WHEN Gippsland South MP Danny O’Brien visited Korumburra last week, there was no one better to present the case for extending the Great Southern Rail Trail than local business owner John Kennedy.
Mr Kennedy, who owns Korumburra’s Bicycle Fitting Store, has been campaigning to extend the rail trail from Leongatha to Korumburra (and eventually to Loch and Nyora) since November last year, collecting 5000 signatures on a petition circulating since that date, and more recently taking his case to the South Gippsland Shire Council for consideration in its 2018/19 budget.
At his Commercial Street store last week, Mr Kennedy told Mr O’Brien, who has been advocating for the return of a dedicated Gippsland railway line to Melbourne, that extending the rail trail was “the cheapest thing we can do to save local businesses and bring more people to the two towns” of Korumburra and Leongatha.
“We urgently need to do something because small business is suffering,” Mr Kennedy said.
“If we want to bring people out of Melbourne, we’ll get the most bang for our buck with a bike path. That will get people to Korumburra and from there, they’ll continue to Leongatha.”
Mr O’Brien acknowledged the economic benefits the existing rail trail had brought to towns such as Meeniyan and Koonwarra, saying the project had been “much more successful” than he and his Nationals colleagues, including his predecessor Peter Ryan, anticipated.
But he said without a clear message from the community, and more specifically from the South Gippsland Shire Council, he was finding it difficult to determine what his electorate really wanted.
“Some sections of the community want the train back, but there’s also a growing push for the bike path, with support from groups like the Korumburra Round Table, the Korumburra Business Association and the Rotary Club.
“The [South Gippsland Shire] Council also seems to be getting behind the idea, but I’d like to get a clear message from the community and from the council – which one do you want?”
Mr O’Brien said he was “in listening mode” and “happy to consider” the rail trail extension “on the basis that it’s not either or”.
“There’s been a cost estimate on trains coming back, and we need to see a business case on the rail trail.
“It doesn’t need to be an ‘either or’. The train might be feasible in the medium term but there’s a fair bit of water to go under the bridge before we get there. In the meantime, we can look at the rail trail,” Mr O’Brien said.
Showing Mr O’Brien letters of support for the rail trail extension from a number of local businesses and organisations, Mr Kennedy said, “We have something in front of us that can help every small business and help the community with health and other benefits, as well as finally uniting the two towns of Leongatha and Korumburra”.
Following Mr Kennedy and former councillor Nigel Hutchinson-Brooks’ budget submission on May 30, the South Gippsland Shire Council wrote Mr Kennedy a letter on June 6, “acknowledging the support and importance of the Great Southern Rail Trail extension from Leongatha to Korumburra by designating it as a Priority Project along with the Korumburra to Nyora section”.
The letter stated that construction of the Leongatha to Korumburra section of rail trail was estimated at $3 million, based on the costs of previous trail works.
It said the council had already lodged an application with VicTrack to enter a lease for the rail corridor and allocated funding of $1 million in the forward budget for the Leongatha to Korumburra section in 2019/20. The remaining $2 million is expected to come from external grant funding.
“Officers are actively ensuring that appropriate planning is being undertaken so the project will be ready for 2019/20,” the letter said.