ON BOARD: Neville Mossman, Mike Gobel, Meagan Ellerton, Tanya Huth, Vicki Mackay, Mick Colyer and Mark McLachlan of BBIRT.
ON BOARD: Neville Mossman, Mike Gobel, Meagan Ellerton, Tanya Huth, Vicki Mackay, Mick Colyer and Mark McLachlan of BBIRT. Greg Bray

Rail trail feasibility study explained

DECADES after the last train travelled through the North Burnett, a proposal to repurpose the disused line for tourism is gathering steam.

Earlier this year, the Gladstone and North Burnett Regional Councils joined forces to assess the viability of a rail trail on the decommissioned corridor between Gayndah and Calliope.

A group of community stakeholders, incorporated as Boyne Burnett Inland Rail Trail, has long advocated for the development of the dormant asset into a tourism destination fit for cycling, walking and horse-riding, as part of the Queensland Inland Rail Trail Network.

BBIRT successfully campaigned to have a $99,000 study carried out to determine the feasibility of the venture, which was this month approved to be funded by the State Government as part of a promised $14 million investment to revitalise Queensland's rail network.

Is there a viable route? Is there a market for the trail? Are the key stakeholders supportive? What are the costs? Will it deliver a return on investment? And, is there evidence of social, economic and tourism benefits to the adjacent communities?

These are the key questions the councils have asked Mike Halliburton Associates to answer when the independent planning consultancy firm visits the region in early October to begin its assessment.

The firm's principal, Mike Halliburton, has made a career kickstarting recreation trails and is behind more than 30 rail trails around Australia.

He was instrumental in pioneering the iconic Brisbane Valley rail trail back in 2007 and BBRIT believes this wealth of experience is just what the North Burnett needs to get its own trail off the ground.

Rail tunnel near Many Peaks
One of the six picturesque rail tunnels open for the public to explore should the rail trail go ahead. Contributed

Mr Halliburton refused to speculate on the probability of the project receiving his tick of approval, but promised a comprehensive appraisal would be completed by mid 2019.

"I'm new to the North Burnett but have done a lot of work in the South Burnett and Gympie regions,” Mr Halliburton said.

"Council have issued the contract, so we have technically started.

"The job will comprise two field trips of around 10 days each, the first of which will be next month.”

Council has given Mike Halliburton Associates a clear mandate.

Deliver a detailed asset review of the proposed trail, an analysis of development and future maintenance costs, and provide recommendations on a staged approach to the establishment of the rail trail.

The study would serve as the cornerstone for any future applications for Federal and State Government funding, or private investment.

Rail trails are shared-use paths recycled from abandoned railways that offer a unique way to explore the countryside, cutting through hills, under roads, over embankments and across gullies and creeks.

Leaders in light-rail tourism Neil Oppatt and John Gurney were impressed with the condition and infrastructure of the Many Peaks to Kalpowar line.

Photo: Emily Smith / Central and North Burnett Times
The community is fighting to save many of the historic rail bridges along the corridor. Emily Smith

The Reids Creek (Gayndah) to Taragoola (Calliope) railway corridor runs through the Dawes Range and includes six locally heritage-listed tunnels between Many Peaks and Kalpowar.

For the purpose of the study, the proposed trail will be divided into two parts: the northern aspect, in the Boyne Valley; and the southern aspect, in the North Burnett.

The 91.5 kilometre Boyne Valley section would ideally begin at the Calliope rodeo association grounds, weaving its way south through Taragoola and Boynedale, connecting with Kalpowar on the other side of the Dawes Range.

This section includes the six tunnels - all located within a 10.5 kilometre stretch of rail near Many Peaks - and approximately 72 rail crossings, culverts and bridges.

The North Burnett section is roughly 179 kilometres long, starting 5 kilometres north of Gayndah at Reids Creek, meandering its way along the Burnett Highway before connecting with the Gladstone - Monto Rd, and includes nine rail stations and sides, plus approximately 36 wooden and steel bridges that would be retained.