Words by Mike Fry and photos by Dan Fellow
The announcement a short while ago by Sid Sidebottom, Federal Labour Member for Braddon is one of welcome relief to the staff, the west coast community and the supporters who have lobbied long and hard for the West Coast Wilderness Railway to continue operating. We must also thank the many people behind the scenes who have worked tirelessly in working towards this outcome for the Federal Government in particular Simon Currant and Luke Martin from the Tourism Industry Council of Tasmania. It is during difficult times when issues such as this arise that affect everyone in the community that the heavyweights have to come out and back up the tourism industry and the community.
It is a fact that all levels of government need to be aware of the levels of support from all segments of the business and residential community before they reach their decisions. In this case the result is a positive one and now the solutions can progress to the next stage of how to manage the West Coast Wilderness Railway as it continues and what type of entity will be best suited.
It is of immediate concern that the railway will indeed need to cease operations while trackwork and other maintenance is carried out during the quiet tourism period over winter so that operations can be resumed as quickly as possible before the next tourism season commences around September. It is imperative that skilled staff be retained and that a smooth transition is enabled.
There are a number of groups that have been involved throughout this process and they include Cradle Coast Tourism, West Coast Tourism and West Coast Council among others; all of which have been meeting, lobbying and discussing the issues to help bring about this positive decision. Federal Hotels have put a huge amount of their own money and resources into this project over the past 10 years but no private enterprise company, regardless of its resources, would continue when the owner of the assets (the state government) did not ensure its assets were maintained in good condition.
It is incumbent upon the state government to support this tourism operation as it was they who nominated it and obtained over $20m in federal funds and also committed over $10m of state funds. It was always going to be a marginal operation and the government was made fully aware of this before the project got underway. The state government was also made aware that using second hand sleepers and rail would incur high levels of maintenance costs within ten years. So by reducing set up costs the end result is what we see now.
The community is right behind this project and all levels of government must back the community and employment in the west coast region. The railway is not just a west coast tourism product it is a tourism attraction of state significance which is fundamental to the distribution of tourism dollars around Tasmania as part of the touring route for visitors.
This is only stage one of the rescue and there now needs to be a new entity to operate the railway; those involved still have much work to do. They need our continuing support so keep the blogs, facebook pages, letters and media reports going until it is back in operation later this year.
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