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A Legislative Council Inquiry into the future of the disused North-East Rail Corridor is due to put forward its recommendations any day now.
If you've taken even the most cursory interest in the events of the North-East over the past five years, you can't have avoided the lively debate over the rail corridor.
Some people want a bike path. Some people want a heritage rail line. And this disagreement - on what would be the most pleasant way to absorb the pretty scenery between Launceston and Scottsdale in a leisurely fashion - has turned into one of the most vitriolically debated issues in the state.
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What's the issue?
Basically, there is a rail corridor that hasn't been used in 15 years sitting in the North-East. It runs for 64 kilometres from Coldwater Creek - about 10 minutes from the Launceston CBD - to Scottsdale, and connects to a separate, operational line ending at Inveresk. And there are a range of options for what to do with it.
A proposal for a cycle path between Launceston and Scottsdale was first put forward by the Dorset Council in 2014. Since then, there have been at least six separate reports from commissioned private consultants, a federal funding announcement, new state legislation, a halt in the spending of federal funding, intervention from the state government, lobbying from the City of Launceston Council, and now, a Legislative Council inquiry.
This has come at a cost to the public purse so far of $50,000 for a Department of Infrastructure report, at least $20,000 for the Legislative Council Inquiry including a $7000 fact-finding trip, and the day-to-day activities of public servants in four levels of government.
Rail trail near Second River Road, Lilydale. Picture: Philllip Biggs
Why are people so angry?
It is true that many of the rail advocates have a personal stake in this issue.
For many of them, their advocacy for a heritage train grew out of the fact that the disused rail corridor runs through their farmland. They don't have a legal say in what the corridor is used for, because even though it may run through private property, the corridor belongs to the state. If the government decides that a Tasmanian Tour de France should wheel its way through Lilydale pastures, there's not much the owners of those pastures can do about it - except cause a ruckus.
Here's Tourism Northern Tasmania chief executive Chris Griffin: "What has been most disheartening across the last two years particularly is the oftentimes hate-filled and venomous way in which proponents for the railway have communicated their cause."
The pro-rail groups, for their part, have argued that it is the actions of the pro-cycle trail groups that have created a community that is divided and angry. The farmers are furious that a public bike path could run through their land without their consent, and some have said they will pursue legal action if the cycle track goes ahead.
This article first appeared on www.examiner.com.au
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