West Coast Wilderness Railway

West Coast Wilderness Railway
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. The trip takes approximately one hour but has unremarkable views but world famous for its engineering.



Original operation

The Mount Lyell Mining Co (reformed on 29 March 1893 as the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company) began on November 1892. The railway officially opened in 1897, and again on 1 November 1899 when the line was extend 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, 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 1906 floods).

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 to 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 to the Puffing Billy Railway in Victoria and the Abt locomotives were put on static displays 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 unsuitable for vehicle access beyond Iron Bridge that crosses the King River at the location of the early port of Teepookana.


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 The Hydro 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

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

The restored Abt Railway commenced operations on 27 December 2002 under the name of 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 railway terminal in Queenstown is on the same lands as that of the original station yard, and terminates at that point. At Regatta Point the railway station has been renovated and terminatesthere.

There was no attempt to vary the original alignment of the railway, except for the vicinity of the 'Quarter Mile Bridge' which is very near Teepookana. The old bridge was washed away in the floods of 1974, and the new bridge for this location is just south of the original.

A number of the original locomotives used on the line have been reconditioned into running order, but the passenger carriages are totally new, providing facilities for passenger comfort for year round operation.

There were 5 original ABT steam locomotives, with ABT 1 and ABT 3 restored in 2001, ABT 5 restored in 2005, with ABT 2 is currently on display at the Tasmanian Transport Museum, Glenorchy, Hobart and ABT 4 that after a life of poor operating performance was scrapped to provide parts for the other Abt locomotives.

Stopping Places and Named Features

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
    • enters the western end of the King River gorge
  • Dubbill Barrill ("double barrel")
  • "Quarter Mile Bridge" (original destroyed by floods in 1974, reconstruction much shorter)
    • crosses the King River for the first time
  • Teepookana
  • "Steel 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 current owners and operators of the Railway are the Federal Hotels group which also owns and operates other tourist operations in Strahan.

Further information

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

Federal Hotels produce unattributed materials about the railway and its history for travelers on the line, and users of its shops.

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


  1. ^ Jehan, David (2003). Rack Railways of Australia (2nd. ed.). Illawarra Light Railway Museum Society. ISBN 0-9750452-0-2. 

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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