Thursday, March 9, 2023
Mackay and Whitsunday Life
Weaving through the Pioneer Valley, the Mackay Railway first opened in 1885, with the last section closing between Paget and Marian in 2009.
While much of the line is still used for carting cane, a group of locals have taken it upon themselves to clear unused parts of the line and repurpose it as the Pioneer Valley Rail Trail.
Pioneer Valley Rail Trail Committee President David Arnold has a background in mountain biking and, while riding rail trails around Australia, wondered if something similar was possible in the Mackay region.
He initiated work on the project five years ago and formed the committee one year ago, starting discussions with Mackay Sugar who are the exclusive lessees of the corridor through the valley.
“Over that time, I’d identified sections that Mackay Sugar weren’t using,” said Mr Arnold.
“We came to the agreement that there’s two sections between Walkerston through to Marian.”
Mr Arnold identified one 18km stretch of the line that isn’t going to be used in the foreseeable future, but still has Queensland Rail infrastructure on it, making it a possibility.
Another section, covering 8.5km between Gargett and Benholme, has no possibility of being used and is therefore the section of rail the committee started working on.
“It started out with us getting out the cane knives and chopping lantana down,” said Mr Arnold.
“Then we’ve got a couple of guys with ride-on mowers and excavators doing a bit of work for us.
“We’ve got the 8.5km cleared.
“Bar a couple of obstacles, it’s usable now.”
The committee hopes to have the rail trail open to hikers, bike riders and horseback riders midyear.
In the long term, Mr Arnold hopes to make the trail a convenient and safe route from Mackay to Finch Hatton, especially ahead of the Pioneer Valley Mountain Bike Trails opening at Finch Hatton.
“The long picture is being able to get on a bike or a horse in Mackay and go all the way to Finch Hatton,” he said.
“There are a lot of backroads that can be used as link roads from one section of true rail trail to the next.”
Anyone interested in joining the committee, lending a hand or keeping up to date with the rail trail’s progress is asked to like Pioneer Valley Rail Trail on Facebook or join the Friends of the Pioneer Valley Rail Trail Facebook group.
Membership forms can be found on Facebook with the option to join as an individual, family or organisation.
“This is 100 per cent community led,” said Mr Arnold.
“Whatever work and whatever machinery that’s happened on the trial to date has been volunteers.”
The Pioneer Valley Rail Trail Committee are hoping to have the rail trail open midyear. Photos supplied