The Brisbane Valley Rail Trail (BVRT) follows the disused Brisbane Valley rail line that commenced construction at Wulkaraka near Ipswich in 1884 and was completed at Yarraman in 1913. The BVRT winds its way along the western side of the Brisbane River traversing farmland, forests, picturesque rural settings and country towns. Being on the old railway line, the BVRT provides an easy climb up the valley for day trippers, overnight camping or longer term adventures.
However, there are two incomplete sections – Wulkuraka Station to Wanora and Toogoolawah to Moore. In May 2014, local Somerset resident and vice-president of the Somerset Region Business Alliance, Paul Heymans, set out to persuade the Queensland Government to fund completion of the Rail Trail. There was strong support in the community and he soon had a team of dedicated volunteers supporting the campaign and significant financial support from local businesses.
Somerset and South Burnett Regional Councils even sponsored a team to ride in the Brisbane to Gold Coast Bike ride to publicize the BVRT.
Paul Heymans said, “A completed Brisbane Valley Rail Trail is worth millions of dollars to the rural regions it passes through. However, marketing and promotion for the Rail Trail was virtually non-existent, so it was under used. As a local businessman, I fully realised we needed to prove the economic value of the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail as a tourism asset, so we started to organise great cycling events on the Rail Trail. The support and enthusiasm was huge, with every bike ride fully booked out. Sometimes we had to hire two coaches and two trucks to transport everyone to the start point. The rail trail is especially popular with women because they feel it’s a safe environment, free from traffic and sexist harassment.”
The highly successful campaign team used a combination of social media and cycling events to prove the value of the BVRT as a great tourism asset by increasing tourism traffic on the Rail Trail.
On 21 January 2016, the Queensland Government announced they had approved funding of $1.8 million funding to complete the BVRT between Toogoolawah and Moore plus $2.5 million over 10 years to maintain it.
It was a major achievement. At 161 km, a completed Brisbane Valley Rail Trail will be the longest Rail Trail in Australia and New Zealand.
During Bike Week in May 2015, five members of the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail campaign team (now the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail Users Association Inc) set out in torrential rain to attend a Q & A organised by Bicycle Queensland in Brisbane. Deputy Premier Jackie Trad and Transport Minister Mark Bailey were scheduled to be there. The campaign team had submitted a question in advance asking if the Queensland Government would fund completion of the Rail Trail. In the event, Jackie Trad was unable to attend, but Mark Bailey read out an encouraging statement on her behalf.
It was a significant meeting for another reason as the campaign team also met Andrew Demack, project development officer for Bicycle Queensland.
Andrew was enthusiastic about our idea for a great mass participation bike ride on the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail.
Almost exactly 12 months later and after a lot of hard work, 320 cyclists from all over South-East Queensland set out on the first ‘Brisbane Valley Rail Trail Experience’ 65 km bike ride from Toogoolawah to Fernvale on Sunday in superb cycling conditions. This is the largest cycling event ever organised on the Rail Trail. The feedback from the ride has been fantastic.
Wendy Kildey posted on Facebook “We travelled from Bundaberg and absolutely loved it. It was well run by lovely people. Thanks for the great effort you put into it and hope we can do it all again next year. Oh yes if anyone sees the half the skin off my knee at the 3rd rail bridge…I would love it back.”
Keith Foss posted: “A great and well organised day and fantastic route to ride. Thoroughly enjoyed it and will be doing again next year and would be keen to do any others along the BVRT.”
A small group of cyclists led by mountain biking adventurer Neil Ennis travelled to Toogoolawah for the event the hard way, following the route Billy Mateer would have taken when he did his famous horse ride to try and warn the people of Brisbane about the great floods back in 1893. Billy Mateer had to travel cross-country in torrential rain, but Neil reported their biggest problem was lantana.
The Brisbane Valley Rail Trail Experience bike ride will now become an annual event, increasing to 500 participants next year.
The southern section of the BVRT will open in June/July. A great new $3 million concrete cycleway is currently being constructed on the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail by Ipswich City Council with dollar for dollar funding from the Queensland Government from Wulkuraka Station to Diamentina Blvd. Work on the next section to Wanora is also nearly completed with an anticipated opening in July/August.
Work on the northern Toogoolawah to Moore section will commence in the next couple of months with completion anticipated early in 2017.
From early 2017 people will be able to travel the full length of the old railway line for the first time. It will become a challenge to complete the full length of the Rail Trail either in segments or in one single effort.
Ultra-marathon runner Deb Nicholl recently made an attempt to run the entire length of the open sections of the BVRT (145 km) as a training run for the 240 km Coast to Kosciuszko ultra-marathon. She started in the dark and she finished in the dark. Unfortunately, a ham string injury cut short her attempt, but she still managed to run 103 km from Wanora to Moore. It was a great effort.
The famous Otago Rail Trail in New Zealand is now the second largest contributor to the Otago Region after farming.
Paul Heymans said, “The completed Brisbane Valley Rail Trail will be the Great Australian Adventure Rail Trail, providing an economic lifeline for the drought affected rural communities of the regions it passes through.”
“Some people criticise the Rail Trail for being a bit rough in places. That’s the way we like it – it’s more of a challenge. But it’s not all like that. The Brisbane Valley Rail Trail is very much a People’s Trail – there’s something in it for everyone.”