A new “jewel” in Australia’s rail trail network will be launched by its community on 25th and 26th March, when two days of celebration are held to officially welcome the first stage of the Northern Rivers Rail Trail (NRRT).
The trail from Murwillumbah to Crabbes Creek, in the hinterland of the NSW Far North Coast, will not only be an iconic trail because of the region’s natural beauty, it will set a new standard in facilities and initiatives to achieve economic viability, according to Rail Trails Australia spokesperson Sam Reich.
“Tweed council has certainly put more thought into the development of this trail than any council has invested into a rail trail in the past.”
The 24km trail was one of two rail trail pilot projects declared by the NSW Government in 2015 and is the first of four sections comprising the full proposed 132km Northern Rivers Rail Trail.
The other pilot, between Tumbarumba and Rosewood, was officially opened two years ago and became the first official rail trail on a former government-owned rail corridor.
“Because of its spectacular scenery, in such a lovely part of the world, we’re expecting the Northern Rivers Rail Trail will be one of the jewels in the crown for rail trails in Australia,” Sam said.
“And Tweed council has certainly put more thought into the development of this trail than any council has invested into a rail trail in the past, certainly in NSW.”
In particular, Tweed Shire Council has developed a Rail Trail Connect program based on several key elements:
- a framework for alliances with businesses benefiting from the rail trail and to obtain financial contributions from those operators
- a comprehensive marketing and signage package to brand and promote the Tweed section and the additional upcoming stages of the Northern Rivers Rail Trail
- an activate and explore program to further enhance the rail trail as an exciting destination for visitors and locals
- a user experience framework to effectively measure and evaluate user satisfaction
- a program to manage relationships with trail supporters and volunteers
“Our ambition is to be in the top three rail trails in Australia and one of the top 10 in the world.”
As part of the business alliance framework, the council is inviting registers of interest from operators keen to sign up as sponsors of the rail trail. In the eight weeks since the register was launched, it has attracted more than 100 expressions of interest, including existing businesses ready to sign up and entrepreneurs still developing business concepts.
The Tweed council’s Manager Destination, Communication and Customer Experience, Tiffany Stodart, said Rail Trail Connect was central to the council’s ambitions to create one of the world’s best rail trails and to ensure it is economically self-sustaining.
“Our ambition is to be in the top three rail trails in Australia and one of the top 10 in the world,” she said.
“We’ve been clear on from the outset that our mission is for the rail trail to be the must-do experience in the Northern Rivers.
“We’re definitely trying to make it economically self-sustaining and that’s why we’re taking a monetised approach where we can; not to an extreme but if someone is making a commercial gain from the trail, it’s naturally fair they contribute back to its maintenance and management.
“We’ve deliberately created a framework that you can just copy and paste to apply to other rail trails in any local government area. You would adjust your fees and charges, but the concept would work.”
“If it works, it’s going to provide other councils with further incentive to go through the process of establishing rail trails.”
Sam said Rail Trail Connect is a first for Australia and would be a major step forward for the rail trail sector in this country if it’s successful.
“It’s a good approach but it remains to be seen how effective it will be in generating income once it’s implemented,” he said.
“It will depend on what the fees are and there’s likely to be some pushback from other businesses. It could be difficult to enforce and it will be an honour system. The council has acknowledged that.
“If it works, it’s going to provide other councils with further incentive to go through the process of establishing rail trails.
“There are councils that have knocked back having trails, such as the Goulburn to Crookwell trail, because of fears the maintenance costs would be more than the local government could bear.”
The Murwillumbah to Crabbes Creek trail has been allocated $600,000 by the NSW Government to cover its operations and management for the first three years.
Its construction was jointly funded by $7.8 million from the NSW Government’s Regional Tourism Infrastructure Fund and $6.5 million from the Federal Government’s Regional Jobs and Investment Packages Fund.
Representatives of both State and Federal Governments joined with council and community members to officially open the trail on 1st March with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the refurbished Murwillumbah railway station.
Tiffany said: “We could see we needed to open the trial to the public, while we finalised plans for the community celebration, and we would easily have over 8,000 users in the first two weeks since it opened.”
The two days of community celebrations will incorporate events at each of the seven nodes along the Murwillumbah to Crabbes Creek trail, including live music, cultural events and kids’ activities.
Other NRRT Sections
At the opposite end of the proposed full 132km route, construction has started on the 13.2km Richmond Valley section from Casino to Bentley. It has been funded by a $7.5 million grant from the Federal Government’s National Tourism Icons Program and is scheduled to be opened by the end of the year.
Funding has been secured for a 16.3km portion of the total 31.8km of rail corridor in the Lismore Shire and work is underway to secure funds for the remaining 15.5km.
While the Byron council has been the most resistant to the proposal to convert the disused rail corridor into a rail trail, it has now voted to undertake a feasibility study for its 62.8km section between Yelgun and Eltham.
Tiffany said the councils are currently in discussion about the best governance model to manage the rail trail across all the participating local government areas, once the other sections were operational.
She said the Rail Trail Connect program would apply across each of the local government areas, ensuring consistent signage, features and branding in line with the Northern Rivers regional tourism branding.
Flourishes along the Murwillumbah to Crabbes Creek section, to enhance user experience, include built-in pumps to inflate bicycle tyres, 24/7 bike fix-it stations complete with tools to change tyres and Spotify playlists for both fast riders and more leisurely journeys.
More information about the Northern Rivers Rail Trail is available on its official website.