West Coast Wilderness Railway
Monday 15th February 2016
When we woke this morning we were a little dismayed to find that the grey skies that had threatened rain yesterday had kept their promise and were indeed dumping fairly persistent rain in sufficient quantity to dissuade us from going out. Today, however, was not a day to slip back under the duvet. Today was the day of our long-awaited trip on the West Coast Wilderness Railway, and no amount of rain would make us miss that! We had seats booked in the balcony carriage of the Queenstown Explorer, and there were glasses of bubbles waiting for us to arrive and drink them. So off we went.
A short car trip brought us to the station, where the carriages awaited coupling to Mount Lyell No. 1 engine which had just been brought out of its shed and was building up a head of steam ready to move. Time for a quick photo before boarding our carriage and claiming our glasses of fizz. The day was looking up already!
The carriages wait in place at the station. Time to pose by No.1 engine.
Building up a head of steam outside the shed.
The identification plates on the engine show it was built in Glasgow in 1896. The No.1 was the first engine to steam into Queenstown in 1896
and also to pull the last train before the railway closed in 1963. It was rebuilt in Queenstown in 2010.
Settled in our carriage and ready to go. Cheers!
Our trip today would take us from Strahan through several stations to Queenstown, where we would stop for lunch and a wander around the town before the return trip to Strahan.
The route we would take to Queenstown and back. This chart shows how high and steep the train will climb.
The railway is a reconstruction of the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company line which began operating in the late 1890’s. It was built to transport copper from the mines at Queenstown. During the trip we were told about the difficulties of clearing the forest to lay the line over very difficult terrain, with construction workers living in primitive camp conditions which, given the heavy annual rainfall of the area, were often mudbaths. Bridges had to be built, but the most challenging problem were the steep inclines, up to 1 in 15, that the railway had to overcome.
The Mount Lyell Company bought a rack and pinion system recently developed in Switzerland by Roman Abt, the main advantage of which was that as well as allowing the engine to climb the steep inclines pulling loads of copper, it also had a simple system to get the engine on and off the rack and pinion system before and after the steep sections.
A model of the rack and pinion system beside the track. The actual rack in position between the rails.
The engine preparing for the climb at the
beginning of the rack and pinion section of the line.
It was an interesting and sometimes slightly scary journey through the forest, around the edges of hills where the land seemed to fall away below us, and crossing bridges originally built over a hundred years ago. The scenery was breathtaking, in spite of the rain, and the King River Gorge was spectacular. Rather than spoiling the day, the rain enhanced the experience, highlighting the hundreds of shades of green in the foliage and really giving a feel for the conditions in which the railway construction workers lived and worked.
Dense foliage in hundreds of shades of green. Tannins in the water cause the reddish brown colours.
Crossing the King River Gorge.
We arrived at Queenstown in time for a hot lunch which was ready for us at the station. We then joined a guided walk of some of the town’s historical buildings and learnt a little more about the history of this old mining town.
Mural above a shop in the main street. A very grand Post Office building.
The then unofficial kangaroo and emu coat of arms of Australia on one side and the British coat of arms on the other.
Blackwood staircase in the Empire Hotel opposite the station.
“Classic English acorn.” All that wood shipped to England for turning and crafting before being shipped all the way back again!
A 1981 photo of the hills around Queenstown, on show at the hotel.
The return trip was every bit as interesting, stopping to do some gold-panning and to wander around a museum of the railway along the way. No nuggets of gold for us, but we had the most wonderful day seeing parts of the west coast we could not otherwise have seen.
Interesting name for a town! Waiting for the other train to pass.
The viewing platform of our carriage. Panning for gold - without luck.
Taking on water. One of the stations along the way – a comfort stop – no loos on the train!
Our host and commentator for the day.