Snowy Monaro Mayor Narelle Davis noted the obstacles the train faced and said she was confident the two local groups that wanted to use the track would come to a resolution about its future.
She said the track was a “no-brainer” as it would provide a huge boost to the smaller towns in her region that tourists often overlook, as well as a safe place for local families to ride and walk with their children .
“When you’re on a bike, you want to stop and enjoy the city you’re in… It’s not like when you’re in a car, where you just drive hundreds of miles.”
Landowners along the trail could also sell farm products, host farm stays or offer morning tea to trail users, she said, and small towns could see new businesses open to serve visitors.
But Cooma Monaro Railway spokesman Craig Moore said his group had been planning for years to run a tourist train on the southern section of the track — an effort he said would cost about $13 million to set up.
“There’s plenty of room in the hallway. We’d like to see them side by side,” Moore said of the two proposals. “What we don’t want is for one group to stand out above the other.”
The tourist steam train would “celebrate the golden age of rail travel,” Moore said, with sleeping cars and dining cars. Once operational, the group expects to generate approximately $22 million per year in economic benefits.
Monaro Rail Trail group member Ken Lister said sharing the rail corridor for part of the trail was possible, but it would be difficult to accommodate both groups along other sections.
He hoped the Monaro Rail Trail could replicate the success of the Tumbarumba to Rosewood railway in southern NSW, which opened in 2020 and attracted 15,000 walkers and cyclists in its first year.
“It’s just gone ballistic, and no one had heard of Rosewood before that,” Lister said. “When I went there a few months ago, there were two coffee shops doing a great trade, and a bicycle shop had opened in Tumbarumba. You now get a motel room there.”
He estimated that the trail would cost about $62 million to build, but would bring about $24 million in economic benefits to the region annually. This would especially help Bombala, which relies on the timber industry but was hit hard by the 2019-2020 wildfires.
“Bombala is struggling economically,” he said. ‘It depends on one wood factory and a quarter of the shops are boarded up. It’s very sad. They’re nice people down there, they just want to revitalize the city and have some opportunities for their young people, so they’re not leaving.”
Farmers across the state have also said they fear rail trail users will bring weeds and disease onto their property, or allow animals to escape, and cash-strapped municipalities are concerned about the cost of maintaining the trails, which built with government grants.
The Department of Regional NSW said that to attract government support, any proposed rail route would need to address local farmers’ concerns about biosecurity and show that the wider community was behind the idea.
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