A Rail Trail will create ‘immense’opportunities for job creation, tourism business start-ups, flow-on dollars and regional recovery. That is the opinion of the New England delegation that attended the NSW Rail Trails workshop in Sydney on August 26.
The workshop was held to assess the benefits and viability of rail trails such as the proposed New England Rail Trail (NERT) development between Armidale and Tenterfield.
Glen Innes Severn Council Tourism Manager Peter Teschner attended along with NERT community representative Mercurius Goldstein and Guyra businessman David Mills of the New England Rail Trail committee.
The workshop furnished the team with the facts, figures and statistics needed to develop a regionally-based proposal that can gain the approval of the NSW Government.
The signs are promising, as a comparable trail in Central Otago New Zealand is already adding $12 million per annum to the local economy of tiny towns like Ranfurly and Middlemarch. These towns that were in decline only a decade ago are now enjoying a new lease of life. The success to date has led to a push to extend the trail all the way from Dunedin to Queenstown. Things are even brighter on the North Island of New Zealand, where the new Hauraki trail in the Auckland region is already generating nearly $2 million a month.
“Existing restaurants, hotels, cafes, shops and theatres have enjoyed a surge in new customers, and now have additional opportunities to diversify and expand,” said Peter Teschner
“But what is especially heartening is the way adjacent landholders along the trails have benefited from the provision of new fencing, gates & grates, extra assistance with weed and fire control, and some have even converted their spare rooms and dwellings into nice little earners as a B&B.”
Apart from the hard-headed business case for rail trails, Mercurius Goldstein was also inspired by the opportunities for community enrichment.
“Regions that have adopted Rail Trails have benefited from an increase in healthy lifestyles through cycling, hiking and riding,” he said.
“The Rail Trails have given their community a new identity and focus along with safe and accessible activities for families to enjoy together, plus enhanced Landcare projects and other environmental initiatives.
“As a school teacher, I’m also excited about the ways students can benefit from new physical education options and learn more about their local history and heritage.
“The opportunities for sporting competitions, community fundraising, public art displays, festivals and events are also very exciting.”
The Guyra branch of the NSW Farmers Association have indicated their support for the rail trail, provided landowners are included in the development of any proposal so that they can join in the benefits and have their concerns addressed.
The workshop revealed some remarkable facts about the success and prevalence of Rail Trails around Australia, New Zealand, America and Europe. There are over 1800 Rail Trails in the USA and 600 in Germany alone. At a combined length of over 40,000km, existing rail trails would circle the Earth.
Local delegates are confident that whatever issue or worry people may have, it’s a certainty that it’s been raised before and a solution has already been worked out.
If completed, the New England Rail Trail would comprise the longest, highest rail trail in the Southern Hemisphere, no mean feat considering the thousands of rail trails that already exist around the world.
“I sincerely hope that the four Shire Councils from Armidale to Tenterfield can sit down soon and work out a way to revitalise one of our most significant but neglected community assets,” Mr Goldstein said.
“With nearly 1,000km of rail trail in Victoria already generating 45,000 local visitors and $20 million annually for rural towns, the only question is, why are NSW towns still missing out?”
Local residents and landowners are welcome to contact the New England Rail Trail page on Facebook with their questions. Information from the workshop may help locals to find mutually beneficial solutions to any issues they may have.
There is also an email address firstname.lastname@example.org where residents can send their questions.