Tumut-Batlow Rail Trail progress continuing behind the scenes

The mayor, James Hayes, riding the Tumbarumba to Rosewood rail trail.

The Tumbarumba to Rosewood Rail Trail officially opened on April 3 this month and has been a huge success amongst locals since then, with out-of-town residents unable to enjoy the cycling trail until Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

Phil Barton, chairperson for the Tumut to Batlow Rail Trail (TBRT) Project, is impressed with the Tumbarumba-Rosewood trail and can’t wait to experience it for himself.

“I haven’t been able to go up and ride it yet, because it’s not essential travel, so I’m really [chomping at the bit] to get up there and cycle,” he said.

“Snowy Valleys Council have done a marvellous job with building it; the expertise and the people they’ve had involved has just been amazing.

“The minute they lift the restrictions, I’ll be up there the next day.”

Mr Barton said that the opening of the Tumbarumba-Rosewood rail trail is a “giant step forward” for the TBRT, which advocates have been pushing for more than 15 years.

“Now that’s finished and they’ve learnt all about how to build rail trails to comply with biosecurity and covering all the concerns of the adjoining landholders, it’s a big giant leap forward,” he said.

Mr Barton, and the rest of the TBRT committee, have been working behind the scenes during this period of isolation and social distancing, trying to keep the rail trail debate from overshadowing other issues.

“We didn’t want the rail trail debate to overshadow the coronavirus issue nor the Batlow fire recovery, so we haven’t pursued any more dialogue with the Tumut Shire Council at this stage,” Mr Barton said, in reference to a meeting he had with Snowy Valleys Council last month which caused headlines due to differing accounts of what took place.

“[Further dialogue with Council] will come, but this is not the time for us to be doing it,” he said.

“We’ll work with Council to pursue [the TBRT] but you know, at some stage we’ve got to find some common ground.”

The TBRT committee has been negotiating with government departments and writing to various ministers including the Prime Minister, the Premier, Deputy Prime Minister, and local MP’s.

“We’ve had some acknowledgments of our letters and support, so it’s very, very promising what we’re hearing,” Mr Barton said.

Mr Barton said the TBRT committee’s behind the scenes work is in preparation for their next step in pushing for the rail trail.

“Once this Covid virus lockdown is over, we’ll be re-pushing towards getting our Batlow-Tumut rail trail included in the possible projects for Batlow’s bushfire revival,” Mr Barton said, saying they will be pushing for this alongside Rail Trails for NSW.

“That will be our number one task.

“That’s why we’re doing a lot of work now behind the scenes.”

At their Ordinary Meeting last Thursday, the Snowy Valleys Council released a draft Local Strategic Planning Statement entitled ‘Envisage 2040: Our Path to a Sustainable Future.’

It will be released to the public for comment, prior to going back to the council to consider for adoption.

One of the planning priorities is to encourage sustainable tourism initiatives which create employment and boost the local economy. This includes funding assistance to prepare concept designs and initial cost estimates for the Tumut to Batlow Rail Trail, as well as the Tumbarumba to Batlow Rail Trail Link, Rosewood to Ladysmith Rail Trail, and Rail Trail Enhancements (ongoing).

“The diversity of the natural environment and nature experiences on offer in the Snowy Valleys is currently the primary driver of visitation to the region,” the report reads.

“However, to date, development of supporting infrastructure and products has been limited and could support further enhancement of adventure, sport and recreation product.”

The report states that potential to position the Snowy Valleys as “a premium cycling destination” exists.

Another planning priority detailed in the report is to provide infrastructure which encourages the use of sustainable transport, such as cycle ways and rail trails.

“Snowy Valleys Council aims to reduce reliance on private vehicles through the expansion of pedestrian and bicycle facilities,” it reads.

“Rail trail investment has the potential to position the Snowy Valleys as the rail trail region of NSW.

“The Tumbarumba to Rosewood Rail Trail is a pilot rail trail in NSW whereby a disused public railway is being converted to a rail trail for recreational use. The rail trail passes through dense pine forest, native bushland, rich agricultural land and cool climate vineyards, with view across the foothills of the Snowy Mountains to Mt Kosciuszko. The rail trail is 21 kilometres in length and will capitalise on the Snowy Valleys’ cycle tourism potential to become the premiere cycle tourism destination in NSW.”

The report states that council aims to formulate a Snowy Valleys Council Bike and Pedestrian Access Plan by December 2023.

During the Ordinary Meeting, Cr Pritchard said that the rail trail projects should not have been included in the report.

“I think the rail trail expansion is on there, I can’t remember that going through council,” he said.

“I think it’s living in dreamland we’re going to have a Batlow to Tumut rail trail put in.

“The government’s given us the money to spend on the Tumbarumba to Rosewood one. Council agreed that we don’t do further rail trails until we fully assess the liability of that rail trail. So to put things in there that are not feasible I think is misleading people.

‘We don’t know what’s going to be the outcome of this coronavirus economic thing, and I really think we need to put this on hold and look at it after the next year when we know where we’re going.”

Cr James Hayes said that there were “some other very important things” in the report that Council would have to move forward on, and that some projects will take priority over others.