THE man responsible for the resurrection of the Abt wilderness railway more than 10 years ago says the government should take it on.
Launceston businessman Roger Smith said it was unlikely that a private operator would take responsibility for the embattled railway from the Federal Group when its contract expired on April 30, given that it cost between $1 million and $2 million a year to run.
``My view is that you won't find anybody with sufficient resources to operate it,'' he said.
``I think it's necessary for the government to run it, the same as it does the TT-Line or Port Arthur.
It was wrong for the government to have an operator for the railway that took out profits during the good times but did not set money aside for hefty maintenance bills, he said.
He blamed the marketing of the railway for its sliding popularity.
``We would have around 55,000 to 56,000 passengers a year, and it breaks even at 50,000,'' he said.
``Thirty thousand is not enough.''
Tickets were too expensive now, which meant there were not enough ``bums on seats'', Mr Smith said.
However, he credited the Federal Group with running the railway in an ``extremely professional'' manner.
``Few people realise that in the last few months, the Federal Group has replaced 12,000 sleepers, and there are around 45,000 sleepers on the railway, so it's a huge proportion,'' he said.
``In every aspect, more maintenance is required.
``It's unlikely that a (private) operator in the long term would make enough profit to make it worth their while.
``You have to be brave and wealthy enough to reduce the ticket prices to get the volume you need, and to schedule the trips at times people want.''
The loss of Abt Railway's original chief executive Eamonn Sedden, who came to Tasmania for the project from the Ffestiniog Railway in Wales, was a ``catastrophe'' for the venture, he said.
Mr Smith said he spent $42 million on the original rebuild, and although it would cost the government $6 million to repair it now, if the railway was built from scratch, it would cost more than $300 million.
Infrastructure Minister David O'Byrne said on Thursday that the railway would be closed for winter to conduct urgent track repairs, and the promised $6 million federal government funding would be spent, even if a new operator had not been secured by April 30.