Public input sought on plan to turn Great Northern Railway into a hiking trail

Glen Innes Station: will the trains ever use the rails again or is the future for bikes, boots and horses?
Glen Innes Station: will the trains ever use the rails again or is the future for bikes, boots and horses?

The movement towards turning the long closed Great Northern Railway into a recreation trail has taken a step forward.  Glen Innes Severn Council is to establish a committee of interested parties to discuss the costs and benefits of declaring the line finally closed in law and turning it into a hiking, biking and riding trail.

Proponents say it would bring millions of dollars of tourism money into the region - one backer called cycle tourists “wallets on bikes”.  There would also be benefits for local people in terms of just providing an amenity for recreation and physical well-being.

Opponents say the decision would close for good the possibility of bringing rail back between Armidale and Wallangarra.  As one anti put it on Facebook:  “A railway destroying bike track would not be the economic saviour as inanely claimed by some rail trail advocates”.

As a step forward, Glen Innes Severn Council has invited “interested members of our community” to be part of a new committee that will consider the possibility of a rail trail project through the council area.

Mayor Steve Toms said the council would work with the New England Rail Trail which is campaigning for the project.  “There is a need for community discussion around the cost and economic benefit from the development of a section of rail trail that has been identified as running between Armidale and Wallangarra, a 210 kilometre journey through the Northern Tablelands”.

There’s no doubt a trail would be spectacular, particularly in the high ground and no doubt, either, that it would be costly (though the idea is to tap into New South Wales state funds).  On one estimate the trail would cost $80,000 to $110,000 per kilometer.  Peter Teschner, Glen Innes Severn Council’s manager of tourism and events said:  “A community advisory committee is needed to bring a regional perspective to the issue and determine if it is a realistic goal for a possible funding application”.

The crucial issue is where the closed line would cease being designated as a railway.  Under the law, rails cannot be ripped up until the law is changed, and the track for bikes, people and horses could not be constructed before that happened.

David Mills one of the leading campaigners for the trail said it would be a way for people to truly appreciate the history of the railway:  “The railway was opened in 1884 and built with picks, hands, shovels, blood, sweat and tears.  It would be wonderful to have it reconnect our communities again”.