War of words (and a rescission motion) after vote to delay decision on rail trail

07th May 2024

At Armidale Regional Council’s on Wednesday, April 24th councillors voted 6-5 to delay construction on the proposed New England Rail Trail pending a further report.
However, there have been calls to overturn this decision and the matter will be back up for debate at an extraordinary meeting of council on Monday May 13th, with a rescission motion on the agenda.
Emotions were high prior to the April 24th meeting, with speakers for and against the proposal putting their views to the have your say section of the meeting.
Councillors were being asked to give the green light for commencement of the project with a $5.4 million federal government grant.
Armidale Regional and Glen Innes Severn councils propose a 103 kilometre rail trail between Armidale and Glen Innes. The rail line has not seen trains operating for 35 years.
The Armidale section of the trail is 68.8 kilometres between Armidale and Ben Lomond at an estimated cost of $21 million. Glen Innes Council is committed to delivering the balance of the project with funding already in place for the Ben Lomond to Glen Innes section.
Councillors were asked to support initial construction of a 9.8 kilometre section of the trail between Armidale and Dumaresq railway station, using the $5.4 million grant.
The trail head would have been completed by March next year. Work would have included widening the rail corridor to about 3 metres, removing the sleepers, compacting the ground with bitumen or gravel and fencing off the trail to make it safe.
Instead, Cr Margaret O’Connor moved an amendment, calling for another report on the costs involved in maintaining the trail, as well as clarifying whether the $5.4 million could be used for other community projects.
The amendment to delay the project won the day with support from Crs Paul Packham, Dorothy Robinson, Brad Widders, Susan McMichael and Debra O’Brien.
In the wake of the decision, social media went into meltdown with arguments for and against the decision and the wider rail trail debate.
This included the launch of an online petition by rail trail supporters, calling for council to give the rail trail the go ahead. The petition, instigated by Maria Hitchcock OAM, has been widely shared by supporters and has so far attracted close to five thousand signatures.