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Fuso has scored two permanent tickets on the West Coast Wilderness Railway — one of the world’s last remaining tourist steam train journeys — but it’s not all sitting and watching the scenery go by.
The seven-seat Fuso 4x4s have to carry a work crew, along with spare sleepers and rail fastenings, tools, an on-board crane and enough pole pruners and chainsaws to take down any fallen trees which have obstructed or damaged the line running between Queenstown and Strahan on Tasmania’s rugged west coast.
Locals are fond of telling visitors it rains nearly 300 days a year in the surrounding areas — and the 34.5km journey includes areas of soil which never see the sun.
The railway launched in 1897 and was critical to the development of the Mount Lyell Copper Mine, one of the world’s biggest in its heyday.
The Fusos start their day at 5.30am, with a run along the entire track to check on fallen trees — hence the crane and chainsaws.
If there’s a big tree down and it’s brought up huge clumps of roots, the crew might have to call up a maintenance train with some extra-heavy equipment to shift it.
But in most cases, the truck and crew can clear the obstruction, repair damaged sleepers and set the rails straight again for the first trains of the day.
Fuso's Canter 4x4 heads out for the track check first thing.The Canter 4x4s also perform general maintenance along the track, including the checks and repairs to the 40 bridges spanning the rivers and gorges.
The terrain is steep and challenging, with the Fusos accessing critical areas on the train track itself or via dirt trails deep in the forest demanding low-range four-wheel-drive.
The railway is a largely volunteer set-up, so maintenance vehicles have not always been current models.
A pair of hand-me-down Mazdas from another era have helped up until now but a recent government grant has enabled the organisation to invigorate the maintenance program, reducing the number of line closures due to obstructions work crews cannot access with enough gear to clear in time.
The organisation chose the 4x4 Canter as it was easily adapted to both road and rail use.
Also, the access service track had places where the old trucks could go down OK but not get back up.
Operations manager Adrian Horton said they had to choose the 4x4 “because the only access road is a real goat track, it’s very steep”.
The seven-seat crew cab Canter is popular in other Australian applications as a road/rail vehicle. It has a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel with a conventional five-speed manual transmission.
The trucks were converted by Perth-based Aries Rail, with front and rear steel rail wheels on the 3’6” standard gauge.
The steam trains that operate on the same sections use the Abt Rack system which connects the train to the track through a rack and pinion set-up to help with the steep grades.
This article first appeared on thewest.com.au
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