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Abt Latest News

Progress Update - 15 November 2013

The last eight weeks has seen a lot of activity on the track, in the workshop, and at the Station.

The opening of Tracks Café at Queenstown Station on Monday 21 October 2013 has been a particular highlight. The first week of business has seen a steady flow through of tourists through the Driffield St Station and the Mt Lyell Abt Railway Historical Society Museum. Well done to the all the team and reports are the coffee and menu are both noteworthy.

The track rehabilitation work continues with some urgent remediation work required on some landslip sites. A large landslip in late September caused a delay to the re-sleepering activity, but this site has now been fixed due the efforts of the train and track crew. A series of further potential  landslip sites have been identified with ongoing work taking place to fix these. The commencement of the major track maintenance activity is due to start 18 November 2013 with the Downer Group being the successful contractor. This work will see track rehabilitation between Queenstown and Dubbil Barril with rail replacement, rail welding, drain clearance and re-sleepering being the major activities. This work will continue until March. Locals will see a deal of train activity as crew and materials will be continually ferried out to work sites from both Queenstown and Strahan during this time. Remediation of landslips sites will continue until at least the end of December.

The development of the passenger experience continues with new interpretation and promotional material close to finalisation. A film crew was on site in early November 2013 to shoot footage of the railway for the upcoming marketing campaign, the weather for the shoot was great allowing some incredible footage to be captured.

Dependant on all this activity coming together a recommencement of passenger services for the summer tourist season is pencilled in for 6 January 2013. Here is to some good weather from here on in.

On the 31 October Legislation allowing the ARMC to operate passenger and freight services as the West Coast Wilderness Railway passed through the Tasmanian Parliament.

The expression of interest exercise has officially been closed with the Abt Railway Ministerial Corporation choosing to undertake the role of operator of the passenger service in the short term.  This decision was made to enable negotiations to continue with the two potential operators and allow services to recommence in the interim. Negotiations with these parties will continue over time as potential operational models are developed.

Please note the West Coast Wilderness Railway has recently launched a new website which can be accessed on the following link www.wcwr.tas.gov.au.  Also please take a look at the WCWR Facebook page and give it a "like".


Progress Update - 18 September 2013

There's been a lot of action on the West Coast Wilderness Railway recently.

We were happy to receive two expressions of interest from potential new operators - one from a large national tourist rail operator and another from a consortium of rail consultants and heritage rail operators. These are both solid submissions and we will be continuing discussions with both parties as both proposals have positive aspects to offer the railway. The selection committee will be making recommendations to the Minister over the coming weeks, and it's expected an announcement will be made soon after. In the medium term, it's our preference to have a private operator. However, it's likely that the Abt Railway Management Corporation will be operating the railway during the first tourist season.

Our overall aim is to get the rail back up and running by the summer tourist season between Queenstown and Dubbil Barril, continuing track rehabilitation for the Strahan  to Dubbil Barril section following the commencement of operations. The recent landslip also delayed commencement of contractors and necessitated further geotechnical safety checks and may require remediation of other potential landslip sites. We have a preferred tenderer for the works, however, we're not in a position to execute that agreement until we're satisfied that the safety implications of the landslip risks have been addressed.

Meanwhile, work in new interpretation and a promotional campaign repositioning the railway as an iconic heritage tourist attraction is being developed. The advertising is also designed to attract interest and build excitement around the railway in preparation for the service operating for the summer tourist season.


Landslip on West Coast Wilderness Railway - 3 September 2013

Work on the West Coast Wilderness Railway is progressing well, but railway track works have experienced difficulties in recent days following a landslip in the area.

The landslip occurred on the Queenstown side of Rinadeena Station late last week and is causing further difficulties because the landslip is still potentially unstable and in an area which has limited accessibility.

ARMC has engaged a geotechnical experts to assess the extent of the landslip and design necessary retaining structures.

At this stage, things are still on track for the railway to be opened for the summer tourist season, however, until the extent of the landslip is known, it is difficult to say when work on the sleeper replacement and drain clearing and regrading program will resume.

 Landslip   Landslip


New General Manager Appointed - 31 July 2013

Mr Phil Vickers was today appointed as the new General Manager of the Abt Railway Ministerial Corporation, in Queenstown. Mr Vickers will oversee the railway operations including coordination of infrastructure works and rolling stock repairs. He will also oversee preparations for passenger operations for the summer tourist season as a priority, when it is expected the railway to be operational again.

Mr Vickers has been an elected Councillor of the West Coast Council since 2009 and previously held the role of General Manager of the Council from 1993 to 1999. He is currently the Executive Chair of West Coast Heritage Ltd, Chair of West Coast Tourism Inc., Vice Chair Zeehan Primary School Council and Honorary Auditor of nine west coast clubs and associations. Mr Vickers has been appointed to this role based on his administrative and tourism experience and also brings to the role local knowledge and an understanding of the importance of the Abt Railway to the West Coast community.


Major Maintenance and Capital Improvement Program - 10 July 2013

Since the cessation of the Abt railway operations by Federal Hotels on 30 April 2013 and its transfer to the Abt Railway Ministerial Corporation (ARMC), the key focus at the railway has been to undertake a program of maintenance work and to review safety systems to ensure the readiness of the rail line and equipment for transfer to a new operator and re-opening.

Under the terms set out in a formal funding agreement signed between the Australian and Tasmanian Governments, the Australian Government has contributed $6 million for a major maintenance and capital improvements on the railway.  The Tasmanian Government has been charged with finding an operator and providing operational funding for up to four years.

Following his appointment as Chief Rail Engineer for the Abt Railway, Mr Robin Walpole has reviewed the railway?s infrastructure standards and undertaken an assessment of the railway to assist in the development of a comprehensive maintenance and capital and improvement program.

One key aspect of this work program is the replacement of  over 12,000 sleepers and the replacement of 20 kilometres of rail between Queenstown and Strahan.

Initially it was intended that in-house skills and labour would undertake the majority of track maintenance, particularly sleeper replacement, of which approximately 1,200 have already been laid.  Original budget estimates assumed a heavy reliance on railway employees to undertake the works.

ROAD RAIL VEHICLE ACCIDENT

However, the accident of 4 June 2013 between two road-rail vehicle (RRV) trucks has led to delays and necessary adjustments to this initial program.

This accident involved the track maintenance crew with a number requiring hospitalisation and ongoing treatment.  As of 1 July 2013 three key members of the team, including the senior track maintenance supervisor, are yet to return to work due to hospitalisation and ongoing injuries.

With the loss of key personnel and insufficient labour available in-house, the maintenance program has been severely disrupted and will now require increased and accelerated use of contractors under the guidance of a dedicated program manager.

Careful programming of work will be required to ensure that multiple tasks can occur concurrently.  This is to take into account that the railway is still subject to a series of track access restrictions imposed by the National Rail Safety Regulator and replacement equipment for that damaged in the accident cannot be specified until relevant investigations are complete.  RRV?s cannot be operated on the track until the National Rail Safety Regulator can be satisfied that it is safe to do so.

A series of investigations are still underway following 4 June accident.  Key bodies involved in the investigations include the Australian Transport Safety Bureau and the National Rail Safety Regulator.  The outcomes of these investigations are not expected for some weeks.

Despite the seriousness of the rail safety incident, the Government remains positive that passenger services can recommence for this year?s summer tourist season.

With this in mind there is still much work to be done at the railway?s headquarters at Carswell Park in Queenstown.  Major maintenance is being undertaken on locomotives and ballast wagons, passenger carriages are being refurbished and equipment is being prepared in readiness for the rail line work. 

Occupational Health and Safety systems for workshop and track employees are currently in the process of being substantially upgraded and the rail safety management system is being reviewed and amended following the June rail safety incident.

The West Coast Council has been very helpful in providing support with the development of a new rail depot, which will be vital for works program and reorganisation of Carswell Park to allow for accommodation of new safety staff and works personnel. 

THE SEARCH FOR AN OPERATOR

Meanwhile the process to secure a new operator for the railway is continuing.

The Expression of Interest (EOI) process is being coordinated by business advisors KPMG on behalf of the ARMC.

Business proposals from potential new operators of the Abt railway have been received. 

This is a confidential process and for probity reasons, details of the proposals cannot be revealed.

Applicants that successfully passed the prequalification stage of the process were given access to an extensive data room including details of the railway assets, financial performance of commercial operations and market information.  The data room information assisted applicants to develop a detailed business proposal for the railway.

The Selection Panel responsible for assessing EOI?s to date was pleased with the response to the initial prequalification stage of the process and is currently assessing all business proposals on their merits.

The next update is scheduled for the end of July 2013.


Workplace Incident - 4 June 2013 

I can confirm there has been a serious workplace incident at the West Coast Wilderness Railway.

At approx 11.30am, June 4 2013, there was a collision between two maintenance hy-rails, resulting in the injury of three rail safety workers, two of which were treated for minor injuries in Queenstown.

One worker with serious injuries has been transported to Burnie for medical treatment. Both Workplace Standards Tasmania and the National Rail Safety Regulator were informed immediately following the incident. The incident will now be the subject of a full investigation.

At midnight on 30 April 2013 the Abt railway ceased to be operated by Federal Holdings Tasmania Pty Ltd and is now operated by the Abt Railway Ministerial Corporation (ARMC) while a new operator is sought.

29 former employees of Federal Holdings Tasmania Pty Ltd have transferred to the ARMC to ensure a smooth transition of railway operations. The ARMC received rail safety accreditation from the National Rail Safety Regulator on 30 April 2013.

The ARMC is currently overseeing a major refurbishment of track infrastructure, rolling stock and buildings.

Director of Operations for the Abt railway project, Dr Martin Blake


Abt Railway Expression of Interest Process Enters Next Phase - 20 May 2013

The Expression of Interest process to arrange a new operator of the Abt railway has now entered its second stage.

Applicants that have successfully passed the prequalification stage of the process have now been given access to an extensive data room including details of the railway assets, financial performance of commercial operations and market information. The data room information will assist applicants develop a detailed business proposal for the railway.

The Expression of Interest process is being coordinated by business advisors KPMG on behalf of the Abt Railway Ministerial Corporation.


Major Maintenance Program for Abt Railway Commences - 14 May 2013

A major Abt railway sleeper replacement program being funded by the Commonwealth Government as part of a $6 million infrastructure maintenance and capital improvement program has commenced.

Initial sleeper replacement work will focus on the steep gradient "rack" sections of track between Queenstown and Dubbil Barril - the half way point of the railway.

The steel rack on the railway track works with the pinion wheels under the Abt steam locomotives - a technology that enabled the transport of copper ore from Queenstown to the coast at Strahan through the rugged west coast terrain from 1899. The rack and pinion system allows trains to ascend and descend steeper gradients than are normally possible.


Chief Rail Engineer for Abt Railway Appointed - 2 May 2013

The Tasmanian Government has obtained the services of distinguished rail engineer, Mr Robin Walpole, to act in the capacity of Chief Rail Engineer for the Abt railway.

Mr Walpole will be employed on a part-time basis for six months to oversee a review of track infrastructure standards for the Abt railway and advise the Abt Railway Ministerial Corporation on a $6 million maintenance and capital improvement program being funded by the Commonwealth Government as well as ongoing maintenance requirements for the railway.


End of an Era for the Abt Railway - 1 May 2013

At midnight on 30 April 2013 the Abt railway ceased to be operated by Federal Holdings Tasmania Pty Ltd and will now be operated by the Abt Railway Ministerial Corporation (ARMC) while a new operator is sought.

Federal Holdings Tasmania Pty Ltd has operated the Abt railway as the West Coast Wilderness Railway for ten years under a lease with the ARMC during which time the railway carried more than 400,000 passengers.

29 former employees of Federal Holdings Tasmania Pty Ltd have transferred to the ARMC to ensure a smooth transition of railway operations. The ARMC received rail safety accreditation from the National Rail Safety Regulator on 30 April 2013.

The ARMC will oversee a major refurbishment of track infrastructure, rolling stock and buildings while a new operator is sought. It is not expected that passenger services will recommence prior to the 2013-14 summer tourist season.


Full Steam Ahead for Iconic Railway - 18 April 2013

The Commonwealth and Tasmanian Governments have signed a formal funding agreement to restore and reopen the Abt railway, one of the nation's most iconic heritage attractions.

Under the terms set out in the agreement, the Commonwealth Government will contribute $6 million to bring the rail line back up to an appropriate and safe standard, with the Tasmanian Government charged with finding an operator and underwriting its ongoing operational costs for the next four years.

Since re-opening in 2002, the Abt railway has carried more than 400,000 passengers, created 33 direct jobs, and injected some $10 million annually into West Coast communities.

The agreement guarantees the upgrades needed to give the operation a safe and sustainable rail line for years to come. The State Government is committed to seeing the Abt Railway back up-and-running by the next summer tourist season.


New Operator Formally Sought for Abt Railway - 5 April 2013

The Tasmanian Government has taken the next step to save Abt railway, with Expressions of Interest to operate the service  advertised in early April.

The information has also been sent directly to a target list of potential investors - including the tourism industry and heritage railway sectors.

The Expressions of Interest process has multiple stages. The initial stage involves shortlisting organisations or consortiums that have the required capacity and expertise. Those candidates will then be invited to develop a full proposal.

Abt railway passenger and freight service will be temporarily suspended over winter, while major capital improvements are made, using $6 million of Commonwealth Government funding.


A More Secure Future For Abt Railway Staff - 23 March 2013

The Tasmanian Government has reached in-principle agreement with the Federal Group to transfer Federal Group employees to the Abt Railway Ministerial Corporation (ARMC).

The ARMC will employ the workers while a new operator is sought.

The transfer agreement, made in late March, gives workers certainty well beyond April 30th, when the Federal Group stops running the railway, and once again demonstrates the Government's genuine commitment to the railway and workers.