West Coast Wilderness Railway

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West Coast Wilderness Railway
Locomotive no. 3 on the West Coast Wilderness Railway
LocaleWest Coast, Tasmania
TerminusQueenstown and Strahan
Commercial operations
Built byMount Lyell Mining and Railway Company
Original gauge3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm)
Original rack systemAbt rack system
Preserved operations
Owned byGovernment of Tasmania
Operated byAbt Railway Ministerial Corporation
StationsRegatta Point, Teepookana, Dubbil Barril, Rinadeena, Lynchford, Queenstown
Length34.5 km
Preserved gauge3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm)
Preserved rack systemAbt rack system
Commercial history
Opened1 November 1899
Closed10 August 1963
Preservation history
2002Reopened under the name of the Abt Wilderness Railway
2013Federal Hotels stopped operations
2014Reopened as the West Coast Wilderness Railway

The West Coast Wilderness Railway is a reconstruction of the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company railway in Tasmania between Queenstown and Regatta Point, Strahan. The railway is significant because of its Abt rack system to conquer the mountainous terrain through rainforest, with original locomotives still operating on the railway today. Now operating as a tourist experience with a focus on sharing the history of Tasmania's West Coast, the original railway began operations in 1897 as the only link between Queenstown and the port of Strahan.


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 copper from the mine at Queenstown to markets. Until 1932, when a Hobart road link was completed, it was the only access through to Queenstown.

The railway utilised the Abt rack and pinion system 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 hauled by the same locomotive that ran the first service (no.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 with no. 5 and carriages going to the Puffing Billy Railway in Victoria with the other locomotives 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]


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 a 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 million from the Federal Government’s Prime Minister's Federal Fund, with further funding from the State Government and some private investment.

New railway[edit]

Mount Lyell No. 3 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 Prime Minister John Howard and the State Premier 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 a flood in 1974, with the new bridge just south of the original.

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 citing 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.[4][5][6] It resumed operation along its full length on 14 December 2014.[7] It is operated by the Abt Railway Ministerial Corporation, a State Government corporation.[8]

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
ABT loco No 3 at Dubbil Barril
  • "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.

Rolling stock[edit]

The West Coast Wilderness Railway has three of the five former Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company locomotives (1, 3 and 5) preserved in operational condition.[9]

It also has two diesel locomotives.[10] The passenger carriages were newly built when the line reopened in 2002, providing passenger comfort for year-round operation.

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]


  1. ^ Jehan, David (2003). Rack Railways of Australia (2nd. ed.). Illawarra Light Railway Museum Society. ISBN 0-9750452-0-2.
  2. ^ "The West Coast Wilderness Railway: The Past & The Future". Queenstown Tasmania. Archived from the original on 12 May 2018.
  3. ^ Jobs in balance as tourist railway closes ABC News 4 February 2013
  4. ^ "Abt Latest News: Progress Update - 15 November 2013". Tasmanian Department of Infrastructure, Energy and Resources. 15 November 2013. Retrieved 11 January 2014.
  5. ^ "Tassie's West Coast Wilderness railway reopens". RailExpress.com.au. 15 January 2014. Retrieved 15 January 2014.
  6. ^ West Coast Wilderness Railway returns to action minus a new operator The Mercury 6 January 2014
  7. ^ Tasmania’s West Coast Wilderness Railway resumes full operation after contract issues ABC News 15 December 2014
  8. ^ Steam train back from wilderness on Tasmania’s west coast The Mercury 7 January 2014
  9. ^ Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company Rack/Adhesion Tracks Rail Tasmania
  10. ^ Drewry Shunters Rail Tasmania

External links[edit]