Council defers decision on rail trail between Armidale and Glen Innes

Armidale Regional and Glen Innes Severn councils in New England, NSW, have split on the decision to support turning a rail corridor into a bike trail.

On March 26, the Glen Innes Severn Council resolved to support an Act in the NSW parliament to turn the Main North rail line from Armidale to Wallangarra on the Queensland border into a trail for bicycles.

On April 22, Armidale Regional Council deferred a decision to rescind the council’s previous support of the rail trail. 

In the resolution supported unanimously by Glen Innes Severn councillors, Armidale Regional Council, Glen Innes Severn Council and the New England Rail Trail committee will make up the governing body, and the regional councils are seeking funding streams from state and federal governments for the development.

The Glen Innes Severn council endorses further work to be done to establish the governance structure of commencing the design and project planning of the rail trail.

The Glen Innes Severn council mayoral minute stated that the governing body would commission a detailed business case, including the whole of life costs of maintaining the track and give advice to the Councils on it, as well as the potential economic value-added from the development of the rail trail.

Some community groups hope to see the rail lines maintained, and rail services return to the line north of Armidale to Wallangarra via Guyra and Glen Innes. Save the Great Northern Rail Group president Rob Lenehan said that the Armidale Regional Council should reconsider its support of the rail trail proposal.

“The previous motion of rail trail support was arguably improperly passed at Council’s meeting on 26 February 2020, without due consideration of prudent information. The Regional Development Australia Northern Inland rail trail report prepared for New England Rail Trail was not available to councillors and is still not available.”

A petition with 1,000 signatures was published in 2014.

“The rail trail proposal is controversial and largely unwanted within New England. Armidale Regional Council should completely withdraw from this unnecessary distraction. The future for the railway lies in reopening it for trains, not ripping it up for a bike track,” said Lenehan.

In February 2020 the Armidale Council had agreed to allocate funds for design and look at a management structure and now the Glenn Innes council has allocated funding to proceed the project. 

All seven Glen Innes Severn councillors agreed to allocate an amount of $25,000 in the 2020/2021 Operational Plan for the determination of the construction cost of the Ben Lomond to Glen Innes section of the proposed rail trail.

A rail trail feasibility study was endorsed by Armidale Regional Council at its October 2018 meeting and the New England Rail Trail Plan was finalised in October 2019 for the Armidale to Glenn Innes section.

While the Save the Great Northern Rail Group is not opposed to a re-opened rail corridor also incorporating a bike trail, it has argued against permanently ending the Main North line at Armidale.

“To date, Armidale Regional Council’s prosecution of the unwanted rail trail proposal has been completely out of step with the will of the community,” said Lenehan.

The rail corridor between Armidale and Glen Innes has been closed to trains for over 30 years. The Rail Trail Plan outlined the technical feasibility and costs of converting the 103km Armidale to Glen Innes section into a rail trail to boost economic activity in the region.

On April 3 the first rail trail in NSW, a 22-kilometre stretch from Tumbarumba to Rosewood, had its official virtual opening.

The entire New England Rail Trail between Armidale and Wallangarra is approximately 210km long. The Main North line starts from Sydney and extends north passing through Armidale to the Queensland border, at the town of Wallangarra.

Old railway stations on the line have been preserved and refurbished by local community groups.

The fight for passenger rail in Hobart

A community-based action group is advocating for a passenger rail solution in Hobart, where the only public transport option is the bus.

A decommissioned heavy rail corridor in Hobart’s northern suburbs has been the focus of a community-based campaign lobbying for the instalment of a passenger rail service since 2010.

Formerly a freight rail line, the corridor was decommissioned in 2014 after the last freight train passed through Hobart.

“Since then the heavy rail track has remained idle,” founder and former president of the Hobart Northern Suburbs Rail Action Group Inc (HNSRAG), Ben Johnston, told Rail Express.

The HNSRAG wants the decommissioned railway tracks to be utilised for passenger rail services rather than being converted into a bus way.

“It would be a tragedy to remove the rails from the railway, it would be a very backward step in my opinion,” Johnston said.

“Keeping rails on the corridor has strategic advantages for future freight if becomes necessary again, and you keep a lot more options open than if you convert it into a busway.

“We’ve got the corridor, and polling shows 80 per cent community support, with Hobart now the third or fourth most congested capital city.”

The Australian Automobile Association’s Road Congestion in Australia report found, in 2018, the Glenorchy to Hobart CBD route, specifically, was increasing in travel time by 0.5 minutes.

When the Hobart City Deal, signed in February 2019, allocated $25 million to delivering a transport solution on the Northern Suburbs Transit Corridor, the state government undertook a study to determine the best mode for the corridor, be it a train, a bus or a trackless tram. The study will be published later in 2020 the year.

While support has been voiced for a passenger rail corridor by all three of Tasmania’s state political parties at numerous elections since 2010, some in HNSRAG are not optimistic that the City Deal will result in a passenger rail service but rather that converting the corridor to a busway is now a likely option.

Ian Addison, a committee member of HNSRAG, suspects that there is support in influential circles for a “trackless tram” solution, which he says is essentially a guided bus.

“I’m very supportive of investment in buses but not of converting a rare and valuable rail corridor to a busway,” Addison said.

“Unfortunately, as it currently stands, it seems very unlikely that rail will be the mode of choice for activating Hobart’s rail corridor as a passenger transit route. Up till about a year ago there appeared to be good momentum building for a passenger rail service with quite a high public support as well as the main councils within Greater Hobart.

“However, the trackless tram is being promoted by its advocates as a replacement for light rail in future. I have concerns that a rail-based option, well-tailored to the particular circumstances on this corridor, will not be given appropriate consideration.”

Hobart’s public transport network is currently served by bus services travelling lengthy routes to the widely spread-out suburbs. Alongside the low service frequency, Hobart has some of the lowest public transport patronage in Australia.