Thursday, August 16, 2012

West Coast Wilderness Railway

Discovery of copper in Queenstown in 1896 precipitated the need for an efficient means of transport to move the minerals to the port at Strahan. Surveyors and engineers quickly trounced the idea of building a railway through the wilderness. Equally as quickly, the mine owner adopted the motto Labor Omnia Vincit – we find a way or make it.

With a gradient of 1:20, no steam train was able to climb such terrain. That was until a rack and pinion system (or Abt System) was invented in 1885. Small cogwheels under the loco engaging with teeth on a middle rail enabled the train to climb gradients like never before. Now, I am no train enthusiast, mathematician, nor engineer. Saying gradients of 1:20 means absolutely nothing to me, but I was assured it was steep - both ways!

The railway officially opened in 1897. Known for its incredible feats of labour, human tenacity and impossible engineering, the railway was built completely by hand. Cuttings through rock faces along the King River were made leaving just a whisker on either side. At times you catch yourself breathing in, as you weave your way along the steep banks. The line travels for 22 miles and has 42 bridges in total.

The railway ceased operating in 1963. Locals campaigned long and hard to get the railway up and running again as a tourist attraction. It wasn’t until a $20M Federal Government grant in the late 90s was forthcoming that their dreams were realised. In 2003, the Abt Wilderness Railway was officially reopened. A number of the original locos has been restored and they have been commissioned into action once again, taking tourists along the same incredible tracks built all those years ago.

The romance of steam...a truly wonderful day.

Rotating Loco No. 5
Mount Lyell Loco No. 5
West Coast Wilderness
Keen passengers
Walking in the wilderness

Passenger carriage

Rail bridge

Rail bridge
King River
King River
Disused mine shaft
Rack and pinion test track 


  1. Hi there. I came across this page while googling the railway. I am a Strahan resident and I am not sure if you are aware, but the West Coast has received the devastating news this week that the railway will be closing at the end of April this year. Very, very sad and so many jobs lost and lives affected as a result.

    If you are on facebook, perhaps you could join the page that has been created, called "Save the West Coast Railway".

    Thank you. :-) This is a lovely page, your little girl is beautiful and the photos are fantastic!

    1. Thank you for leaving your comment. I am glad you enjoyed the post. We have many wonderful memories of our family trip to Tasmania last year. This is truly devastating news, though. I have joined the FB page, as well as posted an article from the Mercury about the closure. Happy to help in any way. I do hope some benefactor takes up the cause as it is a truly amazing place. Best of luck.