TOP SHELF: Geoff Meers doesn’t understand why some residents don’t want the rail trail.
TOP SHELF: Geoff Meers doesn’t understand why some residents don’t want the rail trail. Nolan Verheij-Full

Rail trail expensive but worth the cost, NRRT secretary says

THE COST of a Casino to Murwillumbah rail trail would be at the "top end" for rail trails around the world due to the region's topography and high rainfall, according to Northern Rivers Rail Trail Association secretary Geoff Meers.

The proposed trail took another step forward last week with the submission of an Expression of Interest to the NSW Government.

The government is expected to call for more detailed proposals on May 31 and hopes are high the project is in the running for the lion's share of $50 million promised to rail trail projects across the state.

Mr Meers said the government's own study had predicted the trail would cost $75 million and the group's EOI had backed up this estimate.

"Comparing to other places in Victoria and New Zealand, it does seem that is slightly overstated," he said.

"But what we said in our application is that the $75 million was the best estimate so far.

"Where rail trails are really cheap is on flat and relatively dry country. What that means is there's fewer bridges and culverts to worry about; you also don't have to worry about embankments and cuttings.

"Casino to Lismore is the only real flat bit here, the rest of it is up and down … we've got 5.5kms of bridge structure and a lot of that is in poor condition."

But Mr Meers said the submission was also able to outline a plan to manage the full life-cycle costs of maintaining the trail.

And despite the relatively high construction costs the project comes with big predicted economic benefits.

The rail trail would bring more tourists for longer to the region - staying in more places than just Byron Bay - and this aligned with the government's plan.

Mr Meers said a key element was cooperation from the four local councils, Richmond Valley, Lismore, Byron and Tweed, whose expertise in applying for government funding and managing civil engineering projects was a key ingredient.

If the May 31 submission is successful, the next step would be the formation of a trust including community and council stakeholders to oversee the project.