Capturing the Compelling Case for Rail Trails

Rosewood / NSW

Virtually every Australian rail trail proves to be a huge boon to its local economy when it’s opened. Yet virtually every proposed new trail, especially in NSW, take years of pitch battles fought by heroic volunteers in order to overcome the same ill-informed and negative arguments that are thrown up against them.

We recently became aware of a particularly eloquent letter that was written by a local resident nine months after a landmark rail trail in NSW was finally opened last year.

This letter was originally written to a local paper then re-posted and kindly forwarded to us by Rail Trails Australia.

To the Editor,

In light of recent correspondence in this and other newspapers regarding the Tumbarumba to Rosewood rail trail, I’d like to provide a personal perspective on the trail, in particular, its impact on Rosewood.

My family has been in Rosewood since the 1870’s, and I still have family there and in Tumbarumba. As a child, my family’s livelihood was dependent on farmers and the farming economy. Much of my spare time was spent with my brothers on local farms helping Dad with his business.

Like many small country towns and villages, Rosewood’s population and services have declined over the decades. As a result, the small rural economy of Rosewood has changed dramatically.

The once busy general store was on the verge of closing. The Golf Club – now a Golf Club by name only – opens only very limited hours and no longer hosts regional or local tournaments – its fairways and greens no longer cared for. Day and night tennis comps aren’t played anymore – the courts also unmaintained. The service station and mechanic business is long gone, you haven’t been able to buy fuel in town for years.

For a long time now, relying on locals spending money in Rosewood has not been anywhere near enough to sustain its tiny economy and limited services, let alone bring any growth.

In 2003, when the idea of a Tumbarumba to Rosewood rail trail was first raised, I remember there was much opposition – not only from those whose property the rail corridor adjoined or passed through, but sadly, thanks to the internet, also from rail trail opponents in nearby towns and across the country.

In more recent years as the proposal progressed and it began to look as if the trail may be built, opposition increased. ‘No Rail Trail’ signs and the like, sprung up quickly on roadside properties along the rail corridor and in town. Opposition letters to the local paper were regularly published. TV and radio interviews were aired. Keyboards were thrashed as opponents and supporters argued online.

In the end, 17 or so years later, the trail was built.

It has been up and running for about nine months now. In that short time, the effects on Rosewood are far beyond what was imagined and hoped for. Without doubt, it is the best thing that has happened there for decades. Previously, there was little reason for people to even stop, let alone deliberately visit Rosewood, now they do exactly that – they stop, they deliberately visit … and they spend!

As a result:

• The local shop has been leased by a young family and renovated. It is off to a great start serving food, coffee, drinks etc. to hungry trail users – and they are looking for more staff.

• Gone Barney, a plant nursery and café, is absolutely booming. They have had to increase their staff numbers to cope. On the day I visited, I saw five teenage girls, plus the owner, her brother, and his partner, all busy preparing orders for rail trail users. Jenny, the owner, said her business has increased 2½ times since the opening!

• Prior to the trail, employment opportunities, especially for young people were basically non-existent. There was no way any business in Rosewood would need to employ five young people on a single shift – there simply were not enough customers to require it.

I was in Rosewood the weekend before Christmas and spent two hours visiting the local shop, the trail head and Gone Barney. I spoke to and saw many trail users including:

• A young family of five from Albury, who said they had ridden lots of the Victorian rail trails many times and are keen to do others. They said they are fantastic especially for their young family.

• A family of five from Wodonga riding Saturday and Sunday and staying locally.

• A couple from Bethungra traveling with a couple from Canberra riding the trail, and making a weekend of it, staying in Tumbarumba that night & playing golf on Sunday. The couple from Canberra praised the rail trail and congratulated the region for building it. Both couples bought & ate lunch at the Rosewood store.

• A couple from Wodonga riding Saturday & Sunday, staying overnight locally.

• Another couple from near Cootamundra who had driven up to check out the trail and were very impressed.

• A group of nine mainly Tumbarumba locals just leaving Gone Barney after eating. Most riding locally hired e-bikes.

• One young woman riding by herself was having coffee at the Rosewood Store.

My mother, who still lives in Rosewood, has noticed a real change in attitude towards the trail.

For example:

• She has not heard any landholder comments on loss of income or ability to provide for their families.

• To her knowledge, all except one of the ‘No Rail Trail’ signs have come down, with the remaining one being on a property not affected by the actual trail.

One Rosewood family who were arguably the most passionate and vocal in their opposition to the trail, removed their signs and have said to her that the trail isn’t such a bad thing after all.

• One landholder who also strongly opposed the development, and whose family has been in Rosewood for generations, has recently opened a B&B on the family farm which is going well. Whilst not solely aimed at accommodating rail trail users, he’s already getting bookings from them.

• Another long-time farmer, also quite open in his opposition to the trail, has changed his mind as his concerns, mainly about, (but not limited to), biosecurity, have been addressed to his satisfaction.

• There are at least two other landholders and their families whose concerns with the trail had been widely stated, and published, by opponents as being prime examples of major failures of the rail trail concept. Most of the issues have been fixed, and plans are in place to fix those remaining shortly. As a once local, I know the issues were not the major and dramatic problems they were claimed to be, and those same landholders, said to be so unhappy, now regularly use the trail.

• Still another old-time farmer who was one of the loudest and most staunch opponents on the Tumbarumba end of the trail, is now accepting of it and is impressed by the new fencing that’s replaced his old.

• Nit picking aside, nine months in, you would be hard pressed to find more than one or two affected landholders with any real concerns about it.

It has not been the harbinger of doom to the farming economy and way of life. In fact, the very opposite could be argued.

Nor has it caused any of the multitude of other negative outcomes so repeatedly and vehemently argued by those in opposition.

Livestock can still access feed and water and don’t look terribly stressed. No theft of livestock, private or public property has occurred.

Land holders can still cross this piece of publicly owned land to access their homes and work their properties – just as they always have – in fact many now have better access and crossings to do so on. Wives and families have not been accosted or endangered by trail users – another concern raised by some in opposition.

In other words, life continues pretty much as it did before, but with added economic, lifestyle, and social benefits to, in this case, the Rosewood community and surrounds.

The enthusiasm and praise from the young families, grandparents, grey nomads, singles, School groups and others using the trail, has bought a real sense of excitement, pride and opportunity. It is such a contrast to the Rosewood of only 12 months ago.

Before the rail trail, these people would never have been interested in visiting. Now, by doing so, they are giving Rosewood a chance. The best it has had in a very long time. Instead of at best, struggling into an uncertain future, there is a real chance it can look towards to a far brighter and more prosperous one.


Ian Doughty

Join the Conversation: Have you seen or experienced positive results of a rail trail in your area? Please comment below.

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