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A rail lobby group has stepped forward this week 'cautiously welcoming' the state government's release of a tender expressing 'best use' alternatives of the dormant Barossa railway corridor.
However, the South Australian Regional Rail Alliance (SARRA) warns that the line "must be utilised only for rail-passenger purposes".
Their push follows Friday's announcement by Transport Minister Stephan Knoll seeking Expressions of Interest (EOI) for the use of the railway line from Gawler to Angaston. It comes after rail freight company Genesee Wyoming Australia (GWA) indicated they would be prepared to surrender their lengthy lease to 2047, should a suitable 'alternative' use for the line be identified.
SARRA convenor Paul Henley told the Herald the Barossa rail corridor is a vital tourism and rail-passenger train link into the heart of South Australia's premier tourist region and must not be given over to other uses.
"While the Minister is to be commended at finally looking at options for the corridor, we remind him...his constituents have long and loudly called for a return of rail services to the valley," Mr Henley said.
"The alternative hinted at by Mr Knoll - that of selling off sections of the line piece-meal or to turn it into trendy multi-use tracks - cannot be allowed to happen."
Mr Knoll said the primary objective for the EOI is to identify the best use of the rail corridor in the long-term interest of the state and local economy. He shared examples of use including extending agricultural areas for farming purposes and shared paths.
However, the Minister said that future use of the corridor would influence two projects currently under consideration: upgrade to Kroemer's Crossing with a round about and replacement of Altona Bridge.
"If rail capacity is to be retained at these sites, both projects would incur additional costs," he said.
But Mr Henley maintains "...under GWA's binding lease agreement with the SA government, the Minister must insist that the line be restored to operational order prior to that hand-back".
"That's in the lease, in black-and-white."
The EOI closes next month with an outcome to be identified by March 2020.
This article first appeared on www.barossaherald.com.au
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