Fight for Fingal Festival passenger train steams ahead

The Fingal Valley did not used to be cut off from the train tracks.

A passenger service had operated, with two railway tracks open, taking people to and from the small town in the state’s north-east.

The service was cut years ago, and the community is fighting for its return, only one day every year.

The downturn in employment hit the town hard, which meant an annual train to from Hobart to Fingal Valley Festival could provide an economic boost to the region.

The annual festival attracts hundreds of people to the small town in the north-east, but supporters argue a passenger train could mean hundreds more.

Greater Esk Tourism secretary Mary Knowles has been involved in the fight for a Fingal train for years.

“The Fingal Valley has suffered greatly because of the downturn in the mining and the forestry industries,” Mrs Knowles said.

Schools and businesses had closed as families left the Fingal Valley in search of employment and opportunities.

Mrs Knowles helped to organise the tourism group and funding to restore the Fingal Railway station to try and kickstart the region.

The tourism group’s mission, after it was established in 2006, is to promote the Fingal Valley region as an exciting and beautiful tourist destination rather than just a place to drive through to the coast, she said.

The railway station was restored and reopened in October, 2016, with Infrastructure Minister Rene Hidding announcing he was working to achieve special dispensation to allow the train annual access with TasRail.

“The government knows what we want,” Mrs Knowles said.

All 29 councils supported a motion requesting the Local Government Association of Tasmania to lobby the minister and TasRail about the tourism steam train venture.

However, being an operational line presented issues for the proposal as TasRail was not keen on having passenger trains on operational lines, she said.

“But we’re hoping to overcome that … never say never,” she said.

She hoped the project could be up and running within the next couple of years.

When Mr Hidding was approached for comment, a State Government spokesman said “we remain in discussion with the proponents about their proposal”. 

Break O’Day Mayor Mick Tucker said a passenger line had previously operated along the line, which the council supported returning to the area.

There would quite a few barriers in the way in the bid to get a running passenger steam train for the festival, but it was an incredible opportunity if it became more than a concept, Mr Tucker said.

“Anything that brings extra people and money into the area will have economic benefits and flow on effects,” he said.

“To bring 300 to 400 people to attend the festival for the day would be absolutely amazing.”

He had yet to hear a negative comment about the proposal from local government.

“But the decision is above our pay grade”, Mr Tucker said.