West Coast Wilderness Railway

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West Coast Wilderness Railway
Locomotive on the West Coast Wilderness Railway.
Locale West Coast, Tasmania
Terminus Queenstown and Regatta Point
Commercial operations
Built by Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company
Original gauge 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm)
Original rack system Abt system
Preserved operations
Operated by Federal Hotels
Stations Regatta Point, Teepookana, Dubbil Barril, Queenstown
Length 34.5 km
Preserved gauge 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm)
Preserved rack system Abt system
Commercial history
Opened 1899-11-01
Closed 1963-08-10
Preservation history
2002 Reopened under the name of the Abt Wilderness Railway

The West Coast Wilderness Railway, Tasmania is a reconstruction of the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company railway between Queenstown and Regatta Point. Having struggled with falling passenger numbers, the railway ceased operation in April 2013. Owned by the Tasmanian Government, expressions of interest are sought to see the mothballed railway operating once again as a tourist attraction with an operator to be awarded a lease in November 2013. While passenger bookings are not being taken, some paid staff are engaged in heavy maintenance in preparedness for future operations. In further recognition of the railway's importance as former tourist icon, the Government has offered to underwrite operations up to $1.5 million a year for four years. The trip takes approximately one hour and has remarkable views and is also world famous for its engineering.

History[edit]

Original operation[edit]

The Mount Lyell Mining Co (reformed on 29 March 1893 as the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company) began operations in November 1892. The railway officially opened in 1897, and again on 1 November 1899 when the line was extended from Teepookana to Regatta Point and Strahan.

The railway was the only way to get the copper from the mine at Queenstown, Tasmania to markets. Until 1932, when a Hobart road link was completed, it was the only access through to Queenstown. The motto of Kelly and Orr was Labor Omnia Vincit, which shows the achievement of this railway because it ran, even though multiple surveyors said it was not possible, the weather was extreme, the trains had to climb 1m in 16m (6.25%), and the train had to carry many tonnes of copper and the rail line had to survive natural disasters (including floods in 1906).

The railway utilised the Abt rack system of cog railway for steep sections. Because of the gradients, tonnages were always limited on the railway. The gauge is 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm).[1]

The original line continued into the Mount Lyell mining operations area in Queenstown, and at Regatta Point the line linked around the foreshore of Strahan to link with the Government Line to Zeehan.

The railway ceased operation on 10 August 1963 due to increasing maintenance costs and the improvement of road access to the West Coast from the North with the opening of the Murchison Highway. The last train run was performed by the same engine that ran the first run (ABT 1 in 1896 was the first engine to steam into Queenstown). The rail and other movable items were lifted taken off-site, leaving most of the bridges intact.

Following the closure of the railway, the rolling stock was dispersed— carriages went to the Puffing Billy Railway in Victoria and the Abt locomotives were put on static display or in museums. With the removal of the railtrack the formation from Regatta Point came to be used by road vehicles for access to Lette's Bay and Lowana to the East.

Most bridges remained intact but fell into disrepair, and the route was unsuitable for vehicle access beyond the Iron Bridge that crosses the King River at the location of the early port of Teepookana.

Steepest Gradient[edit]

The steepest gradient on the rack section was 1 in 15 (6.67%),[2]

Reconstruction[edit]

Despite various proposals post 1963, it was not until the 1990s after the demise of the main Mount Lyell Company mining operations, and the downgrading of Hydro Tasmania's activities of dam building on the West Coast, that some very committed local West Coast people campaigned for the restoration of the Abt Railway as an iconic heritage tourist attraction featuring the unique rail system and the community's mining history.

The restoration of the Abt Railway was made possible through the allocation of $20.45M from the Australian Government Prime Minister's Federal Fund, with further funding from the State Government and some private investment.

New railway[edit]

Mount Lyell No. 5 was one of the original steam Abt locomotives on the line

The restored railway commenced operations on 27 December 2002 as the Abt Wilderness Railway, and was officially re-opened by the Prime Minister of Australia John Howard and the Premier of Tasmania Jim Bacon in 2003.

The new terminus in Queenstown is on the site of the original station yard. The station at Regatta Point terminus has been renovated.

The railway follows its original alignment except for the 'Quarter Mile Bridge' near Teepookana. The old bridge was washed away in the floods of 1974, and the new bridge is just south of the original.

Of the five original steam locomotives, ABT 1 and ABT 3 were restored in 2001 and ABT 5 in 2005; ABT 2 is on display at the Tasmanian Transport Museum, Glenorchy, Hobart; and ABT 4 was scrapped to provide parts for the other locomotives. The passenger carriages are new, providing passenger comfort for year-round operation.

Change in operations[edit]

On 4 February 2013 the Federal Group announced that it would be terminating its lease of the railway in April 2013. The company said that a downturn in business and a need for investment in infrastructure had caused the railway to no longer be viable. The Tasmanian government responded by estimating that maintaining the railway would cost $15 to $20 million, and that the government alone could not fund it.[3]

Following track rehabilitation work, the railway re-opened between Queenstown and Dubbil Barril on 6 January 2014, while rehabilitation of the section through to Strahan continues.[4][5]

Stopping Places and Named Features[edit]

Most of the historical stopping places and named locations of the original railway line have been kept. The following list is made for the journey from Queenstown, and can be read in reverse for the trip from Regatta Point.

Diesel locomotive at Teepookana
  • Queenstown (terminus)
  • Lynchford
  • Halls Creek
  • Rinadeena
  • Dubbil Barril ("double barrel")
  • "Quarter Mile Bridge" (original destroyed by floods in 1974, reconstruction much shorter)
    • crosses the King River for the first time
  • Teepookana
  • "Iron Bridge"
    • crosses the King River for the second time
    • line closest to the King River between these points
    • leaves the King River near its entry into Macquarie Harbour and moves north towards Regatta Point and Strahan
  • Lowana
  • Regatta Point (terminus)

The former owners and operators of the Railway were the Federal Hotels group which also owns and operates other tourist operations in Strahan.

Further information[edit]

Abt rack railway showing the dual racks ensuring one is always positively engaged

Federal Hotels produced unattributed materials about the railway and its history for travellers on the line.

The most accessible recent writer regarding this railway is Lou Rae, as he has written a number of books about West Coast railways.

  • Rae, Lou (2001). The Abt Railway and Railways of the Lyell region. Sandy Bay, Tas. ISBN 0-9592098-7-5. 

In its latest edition:

  • Rae, Lou (2003). The Abt Railway: Tasmania’s West Coast Wilderness Railway. Sandy Bay, Tas.: The Author. ISBN 0-9592098-8-3. 
  • Rae, Lou (1993). The Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Co. Ltd: a pictorial history 1893-1993. Ulverstone. ISBN 0-9592098-3-2. 

Some other works on the Mount Lyell Railway are :—

  • Jehan, David (2003). Rack Railways of Australia. The Author. ISBN 0-9750452-0-2. 
  • Atkinson, H.K. (1991). Railway Tickets of Tasmania. ISBN 0-9598718-7-X. 
  • Whitham, Charles (2003). Western Tasmania—a land of riches and beauty (Reprint 2003 ed.). Queenstown: Municipality of Queenstown. 
1949 edition—Hobart: Davies Brothers. OCLC 48825404; ASIN B000FMPZ80
1924 edition—Queenstown: Mount Lyell Tourist Association. OCLC 35070001; ASIN B0008BM4XC
  • Blainey, Geoffrey (1954). The Peaks of Lyell. 
  • Palmer, B.A. (September 1963). "Picnic Day on the Mount Lyell Railway". Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin. 
  • Chapman, Michael (November–December 2008). "Steepest and Hardest". Narrow Gauge World 60. 
  • Tasmania’s West Coast Wilderness Railway: the rebirth of a remarkable engineering achievement (DVD video). Lindisfarne, Tas.: Peter Richman Productions. 2004. 

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Jehan, David (2003). Rack Railways of Australia (2nd. ed.). Illawarra Light Railway Museum Society. ISBN 0-9750452-0-2. 
  2. ^ http://www.queenstowntasmania.com/Railway_Past_And_Future_Page.php
  3. ^ http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-02-04/jobs-in-balance-as-tourist-railway-closes/4499832
  4. ^ "Abt Latest News: Progress Update - 15 November 2013". Tasmanian Department of Infrastructure, Energy and Resources. 15 November 2013. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  5. ^ . RailExpress.com.au. 15 January 2014 http://www.railexpress.com.au/archive/2014/january-2014/january-15-2014/other-top-stories/tassie2019s-west-coast-wilderness-railway-reopens. Retrieved 15 January 2014.  Missing or empty |title= (help)

External links[edit]