The West Coast Wilderness Railway
(Formally ; ABT Wilderness Railway)
[From Our Past, comes our future]
The Past & The Future
The ABT Railway origins begun back in the early 1800's, when it was decided to build a railway between the port of Teepookana on the King River south of Strahan, to Penghana (later to become Queenstown).
In 1893 to try to upgrade the Company's image and to attract the attention of British investors so as they could help finance the railway, the directors liquidated the Mt Lyell Mining Company and formed The Mt Lyell Mining and Railway Company Limited and incorporated the Company on 29th March 1893.
The line was surveyed to traverse some of Australia's most inhospitable terrain and rainforests. It was to follow the King river for around four and a half miles, then climb the side of the King River Gorge on a gradient of 1 in 20 for three miles. From there the line would then go down to the bottom of the hill on a grade of 1 in 15 for around two miles, then on to Penghana.
Because of the steepness of the terrain, F A Cutten, a Railway Engineer employed by Mt Lyell suggested a ABT Rail System which was patented by Rinecker ABT & Co. of Wurzburg of Germany.
The system incorporated twin toothed rack rails which ran up the center of the line. Beneath the train was a steam driven toothed wheel which engaged with the central rail and pulled it up the steep grades.
The clearing of the line began in October 1894 and in November that year Melbourne contractors Garnsworthy & Smith began laying the line from Teepookana. The first section along the river to the King River Gorge, (this stop named Dubbil Barril) took eleven months to complete, and included one of the decades greatest engineering feats. This was what became known as the Quarter Mile Bridge. This bridge was 800ft long and spanned the King River and had piles 84ft long some of which were driven 60ft deep to obtain a footing.
The final 10 miles to Queenstown, which included the two steep ABT sections were completed by another railway engineer E Driffield in 10 months. The summit of the ABT section was named Rinnadeena and the base station called Hall's Creek.
The first train steamed into Queenstown on the 18th of June 1896 with the ABT engine's arriving from Glasgow two months later. The line was officially opened in March 1897. In 1900 the line was extended to Regatta Point in Strahan, an extra six and a half miles, to give the line a total length of twenty one miles.
The line with over one mile of bridges and with curves and gradients unheard of in Australian railways, carried copper from Mt Lyell for sixty seven years before economics and high maintenance costs made the line redundant and outdated in 1963.
As well as being used for the transport of Mt Lyell's Copper and the transportation of equipment of supplies into Queenstown, the Railway was also used once a year for the Annual Mt Lyell Picnic at Strahan. For this occasion, the carriages were fitted with bench seats and a canvas top. The trains would run the picnic goers, (just about the whole town), down to Strahan for the day and bring them back that night.
The ABT Railway is now being rebuilt as a tourism Railway, following a Commonwealth Government grant of 20.45 million dollars from the Prime Ministers Federation Fund. Early estimates say that the railway will carry between 60.00 and 100.000 passengers per year, see (The ABT Railway proposal).
The Railway was first operated by Tasmanian entrepreneur, Rodger Smith. It is now operated by The Federal Hotels and Resorts Group The Railway line has now been completed all the way through to Strahan, along with Stations along the way, and trains now run a regular twice daily service on the line.
Two of the original ABT Loco's have been sent to Hobart and been fully restored, and both, (ABT No 1, & ABT No 3) are now back in Queenstown and in regular use on the rebuilt line. There are also moves to have another of the original Loco's returned from Victoria and Rebuilt for use on the line.
It is claimed that the ABT will be ranked in the top 10 railways in the world, and is expected to become one of Tasmania's premier tourism attractions bringing a much needed boost to Tasmania's West Coast and the state as a whole.