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Every rail trail is different, but whether they are urban, rural or bush they all have one thing in common: gentle grades. Trains are not good at climbing hills. Railways avoid steep grades by contouring around hills, going through cuttings and over bridges. Some gradient profiles look steep but in reality they are never severe, except if the trail leaves the original railway alignment. On most railways, the steepest grades were 1 in 40, meaning the line would rise 1m in every 40.

On narrow gauge lines such as the Beechy, the steepest grades were 1 in 30. Railway gradients are more gentle than most roads, which can have grades as steep as 1 in 6.

Gradient profiles are great for trip planning. Walk or ride the trail one way; return by public transport or organise a car shuffle. Some local tour operators provide return transport.