Fed cash to keep Abt on track

Written By miftah nugraha on Rabu, 17 April 2013 | 19.55

The short-term future of the Abt Railway has been secured with the state and federal governments signing a funding deal.

THE Federal Government has put up the $6 million needed to upgrade infrastructure to keep the West Coast Wilderness Railway on track.

Now West Coast locals want the State Government to guarantee the money will not go towards other projects.

Federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese, Braddon MP Sid Sidebottom and Tasmanian Infrastructure Minister David O'Byrne today formally endorsed an agreement which will make Commonwealth funds available to bring the line back to a safe standard while the railway is closed over winter.

The State Government has also promised to put up $4 million over four years.

But West Coast Mayor Darryl Gerrity said the region had been dudded in the past and he wanted the federal funds put in some kind of trust.

"The money needs to be secured so the State Government cannot launder it as they have down over many years," Cr Gerrity said.

About $7 million of Commonwealth funds for the Mt Lyell Remediation Project which was to clean up historic mine pollution was diverted to the Fox Taskforce and $4.5 million in Federal funds earmarked to upgrade the rail line at Melba Flats was given to fund an upgrade of the Midland Highway instead.

Mr O'Byrne said the West Coast could count on the Commonwealth money and the $1m-1.5m a year for four years the state had committed.

The railway -- originally called the Abt -- was built in the 1890s to transport copper from the mines near Queenstown to market.

Since reopening in 2002 as a tourist venture, it has carried more than 400,000 passengers, created 33 direct jobs and injected about $410 million into the West Coast's economy each year.

Mr O'Byrne said the State Government was committed to see the railway back up and running by next summer's tourist season.

He said the Government had been very encouraged by the informal interest shown by potential private sector operators in running the railway.

The last operator, the Federal Group, opted out of 20-year contract with the State Government earlier this year.

The move sparked outrage in the West Coast community, which views the railway as its prime tourism asset.

The Commonwealth first committed funds to enable the track to be upgraded in February.

"Today's signing guarantees the upgrades needed to give the operation a safe and sustainable rail line for years to come," Mr Albanese said during a visit to Tasmania today.

Mr O'Byrne said his department was doing the hard yards behind the scenes to provide a strong and secure future for the railway, its workers and West Coast tourism.

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