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Cooper, Ian; Tomlin, John; Reeve, Tony
Tasmania's heritage Wilderness Railway
16th Engineering Heritage Australia Conference: Conserving Our Heritage - Make a Difference!
Engineers Australia, Barton, Australian Capital Territory, 2011, pp. 537-550

The Abt Railway was once the lifeblood of the Mt Lyell Mining and Railway Company, hauling copper ore from its mine in Queenstown to the Macquarie Harbour ports of Teepookana, and later Strahan. When road transport of the ore became more viable, the railway ceased operations in 1963 after 65 years. The unique feature of the Railway was its Abt rack rail and pinion system which assisted the purpose-built locomotives negotiate steep sections of the Railway. Over the years local pressure grew to have the Railway restored as a tourist heritage railway. In 1998, the Australian Government contributed $20.45 million from its Centenary of Federation Fund for the reconstruction of the railway. The environmentally and technically challenging planning, design and construction work commenced in early 1999, with train services operating as the West Coast Wilderness Railway over the full 34.5km length of the Railway in early 2003. The Abt Railway Restoration Project was awarded The Institution of Engineers Australia Engineering Excellence Award in 2001 and the Colin Crisp Heritage Prize in 2005 in recognition of the significant achievement to bring this iconic railway back into service. This paper discusses the early challenges of the restoration project, which included tight budget constraints, a strong focus on maintaining the environmental and heritage values of the track, locomotives, rolling stock and buildings, while still providing an operating system that would meet the latest rail safety regulatory requirements. The paper goes on to look at the Railway today, improvements and additions made in recent years aimed at improving operational efficiency and visitor interpretational experiences, finally exploring some of the future challenges the Railway still faces to remain in operation in the long term.

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