Worthy of restoration

Worthy of restoration

SGS Economics and Planning has finalised its social/economic study of the Snowy River Rail Bridge to determine the viability of saving the historic structure, and the results have been welcomed with open arms by the bridge’s supporters.

Friends of East Gippsland Rail Trail enlisted SGS Economics and Planning earlier this year to determine whether saving the bridge was a worthwhile project, with support from East Gippsland Shire Council, the Orbost and District Historical Society and the State Government, along with many private donors.

The study has determined the project worthy of continuation. Now it’s a matter of funding it.

Federal Member for Gippsland, Darren Chester, says he’s determined to secure the money required to restore the historic bridge “come hell or high water”.

He welcomed the recent release of the economic and social assessment, which indicates it would cost up to $3.5 million to restore the bridge as part of a plan to rejuvenate the East Gippsland Rail Trail.

“It’s an excellent report and it forecasts positive economic, social and cultural benefits in return for restoring the bridge to a condition that locals and visitors can enjoy,” Mr Chester said.

“In the context of government decisions, which have decimated local jobs in East Gippsland, the money required to restore the bridge is not a huge amount.

“I’m determined to work with all levels of government to get this project up and running as a matter of urgency.

“I was able to secure record funding for Princes Highway upgrades because I wouldn’t take no for an answer. It’s the same situation here and we need to demand the money for our region to help create jobs and stimulate a positive economic outlook for Orbost and the broader East Gippsland region.”

Representative of the Save The Snowy Rail Bridge group, May Leatch, said the social/economic study examines the many values of the project to restore and re-use this iconic railway bridge.

“It highlights the opportunity to use the restoration of the bridge as a catalyst to redress declines in employment and business activity in the Orbost district,” Ms Leatch said.

“The bridge’s role has changed through the years, from being a vital piece of economic infrastructure to now being a key element of Orbost’s social and visual landscape.

“This is a significant study because the proposal has come entirely from the local community with widespread support from visitors who know and love this area, and people and groups from other parts of Australia. Although it is an economic study, it also gives weight to heritage, cultural and social values.

“Speaking as a person who has worked in history and cultural heritage and understands the importance of iconic features when marketing to the visitor economy, this is very heartening. It is these many values working together that make this project such an interesting one.

“I thank Darren Chester for his genuine appreciation of this project and his understanding of the challenges confronting rural areas.”

Mr Chester said he had already raised the issue with Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, and would be seeking a major Commonwealth contribution to the project.

“The State Government owns the asset and has allowed it to fall into disrepair so we should be demanding money from Premier Dan Andrews,” Mr Chester said.

“If I can get some Federal funding on the table, maybe we can embarrass the State Government into pulling its weight.”

PICTURED: Federal Member for Gippsland, Darren Chester, inspecting the railway trestle bridge, which a report has found needs restoration to deliver major benefits to the region.