On 22 January 2007, the Queensland Deputy Premier and Minister for Infrastructure, Anna Bligh, allocated $3.6m for the development of a recreational Brisbane Valley Rail Trail from Ipswich to Blackbutt on the disused Brisbane Valley Line railway corridor.
However, although the project was well underway, in September 2012 all further development work to complete the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail was ‘mothballed’ by the incoming Queensland Government led by Campbell Newman as part of their austerity measures. Two critical sections from Wulkuraka Station in Ipswich to Wanora and from Toogoolawah to Moore remained undeveloped and as a result, the rail trail was woefully underused.
However, in the 2014 Budget, the Newman government announced $3.5 million funding for the development of Rail Trails in Queensland as part of their strategy for promoting Tourism. The funding was only available to local councils.
South Burnett Regional Council successfully applied for funding to develop the South Burnett Rail Trail in their section of the Kingaroy to Kilkivan Rail Trail.
However, at that time, Somerset Regional Council was opposed to applying for the funding on the grounds of potential significant ongoing maintenance costs to the ratepayers.
Local community activists led by Paul Heymans initiated a Change.org petition combined with a social media campaign calling on Somerset Regional Council to apply for funding to complete the two incomplete sections from Wulkuraka Station to Wanora and from Toogoolawah to Moore. They also organised a series of popular cycling events to demonstrate that the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail is a valuable tourism asset.
As with all new rail trail projects, there was significant and often hostile opposition in some sections of the community.
Nonetheless, to their great credit, Somerset Regional Council agreed to apply for the funding early in 2015, but shortly afterwards, State elections were called, there was a change of Queensland government, and the funding was no longer available.
Unphased, the local community activists launched a new Change.org petition and campaign calling on the Palaszczuk Government to fund completion. The campaign focussed on the economic benefits to the local rural economies of the regions it passes through. It was signed by 1183 supporters and presented to the Queensland Parliament by State members Jim Madden and Deb Frecklington on 16 September 2015.
The campaign achieved its objective when on 16 January 2016, Deputy Premier, Jackie Trad announced $1.8 million funding to complete the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail, plus $2.5 million over 10 years to maintain it.
On 2 June 2016, the community activists campaigning for the rail trail to be completed formed the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail Users Association (BVRTUA) to work with State and Local Government and the community to complete, develop and enhance the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail for the enjoyment of all users and for the benefit of the communities the Trail passes through.
The section from Wulkuraka Station to Wanora was already partly constructed at the time the project was mothballed, so it was completed within a few months of the funding announcement.
Despite early expectations, work to complete the section between Toogoolawah and Moore took another 12 months before it was fully funded. There were several major creek and road crossings that posed significant civil engineering challenges. The project was independently costed at $3.354 million which was significantly more than the $1.8 million allocated by the Queensland Government.
Somerset Regional Council successfully applied to the Australian Government’s Building Better Regions Fund for an additional $1.45 million co-contribution to complete the rail trail.
The grant was awarded on Friday 4 August 2017. Contracts for construction work to complete the Toogoolawah to Moore section were awarded to A & M Civil Contracting shortly afterwards following a tendering process. As a condition of funding, the work had to be completed by 30 June 2018. The project was completed on time.
On Tuesday 7 August 2018, there was an official opening of the final section of the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail between Toogoolawah and Moore by Somerset Mayor Graeme Lehmann, Federal Minister for Regional Development, Territories and Local Government Dr John McVeigh and Assistant Minister for State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning Julianne Gilbert. The opening was also attended by State member for Nanango and Leader of the Opposition, Deb Frecklington, Somerset Councillors, and Paul Heymans, President of the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail Users Association.
During the opening, Assistant Minister for State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning Julianne Gilbert announced a further $4.5 million to renovate and deck Lockyer Creek Bridge.
After 11 years since the project was first announced in 2007, the entire 161 km length of AUSTRALIA’S longest recreational rail trail was finally officially open to the public.
A few months later, as the icing on the cake, the heritage listed Lockyer Creek Bridge was renovated by DTMR at a cost of $4.5 million and opened to the public just in time for Christmas 2018.
In subsequent years, the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail Users Association has continued to lobby for improvements to the rail trail such as grids at the gates for cyclists, surface enhancements, improved safety at creek crossings, bridges, shade shelters, improved facilities for horse riders, etc.
In total, approx. $25 million has been invested in the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail by different levels of government for improvements to the rail trail as a direct and indirect result of our activities since the BVRTUA was formed in 2016.
The BVRTUA is also currently the biggest cycling tour operator on the rail trail with cycling events and tours happening nearly every month, ranging from gourmet night rides to 3-day all-inclusive tours to the annual BVRT Festival of Cycling. Profits are reinvested in enhancements to the rail trail such as the murals at the Nurinda underpass north of Harlin.
The current BVRTUA committee consists of Paul Heymans, President, Noel Fairclough, Secretary, Richard Ward, Treasurer, and committee members Chevonne Arrowsmith, Peter York, Shayne Homan, Susan Bell, Michelle Evans, Kathy Wager, Janet Smith, Barry Frost and Troy Nyree Szczurkowski, who between them represent all the major user groups – cycling, hiking, running and horse riding.
We also have a representative on the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail Steering Committee formed by the Dept of Transport and Main Roads to advise on management of the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail.
Future projects for 2023 include a major mural at a location on the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail in Fernvale and continue to lobby for improvement to the rail trail.
In addition, we will be partnering with a local landcare association for a significant community-based tree planting project on the rail trail as part of the Queen’s Jubilee funded tree planting program and with the Blackbutt Avocado Festival for a major BVRT Festival of Cycling.