Watered and fed we returned to our caravan park, slept as best we could then showered in the freezing cold of the ablutions block the following morning, before boarding the Mt Lyell No 3 steam engine for a ride from Queenstown to Dubbil Barril. The West Coast Wilderness Railway is a reconstruction of the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company railway in Tasmania between Queenstown and Regatta Point, Strahan. The railway is significant because of its Abt system to conquer the mountainous terrain through rainforest, with original locomotives still operating on the railway today. Now operating as a tourist experience with a focus on sharing the history of the Tasmania’s West Coast, the original railway began operations in 1897 as the only link between Queenstown and the port of Strahan. The railway utilised the Abt rack and pinion system for steep sections and the gauge is 3 ft 6 in. The Abt system was devised by Roman Abt, a Swiss locomotive engineer.
A rack railway (also rack-and-pinion railway, cog railway) is a steep grade railway with a toothed rack rail, usually between the running rails. The trains are fitted with one or more cog wheels or pinions that mesh with this rack rail. This allows the trains to operate on steep grades above around 7 to 10%, which is the maximum for friction-based rail.
We stopped at various stations (now abandoned except for the tourists attending the trip), panned for gold at Lynchford, walked through a cold weather rain forest, and saw trestle bridges built by hand from forest timber, witnessed a hand operated turntable at Dubbil Barril and were feed every step of the way. The “guard” Thomas told us the story of the two Irish miners Crotty and Bowes Kelly (and co-opted two passengers into playing the parts) along the journey making some of the more boring parts entertaining.
We started with sparkling wine and salmon canapes before arriving at the gold town of Lynchford where we panned for a tiny speck of gold. Yes only one tiny speck was found. Here we saw the F O Henry sign above the shop door reminding us of the demount-able store we saw in a picture in the Hall at Lake Margaret and F O Henry went on to become one of Tasmania’s wealthiest men.
After panning for gold we had scones jam and cream before our next stop to take on water for the boiler after our engine had got to the top of the mountain. We got to see the rack and pinion system in operation.
After this stop we cruised down the mountain through the gorge amazed at the rugged country through which the railway had been built by manual labour and into Dubbil Barril where we strolled through a forest walk whilst the engineers turned the engine around for the trip back to Queenstown. The turntable is manual and lots of steam is expelled during the process and not just from the engine. On our return journey we snacked on salad wraps and hot chocolate. Thomas finished his tale of the rivalry between the Irish miners and how that determined the death of some towns and the survival of Queenstown.
After a very enjoyable journey we went home to the van and commenced our journey to Hobart, still full from all the food on the train. It is one of the longer legs of our journey and we encountered a full moon on the way finally arriving at Paul and Emily’s house in South Hobart around 6.30pm.