LOCAL supporters of a tourist “rail trail” for New England have upped the ante on the controversial proposal, going on a fact-finding mission last week.
Despite pockets of opposition, the New England Rail Trail committee has vowed to forge ahead with plans to transform the historic Armidale-Tenterfield rail line into a gravel roadway.
The group claims the 200km trail will provide a recreational outlet for communities and help link historic sites in the region for tourism.
But opponents the Great Northern Rail Group claim it would close the door on the possibility of the long-defunct rail leg being revived.
Last Tuesday, a delegation of supporters attended a special rail trail workshop in Sydney to gauge the viability of the project.
Mercurius Goldstein and Guyra businessman David Mills, from the New England Rail Trail committee, were on hand with Glen Innes Severn Council tourism manager Peter Teschner at the event.
They say the workshop furnished them with facts, figures and statistics needed to develop a regionally-based proposal that can gain the approval of the NSW government.
They heard of the New Zealand rail trail experience, where a
comparable trail in Central Otago was already adding $12 million per annum to the local economy.
Surrounding towns that were in decline only a decade ago were now enjoying a new lease of life, they heard.
Things are even brighter on the North Island of New Zealand, where the new Hauraki trail in the Auckland region is generating nearly $2 million a month.
“The opportunities for job creation, tourism business startups, flow-on dollars and regional recovery are immense,” Mr Teschner said.
“Existing restaurants, hotels, cafes, shops and theatres have enjoyed a surge in new customers, and now have additional opportunities to diversify and expand.
“But what is especially heartening is the way adjacent landholders along the trails have benefited
from the provision of new fencing, gates and grates, extra assistance with weed and fire control, and some have even converted their spare rooms and dwellings into nice little earners as a bed-and- breakfast.”
Apart from the hard-headed business case for rail trails, Mr Goldstein was also inspired by the opportunities for community enrichment. “Regions that have adopted rail trails have benefited from an increase in healthy lifestyles through cycling, hiking and riding,” he said.
Upon completion, the New England Rail Trail would comprise the longest, highest rail trail in the Southern Hemisphere.