West Coast Wilderness Railway funding concerns allayed

The West Coast Council mayor says he would not like to see “anything” jeopardise the funding for his region’s heritage railway experience.

The comments come as a push rises in Tasmania’s North East for the now defunct Launceston to Scottsdale railway to begin operating as a tourist heritage railway.

The West Coast Wilderness Railway runs from Strahan to Queenstown, and has struggled with operational costs in the past, closing in 2013 but reopening the next year with state government assistance.

In the 2017-18 state budget, it received $4.5 million in funding, and the government has stumped up $18.5 million in total for the railway since 2014.

West Coast mayor Phil Vickers said the rail was carrying a good number of passengers annually, and that number continued to improve, but it still was not enough.

“It’s still not in the position where it can stand on its own two feet,” Cr Vickers said, who is also a former  general manager of the railway.

“We hope to [one day] carry enough passengers to break even.

“I certainly wouldn’t like to see anything jeopardise the West Coast Wilderness Railway.”

Infrastructure Minister Rene Hidding said that Cr Vickers and the West Coast had “nothing to worry about”.

“[The state government] strongly supports the West Coast Wilderness Railway as one of the core experiences driving tourist visitation to the West Coast and we are committed to the railway for the long term,” Mr Hidding said. 

Mr Hidding said that there was no intention from the government to fund either of the projects flagged for the Launceston to Scottsdale railway line: a rail trail, and tourist heritage railway.

An independent study has been jointly funded by the state government and the Dorset Council to assess the viability of a heritage railway for the line.

The Dorset Council has secured $1.47 million in federal funding to convert the railway into a bike trail, to link up with existing trails in the region.