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Off the rails - how disused tracks are becoming tourist trails

Ever wished you could slow down a train to get a better look at the landscape whizzing past? A new scheme in New Zealand is offering tourists the opportunity to do just that, and proving an environmental hit to boot.

travel Updated: May 07, 2012 19:32 IST
AFP

Ever wished you could slow down a train to get a better look at the landscape whizzing past? A new scheme in New Zealand is offering tourists the opportunity to do just that, and proving an environmental hit to boot.

'Railcruising', a new concept which launched late last year, uses formerly disused tracks in the New Zealand province of Rotorua as trails for intrepid tourists keen to explore the hilly landscapes of the Dansey Scenic Reserve.

Uniquely though, the carriages that travel along the track don't belong to a train, but are self-contained hybrid vehicles, each capable of carrying up to four people.

In two hours, the rail-mounted vehicles spaced approximately 250 meters apart cover 20 kilometers of forests and farmland, with a railway station at the end of the route to turn them round and send them back to the starting point in Mamaku.

In the first four months the response from the market has been great, Railcruising's co-founder Neil Oppatt told Relaxnews, and now further expansion is planned that will double the amount of track offered and allow trips as far as Rotorua itself on the disused track.

Investors have already expressed interest in expanding the railcruising idea to other parts of New Zealand, but it could have an even bigger impact in other countries such as those in Europe, where miles of tracks lay disused.

"RailCruising is very suitable for other tourist designations, we are presently looking at ten railway lines in New Zealand and Australia. We have had initial interest also from Canada and England," Oppatt said.

"We see RailCruising as a way of protecting an important part of railway history in a number of countries."

It's estimated that in the UK alone, more than 4,000 miles of rail track were closed during the 1960s and 70s, much of which has never been removed but instead allowed to become overgrown.

France too has miles of disused track, and is already putting it to use for the good of tourists with the Velorail system, a rail handcar/bicycle hybrid which allows travelers to explore the tracks at their own pace -- a concept that's also being tested in Wales and could become available this summer.