The original railway track
Reconstruction of the railway
Reconstruction of the Railway
With grades as steep as 1:16, conventional locomotives couldn’t cope with the terrain – Rack and Pinion was the 19th century railway technology solution and the only way to scale the West Coast hills. The original locos, designed by the Abt company in Germany and built in Glasgow, had independently driven dual cog or pinion wheels that engaged a pair of notched rack rails between the standard lines. The locos literally hauled themselves, cog by cog, up the steep grades.
The first engine was shipped from Scotland to Tasmania in 1896 and reassembled at Camp Spur, at the foot of the first steep grades from Strahan. Engineers of the Mt Lyell Mining and Railway Company built a stretch of track to trial the engine – a recreation of the original test track can be seen there today, deep in the rainforest alongside the line beside the King River.
To achieve the most authentic reconstruction, contemporary engineers built and laid new rack and pinion track and rails, refurbished the original steam locos, designed and built carriages, constructed new timber trestle bridges and replaced the historic Quarter Mile Bridge, which had been swept away in a King River flood.
The experience of riding the West Coast Wilderness Railway today is a journey into history – as you watch the locomotive slowly spin on the original turntable at Dubbil Barril Station, or pause on the lofty 65 metre bridge overlooking the King River Gorge, it’s hard to remember you’re a 21st century traveller.