4 February 2022

Monaro Rail Trail agreement signed but fight for funding just beginning

| Max O'Driscoll
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Once fully constructed, the Monaro Rail Trail will span more than 213 kilometres from Queanbeyan to Bombala. Photo: Friends of Monaro Rail Trail.

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.

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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.”

Snowy Monaro Regional Council Mayor Narelle Davis signs the memorandum of understanding on Friday, 28 January with MRT Inc. President Ken Lister, Snowy Monaro Regional Council CEO Peter Bascomb and MRT Inc. committee member Frank Bakker. Photo: Snowy Monaro Regional Council.

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.”

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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.

To learn more, head to the Monaro Trail or Snowy Monaro Regional Council websites.

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Capital Retro9:07 am 10 Feb 22

Bombala is already an established destination for motorcycling enthusiasts and that is celebrated with an annual festival. A lot of the group “rides” through Bombala start in Victoria and they usually leave the south coast at Pambula and head inland up the Mt Darragh road with offers lots of tight curves. Unfortunately, many bikers are beaten by the challenge and end up in Bombala hospital (one could argue that is good for business). In fact, the problem is so great that when a large group organize a ride to Bombala they have a mechanic and a paramedic following in a van. Mobile phone reception in that area isn’t good either.

I fear the same sort of problems will follow if a bicycle track is established from Nimatabell to Bombala.

Patrick Keogh10:35 am 15 Aug 22

A key difference between a rail trail and “up the Mt Darragh road with offers lots of tight curves” is … well… the “tight curves”. Oh, and the “up”. Rail trails are build on old railway lines which were designed and built to the limitations of trains a century or more ago. This means no tight curves and no steep bits! As a result rail trails are probably the safest place you can ride a bicycle.

Railway lines in general also have few intersections with major roads, which makes collisions with cars, trucks (and motor bikes) less likely.

Capital Retro11:38 am 15 Aug 22

You obviously haven’t seen sections of the railway line between Nimmitabel and Bombala with the deep cuttings and high embankments which present different challenges.

Anyhow, as long as the user pays for everything I really don’t care about what happens anymore.

Capital Retro7:46 am 09 Feb 22

How do you have a railway and a path on the same alignment?

The train from Cooma to Canberra was still operating in the 1980s. I caught it when my car broke down. There’s at least two corners now cut off by the Monaro Highway with rest stops. How will they cross the highway with the new trail?

Patrick Keogh10:39 am 15 Aug 22

They will manage. The only alternative is to ride the whole way on the highway, which is what cyclists do now.

Stop at the stop sign (there will be one), look right, look left, look right again, and if all clear cross. Otherwise wait for the road to be clear. How do you cross roads?

Capital Retro9:10 am 07 Feb 22

Most lizards hanging around railway lines end up legless.

They conducted a feasibility study on the merits of it being returned to rail use. https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6955248/end-of-the-line-canberra-to-eden-railway-feasibility-study-finds-project-is-not-viable/
Where-as the rail-trail shows a benefit-to-cost ratio of 8:1.

I would be more supportive of this rail trail if the concept didn’t look like a real estate sales pitch. At a cost of $50 million, the suggested benefit to cost ratio of 8:1 will return $25 million annually to local retail and hospitality businesses. But exactly how? Where is the financial breakdown of potential earnings?

The Snowy Monaro Mayor, Cr. Davis states that the potential world class Cooma Monaro rail trail will develop new businesses, improve economic prospects and bring enormous economic benefits to smaller towns and villages. What will they do with this new found wealth?

Now if I was looking at setting up a business and needed a $50 million loan, any lending organisation would require detailed plans with quantifiable data to support the concept. By describing my business as world class, promising to create opportunities for better community health and creating massive gains for numerous small towns and villages in the shires, I would be laughed out the door.

Both councils have been promised the world by a document which may well have been prepared by Mr Hans Andersen, that’s Hans Christian Anderson, in his 1837 children’s fairy tale, “The Emporer’s New Clothes.”

Capital Retro12:48 pm 06 Feb 22

The main supporters for this feel good proposal are enthusiasts and probably have never risked a dollar of their own on a business venture of this size.

It will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build and ongoing maintainenece will have to be raised.
Who is going to carry public liability? How are injured cyclists going to be evacuated. Most of the track is either on high embankments or in deep cuttings. I’ll bet not many of the supporters have ever seen the full extent of it.

It would be cheaper to rebuild the railway.

Capital Retro wrote, “How are injured cyclists going to be evacuated.”

Can you please give the number of injured cyclists that needed evacuation on other rail trails to give some meaning to this, as against how many people use the trail, so we can see if realistically this ‘danger’ is even worth considering. Have you ever raised this re all the bush walkers hiking in the hills around Canberra, in far more dangerous and remote territory than this rail trail? Why is only the less dangerous rail trail a problem, compared to hiking in the hills? Perhaps everyone should not venture from their house.

Why do you only mention cost, and not the financial benefit? The Beechworth trail is so ‘bad’, that the local council is now extending it (if they haven’t already) to Yackandandah, to bring them financial benefit.

“Most of the track is either on high embankments or in deep cuttings. I’ll bet not many of the supporters have ever seen the full extent of it.”
I bet those who are the main supporters of this, know that line better than you.

Here is some information on rail trails to answer questions:

For your negativity collection of things to think up against the rail trail, I offer you another couple of humorous gems, I was assured were asked at a very early meeting with locals about this trail, many years ago.

“What if a cyclist steals my chainsaw?” and

“What if a family is riding past and the children see my bull mounted on a cow?”

Real questions I was assured, by someone at that meeting. Unfortunately, those who can come out with such gems, will be out there protesting about this.

There he is. King of the ridiculous at it again.

I do wonder how you convince yourself to get out of bed CR. After all, with the risk of death that brings. Should we ban all cyclists everywhere because they might get injured and not have liability insurance?

There are challenges with the proposal and whether it broadly stacks up financially. But the constant shock-jock approach of throwing in nonsense ‘white noise’ is not really very useful or helpful either.

As stated before, the big problem here, is that these trails are ratepayer pays, not user pays. To quote someone living in Bombala..
“To make $25 million dollars a year, 75 thousand rail trail people will have to visit the region and spend $334 dollars each visit to make the $25 million. This influx of people has to happen year in and year out to warrant the cost of the infrastructure needed to make it viable. Thats 205 people per day. Can they sleep at your house.
Pie in the sky stuff.”

When advocates start justifying proposed projects using terms like “Economic Gain or Benefit” you know it’s going to be a fizzer.

Felix the Cat2:40 pm 06 Feb 22

Govt spending isn’t about making a profit, it’s about providing a facility or service for the people (ratepayers). Roads are an example…you don’t pay (directly) to drive on roads (yes some motorways, but generally not).

Capital Retro6:36 pm 06 Feb 22

Jeez, isn’t that what the renewable energy lobbyists claimed?

Well if thats the case, it should be turned back into a railway!

How do you figure that? At present, you’ve got a rusty old railway line doing nothing. Barring some incredible new project, it’s never going to be a railway line again – there’s 40 years of reports saying it’s not economic as a passenger or freight line. Not even the volunteer-run tourist train to Michelago paid for itself. Turn it into a rail trail and let’s imagine a 2A+2C family might easily spend $50 on lunch, closer to $100 on tea, even budget accommodation is $150, fuel to get to one end or the other, or maybe someone will start a shuttle bus. Same as the snow trade, inevitably someone will forget their sunnies or need a widget too. Remember, this is compared to nothing, no income at all. Do you really think local businesses want a rusty railway track more than new customers? The proposal is that everyone in NSW will put in a few dollars so local businesses can get ahead, and you want to turn them down?

If you have that many people they aren’t just new people that wouldn’t have existed otherwise, they are now removed from other areas.

You would need at least a million people a year to visit as most of them would already be here but attending other venues. which mean you also have to recouped the displaced income too.

Same irrational argument was used for light rail, in that development would increase along the route. However that development came at the expense of other development.

End of the day we care about the net revenue not the best performer.

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