$13 million committed for rail trail after 'long fight'
THE Federal Government has committed $6.5 million to help fund the first stage of the Northern Rivers Rail Trail in what has been hailed as the biggest milestone yet for the project.
Along with matching State Government funding, the total $13 million will fund the transformation of 24km of rail corridor into a community trail from Murwillumbah to Crabbes Creek.
Federal Minister for Regional Development John McVeigh announced the funding today in South Murwillumbah.
"As a local MP for the regional city of Toowoomba, I know how much these projects will help the local community," Dr McVeigh said.
Dr McVeigh was joined by NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro and Lismore MP Thomas George at the announcement.
Mr Barilaro said the federal funding was the culmination of a "long fight, and a lot of work behind the scenes".
Mr George said he was a long-term advocate of the project, which ultimately aims to create a 123km trail running from Murwillumbah to Casino.
"This project offers real economic benefits, with its potential to create jobs, boost the local tourism industry and provide a valuable asset for the enjoyment of the local community," Mr George said.
Tweed Shire Council director engineering David Oxenham said preliminary planning for the project would now commence.
"That phase will include determining timeframes, when we can start, when we can complete the project, and the project team," Mr Oxenham said.
"There's a number of steps we need to take and the state needs to take including the changing of the legislation allowing the train tracks to be removed and the rail corridor closed as a train corridor."
Mr Oxenham said detailed timelines for the project and conceptual designs might be complete within "three to six months".
Public liaison for the Northern Rivers Rail Trail Association, Marie Lawton, hailed the news as the biggest boost yet for the project which now had "so much momentum".
"We've got the State, the Feds and local councils on board, and so many community members supporting us," Ms Lawton said.
Former Deputy Prime Minister, Doug Anthony, now 89, made a special guest appearance as a patron of the rail trail project.
"He thinks the rail trail would be the best way to showcase this region," Ms Lawton said.
She agreed: "It just seems to me that the best thing that could happen for this region is a rail trail."
Dr McVeigh also announced a further $1.2 million for several other projects, including the $880,000 completion of the cycle friendly coastal track from Ballina to Lennox Head, which will link Skennars Head to Lennox Head.