Queensland Rail Trails
In August I rode the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail for the first time from start (Yarraman) to finish (Wulkuraka, Ipswich) over three days. It was quite fitting then that a couple of weeks later our PedBikeTrans seminar was from Craig England, the Department of Transport and Main Road's (TMR) manager for rail corridors in Queensland.
TMR is responsible for the management of the closed rail corridors in Queensland. Over the past few years some of the disused rail corridors have been redeveloped as rail trails. The Rail Trails Australia website is a great resource with information on the 19 open rail trails. These range from short 1km long strolls through old rail tunnels to the 161km long Brisbane Valley Rail Trail.
It is Craig's job to work with local government and community organisations to look after all the rail corridors in Queensland with a very restricted budget. The Queensland Government committed $14 million over 4 years between 2017 and 2021 to support local governments to plan, design and construct rail trails. The list below shows the planning undertaken with the grant funding.
Some of these projects are already progressively being constructed and opened, including a 3.5km section of the rail trail between Logan Village and Yarrabilba and the first stage of the Boyne Burnett Inland Rail Trail.
Most of the rail trail construction and maintenance is funded by local government and the community. The Brisbane Valley Rail Trail (BVRT) is different with TMR managing 90km and community and local government managing around 70km. TMR employs a full-time ranger to maintain the trail with a very limited maintenance budget.
Because of the different responsibilities for rail trails in Queensland, (and the variation in available funding), there is a lot of variation in the standard of the different rail trails. Even on the BVRT the ride surface ranges from bitumen or concrete through to towns, to a simple dirt single-track in some rural sections. But the solution that provides the best ride quality for lowest cost is a decomposed granite with a cement aditive or stabiliser to bond the surface and keep it compacted.
Craig recognised that the advertising of rail trails in Queensland is not well coordinated. TMR has a great web site for the BVRT and each local council or trail management organisation advertises their own rail trail (some better than others). But there is no coordination between these websites. The Rail Trails Australia website is probably the best place I have found to research the trails available in Queensland and throughout the country. They provide an easy to search database with good information that appears to be up-to-date.
The BVRT was completed in 2018 and is Australia's longest rail trail at 161km. With the other 16 rail trails in Queensland there are almost 460km of rail trails for cycling - and that length is continuously growing as more projects are completed. But getting more people using the rail trails needs more than just the infrastructure - it needs good information and good marketting.
TMR launched their BVRT website in April 2021 with links to Council websites to allow people to find accommodation, shuttle services and tours, and local attractions – creating a seamless “customer journey”. At the beginning of the year they also created a social media profile with simple but well thought-out posts to advertise the BVRT. Through these simple advertising methods the traffic to TMR's BVRT website increased from just over 4,600 in Jan-May 2020 to almost 15,000 unique visits in Jan-May 2021.
It would be great if TMR could channel some of that interest in the BVRT to the other rail trails in Queensland. I believe there is strong potential for creating a strong cycling tourism offering by better integrating information for cycle touring that creates a network of cycle routes throughout Queensland that includes all the rail trails.
The European Union has been very effective in doing this through their EuroVelo, a network of 17 long distance cycle routes covering the whole European continent. Originally started with seed funding from the EU it is now a self-funding not-for-profit that coordinates and 'sells' cycle tourism as a cross-border tourism offering. They have a great treasure trove of professional resources. Is it possible to replicate this in Queensland (or more broadly across Australia) in time for the 2032 Olympics in Brisbane?
The most important question that is always asked by communities and politicians - what is the benefit in investing in rail trails. TMR recently did some user surveys for the BVRT that showed the average spend per day for day trippers and overnight stayers on the rail trail. This is a significant income for the local area as 8 out of 10 users coming from outside the local government area of the rail trail. Almost all users surveyed said they would come back again. I am one of those repeat visitors - after our fantastic ride on the BVRT we have already organised a camping weekend with friends at Linville for a cycling weekend.
The scale of the benefit is dependent on the number of visitors. Unfortunately Craig didn't have BVRT usage numbers, which vary along the different sections of the trail. But the economic benefit for the regional towns is clear from the unemployment numbers. The Somerset Region reported a drop in unemployment from 9.2% to 7.2% in the 12 months preceding February 2020. Local officials reported that the only change that could have facilitated that increase in employment was the official completion of the BVRT in 2018.
Lets hope there is more funding coming for investments in rail trails and cycle tourism to build on the Australian regional tourism market that has blossommed thanks to the COVID travel restrictions. Lets get people planning cycle touring holidays in Australia, not just in Europe.