Undated postcard of the Abt Railway above the King River Gorge, showing the toothed rail (Tasmaniana Library, SLT)
Owned by the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company, traversing inhospitable terrain through dense west coast rainforest, the Queenstown to Teepookana section of the Abt Railway was opened in 1897. It included 48 bridges and two lengths of 'Abt System', invented in Germany to overcome the steepest grades. The Abt sections featured a raised 'toothed' rail (rack rail) placed midway between the outer rails. The rack rail assisted the locomotives to haul their loads up the hills and acted as a braking effect down the other side. The railway was extended to the Company's wharf near Strahan in 1899, its total length 34 kilometres. It provided a lifeline to the Mount Lyell mining region and the small communities along the line, Queenstown having no other outside transport link until the west coast road was opened in 1932.
In 1963, with the railway in decline, the Company closed the line. Road transport replaced rail, leaving most of the formation to revert to bush. In 1998 funding was secured to rebuild the railway, this time as a tourism enterprise. With restored Abt engines and a mix of old heritage and new ingenuity, the railway was officially re-opened in 2003.
Further reading: G Blainey, The peaks of Lyell, Melbourne, 1954; L Rae, The Abt Railway, Hobart, 2003; and A history of railways and tramways on Tasmania's West Coast, Hobart, 1983.