Feature: Rail trails of Australia

Learn about this amazing network of free trails open to riders, wheelchair users and hikers.

Vince Aitkin, spokesperson for Railtrails Australia, explains what they are and where they're found.

Rail trails are located all around the world. They’re multi-purpose pathways accessible to walkers, cyclists and wheelchair users, and sometimes horse riders. Other than those engaged in management or emergency activities, no motorised vehicles are permitted to use a rail trail.

Australia has 110 rail trails, with more being added each year, most within the state of Vic (download a map, extracted from Railtrails of Victoria and South Australia here).
There are four in SA with another two in the pipeline. WA some in the south west and one close to Perth. The NT has a few and Qld has several.
Tas has some 12 Rail Trails, although most are poorly developed.

NSW lags behind the other states, however they have some wonderful opportunities, and Railtrails Australia have made overtures to the Government to release appropriate closed lines for public recreation.

How do they come about?

A railway line is closed and local citizens realise an opportunity to create a rail trail on the disused rail easement. A steering committee starts a formal process, which involves appealing to
local councils and the state government. Once funding is granted, work commences on clearing the track, installing a pathway, restoring or replacing of bridges, providing of car parks, signage and provision for trail maintenance.

The whole process usually takes between
five and 10 years.

What are the surfaces like?

Most rail trails are finished with a 3m wide fine compacted gravel surface. Many newer trails are now being surfaced with bitumen or even concrete. For example, the Rail Trail between Wangaratta and Bright in northern Victoria is sealed for its 96km length.

Who uses them?

Walkers, cyclists wheel chair users. People of all ages, shapes and sizes. As they are car free, it makes them safe and particularly attractive for family groups.

What sort of bicycle can I use on a Rail Trail?

Suitable for many users is a hybrid bicycle with wide tyres. Touring bicycles are quite okay too. Some people use road bikes on some rail trails, however, their narrow tyres can lead to problems if loose surface material is encountered.

What does it cost to use them?

Rail trails in Australia are free to use.

Where do I find out more?

Railtrails Australia Inc is a not for profit National Organisation that is dedicated to the conversion of appropriately located closed railway lines to public recreation pathways. They produce a Rail Trail Guide Book – Railtrails of Victoria and South Australia and another covering rail trails in Tasmania. These can be purchased on line or at larger book stores throughout Victoria. You can view over 100 trails listed on their web site www.railtrails.org.au.

You can even join for $28 pa and receive their quarterly magazine and receive regular updates of what is happening to Rail Trails throughout Australia. They can also be reached at P.O. Box 2127 Oak Park Vic 3046. Write or email if you would like any further information.

This information has been provided by Vince Aitkin, Treasurer of Railtrails Australia Inc based in Melbourne.