The ABT Railway Proposal
(Now West Coast Wilderness Railway)
The Commonwealth Government has given approval to the allocation of $20.45 M from the Prime Ministers Federation Fund for re-establishment of a railway broadly between the Tasmanian West Coast towns of Queenstown and Strahan.The Tasmanian Government is keen for construction to start and completion to occur as soon as possible.
Not only does the Government see long term benefit to the States tourism infrastructure from re-establishment of this railway but it also sees short term benefit from the construction phase.
2. BACKGROUND TO THE RAILWAY
A railway between Queenstown and Strahan was completed late last century. In the first instance, it was constructed from Queenstown to Teepookana on the King River (Teepookana is about 15 km from the centre of Strahan.) This site was chosen because it was able to be accessed by boat and it provided a base for export.
The railway was extended shortly thereafter to Regatta Point on the other side of the bay to the current fishing/tourist port. It was then extended again around the bay to the township of Strahan. This extension enabled a connection to another railway which then provided rail access all the way to the NorthWestern port of Burnie.
With the construction of road links via the Lyell highway to Hobart the Murchison highway to Burnie and finally a road which connected Strahan to the states highway system, the railway became uneconomic. The line was closed in 1963.Throughout its life the railway between Queenstown and Strahan was operated by the private sector. It was originally constructed by the Mt.Lyell Mining and Railway Company. Its primary purpose was to transport processed copper extracted from the Mt.Lyell mine at Queenstown to a point where it could be exported from Tasmania.The construction of the original railway proved to be a major engineering feat. The railway was to be constructed in some of the States densest forest and in an area which experiences some of the highest rainfall and coldest winter temperatures.In addition the terrain between Queenstown and Strahan is very mountainous and the very high railway meant that there were steep valleys and on occasions very fast flowing rivers - subject to extreme flooding.
Notwithstanding these constraints, engineers were engaged to identify a route and to subsequently manage construction. The steepness of the route in some places presented challenges but these were overcome by the use of a Swiss designed invention.
This invention designed by a Dr. Roman Abt allowed a train to travel up very steep inclines. Subsequently the invention became known as an Abt railway and that description has continued to present times.
3. CURRENT SITUATION
When the railway ceased operation in 1963, action was taken to remove these sections of the track which could be cost effectively dismantled. Consequently, the vast majority of the railway iron was removed. The timber sleepers were also removed in most of the non-forest areas.
Following cessation of railway operations, maintenance ceased on the more than 30 wooden bridges and on the 2 bridges with a large steel component. These two bridges were the "Iron Bridge" at Teepookana which was constructed almost totally of steel and the "Quatermile Bridge" which had large steel sections. Both these bridges crossed the King River downstream of the junction with the Queen river which meant they had to withstand large floods.
The remaining timber bridges were mainly traversing small gullies along the route where small streams had cut into the hilly landscape.
The elapse of over 35 years without maintenance has meant that all the original timber bridges are unsound and are unusable for their original purpose. The "QuaterMile bridge" has all but disappeared save for the steel sections lying in the river. The "Iron Bridge" still remains but has rusted to the point where it is not possible to drive trucks over it.
At the Regatta Point end, the old railway station remains and substantial monies were spent on rehabilitating and repainting it some years ago. The original locomotive sheds are also still in existence a short distance from the station.
At the Queenstown end, little built infrastructure remains. The station which was in existence at the close of the railway in 1963 had been extended for use primarily as a supermarket but in late 1998 it was destroyed by fire. Consequently there are no historic buildings left on the Miners Siding area which was in essence the goods yard for the railway.
The Station masters cottage still remains on the edge of the Miners Siding area together with some of the original hotels in the area. In short, the station area at the Queenstown end could currently be described as a vacant lot.None of the stations between Queenstown and Regatta Point are in existence today. Nor are any of the houses or other buildings along the way - save one fettlers shed.
The alignment of the railway exists much as it did 35 years ago - except at the Queenstown end :
From Regatta Point to Teepookana, the old alignment has become a road. Forestry Tasmania has replaced a few small timber bridges and the road is in good condition.
From Teepookana to the QuarterMileBridge, the alignment has been kept clear and it is possible for a vehicle to be driven along the route. About half this section has a very good base as it is used by Forestry Tasmania and a number of Tourist businesses to access a Huon Pine forest on what is known as the Teepookana plateau.
From QuarterMile Bridge to Rinadeena, the alignment is overgrown with many shrubs and small saplings and walking is difficult along most areas. Due to clogging up of culverts and places for water to exit the ground is very soggy in many areas of the alignment. Growth of trees and shrubs beside the alignment over 35 years has also meant that the canopy has closed in above the alignment in many areas. Some banks have also subsided on to the alignment in places.
From Rinadeena to approximately two kms for the Queenstown end the track is in very good condition in most places and has been recently cleared. Vehicles have been using the track and in some areas where water has not been able to drain away, there is a number of potholes.
Over the last two kms at the Queenstown end, some houses have been constructed on or close to the original alignment. These have been legally constructed on the understanding that the train would not be reconstructed.
4. THE ABT RAILWAY PROJECT
The project must proceed within the constraint of the availability of the $20.45M from the Federation Fund.
Detailed engineering estimates, which were provided to the Commonwealth Government, indicated that the railway could be made operational within budget of $20.45M. Accordingly, That is what is being progressed.
The project has been divided into three main phases.
A Preparatory Phase - in this phase, the necessary environmental and planning studies will be completed and approvals obtained - together with finalisation of construction proposals and drawing up of tenders.
A Construction Phase - in this phase, the railway will be constructed and the minimum number of rolling stock refurbished/constructed/acquired.
An Operations phase - in this phase which will be for the foreseeable future, the railway will be a viable operation and further improvements made.
It is recognised that there may be specific proposals by the private sector to pursue tourist related ventures involving hotels, wilderness huts, water transport infrastructure etc. etc. Such developments are not within the scope of this project and there will need to be separate environmental and planning approval processes for them.
The major elements of the project can be divided into two categories :
(i) Site works
(ii) rolling stock works
Site Works - will include the following:
(a) construction of a station platform at the Queenstown end.
(b) construction of railway infrastructure including shunting tracks, turntable, signals, water towers, storage buildings etc.
(c) relocation of any buildings which are in the direct path of a finally determined alignment
(d) construction of some maintenance facilities for the rolling stock
(e) clearing of the alignment to a width of approximately three metres along the entire route and dismantling of existing bridges which conflict with the finally determined alignment (the old alignment is expected to be the new alignment for virtually 100% of the total 35 kms distance).
(f) construction of a number of railway platforms along the route to enable passengers to get on and off the train - most likely at Rinadeena, Dubbil Barril, Camp Spur and Teepookana.
(g) construction of structures to enable the railway to traverse approximately 30 areas previously traversed by wooden bridges. In some cases, particularly the smaller crossings, it is possible that fill could be used - together with a culvert. In others prestressed concrete beams could carry the railway sleepers. In others, timber bridges could be utilised. (The final choice will depend on assessments of costs, access to materials, design considerations and aesthetics/heritage considerations.)
(h) laying of approximately 70 Kms of railway iron (two tracks for 35 kms).
(i) laying of approximately 47,000 sleepers.
(j) construction of a number of water towers and mechanisms to collect water for use by the locomotives
(k) construction of a number of train passing tracks and turnouts along the route (for operational and safety reasons)
(l) liason with providers of services such as electricity and telephone to arrange movement where necessary (mainly in the town areas on both ends of the route)
(m) establishment, and upon completion of construction, rehabilitation of a number of work sites
(n) removal of some vegetation along the route both for safety reasons and to restore the vistas for passengers which were available along the original route - particularly up the King River Gorge.
Rolling Stock works - will include the following :
(i) refurbish to operational condition a number of the Abt locomotives being used when the railway ceased operation in 1963
(ii) acquisition/restoration of one or more shunting locomotives
(iii) acquisition/restoration/construction of a number of passenger carriages.
5. OPERATIONAL ISSUES
|Whilst the original railway was primarily
in existence for industrial transport with a minor passenger use, the
new railway will be primarily for tourist travel. There is the possibility
of minor non passenger use some time in the future to transport supplies
into tourist accommodation and maybe some huon pine logs from near forestry
tasmanias forest on the teepookana plateau to regatta point.Whilst
a number of operational issues cannot be finalised until the operator
has been appointed for the railway, the following are expected at this
(a) the railway will operate most days of the year
(b) there will be an average of about six trains per day
(c) the number of carriages on each train will depend on demand at different times of the year
(d) the journey from end to end with some stops to set down and pick up will take approximately two hours
(e) the number of passengers on opening is expected to be between 60,000 and 100,000 per year
(f) the locomotives will be powered by oil (and not coal) but with steam boilers which will release some steam
(g) the trains will make some noise - particularly on the steeper sections of the track
(h) carraiges on the train will have toilets and the waste will be properly contained on the train and properly disposed of at the ends.
There will be a need for special arrangements and signage to be put in place where the railway intersects existing road and walking tracks.
6. ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND HERITAGE ISSUES
|The monies allocated to the project total
$20.45m. in broad terms $450,000 - $500,000 will be spent on the construction
Given the nature of the project, it is expected that virtually all the money will be spent in Tasmania. The investment of these funds in the State will greatly assist the States economy and have a positive effect on employment.Given that unemployment levels on the West Coast of Tasmania are relatively high, the Tasmanian Government has an objective that the construction phase will particularly assist businesses on the West Coast.
Because of the nature of this project, over 40 jobs are expected in the construction phase and 10 full-time jobs in operating the railway.
The original railway played an important part in the development of the West Coast and as such it is part of the States cultural heritage. In particular, the remaining structures such as the Iron Bridge and the Regatta Point station have special significance - along with some of the buildings that surround Miners Siding and some remains of buildings etc. along the route in particular near Teepookana.
7. DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM AND APPROACH
|It is intended that the preparatory phase
be completed by August 1999 and actual construction to commence soon
It is possible that some work may be able to be commenced prior to formal construction.
Such work could include commencement of restoration of a locomotive or acquisition of some materials to be used in the course of construction e.g. steel railway track.
However, it is recognised that construction proper cannot be commenced until the necessary environmental and planning and heritage approvals are obtained.
It will be necessary for :
(a) planning approval to be obtained under the Land Use Planning and Approvals Act (the West Coast Council is the relevant council)
(b) environmental approvals to be obtained in accordance with the Environmental Management and Pollution Control Act
(c) heritage approvals to be obtained in accordance with the Historic Cultural Heritage Act.
(d) approval to be obtained from the Commonwealth Government in accordance with the Environmental Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act.
In addition, the construction and operation of the railway will need to comply with obligations imposed under the Rail Safety Act.
8. COMMUNITY CONSULTATION
|The tasmanian office of consultants, sinclair
knight merz has been appointed to prepare an integrated development
proposal and environmental management plan (dpemp) which will address
the issues of concern to the west coast council, the Board of Environmental
Management and Pollution Control and the Tasmanian Heritage Council.
This document will outline the specifics of the proposal and the impacts of construction and operation of the railway on the environment, on adjoining land owners, on surrounding business and residential activities and surrounding heritage. It will also deal with any other relevant planning issues.
At the end of the document, there will be a discussion of all actions proposed to be taken to minimise any negative impacts from construction and operation of the railway.
In addition this document will provide the basis for broad community input in the assessment of the project and provide the mechanism for the Commonwealth Governments environmental assessment.The Sinclair Knight Merz study team will prepare the environmental assessment and finalise the development proposal. This work will be carried out by experts in areas such as flora and fauna, archaeology, aboriginal heritage, cultural heritage, noise, air quality, water quality, geotechnical, land rehabilitation and solid waste management.
A draft of guidelines on the matters which the DPEMP should cover will be prepared and publicly advertised to obtain community input. Following consideration of the comments received, the guidelines will be finalised and provided to Sinclair Knight Merz.
Sinclair Knight Merz will also convene a series of public discussions - particularly in Queenstown and Strahan to ensure there is effective and positive involvement of those communities in the development of the project.
Subsequently, the consultants will prepare a draft DPEMP document which will be placed on public display and further community input invited. The statutory bodies must then consider the comments received and finalise a set of conditions which must accompany any consent for the railway to proceed.