PREMIER Mike Baird has given his qualified support for the rail trail after sitting down with advocates for the project in Ballina.
The meeting, which ran for about 30 minutes on Friday, was initiated by Mr Baird to hear face-to-face from rail trail supporters why the project was a great idea.
“I think the plans put forward by the rail trail group are certainly exciting,” Mr Baird said.
“Obviously there’s some more work to do in terms of the economic potential and economic analysis of the proposal, but certainly looking at similar projects across the world… the examples there point to some incredible opportunities.
“We’re certainly looking at it very closely and the local members are pushing it very strongly.”
While hopes are high that locked-in funding for the rail trail will materialise before next year’s election, Northern Rivers Rail Trail Inc president Pat Grier, who met with the Premier alongside Lismore MP Thomas George, said there was no guarantee of any money yet.
It’s understood the Government is still fine-tuning its original modelling to double-check the economic predictions, which are very positive.
Mr Grier said the 130km trail was predicted to bring in $40 to $50 million every year to the region, offering a very quick return on investment for the NSW Government on the estimated $75-million upfront cost.
He said the Northern Rivers trail would be one the biggest of the state’s rail trails and could easily emerge as the most successful.
“This would be the longest (rail trail) in NSW and it combines the whole region, both the sea and the hinterland.
“We have a huge amount of tourists already coming here – there’s none other that has the tourists that we’ve got likely to make it successful so fast,” Mr Grier said.
“It’s quite an easy step to just encourage a number of those tourists to stay on and do the rail trail.
“It’s going to produce several hundred new jobs and create a whole lot of new businesses. It really could become quite a huge plus for this region.”
Mr Grier said he was encouraged by the chat with the Premier and the group had enough time to get their vision across.
“I was very pleased with how the meeting went. I don’t see why they wouldn’t do it.
“If we do this properly, there’s no reason why it can’t be one of the most successful in Australia.”