Feasibility study: Economic impacts of extending the Otago Central Rail Trail

Benje Patterson was commissioned by the Otago Central Rail Trail Trust to estimate the potential use and economic impacts of a proposed Taieri Gorge extension to the Otago Central Rail Trail. An extension would give opportunities for bikers or walkers to travel between Middlemarch and Taieri, allowing for easy access from Dunedin with its large population and range of supporting visitor amenities.

The full report can be downloaded here.

At its heart, this report helps answer the following questions:

  • How many people use the existing Otago Central Rail Trail and what are the economic impacts?
  • How much usage could occur along a Taieri Gorge extension to the Otago Central Rail Trail?
  • What would the potential additional economic benefits be from the Taieri Gorge Trail extension?

Key findings

The existing Otago Central Rail Trail between Clyde and Middlemarch attracts 12,756 trail users a year, of whom an estimated 11,901 are visitors who collectively spend $25.9 million per annum.

A high and low usage scenario for the proposed Taieri Gorge trail extension have been modelled to factor in two trail corridors under consideration. Both trail options are about 60 kilometres and within an e-bike’s range, which matters given that 53% of Rail Trail users ride an e-bike. Under a high scenario, 39,306 annual uses of the Taieri Gorge trail extension have been modelled, while 23,009 annual trail uses were modelled under a low scenario. It is estimated that visitors riding or walking the Taieri Gorge trail extension under these two usage scenarios could drive a $6.9 million to $11.4 million spending lift.

Almost three quarters of total annual demand under the high scenario would be from trail users completing the Taieri Gorge segment only as a short ‘destination ride’ day trip, with the remaining riders being ‘through bikers’ traversing the length of the Otago Central Rail Trail.

Achieving the ‘destination ride’ status modelled in the high scenario is reliant on riders enjoying an exceptional and unique riding experience. Becoming a major destination ride is more likely if the Taieri Gorge trail corridor encompasses the most iconic heritage rail infrastructure and scenery.

Estimated use of the Taieri Gorge trail, even under the high scenario, is conservative compared to what many other trails across New Zealand have achieved. Trails below the low usage scenario are often relatively technical compared to a rail trail gradient and so suit a narrower set of users.

Many day trippers will likely make Dunedin their holiday base, meaning that additional spending will primarily accrue to Dunedin. The more amenity that develops in Middlemarch and along the trail corridor in response to demand, the wider the benefits will diffuse.

Note that this report considers the economic impacts of an alternative use of the Taieri Gorge railway corridor as a trail for biking or walking, it does not include comparisons against the existing economic and social impacts from current rail operations along the Taieri Gorge, nor does it compare the capital or operational expenditure required under either use. It is recommended that further analysis is undertaken across all these factors to properly inform long-term decision-making regarding usage of the rail corridor.

The full report can be downloaded here.

Get in touch for more information about bike trail (and other recreational amenity) usage and economic impact assessments. Within the past two years, Benje has been involved in more than a dozen projects related to tourism, sport and recreation. These have included projects quantifying the economics of skiing in Queenstown-Lakes, as well as biking in Queenstown-Lakes and Rotorua, and developing an events strategy for Selwyn District. He was recently interviewed regarding work he did to value biking in New Zealand’s forestry estate. Outside of his professional work in the economics of sport and recreation, Benje is one of New Zealand’s top ultra runners.