IT’S now a numbers game for the Derwent Valley Railway.
The plan is to begin running the heritage railway along its first 500 metres later this year, possibly as soon as July, between Third Avenue and Back River Road.
Then at some point in the future it will be a section out to Plenty. The full 40km run to National Park is some way down the track.
The DVR boasts scores of volunteers and supporters who have brought this railway back to life after it was shut down 17 years ago.
They have been focused on track maintenance, refurbishing carriages, locos and the myriad of machinery and buildings required to run a railway.
But it is at State Government level that the railway gets its forward momentum.
Not long ago, the State Government decided the Derwent Valley Railway was going to require a $200 million insurance policy to run on the existing tracks.
It was a massive setback, says chairman Paul Jones.
“We became the only state where the State Government required a heritage railway have insurance to run on tracks over land the government itself owns,” Mr Jones said.
“Victoria’s famous Puffing Billy – often held up as a model heritage railway business – does not have a similar impost.”
Unsurprisingly, the premiums on $200 million are sky high: more than $150,000 per year, a crippling cost. Mr Jones started to talk with colleagues at other Tasmanian rail organisations, like those at the Don in Devonport, at Zeehan, and the Launceston to Lilydale line in the North-East.
Mr Jones’s group went back to the Government with a novel arrangement that combined four of the Tasmanian railways, including DVR, into one insurance premium.
Further, the arrangement, which the Government accepted, meant the state would subsidise that premium.
“The insurance cost, which the Government had imposed on us, now became manageable, for us and the other heritage rail folks.”
“Except that in the detail of the arrangement, the government subsidy would slide from 90 per cent initially to zero per cent over six years. And at the same time, the premium would rise substantially, from $150,000 to $176,000 after the first year alone. Back to the numbers. “
“It is obviously not sustainable,” Mr Jones said.
“A heritage railway like ours can attract perhaps 30,000 paying passengers a year, much like the West Coast Wilderness Railway does out of Queenstown.
“But even with that amount of income, the railway cannot be financially viable, especially if we’re being slugged with an insurance premium no one else in Australia has to pay.
“So we are looking for ways to work towards a long-term solution.”
Out on the yard at New Norfolk and on the tracks beyond, Derwent Valley Railway is preparing a remarkable fleet of eleven locos, four steam driven and the remainder diesel mechanical and or diesel electric.
Most were built in the 1950s or 1960s, and have individual identities, names and numbers like X18, EBR 21, or H2 and H5.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Derwent Valley Railway is chewing over the numbers.
He is enormously patient.
He knows his subject, he knows how these things work and how they don’t work. Paul Jones knows the numbers, and there’s a lot of work still to do.