DEBATE has erupted over a controversial proposal to transform an abandoned rail corridor into a gravel road and tourist attraction.
The 200km stretch of disused rail line from Armidale to Tenterfield has been earmarked as the state’s first rail trail.
Similar projects have become tourist magnets in Victoria and New Zealand but opponents fear it is an attempt to dismantle the historic rail line by stealth.
Chairman of the Great Northern Rail Group Rob Lenehan said if given the green light, the rail trail would “whitewash history”.
“We believe rail lines will be needed in the future for freight and passenger use, particularly with the rising cost of transport – the loss of railway infrastructure will create a huge replacement expenditure on the state,” Mr Lenehan said.
“The historic value of the line and infrastructure is significant with several stations and surrounds being heritage listed.
“With the removal of the line the future maintenance of this infrastructure would be placed in serious doubt.”
The line has not been in operation since about 1990.
The proposal, which has state government backing, would see a gravel trail built on top of the rail line and open up the corridor to cyclists, walkers, runners and horse riders.
“It connects towns and villages and would be a great tourist attraction,” chairman of the New England Rail Trail steering committee David Mills said.
“The biggest concern is pulling something apart that our forefathers built but we see it as bringing life back to the rail corridors.”
Northern Tablelands MP Adam Marshall has called for a report from Transport for NSW, expected to be tabled in the coming weeks, outlining the state of the line.
“We need to clarify, in the unlikely instance a new service was to come in, whether the track would have to be replaced anyway,” Mr Marshall said.
“The corridor traverses some of the most picturesque areas of the Northern Tablelands and no one’s getting to see it.
“You only need to look at the success of rail trails in Victoria to know it would be an asset for visitors and locals.
“But I don’t want to talk down the concerns; we just need more information to inform the public debate.”
Guyra-based MLC Scot MacDonald said rail trails provided an opportunity for regional communities to “reinvent themselves”.
“It won’t be a saviour, but it’s another chance to get people into town and get them visiting coffee shops and motels,” Mr Macdonald said.
“There really is no case to be made for passenger or freight services being reinstated north of Armidale.”