INVESTIGATIONS into the New England Rail Trail will be launched, again, at a $50,000 price tag.
And, Armidale Regional Council have opened Pandora’s box, voting to also explore “other options for rail corridor tourism”.
The cost, depth and direction of the other options is unknown.
“We need to put this to bed, we need to stop going round and round in circles,” said councillor Diane Gray, who fronted the motion to back track on last month’s decision to do a desktop study.
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Down three staff members in economic development, Cr Gray questioned the ability of council staff to undertake what would need to be a detailed investigation.
“We as councillors need more information, we need the facts as does the community so informed decisions can be made all round,” she said.
“It needs to be done by appropriately skilled people which will require funds, it would be great if we had the skills in house – but I don’t believe we do.”
In December last year, council voted unanimously to support the Economic Development Strategy that includes undertaking a feasibility study and full business case for the New England Rail Trail as a priority.
Council has $50,000 set aside in the budget to fund the business case, and Cr Peter Bailey said if council doesn’t follow the Economic Development Strategy they may as well give it the toss.
“I’m prepared to acknowledge we need an extra opinion,” he said.
“To suggest we can do a desktop study when we’re down three staff in economic development is beyond a joke.”
The issue has caused controversy in the community between two distinct camps, the New England Rail Trail group and Save the Great Northern Railway.
A rail trail would likely necessitate the removal of the Great Northern Railway, which has been out of action since around 1980.
An independent report released on Wednesday showed returning freight or passenger trains to the line is highly unfeasible, with every dollar spent returning just 34 cents.
At a minimum, the capital cost of upgrading the ramshackle railway would be close to half a billion dollars, around $2.5 million per kilometre.
Council will put the rail trail feasibility study to tender, but there is no indication of a timeline at this stage.
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