Two reports assessing the feasibility of a heritage rail operation in the Tasmania’s North East has been disputed, forcing the government to seek another economic analysis for the project.
The Examiner can reveal an independent assessment, commissioned by the state government, found using the unused railway corridor in the north east for a heritage rail service was feasible.
Proposed by the Dorset Council, the North-East Rail Trail has been earmarked for a future walk and cycle trail between Launceston and Scottsdale.
The Launceston and North-East Railway board has been lobbying for the cycle trail to be scrapped and the trains used on the railway for tourists.
A feasibility study, completed by Linqage International, assessed information by the board on how it would establish and operate the trains.
It found the railway “would be able to operate sustainably in surplus without the need for any recurrent support from external sources, including government”.
A second report, completed by Raylink, estimated the cost of refurbishing the rail line to allow for a railway tourism operation would be $15.9 million.
With the two conflicting reports, Infrastructure Tasmania was tasked to assess both and provide the government with a recommendation forward.
It recommends the Department of Treasury and Finance commission an economic analysis of the benefits and risks of both proposals to inform the government’s position.
The Raylink report
According to the Raylink report, the cost of upgrading the railway is $15.9 million.
The first stage from Turner’s Marsh to Lilydale Falls would cost $5.6 million, $4 million from the Falls to Wyena and a final stage cost of $6.3 million to Scottsdale.
The Raylink report suggests while the existing infrastructure is “largely in good condition”, there were concerns about the condition of rail joints, the need to replace about 15,000 sleepers, the condition of bridge decking and the need to replace two bridges.
The Raylink work did accept the proposition from the railway board that it would have access to second-hand steel sleepers from TasRail and therefore did not cost the materials component of the re-sleepering task.
The Linqage International report
A conflicting Linqage International report did not cite an overall cost of returning the railway to an operational standard – instead noting the proposed use of work for the dole teams and volunteers.
The Linqage report estimated 30,000 visitors would utilise the railway each year within three years of the railway to Scottsdale opening.
It believes the railway “would be able to operate sustainably in surplus” without the need for recurrent support from external sources.
Linqage advised a two-year construction period for each of the stages was possible on the basis of the resources the rail board identified.
We’ll consider them: Minister
Infrastructure Minister Rene Hidding said both the bicycle train and heritage rail service “proposals have great merit”.
“The government has accepted a recommendation from Infrastructure Tasmania for Treasury and Finance to complete an economic analysis of the benefits and risks of both,” he said.
Dorset mayor Greg Howard anticipated the community would be frustrated with the project delay.
“They’re going to have to grin and bear it because there’s nothing they can do, there's nothing council can do, it’s up to the state government,” he said.
Cr Howard said questions remained about how the rail would be repaired and level crossings managed.
“We’re just going to have to wait for the government to verify which one of those reports is accurate,” he said.
“They’re going to have to make a choice.
“It’s disappointing, I suppose.”
The next step
With the conflicting reports, Infrastructure Tasmania assessed both Linqage and Raylink’s submission and made this conclusion:
Infrastructure Tasmania is of the opinion that L&NER [the railway board] has a number of the building blocks that could deliver a tourist rail service on the north-east line:
- The offerings proposed, particularly in the first and second stages, come with attractions that are comparable with any tourist railway in the country.
- Patronage forecasts appear conservative, particularly given tourist visitation in the Launceston and Northern catchment is considerably stronger than that in most regional tourist railway catchments around the country.
- The expected two year time frame to get each stage up and going does not appear bullish and is in keeping with the largely volunteer model of resourcing being pursued.
However, there are some challenges to elements of L&NER’s proposal that may impact its ability to deliver on time and to budget. These risks relate to:
- The use of dedicated Work for the Dole crews over a minimum six year period to complete capital upgrade work and then move into an operational phase;
- The approval of L&NER’s Safety Management System, particularly relating to level crossing infrastructure;
- The ongoing commitment needed for plant and equipment from sponsors, particularly if competing demands with commercial imperatives arise;
- A lack of significant working capital or reserves;
- The performance of frozen rail joints; and
- Lack of maturity regarding the service offering.
On balance, Infrastructure Tasmania is of the view that this proposal has potential merit and the risks to delivery, while challenging, are not intractable.
It is noted that there is a competing, funded proposal being pursued by the Dorset Council which also has significant community support.
While there may be the opportunity for a compromise to be reached between proponents in splitting the use of the corridor, both parties have committed strongly to their respective proposals.
Given the competing proposals for use of the rail formation and the fact that both projects have substantial merit, it is difficult to differentiate between both opportunities.
For this reason Infrastructure Tasmania recommends that the Department of Treasury and Finance be requested to commission an economic analysis of the benefits and risks of both proposals to the Tasmanian community to inform the government’s position as to which project or combination of projects to support.