End of the line for heritage railway

The Tasmanian Government says the closure of a West Coast heritage railway is beyond its control and it cannot afford to spend more money on the tourist drawcard.

The Federal Group will stop running the West Coast Wilderness Railway at the end of April.

The company has run tours between Queenstown and Strahan for the past 10 years.

Federal Group spokesman Daniel Hanna says the business is no longer viable.

"There was a critical need to invest in infrastructure and the second, of course, has been reduced demand and a downturn in visitor numbers and passenger numbers," he said.

Five years ago the railway carried 45,000 passengers but in the past year the figure had dropped to just over 30,000.

Forty-eight workers will lose their jobs.

"We'll be endeavouring to find alternative positions for them within the company." Mr Hanna says damage from a severe thunderstorm and a landslip in the past two years had added to escalating maintenance costs.

Federal is halfway through a lease with the State Government which owns the track and locomotives.

It is unclear what will happen to the railway which was built in the 1890s to transport ore from Queenstown to Strahan.

West Coast Mayor Daryl Gerrity says it will be a huge loss for the region.

"It's a feeder route that brings 40-50,000 people to Tasmania." Mr Gerrity believes it could survive if TasRail took over its management and put money into repairing the ageing track.

"When you consider what Government has thrown copious amounts of money at, to me this is a high priority." Luke Martin from the Tourism Industry Council agrees it is up to the State Government to find a new operator.

"I think it's going to be a challenge for them, ultimately they're going to have to make a decision about the broader economic importance of that asset to Tasmania and to the broader west coast tourism industry," Mr Martin said.

"You can't remove a product like that from the market and not expect to have a significant flow-on impact to the entire economy." Cost impediment The Infrastructure Minister, David O'Byrne, says it will cost between $15 million and $20 million to maintain the railway and the government cannot afford the investment on its own.

He says the closure of the tourist attraction is disappointing but the reasons the Federal Group has given for its decision are out of the government and company's control.

The Greens Deputy Leader, Tim Morris, wants the Federal to commit to running the tourism attraction until an alternative operator is found.

"But I guess it's really up to the Minister now.

"We certainly cannot allow the significant investment made by the government, both federally and state some years ago, to sit idle because the West Coast tourism industry needs the railway running," he said.

The Opposition Leader, Will Hodgman wants to know how long the Government has known about the planned closure.

Mr Hodgman says it was news to him until today.

"I look forward to talking to some of the local operators and local community leaders tomorrow when I visit the region," said the Liberal leader.

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