The Otago Central rail trail is one example of a global success story, attracting 750,000 visitors a year. Photo: Trail Journeys
The Otago Central rail trail is one example of a global success story, attracting 750,000 visitors a year. Photo: Trail Journeys Contributed

US experience shows Rail Trails can be a real money-spinner

THERE has been much debate over the years about the future of the Casino to Murwillumbah rail corridor. Community calls for the rail to be restored have fallen on deaf ears. But what if there was another way of making the rails work for us? Former Rural Press journalist Jake Lynch is currently working with an American organisation on just such situations and says tourism could put these areas back on track.

TRAIL tourists around the world are watching closely the progress of the proposed rail trail along the under-utilised Casino to Murwillumbah rail corridor.

The organisation I work for, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, has overseen the development of about 1800 rail trails across America.

But as an Australian, I have to say not many of them pass through landscapes as stunning or as compelling for visitors as the Northern Rivers region.

More than 40 years since the first rail trail was built, the debate here over whether these amenities boost local economies is long since settled.

It's no longer a question of if, but how best to capture this swelling tide of money from home and abroad in a way that is sustainable and appropriate to the area.

And it's not small bikkies. Americans spend $81 billion annually on biking gear and trips, much more than the $51 billion they spend on plane tickets and fees.

One rail trail, the Great Allegheny Passage, generates a conservatively estimated $40 million in direct spending in local towns each year.

Elsewhere, our trail-user studies record spending of between $US60 and $US120 per trail user per day, depending on the length of the trail and the availability of places to eat and stay.

Communities decimated by the decline of primary industry are finding new life, keeping their young residents, and resurrecting their main streets. The benefits are clear and assured.

But there is one vital ingredient needed to unlock them - leadership. Rail trails require political leaders with vision.

And as is the case with any job-creation and industry-creation project, it needs investment appropriate to the returns.

The Minister for Transport Gladys Berejiklian has said she would consider rail trail proposals where there was widespread support from the community.

It is now up to her whether NSW can follow the lead of other states, and governments around the world, and enable rail-trail development.

If not, this state, its entrepreneurs and residents will continue to miss out on a booming trails tourism economy.

This movement is building. I urge you to write to the minister and encourage NSW to take steps towards a new and sustainable outdoor economy.

You can also contact the hardworking non-profit group, Rail Trails Australia, to see how you can help advance plans for a rail trail in your community.

Jake Lynch

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