Track winds back to new cycle of prosperity
The decline of small towns in the Snowy Mountains and eastern Riverina regions of NSW could be avoided through large-scale tourism projects such as a rail trail, a new alliance of advocacy groups believes.
Four distinct groups from the Snowy Mountains and the Riverina regions have banded together to form the Eastern Riverina Rail Trail Alliance, in an attempt to bolster their strength to campaign for 125km of trails to be built in the area. NSW, they say, has fallen behind. Of the more than 100 rail trails around Australia, not one is in NSW, alliance secretary Phil Barton said.
“It’s about people. Tourism can grow jobs in hospitality, new cafes, that sort of thing. That’s where the growth will be,” he said.
A 53km railway from Cootamundra to Gundagai opened in the mid-1880s, and was extended by another 51km to Tumut in 1903.
A separate, 29km line through Batlow in the Snowy Mountains — mostly used to move apples — was opened in 1922. It operated for almost 100 years, before closing in the mid-1980s after a major storm washed away sections of the track.
“It wasn’t until I retired and started touring Australia with a pushbike that I realised how big rail trails were. I started visiting all the rail trails in Victoria,” Mr Barton said. “It’s consumed my life. Tumut’s been going backwards. The population has gone back 1200 since 1980. Fifty per cent of our economy is timber, that’s a big part. Horticulture and agriculture is 25 per cent, the other 25 per cent is tourism.”
Steven Kaye, from national group Rail Trails Australia, said while the laws in NSW made it harder — rail lines must be closed by an act of parliament — the state should look to New Zealand for an example.
“I was standing in a small town in New Zealand a few days ago,” he said. “I could count five bike racks and all of them are full. Rail trails will progressively grow as the idea settles down and more people experience cycle tourism.”
Tumut resident Belinda Southwell, 37, watches her sons Archie, 7, and Lewis, 5, ride around town.
“They love their bikes,” Ms Southwell said.
“If (a trail) brings people to town, it can’t be wrong. It’d be good to do it as a family. Some farmers are for it, some are totally against it. Some don’t want people on their place. I don’t see how more people coming through could be bad. It’s more people watching your place, too.”
The next step, Mr Barton said, was to raise $70,000 to hire professional rail trail planners to survey the Tumut-to-Batlow site.
A 22km trail between Rose- wood and Tumbarumba in southern NSW will be the pilot project, the first in the state.
The NSW government gave $4.9 million from the Regional Tourism Infrastructure Fund to support the project, which is being managed by the Snowy Valleys Council.
NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro, the member for Monaro which takes in some of the area under consideration, said the government was funding the pilot.
“Our policy is to only consider rail trail projects which have the strong backing of their local community,” he said.
“There are a range of impacts that need to be taken into consideration, including the views of affected landowners.”
Belinda Southwell with Archie, 7, and Lewis, 5, in Tumut. Ms Southwell supports cycle tourism: ‘If (a trail) brings people to town, it can’t be wrong’