150 Years of Rail History in Tasmania
by Peter Carey
With close to 1000 visitors of all ages, the public enthusiasm was encouraging when the Tasmanian Transport Museum (TTMS) hosted two special gala days to celebrate 150 years of mainline rail transport in Tasmania at their Glenorchy museum in September.
It was 10 February, 1871 when the Launceston and Western Railway company opened up the first leg between Launceston and Deloraine, primarily to transport agricultural produce to port. The construction of the mainline between Hobart and Launceston commenced in 1873 and was completed three years later. Soon several private rail companies, all experiencing financial difficulties, passed their ownership to the state government in 1880 to form Tasmanian Government Railways (TGR).
As a 12 year old in 1971, I fondly remember the centenary celebrations. Although most of the commemorative events were held in the north where my uncle, the late Bruce Jones was an accredited steam operator with the TGR; southern residents were treated to a steam-hauled train of vintage carriages on a Sunday trip to New Norfolk.
The system went through many phases – triumphs and tribulations, changes to managerial responsibility and other challenges, but nothing to dampen the nostalgia that many generations of people hold on to. For Hobart people, suburban trains running through the northern suburbs until late 1974 still prompts fond memories. Then of course the famous Tasman Limited ran a return service between Hobart and Wynyard six days a week until it was discontinued on July 28 1978, which wasn’t exactly met with a favourable public response.
After the closure of the Hobart tram system in 1960, four men: Jim Stokes, Ian Cooper, John Chesworth, and Peter James convinced the MTT (the forerunner to Metro Tas), to donate a Hobart bogie tram no. 141, which was held in storage at the Hobart rail roundhouse until its permanent home was established. So was born the Tasmanian Transport Museum Society in 1962 and over a period of more than twenty years of tireless efforts of several generations of volunteers, as well as some generous donations from Tasrail, Metro Tas, (or their various antecedent organisations), and others, the Anfield St site was officially opened to the public on 3 December, 1983 by the then-Mayor of Glenorchy, David Shields.
Both before and since that day nearly 38 years ago, the society has gone from strength to strength, constructing new buildings including the transportation of the former New Town Station building, acquiring and restoring additional rail and road transport exhibits, hosting special theme days and even a period of running public excursion trains on the main line, especially steam-hauled ones. In 1996, on the 125th anniversary of rail transport, they hosted the conference of the Council OF Municipal Tramways of Australasia (COTMA).
Until now, public rides had been in a hiatus for about 16 months due to Covid restrictions and other legal issues which are gradually being resolved; at least enough for the public train rides to recommence on its short branch line running parallel to the disused main line. It was therefore with great enthusiasm that on the gala day, the society ran a variety of short train rides such as locomotive hauled consists of carriages AAL10 and SP4 with steam locomotive C22, and diesel electric locomotive Y4; plus a sample of suburban rail cars DP15 and PT4; much to the enjoyment of older generations embracing nostalgia and younger generations experiencing aspects of Tasmanian transport they had never before experienced.
As for running on the main line again; the society simply says, watch this space but in the meantime check out the website at tasmaniantransportmuseum.com.au or better still, come for a visit one Sunday.