Bryan Stephens

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Tasmania’s West Coast Wilderness Railway Between Queenstown and Strahan

February 8th, 2011 · 6 Comments

As mentioned in my previous post, Frank and I did manage to go on the Abt West Coast Wilderness Railway. I had heard great reports about this train, including from my sister. I must say that I thoroughly recommend the trip on this unique steam train.

Before arriving in Queenstown, I researched the Abt prices via the internet. It seemed that prices ranged between about $107 and $210, depending on what day you traveled, where you departed and whether you chose the premier carriage or the basic carriage. However, the only day that we could attend was on Australia Day, and the website suggested we ring for more details. I was concerned that we were going to miss out on the steam train journey, but as it turned out Australia day was a special event for the Abt train and there were some late cancellations that helped us get aboard. Even better than that, prices were only $25 per head and the train returned to Queenstown, rather than a train trip one way and a bus trip on return.

Abt Steam Train Departing Queenstown

This was the first Abt Steam Train departing Queenstown. The train that Frank and I went on departed after this one. Notice the rain drops on the car, this is typical for this part of the world.

The first train left just after 7.15am and we left just before 8am. The plan was that we would arrive at Strahan and catch a bus to the Regatta Grounds for a picnic, then return back via train to Queenstown around 4pm. I was later told that this was to commemorate the trip the miners took each Australia day for a picnic.

When we arrived at the station in Queenstown, we noticed that 3 of the workers dressed up for the occasion and seemed to love playing the part of old time Australian’s. We also later found out that all the workers worked this day without pay, so I appreciate their efforts. The $25 we paid basically covered the cost of the fuel.

Anyway, our luck continued when we were put in a premier carriage with a nice group of people. The premier carriage had better seating and ornate decorations, but by far the best advantage was access to a balcony at the back of the train where I could take photos. The only thing missing was cheese, wine and pastries that normally get served in the premier carriage. We did not have any official commentary, however Graham in his conductor costume gave some information at times along the way.

Premier Carriage on Abt Steam Train

This is a view of the Premier Carriage on Abt Steam Train. Graham can be seen in the background with his conductor uniform on. The seats are padded in the vertical and horizontal, unlike the normal carriages, and there was more decorations than the standard carriages.

Another Abt worker in a costume

This was another worker that dressed up for the occasion. He seemed to be having fun too 🙂

Abt Train Worker Dressed In A Costume

This was a photo taken of the 3rd person to dress up for the trip, on the journey back to Queenstown. She certainly played the part, and for the most part she seemed to have a fun time.

As the train progressed, we reached a section where there was a steep climb. The train used an Abt Rack and Pinion system (cog-rail system) to make the climb. Unfortunately, during the ascent the train engine derailed. It was a very interesting time, as there were no toilets on the train and there was a steep descent on one side and a steep ascent on the other. We were allowed to get out 1 carriage at a time to try to go to the toilet. A girl from our carriage ran a couple of corners to go…must have been tougher for the girls. I did not need to go, so I just went out to take a couple of photos of the train.

Abt Rack And Pinion

This photo shows the cog rail system that is visible in the centre of the track and devised by the Swiss Dr Roman Abt to assist the train handle the steep climbs and descents. Note the amount of work that the workers that built this track would have had to have done to cut a 35km pathway for this train. They did it all with picks and shovels too back in 1896. The motivation was so that they could transport copper from Queenstown to the port of Strahan.

Abt Derailed

This is where the Abt steam train derailed. I found out later that this was only the 3rd time in over 100 years that this happened, each time with engine number 1. One gentleman in our carriage told us that the last time he was on this train was in 1944 and that the train derailed then too. The photo also shows the balcony at the back where I took some photos. It also shows a poor man who had tripped over a blackberry bush and split his nose on the hard rocks with the fall.

When the people returned to the carriage some noticed that they had leeches on them. One girl had 6 in that 5 to 10 minutes break. The girl worker, who was outside much longer to assist others claimed that she had 9 leeches. Frank had one that attached to his leg and sucked some blood from him. I detected the bloated leech on the floor and some brave people scooped it into a takeaway coffee cup. That provided some entertainment for us, as the leech squeezed itself partly out of the hole at the top of the cup, resembling a monster in a horror film, and then transferred its fatter part (blood transfer) to the part already outside so that it could escape.

Eventually, the other train that left before us arrived in Strahan and the engine returned to help us get going again. Below are some photos I took during the rest of the journey. We arrived at Strahan after 2.30pm, which was almost 3 hours longer than it should have been, but I felt entertained by everything that happened.

King River

A view of King River that runs alongside the train track. You can also see the dense, rugged and spectacular terrain.

King River

Another shot of King River and the variety of vegetation surrounding it.

Broken Bridge King River

This photo shows a broken bridge that lays across the brown King River. The King River is brown due to it running through the old mining site near Queenstown.

Abt Railway Iron Bridge

This is the original Iron Bridge that the Abt Railway uses to cross the King River.

Train At Strahan

A picture of the train at Strahan railway station from the picnic area.

Strahan Train Departure

A photo of the train at Strahan before it departed back to Queenstown. Extra engines were added after this photo and all 9 carriages were taken at once rather than the 2 separate trains we arrived with. We arrived at Queenstown just before 9pm, so it was a long day, but certainly a trip I shall treasure and not forget.

Tags: Vacations

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Thelma Stephens // Feb 9, 2011 at 5:40 am

    Looks to have been a great trip. Will have to take the train next time I am in Tasmania. I am going to send to Mary & Geoff as they are thinking of doing the steam train as well.

  • 2 Andy // Feb 9, 2011 at 5:59 am

    It appears that you had a great day despite the derailment. I suppose that the derailment added a certain amount of interest to the trip, as well as being an historical event.

    The scenery is certainly wonderful.

    Tasmania is a unique place to visit and I am looking forward to returning there in the near future.

  • 3 Bryan // Feb 9, 2011 at 10:35 am

    Yes mum, I am sure that Mary and Geoff would love it. If they want to know any more about it, I am happy to share what I know. 🙂

    In my opinion, the derailment and the historical occasion did add to the trip. There is certainly some wonderful scenery…I had many more photos of the train trip, but decided to hand pick some of them for this post.

  • 4 Bree // Feb 18, 2011 at 4:44 am

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this Bryan, what a great adventure! The scenery is absolutely stunning – excellent job with the photography. Would have loved seeing a photo of that bloated monster leech just for giggles 🙂

    It’s these little mishaps that turn a trip into an adventure never to be forgotten. What fun, thanks so much for sharing.

  • 5 Bryan // Feb 18, 2011 at 9:29 am

    Hi Bree, thanks for the comments. I did not get a photo of the monster leech, but did get one of uncle Frank’s bloody leg. I was going to post the bloody leg photo, but thought that it may turn some people off the post, lol.

    I agree too… the mishaps certainly added to the trip and made it unforgettable.

  • 6 Krystie // Sep 29, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    Hi Bryan I can’t belive I found your recount of our trip. We were in the carriage with you and feature in one of your photos! We will never forget this trip either. This year we went to the Australia Day picnic at Lake Burbury which was really fun, but not as eventful. It was a beautiful day and everyone was amazed that there were no flies. Frank and his cousin won the three legged race and got $10.00 each. Thanks for the post. Krystie

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