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A group of rail enthusiasts believe they have come up with a pedal-powered way of retaining some of the country's disused historic railway tracks.
With tracks being removed to make way for cycle paths, a group of volunteers in the small town of Crookwell, in the New South Wales Southern Tablelands, meet most weeks to try out their range of bikes which ride on the rails.
They are adamant the concept of rail-bikes could be a viable option to use abandoned railway lines.
A volunteer group of heritage rail enthusiasts wants to repair eight kilometres of the old track to run a tourism venture.(ABC News: Hugh Hogan
)Goulburn Crookwell Heritage Rail secretary Peter Simpson discovered the pedal-powered bikes on a trip to the United States of America.
"I got excited when I saw them and then discovered the company that owned it was based in Australia," he said.
"When I got back, I went up to Bangalow in northern NSW, and borrowed a two-seater bike, that's where it started."
There are two and four-seater pedal bikes that can be ridden individually or coupled up to transport larger groups together.
"They ride on the tracks, but you operate it using your own leg power," Mr Simpson said.
"It's a form of exercise and, if you really get into it, you can reach speeds of as much as 25 kilometres an hour."
The secretary of the Goulburn Crookwell Heritage Railway, Peter Simpson, says he discovered the peculiar bikes on a trip to the USA.(ABC News: Hugh Hogan
)As well as the rail-bikes, the group has also restored several other forms of vehicles capable of riding on the rail line.
Along with handcars, they also operate a variety of motorised carts including wagons and a small bus.
The company behind the rail-bikes, Rail Explorers, has unsuccessfully tried to launch the bikes in Australia for more than six years.
They have had more success in the USA where they operate rides in six locations.
Cycle path vs on-track pedal powerA proposed cycle path along the existing rail line between Crookwell and Goulburn has pushed the Goulburn Crookwell Heritage Rail group to seek financial support to turn the rail-bike concept into reality.
As well as raising money through monthly firewood raffles, applications have been made to various state and federal agencies.
As part of the group's plan, an 8km section of the track between Crookwell and McCallister has been kept in place, with toilet facilities at either end for passengers to use.
The specially-designed rail explorer fits two people and is completely pedal powered, although they can be towed along by a motorised vehicle.(ABC News: Hugh Hogan
)However, it is an uphill battle for proponents of the rail-bikes, with local councils supporting that the track be removed in favour of a path of bicycle riders.
Mr Simpson said while the group was not opposed to the cycle path being created, it wanted it to run alongside the existing track.
"If they want to run the bike track adjacent to riding the rails, that's not a problem," he said.
"We want to retain the history of rail and to allow people to experience what it was like 100 years ago, riding on these rail-bikes through the peace and quiet of farmland."
The group hopes that by running the tourism venture in Crookwell, the younger generation will discover a passion for rail.(ABC News: Hugh Hogan
)Rail service once a thriving form of transportCrookwell's Railway Station dates back to 1902 and a team of passionate volunteers have restored it to look similar to what it did more than a century ago.
It was part of a push to ensure heritage railway stations and lines were not lost.
"While the last service ran out of Crookwell more than three decades ago, the line itself is still in commission," station historian Brian Castles said.
The group has repaired some of the ageing line and maintains the station which transformed the Crookwell when it was built.(ABC News: Hugh Hogan
)For decades, Crookwell Railway Station served as the start and end point for a daily freight and passenger service to Goulburn.
Due to track conditions, and the risk of livestock wandering onto the tracks, the 40km journey took close to two and a half hours.
"The route was unfenced and landowners were able to graze their cattle alongside it, so it wasn't unusual to see animals on the tracks," Mr Castles said.
"The train, which was mainly carrying freight but also passengers, had to dodge cattle and sheep the whole way."
Historian Brian Castles says the Crookwell Railway Station dates back to 1902, and has been restored using the same tools used during its construction.(ABC News: Hugh Hogan
)The last train between Crookwell and Goulburn ran in 1985 as locals chose to make the journey by road in less than 40 minutes.
"The train made such a difference to the community and the railway station in Crookwell also played a big part," Mr Castles said.
"We've restored it to the way it looked, using the same tools that were in use in the 1890s when the station was being built."
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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