THE South Gippsland Shire and VicTrack have signed an 18-year lease over the rail corridor from Leongatha to Nyora.

Details of the new agreement were released to Korumburra community leaders at a meeting of the Korumburra Round Table last Thursday night.

In a statement on Friday, the shire said the lease supersedes the Heads of Agreement document that was signed in early February this year.

South Gippsland Shire Council’s Administrator Julie Eisenbise said securing a lease with VicTrack for the rail corridor from Leongatha to Nyora is “a fundamental step in the right direction”.

“Extensions to the Great Southern Rail Trail will open up new economic opportunities for South Gippsland and result in a tourism asset of National significance,” said Ms Eisenbise.

“We will now pursue grant funding opportunities to help realise Council’s vision.

“In addition to the economic and tourism benefits, a connection between Leongatha and Korumburra will provide new travel options for locals living in the two largest towns in the municipality,” said Ms Eisenbise.

Prime mover of the rail trail extension, John Kennedy of Korumburra, has given the new council administrators 10 out of 10 for securing the lease with VicTrack.

“I had a meeting with the new Administrator Julie Eisenbise when she first arrived and stressed that this project would be the single best thing the council could do for the economy of the two towns and to her credit, she has run with it.

“I give the administrators 10 out of 10 for that but now we’ve got to get on with it.

“Retail in the two towns is really struggling and we are at risk of seeing more business closures in the next few years.

“This could give retail, the cafes and coffee shops a real shot in the arm.

“And don’t worry about doing it station to station. The first thing they need to do is link the two towns. Don’t worry about the railyards at this stage. Run the rail trail through from Kelly’s Bakery to the caravan park in Leongatha and people will find their way up into the town for coffee and lunch.

“I’ve costed it out. For $950,000 you could get the rail trail set up between the two towns, opening it up to the 10,000 people living in and around Korumburra and Leongatha.

“This is great news and credit to the shire for pulling it off, but they’ve got to get on with it now to help keep the economy ticking over.”

Mr Kennedy dismissed the idea that passenger rail services would return to South Gippsland any time soon because of the huge cost, into the billions, but he said extending the rail trail was no impediment to the rail coming back.

“I’m not sure that Danny O’Brien and the other people who think trains could come back realise the cost and what’s involved.

“I’ve heard a figure of $1/2 billion just to put a bridge over the South Gippsland Highway at Cranbourne and to move the station back, which is what they’d have to do. That’s before they lay one piece of track.

“It’s fanciful but having the rail trail running up and down there for the next 15 to 20 years isn’t going to stop the trains from coming back,” Mr Kennedy said.

“VicTrack isn’t going to sign an 18-year lease for the railway corridor if passenger trains were in the planning any time soon,” he said.

“This is great news and let’s get on with it.”