The failure of South Gippsland Shire Council (SGSC) to attain the most advantageous outcome for constituents out of the Great Southern Rail Trail Extensions (GSRTE) is laid bare (Ref: Premier’s office press release, February 11, 2021) – state government is chipping in $1.3 million from two grant sources. So, the project progresses, claiming to eventually create seven FTE jobs.

History now! Had council gotten out of the way and given Southern Rail Group (SRG) – or any other private tourism development entrepreneur – a decent hearing (noting that SGSC didn’t bother attending the public presentation by SRG), we would likely have done better.

The GSRTE would likely to have been operational alongside (virtually FOC) the then-proposed tourist steam train venture by now. Instead, council has blown three years out of the 15-year lease of the railway corridor. SRG intended to provide $14 million of private capital and SGS stood to acquire another tourism attraction. Not only that, but we now have the burden of an estimated $500k p.a. – ad infinitum – an additional maintenance bill for the GSRTE, which would have been picked up by SRG – as well as dropping 23 jobs in the process (7v30).

SGSC ripped the railway infrastructure out in haste – a year ago now – that action killed off any chance of getting a steam train venture up.

Am I a nong – having listened to council’s explanations to justify their decisions, I am left dumbfounded?

Can it just be they have no comprehension of the magic of steam engines in the eyes of a young lad? I watched many times, the attempts – and the failures of

‘Heavy Harry’ (H220) – to get over the ‘Glenroy Bank’ – wheels white hot in the dark, shedding sparks like huge Catherine Wheels. Combined with the noise, it was a sight to behold! Failure meant rolling back down to Strathmore and building up a head of steam for the next attempt.

The absolutely ridiculous plan council produced to link the two ends of the GSRT in Leongatha still stands. What do council’s risk management staff say about that time-bomb? Look it up and understand why SGSC continue to ‘air-brush’ the costing for this SGRTE segment away from public view.

To be blunt, this entire process has been a ‘no-brainer’ and contravenes council’s own policies. These decisions are overdue for an honest explanation. If there’s acceptable justification kept from us, let’s hear about it! Surely, openness and transparency can’t be that hard? Or is it for SGSC, even though it is required by law?

John McCombe, South Gippsland Action Group member, Leongatha.