Sometimes I wonder whether we, as Australians, recognise the tourism-dollar opportunities that stare us in the face.
I’m referring on this occasion to the “Southern Rail Spectacular” tour that a week ago brought a steam engine to Junee at the head of a train full of paying passengers.
What would you be willing to pay for several days behind ancient steam and diesel engines?
Would you be happy with long distances in historic non-air-conditioned carriages?
Would you want to travel in the old Southern Aurora stainless steel carriages that once provided sleeping train travel between Sydney and Melbourne?
So many people are crying out for this type of holiday that a company called Cruise Express has been smart enough to tap the potential.
Offering fares from $2190 per person twin share, this tour was sold out!
And what’s more, it sold out early!
For their money, passengers travelled down the Southern Line, with nights in Albury and Melbourne. Perhaps the tour operators didn’t know about the collection at The Roundhouse Museum in Junee.
The train stopped while the diesels were placed at the head of the train, but the passengers wandered into the railway cafe or down the street for refreshments.
I watched the passengers disembark on Junee Railway Station.
I was surprised that there were quite a number of women on the train.
At Seymour the enthusiasts inspected the rail museum, then joined the Southern Aurora carriages behind a Victorian historic diesel to Melbourne.
Their train was steam-hauled to Castlemaine, where they then enjoyed the steam railway to Maldon. In Melbourne they visited the Newport Rail Yards and so on.
As I said, for most of us, we would not see the tourism opportunities in this venture.
And yet thousands of Australians travel to Britain to ride the historic railways that have revived many of the closed tracks that run through scenic parts of the British countryside. When I was a rail tourist in Britain, I met enthusiasts from all over the world.
… thousands of Australians travel to Britain to ride the historic railways …
Many of the trains were packed. I would suggest that rail tourism is a major contributor to Britain’s tourist industry.
Here in Australia we do not value history.
The Garratt that pulled the train into Junee has the distinction of being the largest steam locomotive still operating in the world today.
The Australian Railway Historical Society (ARHS) raised nearly $400,000 to return it to service, with volunteers and staff providing 420,000 hours of labour.
But here’s the irony. It was originally preserved in working order at the Canberra Railway Museum. In Australia museums are not financially supported by governments, beyond the occasional grant.
The Canberra Museum went under financially last year, and their assets were auctioned, with many valuable spare parts being sold for scrap.
The Garratt now lives at the NSW Rail Museum at Thirlmere, but even that museum is strapped for cash. Maintenance of steam engines is an expensive affair.
In this area we have two lines that have great rail-tourism potential.
The most obvious is the line to Griffith, where side trips to orchards in Leeton and wineries in Griffith would attract a guaranteed clientele.
If linked to a festival then real tourism dollars could be brought into the community.
As they say at the tourism courses, get people out of their cars and they will spend money.
Get several hundred passengers to stretch their legs in a train stopover for a local event, and the sky’s the limit.
The Boree Creek line has all the rustic charm that could make a tour unique.
Timing should include the loading of a wheat train, because rail tourists are interested in railway operations.
We could add an event such as Lockhart’s truck rally, for example, then dinner at the Boree Creek hotel with time to wander around the town.
Side trips to the restored Ladysmith Station, and of course the Junee Roundhouse would fill out the program.
Above I mentioned the Victorian Goldfields Railway from Castlemaine to Maldon.
We’ve been on that trip and have witnessed the tourist dollars floating into the local community through accommodation and meals.
Railway tours seem to be a largely untapped tourism opportunity in NSW.