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Old railway lines could be transformed into tourist attractions


Steve Spinks
17 July 2012
Old railway lines need not rot away into oblivion with new research from Southern Cross University proposing a conceptual model that could help turn disused rail infrastructure into sustainable tourism operations.

Dr Arianne Reis, along with Carla Jellum of the University of Otago, have just released their research into rail trails after it was published in the journal Tourism Planning & Development.

Dr Reis, from the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, said the research identified six characteristics rail trails have the potential to present and that are attractive to tourists, as well as three facilitators that can assist in the development of a sustainable tourism product.

The characteristics are:
• being of substantial length to encourage multi-day and multi-activity experiences;
• having level gradients, wide corridors and firm surfaces, therefore attracting different demographics;
• having its natural and historic scenery preserved so as to provide a scenic and entertaining experience for visitors;
• providing environmentally sustainable routes, including conservation zones and green corridors, and promoting the use of active forms of transportation and recreation along its length;
• providing corridor links between different communities that offer hospitality services, increasing the opportunity for social and economic engagement between local communities; and
• providing an association with the heritage of the region, including the preservation and promotion of significant sites of local histories.

The relatively low development and maintenance costs associated with rail trails, the educational opportunities available due to historical significance of some railway lines and the potential for community involvement can be considered significant facilitators for the development of a strong tourism product based on rail trails.

“Not all components of our model need to be present in order for a rail trail to be considered a sustainable tourism product,” Dr Reis said.

“How many of the proposed elements of the model, or which ones, are necessary or essential to create a tourism product that is of significance to the region is still to be tested. But we believe these attributes are the best candidates to explain the tourism potential of a particular rail trail based on academic and technical evidence.

“The characteristics that we have proposed can be used by planners and managers as tools to better leverage any existing or prospective rail trails in their area to make them sustainable tourist assets.

“There has been an increase in active tourism involvement in Australia but rail trails, which have been utilised in Australia for some decades, have lacked a theoretical framework that helps to better understand their management.”

Photo: Dr Arianne Reis.