Tumbarumba proves NSW needs more rail trails

Tumbarumba – a sleepy timber, grape growing and grazing town in the bucolic Snowy Valleys of NSW – is undergoing a quiet tourism revolution.

It’s all down  to a new ‘rail trail’ that’s attracted more than 12,000 riders since a low-key opening during peak-COVID last April. Now other towns in the region want to join the ride, but archaic NSW government legislation frustratingly stands in their way.

It says everything that Tumbarumba is the first rail trail in NSW built on an ex-government line, while in bike-forward Victoria there are more than 1000km of rail trails built on government tracks.

The new trail between “Tumba” and Rosewood took 15 years of campaigning and fundraising from a group of passionate locals led by Owen and Cathy Fitzgerald.

Built on the old Wagga Wagga rail line, it runs for 21km through classic Australian grazing country and vineyards growing some of the nation’s best cool-climate chardonnay.

The determined couple have been proved emphatically right for the their persistence, which is not only attracting impressive rider numbers but is also giving locals a world-class bike trail and the opportunity to exercise.

It’s a win-win and other local towns like Batlow, which also has a rail trail lobby, want their own, while communities in the nearby Monaro Plains are also pushing hard.

Everyone can see the benefits, they are well proven through countless case studies in Victoria, where they’re very popular and have enhanced the tourism appeal of numerous country towns and regional centres.

Likewise Tumbarumba is clearly benefitting from more visitors and new business opportunities, exemplified by the local nursery  Tumba Bikes and Blooms diversifying into e-bike hire. So why is it so difficult to get a rail one in NSW?

Will Owens from Rail Trails Australia is frustrated by the situation and says planning must be streamlined to allow the construction of more rail trails. 

He says they’re so difficult to build because in NSW you need an act of Parliament to “close” a rail line – and that’s clearly not an easy thing to do.

He says the Snowy Valleys region is well-placed to lead the way if planning was relaxed and that the “next best opportunities” on government lines in NSW are:

  • Goulburn to Crookwell
  • Wagga Wagga to Ladysmith
  • Batlow to Tumut
  • Queanbeyan to Cooma and Bombala

All of these options are south and west of Sydney. 

Meanwhile, the Guardian recently reported that a legislative amendment to close the northern rivers rail line was passed by state parliament in mid-October and that construction  is expected to begin shortly.

“The two pilot rail trails will provide the NSW government with a better understanding of the full range of tourism and recreational opportunities of rail trail projects and will allow insights gained to be applied to any future rail trail projects,” a Transport for NSW spokesman told The Guardian.

Owens from RTA says more government support is needed rather than an ad hoc approach.

“While all these proposed rail trails  have hard-working local groups, none will happen within 5 years without more (govt) support.

“Meanwhile Victoria builds more  and NSW is missing out.”

So come on Gladys*, get on your bike and make it easier for regional towns to diversify their economies and attract more tourists and revenue.

*New South Wales premier