MARY Valley Heritage Railway manager Jim Walker yesterday rejected claims the tourist rail track was unsafe and said the accusations could be very damaging to Gympie’s struggling major tourist attraction.
He said the MVHR committee denied claims made by member Frank Lightfoot that the track was “so unsafe it is an accident waiting to happen”.
The track was independently assessed four times last year and found to be safe, Mr Walker said.
In an email sent to national media “in the interest of public safety”, Mr Lightfoot says the track has been neglected and could possibly derail the Rattler.
He asked potential visitors to refrain from riding it until the line was repaired, however the line has been given a clean bill of health by experts from Queensland Transport’s Rail Safety Unit.
“The track is inspected twice a week by a qualified track inspector,” Mr Walker said.
“He is aware of one spot and is monitoring that closely. We also have three full-time paid track workers maintaining the line.”
There has not been a derailment in the history of the railway line, and according to retired train driver Ted Mitchell, the track is still “quite okay” for the Rattler’s travelling speed.
He worked for Queensland Rail from 1959, earning his engine driver cap in 1970 and has been driving the Rattler steam engine since it was put back on the tracks.
“We don’t break any records … go nice and steady,” he said of the Rattler’s 20kmh average speed.
“The track’s okay for what we do. That’s my opinion and I think the other drivers will tell you the same thing.”
Mr Lightfoot provided some 25 photographs to prove his claims that only 10% to 20% of sleepers were sound.
In his email he said he was particularly worried about the approach to a bridge where he believed bracing was faulty.
“The strength of the derailment containment devices on Deep Creek Bridge is severely compromised,” he said. “The chain of components, that is the MVHR rail line, has many very weak links and not one section of the track that I inspected is anywhere near full strength.
“The approaches to Deep Creek Bridge are so compromised that I ask everyone – please do not ride the Rattler at this time. Put it off for now, it is not worth the risk.”
Mr Lightfoot would not speak with The Gympie Times yesterday to substantiate his claims and provide proof of his expertise in track maintenance.
Independent assessors however found the railway line to be safe. Regulations require that three out of every four track sleepers are needed to adequately support the Rattler.
Mr Walker refuted Mr Lightfoot’s claims that up to 70% of rail fasteners were either missing, in rotting timber or just hanging doing nothing. He said the claims would not help attract tourists and they had come at the worst possible time while the organisation was struggling like most businesses relying on tourism.
“The tourism industry has already been hit hard by the economic conditions and the high Australian dollar taking potential visitors overseas,” he said.
“Then we had the floods which impacted on tourist spending. MVHR had a very poor three months up to April and May dropped back to around 70% of what it was last year.”
Last year the Mary Valley Heritage Railway was one of many pieces of infrastructure that was audited by Queensland Transport to evaluate the application of safety standards.
The audit showed proper standards were being followed for the type of service being offered.
“But in light of the concerns raised, we want to make sure every operating rail service in Queensland is safe and one of our engineers will be in Gympie this week to inspect the track in time for the weekend,” a QT spokesperson said.
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