North East Rail Trail inquiry nears end of line

Bicycle Network appeared at a Legislative Council inquiry hearing on Monday to support the case for extension of the North East Rail Trail from Scottsdale to Lilydale Falls.

The inquiry has been runnning since 8 October 2018, with 63 submissions received and hearings held in February, April and May.

Members of the Legislative Council committee visited Victoria’s Yarra Valley Railway and Lilydale to Warburton Rail Trail in May this year.

The Rail Trails Australia website reported that some members of the committee went on to visit the Otago Rail Trail in  New Zealand, but no other detail of this trip is publicly available.

There is still no indication of when a final report will be handed down but the inquiry seems to be coming to an end, and committee members are cognisant that the clock is ticking on the $1.47 million in federal government funding for the rail trail’s extension.

The Tasmanian Government also has to introduce and pass legislation that will change the rail corridor manager from TasRail to Dorset Council.  

Bicycle Network Chief Executive Officer, Craig Richards, and Tasmanian Public Affairs Advisor, Alison Hetherington, appeared before the committee to expand on the organisation’s submission to the inquiry, as well as address some of the misconceptions about rail trails in other submissions.

Some of the key misconceptions that Bicycle Network addressed were:

Cyling tourism numbers would be lower than for rail customers

  • Tasmanian tourism figures show that cycling, whether it’s general cycling or mountain biking has been increasing over the past four years, with general cycling increasing by 9.9% and mountain biking by 23.8%. The 2018 total number of visitors cycling (46,345) is a similar number to the number of visitors taking train trips (46,920).
  • A 2015 review of New Zealand’s 22 cycling trails found they attracted 1.3 million users each year and in north-east Victoria which is home to two of the state’s longest rail trails: The Great Victorian and Murray to Mountains trails, it’s estimated that about 100,000 people a year ride in the area. It’s predicted that number will rise to 255,000 by 2025 as part of the North East Victorian Cycling Optimisation Project which is a collaboration between Tourism North East and Regional Development Victoria.  

Most tourists won’t be fit enough to ride the full length of the trail

  • We pointed out that the beauty of rail trails is that they can be ridden in sections, you can do the full length or just an hour and that they are all about easy riding suitable for families and older people. There is also the opportunity for a tourism business to offer e-bikes for hire to cater to an even wider number of people.
  • And not all older people or people with disabilities are incapable of riding bikes – some people find riding bikes easier than walking, especially electric bikes and three wheeled bikes. A New Zealand research project from 2009 found that most cycle trail tourists were aged 40–65.

Cycling tourists won’t spend money

  • The 2015 New Zealand research found that 22 cycling trails had an annual economic value of over $37 million.
  • Victorian research from 2010 that reviewed the Murray to Mountain rail trails estimated it injected $200 into the economy each day for each visitor.

Biosecurity risks

  • “Washdown” stations for bikes are now available just as we have for hikers and their boots on some of our premier walks. Boot and bike washdown stations could be provided at the major entrances to the rail trail along with educative signs and supporting material. This is being proposed at a new mountain bike trail outside of St Helens to stop the spread of the root rot fungus and are used at the entrances to walks in the Wilderness World Heritage Area.

The submissions, hearing transcripts and other relevant documentation is available on the committee’s website: