Why the ACT should care about the future of the Cooma Bombala rail line

Jo Clay MLA 15 March 2021 53
Bombala rail line

The Cooma Bombala rail line could be re-opened or repurposed. Photo: File.

November this year will mark the centenary of the opening of the train line from Cooma to Bombala.

It’s a sad anniversary, to be honest, because trains stopped running beyond Cooma 35 years ago this month. An enormous amount of work and expense went into creating a major piece of transport infrastructure that was only used for 65 years.

Two and a half years after the Cooma to Bombala section of the line closed, passenger services south of Queanbeyan were also suspended and eight months after that, it was decided that the bridge over the Numeralla River 20 kilometres north of Cooma was unsafe so freight trains stopped along the route as well.

If you’ve lived in Canberra for a good while, you might remember the scenic heritage train trips that the Canberra Region Heritage Rail used to run from Canberra to Royalla, but those stopped in 2007. These days, there’s a stop block on the line at Queanbeyan and that’s as far south as you can get.

Now the whole line is slowly deteriorating, and it seems such a shame when we know how important it is to find alternative forms of transport to the endless lines of trucks and cars that clog our ever-widening highways.

Last year, the NSW Government released the results of a million-dollar feasibility study on re-opening the line for freight and extending it in the north to Canberra airport and in the south as far as the deep-water harbour of Twofold Bay down near the Victorian border at Eden.

Short answer – it’s too expensive. This is due to the almost 20 kilometres of tunnelling required to navigate the steep and wild terrain between the escarpment and the coast.

But the Cooma and Monaro Progress Association doesn’t agree with this assessment. They’ve commissioned their own feasibility study which has come up with an alternative route that requires only three tunnels totalling a distance of just one and a half kilometres and bringing the projected cost down to $2.9 billion significantly less than the NSW Government’s estimate of well over $6 billion.

With the ongoing – seemingly perpetual – discussion about building a high-speed rail link between Sydney and Melbourne, a branch line to an excellent yet underutilised harbour could make a difference in the viability of both projects.

Meanwhile, there’s another very different plan on the drawing board as well – to transform the scenic and gently undulating rail corridor into a cycling and hiking trail. These “rail trails” are springing up on disused railway lines all over the world, from New York’s High Line on the west side of Manhattan, to Paris’s “Coulee Verte” to the 390 kilometre Katy Trail in Missouri.

Here in Australia, there are now more than 100 rail trails, ranging from ones that are less than a kilometre in length, like Ballarat’s Bunny Rail Trail, to trails of more than 100 kilometres like the Great Victorian Rail Trail.

Canberra is in a unique position with regard to the Queanbeyan-to-Bombala line. It basically runs through our backyard, yet it’s across the border so it’s hard for us to get a say in which, if any, of the above visions for the line’s future is pursued further.

As a Greens MLA, it seems to me that the worst option is for nothing to happen at all. If no one takes responsibility for the abandoned 200 kilometre corridor, it is unlikely to turn itself into a valuable, revitalised ecosystem as the Demilitarised Zone between North and South Korea has done. Instead, it’ll be overtaken by the weeds that tend to proliferate beside railway tracks.

The old wooden sleepers will slowly rot, and the rails will rust. Do we want that? I don’t think we do.

Both the Rail Trail plan and the plan to re-open the line potentially have good green credentials as well as clear lifestyle and economic benefits to Canberra and the Monaro region. A Rail Trail would contribute to eco-tourism in the region and a well-cared-for and thoughtfully planted route would encourage the regrowth of native vegetation and habitat along either side.

A renovated and extended rail line would take trucks off our roads and streamline the movement of goods and waste. At the very least, re-opening the line as far as Hume would provide alternative freight transport opportunities for Hume businesses, especially existing and future waste processing facilities.

I believe that the ACT Government needs to develop a clear position on what we would like the future of the Queanbeyan-to-Bombala rail corridor to look like, so that we can communicate our vision government-to-government with NSW.

As Canberrans, what do you think?


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53 Responses to Why the ACT should care about the future of the Cooma Bombala rail line
Bill Gemmell Bill Gemmell 9:32 pm 16 Mar 21

The railtrail along that corridor should have been a Covid stimulus measure. It would have become an iconic rail trail like some of the Victorian trails, which attract crazy numbers from my observations. I have heard the Fernleigh traiI just outside Newcastle is so well used it is having disputes between user groups. The Tumbarumba to Rosewood trail is around a year old and has already attracted over 10,000 visitors. The ACT Government should be working with the adjoining councils to encourage this development while counting on hosting many intending rail trailers and their wallets in local businesses such as hotels and eateries.

    Murray Donald Lawton Murray Donald Lawton 10:13 pm 16 Mar 21

    Bill Gemmell one other point that should be made is that it is really easy to convert back to a rail line if need be

Joshua Grech Joshua Grech 7:09 pm 16 Mar 21

Shouldn’t the ACT gov focus on upgrading kingston/airport/Queanbeyan to Goulburn. Then look at at connecting kingston out to Yass and the mainline rail to melb. That would be a regional rail triangle based around the airport and connecting regional towns with cheaper housing as commuter towns. That will drive up the ‘capital region’ population which will prompt further investment in the sydney Canberra fast train. It will also provide 2 access points to the main east coast rail line. 🤷‍♂️

    Tim Kennewell Tim Kennewell 9:31 pm 16 Mar 21

    Joshua Grech Come on mate, Facebook isn't the right forum to say things that are logical and make sense.

    Joshua Grech Joshua Grech 9:32 pm 16 Mar 21

    Tim Kennewell lol. Sorry. I do rarely comment but I couldn’t help myself. 😂😂😂

Steve South Steve South 6:32 pm 16 Mar 21

It should be reopened as a functional railway line... Taking people 2 the snowfields..

Tramcar Trev Tramcar Trev 6:30 pm 16 Mar 21

I have an even better idea. Why not do what the New Zealanders Do with their abandoned railways? Convert them in toto to tourist attractions. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zaibFM-qM2Y&t=5s

vagabondo vagabondo 11:57 pm 15 Mar 21

The NSW government promised a feasibility study of the Queanbeyan –Eden rail proposal prior to the last state election. It was to report in June 2019. When the report was finally released in September 2020, it found that the proposal would not be feasible with a build cost of $6.4B and a benefit cost ratio of 0.0. No amount of massaging could or can turn around those figures. The rail trail will be a boon for small business, locals and visitors alike, and an especially fine recreation facility on Tuggeranong’s doorstep. Just do it.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 8:15 am 16 Mar 21

    Go and look at the rail line between Nimmitabel and Bombala and tell me how a “rail trail” can be deemed safe where there are 30 metre high embankments and similarly deep cuttings. The line traverses the Great Dividing Range for some distance at levels exceeding 1000 meters.

    JS9 JS9 8:51 am 16 Mar 21

    A rail trail wouldn’t have to run the whole way – could easily do a section or two that avoids the major problem areas.

purplevh purplevh 9:54 pm 15 Mar 21

This country needs more rail especially for freight. It’s a joke that we move so much freight 60 odd tonnes at a time by road.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 8:11 am 16 Mar 21

    Freight moved by rail is only economical where there is minimal handling involved.

Jim Muir Jim Muir 9:08 pm 15 Mar 21

I think the rail trail is a most worthwhile future use for the rail corridor. I would definitely use it, as I have used similar trails in Vic and Qld.

Garry Robinson Garry Robinson 9:01 pm 15 Mar 21

The important things about a rail trail corridor is that it belongs to the people, it has a consistent low gradient and follows a reasonably straight line. Turning it into a rail trail keeps all these characteristics, will employ a lot of people (the Otago employs 2000) and it could be turned into a train line at some stage. Personally I think the future may include small automated transport pods that do not require rail. Maybe these could run at night. Anyway open the line, the Tumbarumba to Rosewood rail trail is real busy already, the future can be altered as the train corridor will still belong to the people.

David Perkins David Perkins 7:32 pm 15 Mar 21

Rail trail for cyclists. It would open up a prosperous tourist venture that would benefit all aspects of the tourism and hospitality industries.

    Justin Bush Justin Bush 9:24 am 16 Mar 21

    David I'm with you mate, smartest suggestion here.

    Tramcar Trev Tramcar Trev 5:43 pm 16 Mar 21

    David Perkins yeah maybe 3 cyclists a week?

    David Perkins David Perkins 5:53 pm 16 Mar 21

    Tramcar Trev I suggest you Google "Rail trails in Victoria". Businesses along the trails have hugely benefited. Canberra sits at the "head of the trail" and has thousands of active cyclists. Sydney is a few hours drive away. We've done two of the Victorian rides with a family group. The trails are well used and accommodation needs to be booked in advance. It's a no brainer- go the rail trail.

    Tramcar Trev Tramcar Trev 6:18 pm 16 Mar 21

    David Perkins ok so which rail trails have you done in Victoria? The one to Bright? Ever cycled Canberra to Bombala? You can do it without a rail trail if you are fit enough to handle the grades... Back in the day even the trains struggled with the grades on that line... But look I agree its a good idea but who is going to fund it bearing in mind the amount of work is incredible all the bridges (and there are dozens of collapsed timber bridges) will have to be replaced, the rail and sleepers have to be removed and a suitable surface created.... Maybe the 1000's of Canberra cyclists should start a go fund me page to get a kick start on nthe funding and send a nice letter to Gladys

    David Perkins David Perkins 6:26 pm 16 Mar 21

    Tramcar Trev it's a big tourism infrastructure project and needs funding from the State and Commonwealth. I am not keen on cake stalls etc. other than to mobilize community support. But where there is a will there is a way. Eden Monaro is a very marginal electorate. Surely some of that moolah being lavished on Sydney infrastructure might flow this way???

    Jason Roberts Jason Roberts 2:13 pm 22 Mar 21

    David Perkins Armidale Council just submitted their funding application for a very similar sized rail trail. Considering only 2 have been approved and awarded funding in NSW in the last 10 years it’s highly unlikely both will get the go ahead at the same time. SMRC will cost the region jobs and infrastructure by not proceeding with their application

    Tramcar Trev Tramcar Trev 3:04 pm 22 Mar 21

    David Perkins Eden Monaro is a Bellwether seat...

Tramcar Trev Tramcar Trev 6:50 pm 15 Mar 21

Hang on just a second here. How many times have we been told this line is to be upgraded and extended to Eden? Would not the ACT be more concerned that the existing Sydney Kingston line is to be cut back to Crisps Creek in 2025 and be closed to Joppa Junction when the Woodlawn Bioreactor is shut down. This from only last year. https://www.createdigital.org.au/100-year-old-rail-line-connect-canberra-to-the-coast/

    Sam Warry Sam Warry 8:30 am 16 Mar 21

    Tramcar Trev Not sure where you got that from! That article makes not mention about closing the line.

    The nsw govt has spent money recently on platform work at Queanbeyan station, and bridge work south of Crisps Creek. Would be a waste to close the line.

    I’m more concerned with the ACT govt wanting to sell the Canberra station land...

    Tramcar Trev Tramcar Trev 8:35 am 16 Mar 21

    Sam Warry ahhhhh yes... well the "station precinct" is up for redevelopment. But that has been pushed back to 2028.... But it was to be part of the redevelopment of the entire area.... Maybe difficulty getting a developer to take on the contaminated ground... ACTPLM will share all details with you....

    Michael Kemp Michael Kemp 8:43 am 16 Mar 21

    Tramcar Trev does it actually say how they are going to get from the current formation south of Cooma down to Eden?

    Tramcar Trev Tramcar Trev 5:42 pm 16 Mar 21

    Michael Kemp ahhhh no... a minor technical glitch.... However none of this will come to fruition. Why would it? Imagine the costs so that a handful of cyclists can use it? The entire story is a Jo Clay " I'd better say something or I may be forgotten story..." The current line from Qbn to Bombala is still gazzeted as a railway line so technically the right of way still belongs to state rail or whoever owns railways these days... That means technically that if you were to put your motorised fettlers trolley on it and go exploring you could be heavily fined even though its been abandoned for 35 years... But I'm Game if you are....

    Michael Kemp Michael Kemp 5:53 pm 16 Mar 21

    Tramcar Trev needs an act of parliament I believe. So in your opinion how are try going to get from the present line down to say Bega and onto Eden? What freight would they send down there, logs? Also I believe the bridge at Chakula is stuffed so that’s another couple of million to fix before you even try to get down to sea level.

    Tramcar Trev Tramcar Trev 6:06 pm 16 Mar 21

    Michael Kemp Yes the state government has to degazette the line. Has to be done on an individual basis as each of these branch lines was established by a separate act of parliament... The line is cut in several places where roads have been realigned and crossings used to be. Yes that's the Numeralla River bridge at Chakola... All the bridges would have to be replaced to run modern trains on the line... There were a few proposed routes but all involved a fair bit of tunnelling. The plan was to utilise Eden because its a deep water port. Lots of stuff could be exported from there, wool, grains, minerals which all currently go all the way to port botany or Port Kembla where overcrowding is an issue.... Its a good idea but the costs are prohibitive, surfaces just prior to NSW elections.

    Tramcar Trev Tramcar Trev 6:09 pm 16 Mar 21

    Oh there was another idea to use the line to take all the ACT and Qbn putrescible garbage to Woodlawn Bioreactor but that was shelved because too much track work would have to be done along the Molongolo gorge to make it worthwhile..

    Michael Kemp Michael Kemp 6:16 pm 16 Mar 21

    Interesting theory, I’m not surprised that it comes up around ejection time, but like high speed rail. Only thing would be you still have to come all the way to Goulburn to go south again, why not just keep going to Kembla or botany. I do understand that Eden has the deep water. Saw the log shipped from the port inside Ben Boyd Nat park a couple of years back.

    Tramcar Trev Tramcar Trev 6:20 pm 16 Mar 21

    Oh there was another idea to use the line to take all the ACT and Qbn putrescible garbage to Woodlawn Bioreactor but that was shelved because too much track work would have to be done along the Molongolo gorge to make it worthwhile..

Meg Cavanagh Meg Cavanagh 6:37 pm 15 Mar 21

I would love to see it opened up.

Eric Anthony Lucas Eric Anthony Lucas 5:05 pm 15 Mar 21

The rail line would cost a fortune to reopen, and it ran at a loss for years before it closed. Why would that be different now?

    Justin Watson Justin Watson 6:39 pm 15 Mar 21

    Eric Anthony Lucas Yeah the only way I can see it actually working is if they first fixed the rail line from Canberra to Sydney. If you make it easy for Sydney siders to get to Canberra by rail, then an extension south might make sense but it would need to go to the Snowfields and not Bombala for it to be even remotely viable IMO.

    Eric Anthony Lucas Eric Anthony Lucas 7:50 pm 15 Mar 21

    Justin Watson yes, Canberra should surely have priority.

    Jason Roberts Jason Roberts 6:52 pm 16 Mar 21

    Eric Anthony Lucas 6.4 billion to reinstall the line to Eden. Completely unviable

D LANGTON D LANGTON 4:27 pm 15 Mar 21

Opening this line ticks so many boxes, one could be forgiven for thinking they are filing out a lotto card…manually !
Freight is just the start, taking people & trucks off the Monaro Highway, people commuting to Canberra & QBN, JOC from Royalla, Michelago, Bredbo, Cooma , Nimmatabel and Bomballa.
They would all be satte lite towns giving people other options more affordable than Canberra & QBN. Then connect to the ACT light rail, connect to Queanbeyan – Sydney rail line that “is going to upgraded”. The more these people think the more expensive it gets.
How about we just pull out of Afghanistan. At 10 Billion to end of 2019 and counting and we will have the budget to do this and just about anything thing else we have been waiting for in the last 20 years.
https://www.defenceconnect.com.au/key-enablers/5784-bang-for-our-buck-afghanistan-and-anzus
It has got to be done!

nobody nobody 3:58 pm 15 Mar 21

Repair and extend the line down to Eden, so it can be used for tourism and industry. Tourists could travel from Canberra to Eden by train for the beach and whale watching, as an alternative to the slow and busy trip to Bateman’s Bay by car. Eden is the largest fishing port in NSW, and the catch could be sent to Canberra by train, then sent directly to international destinations from the airport. International cruise ships also visit the port at Eden, so passengers could connect with international fights to and from Canberra.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 5:19 pm 15 Mar 21

    When was the last time a cruise ship called in at Eden and more importantly, when will the next one visit if indeed there will be another one?

    When was the last time seafood was sent anywhere to a market by train? Have you any idea how slow a train from Eden to Queanbeyan would be? You would be able to smell it when it was going through Cooma.

    As for whale watching, give me a break!

Nick Anderson Nick Anderson 2:19 pm 15 Mar 21

Reopening the line with a faster train would be a very smart idea.

Michael McDonald Michael McDonald 2:06 pm 15 Mar 21

If there was a train to Cooma/Bombala, I sure would visit more often.

Bryce Jarvis Bryce Jarvis 1:57 pm 15 Mar 21

It should be opened to allow the people of cooma and bombala to easily travel to Canberra for work or lesiure

    Bryce Jarvis Bryce Jarvis 3:14 pm 15 Mar 21

    Chris Vlahos that is an awesome idea. If only reasonably minded folk ran the country.

    Chris Bennetts Chris Bennetts 5:30 pm 15 Mar 21

    Chris Vlahos Interesting idea, but the cost would be astronomical. An improved road coach service would be a better alternative.

steve2020 steve2020 1:52 pm 15 Mar 21

I believe there are prospects for the Bombala line revival if it is viable in terms of freight and customer patronage for outer Canberra commuter and tourist services.

It was Walter Burley Griffin’s intention to have the Canberra railway station in Canberra City or Civic and it would be beneficial for tourism and commuters to extend the railway to the city instead of the current terminus of Kingston, which is remote from the city and not centralised. Historical railways were built to the city but were built flimsily and did not remain. Extending the Canberra-Sydney railway to Canberra City would potentially be the most viable option for patronage expansion with a station in a centralised location in Canberra City.

It would also be beneficial to consider further outer commuter stations at Fyshwick, Beard, Queanbeyan and suburbs, Bungendore etc., or a tram line to Queanbeyan along the existing disused freight track corridor. The raliway line from Kingston is underutilised after the freight track had come into disuse, but the corridor and alignment remains, potentially cutting some of the costs that would be used for corridor acquisition.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 5:48 pm 15 Mar 21

    One can drive a family car from Bombala to Canberra or Canberra to Bombala safely in 2 hours and 15 minutes. Trucks take a little longer. The roads are improving all the time.

    Like the Canberra light rail, renewal of the rail link between Queanbeyan and Canberra is not needed and unviable.

    By the way, the IGA supermarket at Bombala would rival most in Canberra for the range of many products.

Linda Stapleton Linda Stapleton 1:40 pm 15 Mar 21

Open it up, I d use it

Paul South Paul South 1:40 pm 15 Mar 21

Turn it intoa one way heavy haulage road

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