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The Mt Lyell Mining Company had a problem – lots of copper, but with the mine in a remote area of Tasmania, difficulty in getting the ore to market.
The nearest port at Macquarie Harbour was almost inaccessible from the mine site due to the wild terrain – wild rivers, dense rainforest and steep inclines. Dr Carl Roman Abt to the rescue.
Dr Abt invented a system that enabled the locomotive to lock into a rack of teeth on the railway that would help pull the train carrying the valuable copper ore up hills and control its descent down hills. And so the train started operations in 1892.
With increasing maintenance costs and the improvement in road transport, the railway ceased transporting ore in 1963 and was almost forgotten. Until someone had the idea to re-establish the trip as a tourist attraction. That took a lot of work. Rail had to be relaid, bridges repaired, rolling stock acquired. But it got done and the wilderness tourist railway commenced operations in December 2002.
We took the journey on the West Coast Wilderness Railway from Strahan to Queenstown, but you can do it the other way if you like. We started out with a deisel locomotive but swapped over to the specialist ABT steam loco before we got to the ABT track system which is installed on the steepest part of the track.
And it’s a great ride. Through the thick rain forrest, over tressle bridges, crossing the King River – a trip of about 35km.
The journey has a few breaks to change locomotives and to allow you to have a good look at the scenery and the track.
Watch out for the station called Dubbil Barril near the King River, just because it’s a cute way to spell the name.