Work is set to start on the biggest upgrade of the East Gippsland Rail Trail in its 30-year history, thanks to a $2 million Federal Government grant.
Member for Gippsland Darren Chester has secured the $2 million, on top of the $1.5 million received under the local economic recovery program, from the Black Summer bushfires.
Mr Chester said he had been working closely with the committee of management for more than two years to seek Federal Government funding and thanked the volunteers for their efforts.
“It’s been a challenge for decades to secure enough funding to upgrade the rail trail which has the potential to be an iconic attraction for our region,” Mr Chester said.
“Ever since rail services ended in 1987 and the track infrastructure was removed in 1994, we have struggled to get the funding required to upgrade and maintain this 100 kilometre trail.
“This funding will enable significant capital works on projects like resurfacing the roughest sections, improving drainage, replacing bridges, and sealing approaches to towns which carry the most cycling and pedestrian traffic.
“Boosting the overall rail trail experience will support the visitor economy and encourage locals to enjoy a more active lifestyle.”
Mr Chester inspected sections of the trail near Orbost where gravel field trials have been undertaken on the best material to resurface the trail.
“Coming on top of the $1.5 million jointly funded state-federal bushfire money, this additional $2 million will help to make a huge improvement to the surface,” Mr Chester said.
“There’s always work to be done on a trail of this length and it’s a great credit to all the current volunteers, and previous committee members, that they have been able to maintain the asset with very little government support.
“Combined with projects like the historic Snowy River Trestle Bridge upgrade, these works will create jobs during construction and in the longer term.
“We need to keep improving our infrastructure on public land to support the visitor economy and give locals more opportunities to enjoy healthy, active lifestyles in our region.”
Committee Chair Alistair Campbell said work by local contractors would start before Christmas and continue for at least 12 months, subject to weather conditions.
“We have a world-class rail trail but limited resources to present it properly to the public,” Mr Campbell said.
“Rail trails are growing in popularity around Australia, and the unique East Gippsland experience of almost 100 kilometres between Bairnsdale to Orbost, with spectacular trestle bridges and natural landscapes, can drive future growth in the local economy,” he said.
“Improving safety and the trail experience of cyclists and walkers will be the focus of this work and the committee will continue to seek funding support for further improvements and a sustainable maintenance program.
“We certainly welcome the funding we have received and look forward to delivering a world-class rail trail experience for locals and visitors to our region.”