Canberra key to Monaro rail trail’s potential tourism bonanza for region

Ian Bushnell 5 December 2018 27

The disused Queanbeyan-Bombala rail line would offer spectacular scenery for cyclists and walkers. Photos: Supplied.

The development of a recreational trail along the disused rail line between Queanbeyan and Bombala would add $4 million a year to the regional economy, according to a pre-feasibility study.

The study, prepared by TRC Tourism for Monaro Rail Trail Inc, examined the case for establishing a trail for cyclists, walkers and runners along the 213km corridor, concluding that the potential tourism benefits warranted a more detailed study.

But the proposal faces considerable challenges, including opposition from significant landholders along the route with political clout and a push for a restored rail freight line between Canberra and the port of Eden on the South Coast.

NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro has pledged a $1 million study into the new rail proposal if the Coalition Government is re-elected, but many are sceptical about its prospects.

Some landholders have concerns about biosecurity, having to adjust their farm practices and stock management, and privacy, but MRT says these fears are unfounded and similar issues have been resolved on interstate and overseas trails.

The study says the trail would revitalise regional towns and villages such as Michelago, Cooma, Bredbo and Nimmitabel where local, national and international tourists would need refreshments, food and accommodation.

Users already in the region who might extend their stay with a short bike ride of a day or two would add $1 million a year to the local economy.

But Canberra, with its strong cycling community and being a gateway for both national and international tourists, would be attracted by multi-day rides, adding a further $3 million to the regional economy.

The study based its estimates on other rail trails in Australia and overseas, particularly the popular and comparable Otago rail trail in New Zealand which contributes $10 million a year to the Otago region economy.

The rail trail demographic consists mainly of well-heeled baby boomers who are part of the growing active tourism movement.

Rail trails have taken off in other states, such as in north-east Victoria, and around the world but NSW seems to have been slow to come to the party, although it is funding a 25km pilot trail at Tumbarumba.

Cooma-based MRT president Mary Walters, who has ridden trails around the world, says the Monaro Rail Trail, once established with good quality services and with sound marketing, would achieve similar or stronger results to Otago.

Monaro Rail Trail member Andrew Carter, who is based in Canberra, says the national capital presents a huge market with almost half of the Territory’s 400,000 population having ridden a bike in the past 12 months.

“Michelago will be a huge coffee destination for people doing a single day ride,” he said.

“Once the trail becomes known, you start to draw in interstate traffic, and [with] Sydney three hours away, Melbourne four hours, there’s another 14 million to draw upon, and eventually you get an international market.”

Otago, which has similar geography and economic circumstances, drew 15,000 people doing four-day rides last year, with thousands of others on shorter outings.

“It’s a regional economic activity that gives each of those little villages an equal slice of the action, because the riders have to pass through those villages, they’re all equally spaced, about a day’s ride apart, so every night people are going to be overnighting in those villages,” Mr Carter said.

Nimmitabel bakery

Nimmitabel bakery owner Will Jardine is completely on-board with the idea.

For trail supporter and Nimmitabel bakery owner Will Jardine, the idea is a no-brainer as far as boosting economic activity.

The area was in decline, and needed something to create jobs to get the local economy back on track.

“I rode the Otago trail and was blown away by it, the amount of revenue along that route is unbelievable,” he said.

“You can imagine this one coming out of Queanbeyan or Canberra, with Canberra being a cycling mecca with an international airport, it would just go bananas,” he said.

Mr Carter believes momentum is building across NSW with a proliferation of rail trail groups but would like the NSW Government to be more supportive, especially when Victoria has had rail trails for 25 years and other states were getting on board.

The next step will be a Snowy Monaro Shire funded study of costs and benefits.

Snowy Monaro General Manager Peter Bascomb said: “Council is grateful to MRT for this report, which we’ll use as the starting point for the more detailed study which Council has planned.”

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27 Responses to Canberra key to Monaro rail trail’s potential tourism bonanza for region
LanyonRegis LanyonRegis 7:09 pm 14 Dec 18

The Queanbeyan – Michelago section of the rail line should be reserved for future reactivation as part of the Canberra-Queanbeyan public transport system, connecting to the ACT light rail system at Kingston, and perhaps at other points as well. And yes, that would cost a lot of money. I understand the culverts and rail bridges are in extremely poor condition.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 6:14 pm 10 Dec 18

This will cost a lot of money (where from?) for the benefit of very few people.

It should only proceed if the users are prepared to pay fees to use it.

Bill Jackson Bill Jackson 12:57 pm 10 Dec 18

Would be physically challenging in peak summer.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 1:33 pm 10 Dec 18

    Some will still cycle it then. When younger I cycled from Swan Hill to Binalong in late December, when the temperature was in the high 30s. Carry lots of water, wear block out and take the occasional break in the shade. Never had a problem.

Jean Wilson Jean Wilson 10:28 pm 07 Dec 18

Being talked about for years ... Please just get on with it. The CCT is wonderful for walkers and cyclists. So are rail trails and bring so many more visitors and cash to communities along the way.

Trevor Sutton Trevor Sutton 9:34 am 07 Dec 18

I have been thinking of riding parts of it

Graeme Shields Graeme Shields 10:39 pm 06 Dec 18

The Queanbeyan to Bombala rail line has never officially been closed as that requires an Act of NSW Parliament, it has only been placed “out of use”. Large scale lifting of rail lines and removal of infrastructure is only permissible once a line is officially closed. So any bike riding, if access to the land is granted (the railway alignment is still NSW Govt land) would be bumpy over all those sleepers, nevermind the investigations into re-using the line.

Dave Hanna Dave Hanna 10:09 pm 06 Dec 18

Been halting in Vic for 10+ years. Works amazing for tourism and great exploring, though many are gravel and not sealed!

Stephen Page-Murray Stephen Page-Murray 9:04 pm 06 Dec 18

in the U.K they are revitalising dead rail lines all over the country. Why not here?

Laurie Collins Laurie Collins 9:19 am 06 Dec 18

Bring the trains back as we wont have cars in the future

Lori J Tas Lori J Tas 7:59 am 06 Dec 18

Seems like a good idea :)

    Margaret Freemantle Margaret Freemantle 11:47 pm 08 Dec 18

    LJ Tas a costly good idea

    Lori J Tas Lori J Tas 11:56 pm 08 Dec 18

    Margaret, $1m for a feasibility study seems reasonable, less than the cost of 10 APS6s for a year. But it would be good to know how much it will cost to do completely.

Ken Thompson Ken Thompson 10:55 pm 05 Dec 18

Rail trails are a huge success in other Australian states and internationally. They’ve revitalised struggling communities socially and economically wherever they’ve been implemented.

We live in Sydney but my family and I have cycled most of the Victorian rail trails, one of the Queensland trails and several in New Zealand. Our next journey will be in Tasmania. We’ve spent thousands of dollars in local communities doing these journeys and we’ve met many other people of all ages from Australia and around the world who’ve done the same.

NSW is so far behind these places that it’s almost laughable considering the thousands of kilometres of unused and publicly-owned railway infrastructure there is within NSW. The failure to put these assets to good community use must be bordering on being criminal.

Issues such as bio security, trespassing and unauthorised use by other vehicles have been dealt with successfully in every other jurisdiction so I’m sure NSW can do the same. It’s not rocket science.

Wayne Williams Wayne Williams 10:42 pm 05 Dec 18

Great idea

Daniel Oyston Daniel Oyston 8:55 pm 05 Dec 18

Car drivers will still be offended

vagabondo vagabondo 3:58 pm 05 Dec 18

So much potential here – an easy commute for Jerrabomberrans, a scenic link to Tuggers for Royallans and an opportunity for small business in the towns and villages along the way. Bring on that feasibility study Snowy Monaro councillors.

Paul Cockram Paul Cockram 3:17 pm 05 Dec 18

If you can imagine an oil constrained future (and it will eventually run out or become scarce and expensive) then the future is electric. I'd keep the corridor for public transport even if bikes use it in the mean time. The tracks would need relaying anyway.

    Lori J Tas Lori J Tas 7:59 am 06 Dec 18

    Dude, bikes come in electric...

    Paul Cockram Paul Cockram 9:21 am 06 Dec 18

    LJ Tas. Sure dude, but electric mass transport caters for all ages in all weather.

Richard Perry Richard Perry 2:53 pm 05 Dec 18

Assuming a railway will never return (and the dubious viability of the Sydney-Canberra services suggests that it won't), then this will be excellent.

I'd like to see the rail trail made suitable for both slower recreational riders, and for those who use the ACT's rural roads for high speed training. This could be done by sealing the surface and constructing it with perhaps three (if not four) cycle-lanes across. The centre lane/s would be for passing in either direction. Giving cycle athletes a viable option for long-distance traffic-separated training would make Canberra an attractive training destination and improve safety outcomes for all road users.

    Margaret Freemantle Margaret Freemantle 11:45 pm 08 Dec 18

    Richard Perry and to hell with the walkers???

    Richard Perry Richard Perry 7:34 am 09 Dec 18

    Hi Margaret Freemantle. Walkers don't need to go to hell and should find the trail, even with my suggestion incorporated, accommodating. My concern is that the trail is sufficiently wide to 'deconflict' the different users. While granted I didn't mention walkers, they're in my thinking. On a separate thread on the same topic, I mention them and suggest that extra width to the trail is more import at its ends - say between Queanbeyan and Tuggeranong Siding, and a couple of kilometres either side of Cooma, which would be extent to which most walkers would use it. Walkers could still use any other part of the trail, of course, but there'd be less congestion.

Sammy Elder Sammy Elder 2:13 pm 05 Dec 18

Trains would be better though.

Maya123 Maya123 2:11 pm 05 Dec 18

A cycle route and restored train line could be constructed together, side-by side, with a fence between the train track and cycle path, to allow for family groups with children.

Costanza Maffi Costanza Maffi 2:01 pm 05 Dec 18

Awesome!!!! 👍👍👍

Bill Jackson Bill Jackson 1:43 pm 05 Dec 18

Won't get much use in high summer.

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