Wednesday February 10, 2021

Rail trail funding setback

The East Gippsland Rail Trail Committee of Management has expressed dismay that its application for a grant to fund major upgrades to the trail surface was rejected.

The Rail Trail committee had applied for $5 million under the Local Economic Recovery Program, which was set up to fund projects in areas affected by the bushfires.

While it is jointly funded by the State and Federal governments, the State is responsible for doing the assessment of applications requesting grants.

Chairperson of the rail trail committee, Al Campbell, said management applied for the funding in order to carry out major upgrades to the full length of the 95km track which extends from Bairnsdale to Newmerella.

“We wanted to create a fantastic asset for the people of East Gippsland and generate economic opportunities for people in those townships along the rail trail who were affected by the bushfires,” Mr Campbell said.

“We even broke the project up into segments”, Mr Campbell said, which would have allowed scope for funding particular sections of the trail.

“None of it was funded, not a brass razzu.”

“It’s a lost opportunity, we’re just really disappointed for the whole area.

“We are surprised and frustrated but we’ll keep working to try and source funds for major upgrades.”

He described the rail trail as a “regional facility that requires proper investment that will attract more people”.

“The economic flow-on for the area is enormous,” Mr Campbell said, citing communities such as Bruthen, Wairewa and Tostaree, which bore the brunt of the bushfires, as having missed an opportunity to benefit from the rail trail’s upgrade.

Mr Campbell said along with the track surface, several small bridges on the trail were also in need of urgent repair.

“Some of them are falling to pieces,” he said. Mr Campbell said the committee had also planned to use the funds to provide roadcrossing safety upgrades, improve signage, and undertake vegetation management and erosion control.

He said the work would have been carried out using local contractors, suppliers and labour, thus providing a flow-on effect to the folk of East Gippsland, who’ve been scarred by the bushfires.

“We run on the smell of an oily rag, we’re a volunteer committee of management and receive very little in the way of funding from anybody,” Mr Campbell said.

Late last year the Snowy River Bridge at Orbost received $3.5 million for restoration works.

Mr Campbell said the bridge is completely separate from the rail trail but wonders whether there was confusion from the bureaucrats in relation to whether it was part of the same project.

“We have a suspicion that the bureaucrats thought we managed the bridge as part of our management and funded that thinking it would be an upgrade of the entire rail trail, which it’s not,” he said.

“We’ve now asked for detailed information about why our grant request was unsuccessful,” Mr Campbell said.

“We just want to find out where we went wrong because we think it was the most supported grant application for the district.”

IMAGE: Al Campbell, chairperson of the East Gippsland Rail Trail Committee of Management, says he’s “disappointed” that an upgrade of the trail was overlooked. K30-9498

East Gippsland Rail Trail

PO Box 1283
Victoria 3875

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