Monaro Rail Trail cycling track proposal seeks support for feasibility study

A project predicted to inject $15million a year into several rural communities on the Monaro is attempting to get on track.

A small committee has been operating for around 18 months looking at the potential of turning the disused and decrepit rail line between Queanbeyan and Bombala into a bike track.

The 150km long rail line was once used for both passengers and freight from Monaro villages and townships including Bombala and Nimmitabel. It carried wool, cattle and sheep through to Sydney processors.

However, it has not been in use since the mid-1980s – the line between Bombala and Cooma for even longer.

Small business owner Will Jardine of Nimmitabel said a bike trail along the route will be “the saviour of this region”.

Mr Jardine along with other members of the committee have been trying to drum up government support for a feasibility study to be done into the idea. He said prior to amalgamation, then-mayor Bob Stewart and the Bombala Council were all for the idea.

However, since the merger he said he has hit nothing but brick walls at both local and state government level. Funding is needed, but there also needs to be active state legislation passed to officially turn it into a disused rail line.

“A bunch of us could see the benefits in using existing but unused infrastructure and turning it into a revenue stream [for these small towns],” Mr Jardine said.

“State government wants to ‘preserve the rail corridor’ – well that’s what we’re doing. The corridor remains, it’s not an either/or position.

“The current state government’s policies have been lock-out laws, council amalgamations and the greyhound bans. None of those – which were all negatives – had feasibilty studies done,” he said.

“Now we’re trying to add something to our community.

“We’re not going forwards – and if you aren’t, you’re going backwards,” he said.

He said estimates are for around 15,000 riders travelling the 150km route a year. Given they could potentially spend around $200 a day at each of the five towns the railway line passes through (food, drink and accommodation etc), the conservative estimate is for $15million annually brought into the local economies of Michelago, Bredbo, Cooma, Nimmitabel and Bombala.

The numbers aren’t plucked out of thin air, they are based – just as the bike rail trail is based – on an almost identical track in Otago, New Zealand.

In fact, Mr Jardine said he had heard from some locals who had ridden the Otago trail and thought the Monaro version had the potential to be even better.

The aim is to seek around $50,000 to conduct a feasibility study into the idea, but negotiations need to take place with both local and state governments as well as the ACT government, which Mr Jardine said has proven troublesome.

Benefits aplenty for bike trail

Will Jardine at the Nimmitabel Railway Station.

Will Jardine at the Nimmitabel Railway Station.

Mr Jardine is himself an avid cyclist.

He enjoys racing and takes part in Gran Fondos, long-distance chip-timed rides.

He said he also rides his mountain bike around 20km every second day, mainly for health and fitness.

“When you own a bakery you need all the exercise you can get,” he said with a laugh.

Mr Jardine said benefits of the Queanbeyan to Bombala bike trail would include the obvious health and fitness factors, but would also be a safer option taking cyclists off the main trucking freight corridor to Canberra, and could also piggyback off the recent international status of Canberra Airport.

He said the Otago bike trail reports 40 per cent of its riders are international visitors and 15 per cent Australians.

Mr Jardine said some landholders do have concerns of the potential use of the rail lines through properties along the Monaro, “but most are alleviated by existing rail trails proving they can co-exist”. The current committee president is even a local landholder, obviously all for it.

He said they had also had plenty of support out of Canberra and its cycling community.

To find out more about the proposal, find the Friends of Monaro Rail Trail page on Facebook