2023 | Part 1

The past year has been a fraught one for the team at West Coast Wilderness Railway but it has also been one that has reinvigorated the team and our future.

2023 started normally enough, running half-day journeys from both sides of our 35-kilometre, 127-year-old railway with original heritage Abt and Drewry locomotives. Taking passengers deep into the rainforest and delivering memorable experiences in a unique environment onboard an equally unique heritage railway.

It was, as can be expected, hard work behind the scenes. Locomotives have personalities and century-old railways are high maintenance. It was becoming clear that winter would not provide any downtime for the team, which was accentuated when Drewry diesel locomotive D2 experienced a minor derailment in February. Several Abt Locomotive breakdowns were to follow, resulting in delayed returns and long days for staff and passengers.

West Coast Wilderness Railway generally operates 12 months of the year, albeit with a reduced winter timetable and occasional seasonal closure of one-half of the railway for maintenance. The projects that 2023 would bring required a full shutdown, with most of the 40 bridges along the line needing some form of work – whether it be repairs, re-transomming or re-railing. Further, 12 registered geotech sites required attention, spanning the entire line. And this was just the ‘big stuff’.

Strahan departures weren’t rescheduled after the derailment and on 3 June 2023, the last passenger train departed Queenstown. This marked the first time there were no timetabled passenger trains in a decade. During the winter downtime, work would be undertaken on the bridges and earthworks, while the Commercial team refocussed on creating and executing station-ary experiences (yes, we went there) whilst continuing to run the two cafes, retail outlets and museums that are also key components to our business.

The period to follow was one that brought the team together, refocussed their energy and reignited the ‘find a way or make it’s a motto that has long been a part of our railway.

Credits image gallery: Tourism Australia, Ollie Khedun

This blog was written as part of a larger ‘Year in Review’ article for the Port Bay Express, a train enthusiast publication and was first shared on 19 January 2024.

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