Media release – Jeremy Rockliff, Premier; Michael Ferguson, Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, 17 March 2023

Ensuring West Coast Wilderness Railway’s long-term future

The Rockliff Liberal Government is getting things done by building and upgrading key infrastructure assets around Tasmania.

Major upgrade work is about to get underway over the winter to ensure the West Coast Wilderness Railway can meet continued future growth in demand and continue being a major drawcard for the region for decades to come.

Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Michael Ferguson, said the upgrades would improve the reliability and resilience of the operation, following a recent incident which prompted a review of the operations.

“Demand for the rail experience has grown significantly since borders were re-opened and is in many respects being challenged by its own success,” Mr Ferguson said.

“We need to take the opportunity to let the hard-working team, rail infrastructure, and our heritage locomotives catch up and build for what promises to be very strong 2023-24 summer and beyond.

“With $16 million in state funds, management have been carefully mapping out and progressively addressing the maintenance and upgrade needs of the railway and locomotives while trying to keep the trains on the tracks, but the age of the infrastructure and the work that needs to be done calls for a more intensive, programmed work plan during the quieter time of year.

“It means the shutdown will be during the low-patron winter season, nonetheless it was a hard decision to make, but a necessary one and strongly recommended by local tourism representatives to get the best result,” he said.

The shutdown of the railway will be phased with Strahan services remaining closed, Queenstown closed from 5 June 2023 and operations expected to recommence gradually in time for the peak summer tourism season.

The Premier, Jeremy Rockliff, said while the decision was a difficult one, it was vital to the railway’s ongoing future.

“That said, we know that this longer shutdown of what is the region’s major drawcard will have an impact on our tourism operators and the region, and in recognition of this we have developed a $1 million support program to drive continued visitation, while also supporting our operators on the ground to invest in their businesses during the winter period.

“The program will include a targeted travel voucher program to encourage Tasmanians to visit the west and enjoy all the attractions that are open during winter, coinciding with Tourism Tasmania’s Off-Season campaign.

“We will also develop a small grants program open to west coast businesses who wish to invest in new projects aligned to our Small Business Growth Strategy, as well as advice and capacity building.

“We will also assist the Council and West by North West to plan for the future through a new heritage tourism masterplan project, ensuring the railway is developed as a visitor attraction for the longer term, is enhanced and linked to other ventures.”

West Coast Wilderness Railway Acting General Manager, Ian Robertson, said while smaller or partial closures were already planned for the Railway, the most recent assessments show a single bigger response would be far more effective in the longer-term.

“At the forefront of our actions is the quality of the passenger experience. It has become clear that, without action, passengers may not have the highest quality journey and this could quite quickly erode our brand and reputation,” Mr Robertson said.

“Our whole team takes a lot of pride in this and rather than trying to schedule maintenance and repairs around our busy operating schedule, we’ve decided it is better to get it done in one go with some short-term pain.

“The team has worked tirelessly to keep the wheels turning with aging locomotives and rail infrastructure but to achieve certainty well into the future, we believe that this is the best course of action.

“By tackling the necessary upgrades head-on and in one go we will add decades to the operational life of the railway and the local economic benefit it brings to the west coast region,” Mr Robertson said.

Anyone with tickets booked on affected services will be contacted directly and provided a full refund. Passengers booked on services out of Queenstown between now and 5 June 2023 are not affected by this decision. Importantly, all staff will be retained and the cafés located in Queenstown and Strahan will continue to operate.

Further information on the upgrade program will be made available on the WCWR website in due course, with further updates to be advised on the support package, including the travel voucher and grant program.

Media release – Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU), 17 March 2023


The State Government’s decision to shut down the West Coast Wilderness Railway for at least three months, and possibly considerably longer, has left railway workers furious and demanding answers.

Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) Tasmanian Branch Secretary Ric Bean said while there were significant issues with the West Coast Wilderness Railway that needed to be addressed, closing the entire business for such an extended period of time was a dramatic overreach.

“We have been given absolutely no information about why the State Government thinks the Wilderness Railway suddenly needs to be shut down for such a long period of time.

“This decision has been made without consulting workers, and without any attempt to discuss the situation with the West Coast community.

“To make such a profound call without first discussing it with the people whose lives will be affected, or to fully examine all the available options, is unbelievably arrogant.

“Over one hundred workers are now in limbo, not knowing how they will pay the bills over winter.

“The RTBU is demanding an urgent briefing to find out what support is being made available for workers, and why this dramatic decision was made.

“But sadly we are we are left with no confidence in the management of the West Coast Wilderness Railway, which appears to be completely out of its depth.”

Media release – Rebecca White MP, Labor Leader, 17 March 2023

Closure of West Coast Wilderness Railway a huge blow for workers and the region

The State Government’s decision to shut down the West Coast Wilderness Railway is very disappointing and a huge blow to the region and the workers employed by the railway.

The workers and the west coast community have been left completely in the dark over the decision.

There has been no consultation with either of these critical stakeholder groups which is extremely poor.

The railway is a huge tourism drawcard for the region and full time and casual workers rely on it for their livelihood.

The union representing these workers has been given no information about why the State Government thinks the whole railway suddenly needs to be shut down.

Consulting with workers may have come up with alternative solutions rather that shutting down the whole railway for an unknown period of time.

The state government now has to provide detail about what support is to be provided to the workers and to the West Coast community.

How will the government ensure that the workers, including casual employees, aren’t left worse off by the shutdown?

Instead of just throwing money at the problem, the state government needs to provide detail about how its package will incentivise visitation and support workers now that this major tourism attraction is out of action for an indeterminate period of time.