Hilltops plans put Blayney to Demondrille line reopening in jeopardy

Cowra Mayor Bill West has said Hilltops Council's plans could jeopardise the Blayney to Demondrille line reopening.
Cowra Mayor Bill West has said Hilltops Council's plans could jeopardise the Blayney to Demondrille line reopening.

Funding to reopen a section of the Blayney to Demondrille railway line between Cowra and Holmwood has caused much joy for the proponents of the line's use.

But plans to investigate the use of the Young rail corridor between Young Railway Station at Anderson Park to Chinaman's Dam as a rail trail walkway/cycleway have put a spanner in the works.

The investigation was marked as a priority in Hilltops Council's draft Local Strategic Planning Statement 2020-40 which recently closed after public exhibition.

The line has recently been subject to a feasibility study by the state government and Cowra Mayor, Councilor Bill West, who co-ordinates communication between local government areas along the line and Transport NSW said Hilltops investigation could jeopardise the reopening.

"The rehabilitation and reopening of the rail line between the Cowra Heritage Centre Depot and the Holmwood Silo Loop is very exciting news for Cowra Shire, providing great tourism possibilities and the tremendous opportunity for the Lachlan Valley Railway to use the line to train drivers and crew," he said.

"Upon learning of Hilltops Council's proposal to establish a rail trail on a small section of the Blayney-Demondrille rail line, via their Local Strategic Planning Statement, Cowra Council wrote to Hilltops Council to express our concern and disappointment in this proposal and its potential to jeopardise the opening of the Blayney-Demondrille rail line.

"Hilltops Council, as well as the former Young and Harden Shires, have been strong supporters of our united push to re-open the Blayney-Demondrille rail line and urge them to reconsider," he said.

It is a sentiment also supported by Member for Cootamundra, Steph Cooke, who has advocated for the re-opening of the entire line since her election in 2017.

"I am pleased the Lachlan Valley Rail has secured funding to rehabilitate the rail line between the Heritage Centre Depot and the Holmwood Silo Loop," she said.

"It will be wonderful to see that section of the rail re-opened for Heritage rail engines.

"I have made my support for re-opening this line very clear to the Minister for Regional Transport and Roads, and most recently spoke on this issue in Parliament in February of this year.

"In 2019 I announced a feasibility study to be undertaken into the potential for reopening this line. This study has been completed and is currently with the Minister for review. I look forward to the outcome.

"I have met with Hilltops Council to discuss a proposal to convert the section of the track between the Young Town Centre and Chinaman's Dam and have re-iterated my support for re-opening the entire Blayney-Demondrille line," she said.

Lachlan Valley Rail (LVR) will spearhead the reopening of the track between Cowra and Holmwood and LVR Secretary/Treasuer, John Healey, said rehabitlitation was a step in the right direction should the entire line open in the future.

"It certainly won't hurt the chances of reopening the entire corridor," he said.

"Heritage rail and particularly steam is always a good news story and attracts public attention.

"I'm sure the Cowra to Holmwood section will put a new focus on the whole line.

"However, heritage won't present a strong enough economic case to reopen the whole line by itself, we need freight to do that.

"We need to see the latest feasibility study, which was due for release last January," he said.

Mr Healey said the Blayney to Demondrille line was never officially closed and that Hilltops plans were "inconsiderate".

"It amounts to vandalism of a public asset at worst, and at best it is inconsiderate to their neighbours along the line," he said.

"In 2009 the Cowra lines had 'services suspended', they were not closed by the requisite act of parliament. It is therefore still part of the NSW rail network.

"To propose any section of the corridor be repurposed to something other than a railway line is inappropriate and may place the reopening of the whole line in jeopardy," he said.

He also said a reopening of the entire line would be beneficial to LVR.

"The plan for Cowra to Holmwood provides the means to establish an isolated branch line operation with rolling stock which remained in Cowra in 2009," he said.

"Once we get to Holmwood, we believe we can relatively easily extend to Woodstock.

"To push any further towards Blayney starts to involve timber structure and potential big problems to overcome.

"However, a mainline connection at either end would be incredibly helpful to the LVR.

"It would give us access to our own maintenance facility for the mainline fleet plus the option to swap locos or carriages in and out of mainline use," he said.

Hilltops Council has said that while it is aware of the funding to rehabilitate the line, the investigations marked in the draft Local Strategic Planning Statement were still in their infancy.

"The Draft Hilltops 2040 Local Strategic Planning Statement raised the idea around of a shared cycle/pedestrian corridor between the Young township and the Chinese Tribute Gardens," a council spokesperson said.

"An indicative path as shown on draft maps within the document follows the existing rail corridor.

"As the idea of the trail is only in its infancy, no conversation has been had as yet in relation to the potential to convert or share the rail corridor.

"Any commitment to an actual route for a pedestrian/cycle corridor requires further work and consultation. It is too early to determine whether this idea and location has merit and is feasible," they said.

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