The first railway in Tasmania officially opened on 10 February 1871 and linked the northern towns of Launceston and Deloraine. The line was laid to a gauge of 1600mm (5'3") and was built by the Launceston and Deloraine Railway Company. Financial problems soon began to plague the company and on October 31, 1873 the government took control of the railway and so the Tasmanian Government Railways was born. The line was converted to 1067mm (3'6") gauge in 1888.
The first 1067mm (3'6") gauge line was also built by a private company, the Tasmanian Main Line Railway Company. It opened in 1876 and linked Hobart and Launceston. This company also ran into financial difficulties and ownership passed to the government on 1 October 1890.
From that date the government became the principal railway operator in the state but government control did not solve the financial problems that had plagued the state's railways. In 1978 The federal government, in the form of Australian National, took control and operated the system under the Tasrail name. Despite the change of operator and change of name the financial problems continued. On 23 June 1997 a Bill was passed by the Federal Parliament that enabled the government to sell Australian National.
At least 4 bids were received for Tasrail and those are believed to have come from a consortium of Tranzrail/Wisconsin Central/CGEA, the Genesee and Wyoming Railroad (from the USA), TNT-Toll Holdings and Rail-Tex. On 28 August 1997 the Federal Government announced that the tender by the Australian Transport Network (the consortium led by Tranzrail/Wisconsin Central) had been accepted and Tasrail was sold for $A22 million.
For this price the new owners purchased the complete system which included approximately 600km of track, 37 locomotives and assorted rolling stock. The actual transfer of ownership took place in November and to this point in time the only visible change has been the removal of the AN logo from the rolling stock.
The new owners have announced that they will continue to operate the system under the Tasrail name and will aggressively market the system to regain business previously lost to road transport. Tasrail management have also indicated that they are anxious to assist the three main railway museums in the state and during December they provided Tasrail's two most modern diesels (ZP1 and ZR2) for display at at open day at the Derwent Valley Railway Museum near Hobart.
Photos by Stuart Livesey
For further historical information on the railways found within Tasmania
visit the Tasmanian Transport Page.