The West Coast Wilderness Railway is Tasmania's rainforest railway, blending history, forest and a deep gorge.
Due to maintenance, West Coast Wilderness Railway is operating limited services over the 2023/24 summer season. Please see the operator website for the latest information on what experiences are available.
Stretching 35km between Queenstown and the port of Strahan, the West Coast Wilderness Railway (WCWR) brings to life the traditions and stories of a line built in the late 19th century to transport Queenstown’s copper riches across some of the state’s toughest terrain.
Surveyors who tried to tell the bosses at Mount Lyell Mining in the 1890s that it was impossible country for a railway were promptly fired. Using only picks and shovels, teams of workers pushed through the mountains against the odds and in terrible conditions.
Every trip is different. It doesn’t matter how many times you do it, everything is different.
Rail Operations Supervisor, Mark Tregoning
At the railway’s heart is a climb that was an engineering marvel of its day. A Swiss-engineered Abt Rack and Pinion system, with a central cog under the locomotive engaging the teeth of a “rack”, was installed on the steep slopes of Rinadeena Saddle, allowing trains to drag themselves up and over the one-in-16 gradient.
It’s the steepest steam-haul railway line in the Southern Hemisphere, and the only operating Abt Rack and Pinion railway in Australia.
“Back in those days, even a horse trail wasn’t an alternative because of the terrain,” says Rail Operations Supervisor Mark Tregoning. “People had to ship supplies, then use barges and carry in what they needed, including machinery parts and railway line. Although very costly to build, the railway at least gave them good access to the coast for exporting the products they mined.”
If this railway journey remains a challenging labour for its locomotives, it’s nothing of the sort for today’s passengers. The ride is a gentle journey through the cool-temperate rainforest that blankets Tasmania’s west coast, with guides on board to recount the stories of hardship from the railway’s construction and the men, women, and children who called the surrounding wilderness home.
The ambition and audacity of the early railway is evident as the train climbs above the deep and wild King River Gorge and crosses historic bridges. The remains of the 244m trestle bridge at Quarter Mile speak volumes about the fierceness of the terrain.
There are remote train stations that have faded into the forest, including Teepookana, a ghost town that was once the fourth-largest port in Tasmania and home to a double-storey pub.
Passengers can stop at these stations for activities including a rainforest walk, the chance to watch the train being turned on a manual turntable, panning for gold, and tastings of wild honey.
“Every trip is different,” says Tregoning. “It doesn’t matter how many times you do it, the weather conditions, the lighting, the way the carriage set behind you is behaving, the wildlife – everything is different.
“As a driver, you certainly don’t have time to get bored. It requires great concentration driving this railway.”
Need to know
- The West Coast Wilderness Railway will be partially and temporarily closed for infrastructure improvements during mid-2023, reopening in time for the 2023–24 summer season. During the closures, WCWR cafes, retail and museums will operate as normal. See the West Coast Wilderness Railway website for the latest updates.
- The West Coast Wilderness Railway runs a range of immersive trips, from the half-day Rack & Gorge return journey from Queenstown to the lyrically named Dubbil Barril station, climbing over Rinadeena Saddle, to a Raft and Steam trip combining the train ride with a white-water rafting adventure through King River Gorge.
- Trains run daily from Queenstown, and every day except Tuesday and Sunday from the Regatta Point Station in Strahan. There’s a choice of carriages: heated and air-conditioned heritage carriages, and wilderness carriages, with booth seats and tables and access to the carriage balcony. Fuel up for the journey at Tracks Cafe in Queenstown Station, or Tracks on Point Cafe in the Regatta Point Station, Strahan.