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THE Tasmanian election is done and dusted. Rail enthusiasts can now look forward to the Liberal Government’s promised implementation of its “Supporting Tourism and Heritage Rail” policy.
Although light on for detail, the document does provide a degree of hope and limited funding for the rail preservation societies.
The past 12 years has proven a testing time for tourist railway operators, their access to the Tasmanian railway network having been withdrawn in 2006 by TasRail, a government owned entity.
Prior to this, the Don River Railway, Derwent Valley Railway and the Tasmanian Transport Museum all successfully operated well patronised excursions along the main line using a variety of steam locomotives, diesel engines and rail motors.
The effects of withdrawing main line running were severe. Societies lost members, sponsorships and a major source of revenue. Many restoration projects were put on hold while the remaining dedicated enthusiasts devoted their time to maintaining existing exhibits and cleaning up after needless acts of vandalism.
Worse still, the fall in volunteer numbers led to a loss of valuable skills and the consequential reduction in training tomorrow’s drivers, firemen, guards, hospitality staff, track workers, etc, so necessary for the successful operation of tourist railways.
Of particular disappointment was the lack of support shown by successive governments and TasRail.
Whenever a railway society looked like achieving the standards of the day, TasRail lifted the bar and created yet another obstacle. Politicians pork-barrelled and drip-fed small gains to the societies, particularly around election times.
Until now none had advanced a policy to reopen the door to Main Line excursions. The Liberals’ support in enabling accredited tourist rail operators to access the operational network for a designated weekend of events is fully welcomed.
Given the length and breadth of the existing rail lines, perhaps there could be two consecutive weekends — it would definitely keep the mainland tourists here for longer.
Tasmania has a proud railway heritage, just short of 150 years. Many restored exhibits are the equal, if not superior, to those on the mainland thanks to the foresight of a band of volunteers who scrounged locomotives and carriages from the Tasmanian Government Railways in the 1970s during the winding back of passenger rail services.
The restoration of the award-winning West Coast Wilderness Railway is a classic example of our quality rail heritage.
The West Coast Wilderness Railway.Boasting the first rack-rail system in Australia, and still retaining four original Abt locomotives, the railway provides access to our magnificent rainforests and rugged country, in comfort and at a leisurely pace.
Critics will argue that it requires financial assistance. Sure, but the railway’s value is its showcasing of Tasmania’s uniqueness and West Coast lifestyles of yesteryear. Its presentation and tourist rail experience are equal to the best worldwide.
In Australia and elsewhere around the world we have witnessed a resurgence in tourist rail visitation and the reinvigoration of many small and once isolated towns.
Local theme festivals are promoted and community wellbeing fostered. Wales is highly regarded for its heritage railways and the benefits provided to the many quaint villages and tourist entities along the tracks.
The recently restored Yarra Valley Railway in Victoria has reunited small towns and rekindled community spirits. The not-for-profit organisation attracted helpers of all ages and skill sets. It created social interaction for the lonely and provided valuable skills training to those living in the outlying districts. And, dare I say it, from little things big things grow.
With reference to the Liberal Government’s new set of promises. The offer to provide the Derwent Valley Railway $25,000 towards planning works and access to the lines around the New Norfolk station are welcomed as being Stage 1 in the eventual extension of tourist trips to National Park.
The $25,000 promised to the Tasmanian Transport Museum Society to finalise its accreditation and the reinstallation of level crossing equipment at no cost is also encouraging.
Elsewhere, the Don River Railway can again look forward to accessing the main line and trips along the magnificent coastline between Devonport and Wynyard will be a feature.
As to the vexatious north-eastern line to Scottsdale, its future is in the lap of the gods. The scenic line (now closed to traffic) links many small towns and is still laid with rail.
Plans to redevelop it into yet another bike path will see the demise of a valuable tourist asset to be enjoyed by all and sundry, not just the fit and able.
Its loss will anger many farmers who will be subjected to 24/7 access through their properties, hampering privacy and crucial watering and spraying activities.
Who would be liable? There is plenty of room for sharing and co-existing but sensible dialogue is first required between potential users, communities, the government and TasRail on all the currently closed branch lines.
The West Coast Wilderness Railway. Picture: NICK OSBORNEI welcome the day when passenger rail returns to the Tasmanian main line. Tourist trains running from Macquarie Point to the Derwent Valley, visiting the historical Midlands towns, North-East vineyards and the beautiful North-West Coast.
Perhaps, a convention train or railmotor linking between Devonport and Hobart, providing a boat link for those not wishing to drive or fly.
Visitations along the way may include Oatlands, Ross, Evandale, Longford, Westbury, Deloraine, the list goes on.
Dr Lou Rae is a historian based in Hobart and a Churchill Fellow on the subject of tourist railways.
This article first appeared on www.themercury.com.au
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