The Mirror News

Extension of the Great Southern Rail Trail now open 

• From left Wellington Shire Council Mayor Ian Bye and South Gippsland Shire Council
Mayor Clare Williams at the Great Southern Rail Trail.

THE much anticipated 21km extension of the Great Southern Rail Trail between Welshpool and Alberton is now open, welcoming walkers, runners, cyclists, horse riders and people of all abilities to explore the beautiful South Gippsland region, with a focus on the southern part of The Middle of Everywhere. The extension increases the total length of the trail to an impressive 129km. 

Last week, Wellington Shire Council Mayor, Cr Ian Bye and South Gippsland Shire Council Mayor, Cr Clare Williams took to the trail to ride the extension, crossing the border between Welshpool and Alberton, commending both councils for their collaborative efforts to achieve the much-anticipated project. 

The milestone not only marks the completion of the Great Southern Rail Trail from Yarram to Nyora but also completes an eighteen-month journey, providing locals and tourists access to the eastern end that reaches the historically rich coastal area, known fondly by locals and visitors to Wellington Shire as ‘The Middle of Everywhere’. 

The extension was made possible through $6 million in Regional Infrastructure Grant funding from the Victorian Government, via the Department of Jobs, Skills, Industry, and Regions. The funding supported eighteen months of construction work across both shires. While the trail is now open, final interpretive and wayfinding signage is still to come, with installation and completion expected by the end of 2024. 

Locals, visitors, and partners can expect an invite to an official opening ahead of the September school holidays, when the trail will be celebrated in all its glory. In late 2024, a new Great Southern Rail Trail website will be launched which will provide comprehensive information allowing users to plan ahead of their visit. 

Out of the 21km extension, Wellington Shire Council covers 14km, with South Gippsland Shire Council managing the remaining 7km. Over the past eighteen months, the project has reconstructed nine small bridges and five large bridges, including an impressive 80-metre bridge over Albert River. The works involved constructing gravel paths and extensive vegetation management between the towns of Alberton and Welshpool, including Hedley and Gelliondale. Despite weather setbacks in late December 2023 and January 2024 causing extensive damage and delays, the trail is now ready for public use. 

Wellington Shire Council Mayor, Cr Ian Bye expressed excitement over the project’s completion, saying that everyone at council is thrilled to see the community and visitors alike enjoying this beautiful addition to our region. 

“The trail is a testament to Council’s commitment to providing recreational opportunities while boosting the local economy through tourism. 

“Visitors can enjoy diverse landscapes, including farmland, forests, wetlands, and historic towns like Yarram, Alberton and Port Albert. The trail also offers opportunities to spot local wildlife such as kangaroos, birds, and other native animals as well as infrastructure remnants, adding a cultural and historical element to the journey, ensuring there is something for everyone to enjoy,” Cr Bye said. 

“It is exciting to see this extension complete and our shared vision of a recreation asset connecting our two regions fulfilled” Cr Williams said. “Rail trails are popular with local residents and are a drawcard for visitors. I know that many people have been asking about this section of trail and are keen to get out there and explore. This extension means that the Great Southern Rail Trail now extends 129km through a variety of beautiful Gippsland landscapes. I can’t wait for visitors to discover what we are fortunate to have in our very own backyards.” 

At the time of grant application funding, a joint cost-benefit analysis between both Councils showed that the benefits of the extension would outweigh the construction costs in every way. The bulk of benefits were estimated to be linked with the attraction of tourist spending into the region (defined as South Gippsland and Wellington Shires). Other benefits included improved health and enhanced recreational opportunities for the local population. 

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