19 May 2021

Rail bikes revive historic train line in NSW Southern Tablelands

| Hannah Sparks
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Peter Simpson and rail bike

Goulburn Crookwell Heritage Railway secretary Peter Simpson with the pedal-powered rail bike. Photo: Hannah Sparks.

It might not have the clickety-clack of a train, but pedal-powered rail bikes let you ride up close to the railway line and are a novel way to enjoy a day out in the country.

A group of rail enthusiasts believe these rail bikes are the answer to preserving part of the historic Goulburn-to-Crookwell railway line in the NSW Southern Tablelands, and attracting more tourists to Crookwell.

Goulburn Crookwell Heritage Railway secretary Peter Simpson discovered rail bikes while visiting the US and later learned the company that owned them is based in Australia.

“They tried to establish Rail Explorers in Australia, but failed so one of the owners said there was a bike in their mum’s shed in Bangalow, NSW, that we could have,” he says.

This particular rail bike is a two-seater, however there are four-seater rail bikes available and all rail bikes can join together for larger groups.

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“It’s great – I’ve seen a mum, dad, grandmother, grandfather and kids ride together. They cater for everyone – all ages and abilities,” says Peter.

The group trialled the rail bike during the Crookwell Potato Festival in April and totaled 23 trips from Crookwell Station with riders of all ages.

Once strapped in, it’s simply a matter of riding the bike along the disused railway line by moving the pedals with your legs.

As for how fast these rail bikes can go, Peter asks: “How fast can you pedal?”

Hannah Sparks and Peter Simpson on rail bike

Hannah Sparks and Peter Simpson leave Crookwell Station on the rail bike. Photo: Brian Castles.

The Goulburn Crookwell Heritage Railway group has applied for Federal Government and NSW Government grants to purchase more rail bikes.

If successful, they will apply to Transport for NSW to operate the rail bikes between Crookwell and McAlister, which is about 8km, or a one-to-two-hour excursion (depending on how hard you pedal).

Grant funding would also be used to replace the sleepers along the proposed route, which are mostly overgrown or rotten.

As the journey from Crookwell to McAlister is mostly uphill, the group will transport the rail bikes and passengers in an old railbus to McAlister, where everyone can alight and make the downhill return journey to Crookwell.

The experience will be run by volunteers, including the group’s existing members and students from Crookwell High School.

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“We believe this would be a successful tourism attraction,” says Peter. “This is the only location where it will be available.”

However, the group is concerned about another proposal by Upper Lachlan Shire Council and Goulburn Mulwaree Council to replace the historic train line with a walking and cycling track after seeing the popularity of the Tumbarumba to Rosewood Rail Trail.

A feasibility study on the project estimates up to 30,000 new daytrippers would visit the region each year to utilise the rail trail, while an additional $9.4 million a year would be injected into the economy.

The project is estimated to cost $16.7 million, and Goulburn Mulwaree Council has applied to the NSW Government for grant funding.

However, the Goulburn Crookwell Heritage Railway group doesn’t believe the Goulburn to Crookwell Rail Trail would be as popular as these councils predict, and would prefer the trail to be built alongside the historic line if it does go ahead.

Mike Sheppard-Morris, Brian Castles and Peter Simpson at Crookwell Station

From left: Mike Sheppard-Morris, Brian Castles and Peter Simpson from the Goulburn Crookwell Heritage Railway group. Photo: Hannah Sparks.

“I’ve ridden the Tumbarumba Rail Trail and it is fantastic, but that one is 21km and relatively flat,” says Peter. “The Goulburn to Crookwell Rail Trail is 54km, mostly uphill and there’s nothing in between.

“Our proposal will bring people to Crookwell and they can do other things while they’re here.

“They don’t need a bike – just their wallets and an interest.”

The group has coined their initiative as ‘ride the rail trail’.

Goulburn Crookwell Heritage Railway treasurer Mike Sheppard-Morris, 73, has been trainspotting since the age of 10.

He says once the railway line is gone, there will be no getting it back.

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What a fantastic idea !! So much fun for all and preserves our important rail corridor , plenty of room elsewhere for dirt tracks to ride bikes on . Not too sure I agree with those very inflated projected returns from a trail , fanciful at best .

I agree with you about restoring the Railway line.
I come from England and although they do have rail trails the main attractions are always railway lines. The Bluebell railway started by restoring the track to the first station and then opening that as a small museum. The steam train that they restored went as far as that station. With the money from tourism they started to restore the next piece of line.
I think you could start with the rail bikes and progress from there. I am very much against ripping up the line and making a cycling/walking track. There is no reason, as you have stated, that this cannot run along side the rail tracks. Why rip up more history!
Good luck and keep going, you are on the right track!!
Marion Brace (Crookwell Historical Society)

Maryanne Smith3:50 pm 24 May 21

Looks brilliant!!

Brilliant this will suit people with disabilities, surely walk trails and bike trails can run alongside the rails?

It’s a one-off novelty ride at best. The walking/riding trail would have far better ultization by locals and visitors alike in my opinion.

Sharyn Fluke10:14 pm 22 May 21

What a absolutely wonderful idea ,to pedal along the old line would be a great outdoor activity and i’m sure it would bring interested tourists to Crookwell.Great job you are all have done and continue to do the volunteers at the Crookwell Heritage Railway .💯⭐️⭐️👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻🇦🇺

I think it is a unique idea that could run concurrently with the rail trail. I am certainly keen to visit and try.

Surely Pedal powered rail carts and a rail trail are not mutually exclusive?
The pedal powered rail carts will be a part time operation reliant on volunteers. A rail trail will be open all day almost every day of the year and needs no attendants to operate. Both need maintenance and care from time to time. Room for both I reckon. And cyclists and walkers will love a 50+ klm journey AND the chance to try a pedal cart!
FyI Uphills mean downhills on the reverse journey. E-bikes and e-wheelchairs are capable of flattening most hills. The rail trail will be a huge success. BTW the Tumbarumba to Rosewood rt is NOT flat. There are many very successful rail trails longer than 21 klms, check out the ones in Victoria and the Brisbane Valley rail trail. Goulburn to Crookwell rt will be FANTASTICALLY successful. If the Otago Central rt in the middle of nowhere in NZ can be a huge success then the G to C rt between Sydney & Canberra will thrive too…

Yes correct. Build it and they will come. The bike track could easily run along side the railway line between McAlister. I’ve just ridden the rail trail from Beechworth to Bright which is 75km. Great ride.

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