It’s been a long time coming, but it appears the Monaro Rail Trail project is finally pushing ahead after the first formal agreement was finalised late last month.
The agreement signing on Friday, 28 January marked a memorandum of understanding between Snowy Monaro Regional Council (SMRC), Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council (QPRC) and Monaro Rail Trail Inc.
The last trains on the now disused railway line from Queanbeyan to Bombala ran in 1986. Over the next 36 years, several plans have been put forward including the potential reopening of the Canberra to Bombala rail line explored by the NSW Government from August 2018 to May 2020.
Plans for a shared path from Queanbeyan to Bombala were explored in a feasibility study in November 2019. That report estimated the “Monaro Rail Trail” had a benefit to cost ratio of 8:1 and a total yearly economic gain of about $25 million for local retail and hospitality businesses.
The trail will run through Queanbeyan, Michelago, Bredbo, Cooma, Nimmitabel and Bombala.
“The terrain and landscape will provide trail users with an unmatched tour of our region’s natural environment, scenery and history,” said president of Monaro Rail Trail Inc. Ken Lister.
“Local communities will benefit from thousands of cyclists, walkers and charity riders spending about $25 million per annum in our region, creating employment, linking to other tourist attractions and providing opportunities for healthier lifestyles.”
With an agreement now met, the Monaro Rail Trail Inc. and two councils can develop detailed plans for the line’s three sections. They consist a 24.5-kilometre track from Bombala to Jincumbilly, 11.5 kilometres south from Nimmitabel Railway Station to MacLaughlan Meatworks, and 49 kilometres from Queanbeyan to Michelago.
These plans will then be submitted as an application to secure funding from the state and federal governments. The full trail spans more than 213 kilometres and has an estimated cost of $50 million. This cost will be affected by how much of the path will need sealing.
“We’ve had fantastic support from all the chambers of commerce. The majority of new councillors are very strongly in support of it and the mayor is an absolute champion for it,” Mr Lister said.
“We look forward to submitting our applications for funding grants to actually start building some sections of the trail, and eventually, all the sections will join up to become one of the most spectacular rail trails in Australia.
“This would be the only rail trail in Australia that starts in a capital city… so that is a real drawcard.”
He cited Tumbarumba’s economic resurgence following the completion of its Tumbarumba-Rosewood Rail Trail as evidence of the Queanbeyan to Bombala trail’s potential impact.
Mayor of Snowy Monaro Regional Council Narelle Davis said a fully-functional Monaro Rail Trail would provide an opportunity for the community to develop new businesses and could improve the economic prospects for the whole region.
“The Monaro Rail Trail has the potential to be a world-class shared trail that attracts tourists from all over to visit the Snowy Monaro, bringing with them enormous economic benefits for our smaller towns and villages,” Mayor Davis said.