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NSW rail trail dream edges closer to reality with $50m in funding

Simon Parker's picture
A rail tunnel on the Northern Rivers Rail Trail. Source: NRRT. Cycle Traveller

Rail trails could finally become a reality in NSW after the state government announced $50 million would be available for pilot projects on two key stretches of disused railway lines.

The 130km Casino to Murwillumbah via Byron Bay line (Northern Rivers Rail Trail), in the state's northeast, and the 21km Rosewood to Tumbarumba track (Riverina Highlands Rail Trail), in the state's south, are the two rail corridors earmarked for the funds.

The Minister for Regional Tourism John Barilaro said Expressions of Interest (EOI) are now open for local councils, businesses and community groups in these areas to create the rail trails.

“This $50 million boost to the regional tourism sector will benefit local businesses and create jobs, while offering visitors the chance to access amazing locations currently off limits on disused rail lines," he said.

“Investing in these tourism projects is a fantastic opportunity for local towns and villages to showcase their region and attract visitors."

The president of the Northern Rivers Rail Trail (NRRT), Pat Grier, said the rail trail "could become one of the world's best".

"It would provide a world class tourist experience as well as a wonderful trail for locals to use," he said. "It is anticipated that new businesses will be created along the trail resulting in many job opportunities for locals."

While NSW has many disused tracts of railway, none are officially 'closed'. Rather, disused lines are classed as 'suspended', meaning the corridors are not available to be converted for public use – only an act of parliament can formally class a line as closed.

This has been one of the major stumbling blocks in creating rail trails in NSW.

Mr Barilaro didn't rule out other proposed rail trails – such as Tenterfield to Armidale and Crookwell to Goulburn – being considered at a later date.

The Riverina Highlands Rail Trail is also proposed to extend to the NSW regional centre of Wagga Wagga, approximately 110km from Rosewood.

“We will continue to consider projects for other disused rail lines in regional areas following the completion of assessments for the pilot projects along these corridors.”

According to the government, projects submitted as part of the competitive EOI will require a feasibility study, which includes a cost-benefit assessment of the proposed rail trail.

Image: Old rail tunnel on the prospective Northern Rivers Rail Trail. Source: Northern Rivers Rail Trail Association. Cycle Traveller


Having just returned from completing the Otago Central Rail Trail as part of a larger cycle tour of the South Island, NZ, I am behind this announcement 100%. Rail trails have enormous tourism and economic benefits for all communities involved. People will ride on tracks that are car free and cycle-friendly (relatively flat). The data from NZ supports this. Fantastic news!!

I currently live in Brisbane and grew up near Lismore. So know the rail line reasonably well from Casino to Murrwillumbar. Better scenery can't be found.

We did the Otago Rail trail during the first week of December. Which excluding the Airfare injected $2,000+ into their local economy. Not bad for 6 days with 4 days of cycling.

NZ is great. 1. No dangerous animals. 2. Everyone realises how much money comes into the community and either this makes them really friendly or they are just naturally friendly either way it's a win. P.S. They do like making jokes about Aussies being convicts where as they were settlers of choice.

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