Photo: Signing the MOU document are from left; Narelle Davis (Mayor Snowy Monaro Regional Council), Ken Lister (President MRT Inc), Peter Bascombe (CEO SMRC) and Frank Bakker (MRT committee).

Plans for a 214-kilometre rail-trail through NSW’s southeast will be drawn up after Snowy Monaro and Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Councils agreed to work together on the project.

The Monaro Rail Trail project aims to transform the disused rail line from Queanbeyan to Bombala into a path for cyclists, walkers, charity riders and disability scooters.

Could this be a future option for the Yass Valley? Rail trails are becoming increasingly popular as a drive for tourism in regional and rural communities with abandoned railways.

The brains behind the idea, Monaro Rail Trail (MRT), formed in August 2015 to promote the feasibility of developing the recreational track. The group recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the councils involved allowing the three parties to proceed with developing detailed plans for the trail.

It’s considered the first formal agreement for the project. With the agreement signed, the two councils and Monaro Rail Trail can now proceed to develop detailed plans for the rail trail.

“It’s really formalising the arrangements we’ve had basically over the last 18 months,” the group’s president Ken Lister told the ABC.

“We’ve been meeting on a fortnightly basis with both councils and to organise such things … as liaison with landholders and also to secure funding from the state and federals governments for construction.”

Monaro Rail Trail will run through Queanbeyan, Michelago, Bredbo, Chakola, Bunyan, Cooma, Nimmitabel and Bombala.

A feasibility study, completed in November 2019 by the group, concluded that the Monaro Rail Trail is an extremely worthwhile project with a benefit to cost ratio of 8:1.

The report indicated that this project would boost the local retail and hospitality economy from the top to the bottom of the region, with the total yearly economic gain estimated to be approximately $25M.

It’s certainly a game-changer in the tourism space and can lead to more support for businesses in country towns as cyclists need to stop and recharge. Cyclists can’t move as fast as driving through so they like to stop for a browse and coffee.

Planning for the trail was divided into three main sections: Tralee to Michelago, 11.5 kilometres south of Nimmitabel Railway Station to MacLaughlan Meatworks and Bombala to Jincumbilly.

Two consultants have been sent out to inspect the old railway lines to create a trail development plan, which will then be used to formally apply for grant funding through the NSW and federal governments for the official build.

Rail Trails Australia currently lists 12 established rail-trails across the state, including the popular 21-kilometre track from Tumbarumba to Rosewood in the Riverina.

By Brianna O’Rourke