail on the northern rivers, focusing on on a section of the disused railway track from Murwillumbah to the Tweed Shire boundary at Crabbes Creek, has been ramped up.
This week, a group of representatives from government, business, the cycling community and the Northern Rivers Rail Trail Inc (NRRT) met at the Murwillumbah railway station to discuss ways to secure funding to convert the Tweed shire section of disused line into a trail for hikers, cyclists and other non-motorised transport.
Earlier this year, a bid for a slice of $50 million funding on offer by the government, for a northern rivers rail trail on the Casino-to-Murwillumbah line failed, with the state government instead choosing to put its seed funding into a rail trail project on the Tumbaruma line in the state’s south.
Minister for regional development John Barilaro said that decision followed an independent assessment of 12 rail-trail funding applications, including the one by the NRRT.
Spokesman for the northern rivers group, Geoff Meers, said that while the local bid for funding the full length of the Murwillumbah to Casino rail corridor failed, feedback from the evaluation process gave NRRT advocates a lot of confidence for a revised proposal.
‘We were encouraged that a revised proposal covering a smaller section of the corridor and involving only one local government area, will be treated more favourably, Mr Meers said.
‘Once we have the Tweed section started, the completion of the whole trail from Casino to Murwillumbah will be only a matter of time,’ he said.
Tweed shire’s Cr Barry Longland said the revised NRRT campaign would ‘focus even more closely on the business and regional development opportunities the trail would generate’.
‘While the feedback we’re receiving from the business community demonstrates considerable excitement and impetus, this campaign will have a strong emphasis on documenting this potential and examining ways to build it further,’ Cr Longland said.
He said that closer participation by the business community, through the Murwillumbah and District Chamber of Commerce, and the involvement of the region’s new Regional Development Australia CEO Ben Reddin ‘will be essential in strengthening our case’.
Mr Reddin told this week’s meeting that he was ‘100 per cent behind the campaign’.
Business chamber president Toni Zuschke said the rail trail would be ‘an excellent way to channel more visitors into the Tweed, including tapping into tourism in Byron Shire’.
‘This fits in perfectly with the Green Cauldron’s recent selection by Tourism Australia as one of Australia’s iconic tourism destinations,Ms Zuschke said.
‘The rail trail would be the ideal way for visitors and locals to explore this iconic location.’
The Tweed’s initial pilot rail-trail project involved a $1.2 million funding bid to convert the track from Murwillumbah railway station to the town’s regional art gallery, a distance of just over a kilometre.
The revised project is for the rail trail to run from the railway station all the way to the Byron shire border at Crabbes Creek, around 10 kilometres.
Cr Longland suggested a state-appointed trust should own and operate the rail trail ‘independently of council’.
The rail trail plan is a divisive issue on the north coast, with lobby group TOOT (Trains on our Tracks) campaigning to preserve the railway corridor to restore train services for public transport and tourism needs, while others favour rail trails.
Some farmers in the Tweed shire are reportedly not happy with tourist rail trails running through or near their properties.