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Victoria's longest timber rail bridge is on the brink of collapse, but a passionate group in eastern Victoria want to reclaim its towns energy by restoring the iconic, century-old Snowy Rail Bridge.
But the Save the Snowy Rail Bridge Committee believes restoring the bridge and expanding the local rail trail, four-and-a-half hours east of Melbourne, would re-energise Orbost, which has suffered from the drought and the demise of the local timber industry.
"The bridge is sitting out there saying 'do something with me', and it has been for quite some time," Liz Mitchell, Save the Snowy Rail Bridge Committee president, said.
A study into the socio-economic values and business case to restore the crumbling bridge is underway.
"We're very hopeful when the results of the survey study come through, that we'll be able to apply for funds to undertake that restoration," Sue Peirce, secretary of Friends of East Gippsland Rail Trail, said.
The group estimates the bridge restoration will cost about $2.5 million — a figure the group said could be recouped in tourism dollars.
The rail trail attractionThe East Gippsland Rail Trail between Bairnsdale and Orbost is a popular tourist attraction for cyclists.
The groups advocating for the bridge upgrade said that extending the 97-kilometre rail trail by just 770 metres, to include the bridge, would encourage more cyclists to the region.
"There is a spill-on benefit, not just for the town of Orbost, but for every town that's impacted by the rail trail — which is every little town from here to Bairnsdale," Ms Mitchell said.
"It's a bit like what the Sydney Opera House is for Sydney … something as unique as this bridge has that capacity for people to [say] 'that's the bridge at the end of the East Gippsland Rail Trail'."
Local accommodation provider Kay Bristow said research from other rail trails shows cycle tourists spend at least $180 a night.
"They're good tourists because they move slowly through an area and they have a higher daily spend than other tourists do," Ms Bristow said.
"And for every dollar invested in cycle tourism infrastructure, about $3 is returned within the first two years to the local communities."
Bridge was 'lifeblood' for OrbostOrbost and District Historical Society secretary May Leatch said the opening of the bridge in 1916 was "a lifeblood" for the local agricultural industry, and "brought great wealth into the town for many, many years".
"Before that transport was just almost non-existent — really just very, very difficult," she said.
"A huge boom happened from the 1920s onwards, almost immediately from when the bridge was opened in 1916.
"After the second World War, the timber industry here kicked in and that was the major industry here until the line closed in 1987.
"It's a mighty big bridge.
"It's not a big banana or anything like that — it's something that already exists, we don't have to make it, we just have to take advantage of it and use it."
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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