ICONIC heritage buildings along the Casino to Murwillumbah rail line would be leased to private operators to run cafes and other tourism businesses under the proposed $75.5 million rail trail, Ballina MP Don Page said.
There are 24 original stations along the line including main stops at Murwillumbah, Burringbar, Mullumbimby, Byron Bay, Bangalow, Eltham, Lismore and Casino.
The rail trail would provide a track for walking and riding bikes and/or horses along the existing rail corridor, providing a safe and scenic route without steep hills between Northern Rivers towns.Mr Page said businesses tendering for leases on the station buildings would need to fund any work to furnish the premises.
"If the government has a particular use in mind they might spend some money themselves and then go straight out to tender once they'd done that, but generally speaking it would be 'you tell us what you want to do' and usually they would have to contribute to the process," he said.
Northern Rivers Rail Trail spokeswoman Marie Lawton said there were several suitable buildings along the trail that could be leased, which could help the government get money back on the project.
"It certainly helps the development of new business and jobs, whether it is cafes, museums or bike repair shops and the like," she said.
The Murwillumbah-Casino Rail Trail feasibility study is being examined by Infrastructure NSW and Treasury NSW before the state government signs off on half the estimated funding, with the remaining half hoped to come from the Federal Government.
The report estimated $52 million in "direct costs" to clear vegetation and put road base down on the track, and about $20 million in "indirect costs".
Mr Page said under the feasibility study, it would be cheaper to pull up the tracks and sell them off rather than paving the trail over the top.
He said he was surprised that New Zealand's world famous Otago Rail Trail was reported to have been constructed for only $1 million.
He said his main objective was to get funding for the entire project, which has been allocated under a new $110 million Regional Tourism Infrastructure Fund in next year's budget.
"Even though it will be done in stages… we want to know that we've got money to do the whole lot," Mr Page said.
Minister for the North Coast Andrew Stoner has asked Infrastructure NSW to assess whether the Northern Rivers Rail Trail should be the first project to receive a financial contribution from next year's allocated $110 million.