Community & Business

3 July, 2024

Sydney to Southern Downs express?

Push for Wallangarra line

A burning bridge on the train line between Wallangarra and Stanthorpe during bushfires last November. Photo: Allen Crosthwaite.
A burning bridge on the train line between Wallangarra and Stanthorpe during bushfires last November. Photo: Allen Crosthwaite.

by Aston Brown

A campaign is underway to reinstate the passenger train line from Armidale in New South Wales to Wallangarra on the Southern Downs. 

The more than 200km stretch of rail line has been closed for 34 years, but Allen Crosthwaite, the Tenterfield vice-president of Trains North, a community group lobbying the government to consider the proposal, said it’s time that changed.

“Trains are more cost effective than buses in the long term, and freight would be used to justify the cost of the line,” Mr Crosthwaite said.

If the disused line was reinstated, it could see passengers travel from Sydney’s Central Station to Wallangarra, and even as far as Toowoomba if further upgrades were carried out.

Crosthwaite said a passenger and freight train line would greatly benefit the region. He said school leavers in areas such as Glen Innes and Tenterfield have “very limited further education options” because of a lack of public transport options to travel to nearby universities. On the other hand, a train line would allow elderly and disabled people to access specialist medical facilities that are currently out of reach, he said. 

“The commerce of the town would also greatly increase, with more visitors coming, it means that the town would have more commerce if people were coming and going by train,” Mr Crosthwaite said. 

In February, the New South Wales minister for regional transport and roads, Jenny Aitchison, addressed parliament in reply to a Trains North petition with 10,740 signatures calling for the train line to be reinstated. 

Mr Crosthwaite said feasibility studies are needed to determine the viability of upgrading the line. Previous estimates put the Armidale to Wallangarra upgrade at between $1.3-8 billion but Mr Crosthwaite believes it could be “much cheaper than that”. 

He said the line’s closure came with the rise of highspeed road freight transport and declining patronage. “But that was when diesel was cheap,” he said. “It’s been 34 years and a lot has changed."

“We are getting 270 trucks a day coming down the New England highway. If we want the trainline reinstated we need a business case, we can pay for it by moving freight onto trains, the government wants to reduce diesel use, it ticks all the boxes,” 

Southern Downs state MP James Lister said he was impressed by Mr Crosthwaite’s campaign and would advocate for any new rail services on the Southern Downs.

“There could be a renaissance in the rail transportation of livestock, produce and passengers,” he said. “Of course we first need to get those little wooden drainage bridges near Wallangarra rebuilt after the fires last year as well."

Southern Downs Regional Council mayor, Melissa Hamilton, said the council works very closely with Tenterfield shire council in northern New South Wales and is “very open to investment and proposals that bring business and tourists to our area.”

“Everyone loves the Southern Downs steam railway … because of the romance of rail travel, I'm sure continuing that on to Wallangarra and Tenterfield would always be popular,” she said.


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