A study to assess the feasibility of a Canberra to Eden railway line will be completed before the end of June, with the contract to carry out the study expected to be awarded by April 2.
The NSW government announced $1 million in funding for the study in August last year, after engineer Edwin Michell developed a concept plan that proposes to rebuild the existing rail line between Queanbeyan and Bombala.
Under the proposal, the line would be extended north to Canberra Airport and south to the Port of Eden for freight and passenger journeys.
John Holland Rail, which has been appointed by the NSW government's transport department to manage and operate the state's regional rail network, is inviting tenders for the study until Wednesday.
The study, which must be completed by June 28 under the terms of the tender, will identify the freight and passenger demand for the route, as well as the timing, cost and engineering requirements of the proposed project.
Mr Michell, who prepared the concept plan on behalf of the Cooma and Monaro Progress Association, has previously estimated construction of the project at $2.27 billion, or $2.95 billion including contingency funding.
During a presentation at the Engineers Australia offices in Canberra late last year, he said construction of the Canberra to Cooma section of the route carried an estimated cost of $386 million, with Cooma to Bombala likely to need $261 million.
The Bombala to Eden section would require an estimated $1.06 billion, with almost three-quarters of the cost to be spent on bridges, tunnels and earthworks.
Contractor and client costs, as well as contingency funding, would make up the remainder of the estimated spend.
In his presentation, Mr Michell said the line had eight potential stations – Canberra Airport, Michelago, Bredbo, Cooma, Nimmitabel, Bombala, Towamba and Boydtown in Eden.
"All ... have the potential for high-quality residential development nearby at relatively low cost," he said.
It would take two hours and 19 minutes to travel from Canberra to Eden, Mr Michell said, compared to a journey of three hours and 11 minutes by car.
He said passenger demand was estimated at 3500 people per day, capturing 10 per cent of existing car traffic and all coach passengers.
The estimate also factored in population growth, cruise passengers travelling from Eden to Canberra on shore excursions, and Canberrans heading to the coast for seaside holidays.
"If we were to build this railway tomorrow, there's obviously not going to be anything like 3000 seats a day demand from the small towns on the Monaro," Mr Michell said.
"But consider that the ACT's population growth rate over the last year was the equal highest in the nation, increasing at about 9000 people per year.
"If just 5 per cent of these new Canberrans were to decide not to settle in the city, but in regional townships where they could commute to work by fast train, within three years there would be [an estimated] 1500 return trips per day, and that's just the commuter demand.
"Incidental demand, tourism, airport transfer and travellers continuing on to Sydney, and possibly in the future Victoria or the skifields, would comprise even more."
Mr Michell estimated freight demand for the railway at about 5.3 million tonnes a year by 2025-26.
Timber accounted for a significant proportion of that, but the industry is now in jeopardy in Eden. Blue Ridge Hardwoods, which has operated for 70 years and employs 56 workers, could close at the end of the year when its Forestry Corporation of NSW contract expires.
Mr Michell said providing a rail link to Eden was timely, with freight customers looking for alternatives to existing ports because of congested transport corridors, increasing energy costs and expensive port charges.
"The natural advantages of Eden as an anchorage would ensure its strategic importance to NSW once suitable transportation infrastructure was in place," Mr Michell said.
He said passengers were essential to the project to help pay for the construction, and freight equally important to ensure its long-term viability.