The North East Rail Trail is the subject of a new parliamentary inquiry which could delay the start of work and potentially jeopardise federal funding for the project.
The Legislative Council inquiry has been called as part of the parliament’s decision to appoint a new land manager for the rail corridor.
Anyone can make a submission to the inquiry about one or more of the terms of reference, by Friday 2 November.
Your submission can be as long or short as you want and you could consider detailing your experience on rail trails elsewhere, why you think Tasmania would benefit from a multi-day rail trail, any experience you have in tourism businesses, and your connection to the area.
Inquiry Terms of Reference
To inquire into and report upon tourism opportunities provided by the Strategic Infrastructure Corridors (Strategic and Recreational Use) Act 2016 in relation to Tasmania’s North East Railway Corridor with particular reference to
- the feasibility of the proposed Scottsdale-Lilydale Falls rail trail;
- the feasibility of the proposed Lilydale-Turners Marsh tourism railway;
- the feasibility, funding, future management and maintenance of any tourism developments on the North East Railway Corridor; and
- any other matters incidental thereto.
You can keep up to date with the inquiry’s progress on the parliamentary web page.
A rail trail along the corridor between Launceston and Herrick was first floated in 2004 in a regional recreational trails strategy, in the same year the line stopped being used for rail.
In 2011 a North East Working Group identified the rail trail as one of its top 5 priority projects for the region, with the Dorset Council and Rotary Club of Scottsdale strongly supporting it.
The Tasmanian Community Fund issued a grant of $89,000 for Rotary to build the existing section of trail in two stages from Scottsdale to Billycock Hill (Legerwood), which fully opened in 2015, with funding assistance from Dorset Council.
In 2014 the then northern councils run Northern Tasmania Development published a Preliminary Demand and Economic Benefit Assessment for a longer rail trail from Launceston.
Dorset Council received $1.47 million from the federal government’s National Stronger Regions Fund in 2015 to match its own funding to complete the rail trail. The federal funding must be expended by December 2019.
In 2016 the government tabled legislation that allowed disused rail corridors to be re-purposed for recreational use and the Legislative Council included consideration of tourist and commuter rail in its 2016 inquiry in TasRail.
However, heritage rail enthusiasts lobbied the state government to reassess the corridor in favour of rail and that examination has stalled progress on the rail trail. The legislation has since lapsed and needs to be reintroduced into and passed by the parliament.
In July 2018 the Department of Treasury and Finance released an examination of the business cases for a rail trail and heritage railway, which found the rail trail “had the potential to deliver significant economic benefits".
In contrast, Treasury said there is a significant risk that the heritage rail project will face a funding shortfall and may seek public funding to assist in its establishment costs, or its operation and maintenance costs.
While Tasmania has a number of rail trails, the longest is the current section of the North-East Rail Trail.
In contrast Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia all boast rail trails over 100 km, which lend themselves to multi-day rides that offer tourism benefits for accommodation and food businesses.
Professor Sue Beeton in 2010 estimated that the Murray to Mountain rail trail in Victoria injected $200 into the economy, per visitor, per day. The two longest rail trails in north-east Victoria attract about 100,000 riders per year, with that number rising.
New Zealand’s well known Otago rail trail in 2015 had 17,164 visits and brought in $1.35 million in revenue.
The 2014 economic benefit assessment for the proposed longer north-east rail trail estimated that after five years close to 23,000 trips would be made on the trail and it would contribute about $3.5 million to the local economy annually. Since that time, Tasmania’s cycling tourism credentials have strengthened with the ongoing popularity of Derby, the new Maydena mountain bike park and new mountain bike trails planned for the north-east and north-west.
A multi-day rail trail would complement Tasmania's burgeoning mountain biking reputation and provide another focus for cycling tourism in the state.