Australia: Community rallies to restore defunct rail bridge in Victoria, boost cycle tourism

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Snowy Rail Bridge
Survey work on the Snowy Rail Bridge under way. Picture from the Save the Snowy Rail Bridge Facebook page.

Melbourne (TAN): The longest timber rail bridge in Victoria, Australia, is on the brink of collapse and a group of people are campaigning to restore the century-old structure. Trains have not travelled across the Snowy River rail bridge, near Orbost in far Gippsland, since 1987, and the bridge is in a shambles.

But Save the Snowy Rail Bridge Committee believes restoring the bridge and expanding the local rail trail, four-and-a-half hours east of Melbourne, would also save Orbost, which has suffered from drought and the demise of the local timber industry. The group wants the restored bridge to be used as a walk and cycleway as part of the East Gippsland Rail Trail.

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Orbost is a historic tourist town in the shire of East Gippsland, Victoria, Australia, 375 kilometres east of Melbourne and 235 kilometres south of Canberra where the Princes Highway crosses the Snowy River.

“Restoring it (the rail bridge) to a condition suitable for walking and riding would create a stunning start or finish to a trip along the rail trail providing a unique recreational opportunity for locals and tourists. This bridge is an icon,” Save the Snowy Rail Bridge says on its Facebook page.

“The viaduct is highly identifiable with Orbost and will provide a marketing opportunity for the town and another reason for tourists to stop in Orbost and support local businesses,” it adds.

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A study into the socio-economic values and business case to restore the crumbling bridge is under way.

“We’re very hopeful when the results of the survey study come through, that we’ll be able to apply for funds to undertake that restoration,” Sue Peirce, secretary of Friends of East Gippsland Rail Trail, was quoted by ABC News as saying.

The group estimates the bridge restoration will cost about AUD 2.5 million — a figure the group said could be got back in tourism dollars.

The East Gippsland Rail Trail between Bairnsdale and Orbost is a popular tourist attraction for cyclists.

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The groups advocating for the bridge upgrade said that extending the 97-kilometre rail trail by just 770 metres, to include the bridge, would encourage more cyclists to the region.

“There is a spill-over benefit, not just for the town of Orbost, but for every town that’s impacted by the rail trail — which is every little town from here to Bairnsdale,” Liz Mitchell, Save the Snowy Rail Bridge Committee president, was quoted by ABC News as saying.

Local accommodation provider Kay Bristow said research from other rail trails shows cycle tourists spend at leastAUD 180 a night.

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“They’re good tourists because they move slowly through an area and they have a higher daily spend than other tourists do,” Bristow told ABC News.

“And for every dollar invested in cycle tourism infrastructure, about AUD 3 is returned within the first two years to the local communities.”

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