The railway line north of Armidale could be legally closed as early as 2021, according to a group aiming to win government support for a bike trail on the route.
New England Rail Trail Inc are just days away from completing a costing for the project between Glen Innes and Armidale, according to chairperson David Mills.
The business case for the 103-kilometre project is "90 per cent complete", he said.
A consultant from Haliburton recently completed the field work for a trail development plan for the final stages of project, the final piece of the puzzle before the project can go before local government and Regional Development Australia.
He should finish his report within two weeks.
Mr Mills hopes they will then be able to win state and Commonwealth funding for the project.
He's confident the business case will show the project will stack up.
The Tumbarumba to Rosewood rail trail attracted about 6000 tourists to the region since the April opening of their project, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
"If we we can get any of the coastal people, the South East Queensland market, and the regional market, your Tamworths, we believe we can achieve those numbers," Mr Mills said.
"They've had three business startups in Tumbarumba, they've had record turnover with some businesses down there. We really hope to bring a piece of historical infrastructure back to the communities that they can create events on."
But first the project has to win the approval of NSW parliament.
The rail trail project will - controversially - require the closure of the disused Great Northern Rail Line it will run along.
Built in the 19th century the line was closed to revenue service in 1988, but is still legally a gazetted railway, and closing it will require a vote in parliament.
NSW parliament last month voted to close the Casino to Murwillumbah railway line for a similar project, with both major parties and the Nationals supporting the move.
"Once councils are all happy with the overall detail in the business case and the numbers stack up then it will be up to councils to move forward to actually apply for funding. That's what we've got to do first before any legislation. Funding first, then legislation," Mr Mills said.
"We hope to see if federal government has the appetite. Federal government certainly had the appetite for the Northern Rivers. And it certainly had the appetite recently with some of the Victorian trails, helping out with their drought funding grants down there."
Both Glen Innes Severn Council and Armidale Regional Council financially supported the development of a business case for the project.
New England Rail Trail Inc aims to "push hard for funding" but "realistically it will be in 2021" before they can legislate and start construction of the project, Mr Mills said.
Member for Northern Tablelands Adam Marshall was approached by the Leader for his take on the issue.
He was asked among other things if he would lobby for state or Commonwealth funding if the business case shows it would make financial sense.
A spokesperson for Mr Marshall said it was too early to take a position in favor or against the development before the business case was finished.
Services were gradually cut on the Great Northern Rail Line, also called the Main North Line, at the end of the 1980s due to lack of passengers.
The story New England rail line could close by 2021, rail trail group claims first appeared on The Northern Daily Leader.