West Coast railway out of puff

Written By miftah nugraha on Senin, 04 Februari 2013 | 19.55

Federal Group has run the West Coast Wilderness Railway for the past 10 years, under lease from the Tasmanian Government.

THE future of West Coast tourism is facing derailment, with plans to shut down one of the region's most popular attractions.

Federal Group today announced it would stop running the West Coast Wilderness Railway on April 30.

The move comes just 12 years after federal and state governments contributed more than $35 million to the restoration of the track connecting Queenstown and Strahan.

The closure will also jeopardise the future of 48 railway employees.

The Abt Railway in pictures

Federal Group has run the Wildness Railway for the past 10 years, under lease from the Tasmanian Government. But escalating capital and maintenance costs have brought the venture to a halt.

"In 2002, Federal Group took on the role of operating the West Coast Wilderness Railway with the expectation that the asset would be fit for purpose with ongoing maintenance," Federal Group corporate affairs director Daniel Hanna said.

"However, with capital and maintenance requirements becoming progressively more onerous, the company became concerned last year and engaged expert engineering consulting firm Worley Parsons to undertake an assessment of the state of the infrastructure.

"The report confirmed that significant capital investment would be required in the near future to address issues with the state of the track infrastructure, including the sleepers, rail and ballast."

Mr Hanna said the attraction had also suffered a drop in patronage.

"It has been a very difficult environment for regional tourism in Tasmania in recent years and no part of the state has felt this more than the West Coast," he said.

"The number of passengers on the railway declined from nearly 45,000 a year about five years ago to just over 30,000 in the last year."

More than 80 per cent of the 400,000 people who rode the railway in the past decade were from interstate and overseas.

The Tourism Industry Council Tasmania will hold a special board meeting tomorrow to consider the implications of the closure.

"The issue now is what happens to this asset that is owned by the Tasmanian people and was built by the Tasmanian and Australian governments for $35 million just 12 years ago," TICT chairman Simon Currant said.

"The Australian Tourism Award-winning West Coast Wilderness Railway is one of the world's outstanding and unique heritage rail experiences.

"It is integral to the Tasmanian visitor experience and the West Coast's fragile tourism industry."

The Wilderness Railway has won several tourism awards, including three Tasmanian Tourism awards and an Australian Tourism Award for best "significant regional tourism attraction".

Federal Group said railway employees would be able to apply for other positions within the company, where available.

Read more in tomorrow's Mercury.

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