In Australia, rail trails are becoming important tourism attractions. There are currently more than 100 rail trails in Australia, ranging in length from 0.5km to more than 1,000km (RailTrails Australia, 2014). Australia’s state of Victoria, where the Australian rails-to-trails movement was initiated, presents the most comprehensive web of rail trails in the country, with 39 trails in total (RailTrails Australia, 2012). According to Irvine (2007: n/p), the reasons that helped Victoria to lead the way in Australia were the combination of “its potential, a politician’s vision, organized lobbyists and community support”.
3.1 Economic Impact Studies Data
An economic impact study of the Murray to the Mountains Rail Trail, Warburton Rail Trail and East Gippsland Trail in Victoria, Australia found that, on average, for every visitor day at the rail trails, $51.10 of expenditure is injected into the economy (Beeton, 2003). It is interesting to note that these 3 trails are significantly different in nature, as their size, location and level of development vary widely, demonstrating that despite these issues, rail trails have a significant economic potential.
Another Australian study, conducted on the Murray to the Mountains Rail Trail alone found that the average expenditure per person per day visiting the rail trail was $483.00, again reinforcing the economic appeal of such trails. The study also found that just under half (46%) of users were visiting the rail trail for the first time, with the activity of cycling itself rated highly as the main reason for the trip. The majority spent two to three days cycling the trail, therefore including overnight stays during their trip. More significantly, this study showed an increase of the overall economic contribution of the rail trail from $203 in 2003 to $483 in 2006. This growth occurred in all sectors, but primarily in the food and beverage area, which may be due to the increased entrepreneurial approaches and services provided to people travelling on the trail (Beeton, 2010).
Both studies have also found that the type of tourist attracted to rail trails is consistent with the profile of tourist desired by the Northern Rivers region to further enhance its tourism industry without compromising the quality of life of residents: well-educated, middle-aged (35-65 years of age) individuals travelling with family or with groups of friends. This profile of rail trail tourists has been confirmed in other countries as well such as New Zealand (Jellum & Reis, 2008) and the USA (Bowker, Bergtron & Gill, 2007).
The Fernleigh Track Rail Trail is one of the few example of rail trails in NSW. A 2007 survey conducted when the trail was only partially completed counted 898 visitors on a Sunday and 590 on a weekday. Reports indicate that usage has increased significantly since the trail has been completed being now a popular and valued local community asset. It is also widely promoted as a visitor attraction to the Newcastle area (Rail Trails Australia, 2013).