Rail industry news (Australia, New Zealand)

From classroom to trackside

The West Coast Wilderness Railway, nestled in the remote landscapes of Tasmania, has become a beacon of engineering prowess, due to the collaboration with the Permanent Way Institution and the contributions of young talents like Liam Clowes. 

As a recipient of the Don Hagarty Cadet Program of the PWI, Liam Clowes, a first-year Civil Engineering student from the University of Newcastle, recently embarked on a transformative journey with the West Coast Wilderness Railway (WCWR), which is in Tasmania.

Liam’s story with WCWR began in early December after completing his first year in Civil Engineering.

Within six weeks, he immersed himself in the railway’s operations, tackling tasks ranging from joint maintenance to timber sleeper replacement, under the guidance of WCWR’s seasoned professionals.

This hands-on experience was bolstered by Liam managing the Geismar track recording trolley, a testament to his rapid adaptation and skill acquisition.

The significance of the partnership was underscored by a visit in January from myself and cadet coordinator and Lycopodium Infrastructure managing director Stuart Sutherland.

We witnessed Liam’s seamless integration into the WCWR team, a blend of hard work and affable nature fostering his success.


WCWR stands as a testament to engineering ingenuity.

Established in 1896, this 3’6” heritage railway, stretching over 34 kilometres, was pivotal in transporting copper from the Mt Lyell mine.

Its survival and evolution from a vital industrial line to a cherished tourist attraction speak volumes of its historical and engineering significance.

The ingenious rack-and-pinion system, devised by Swiss engineer Roman Abt, remains a cornerstone of this railway, enabling trains to navigate steep gradients reminiscent of clockwork mechanics.

Rail Division Manager Jennifer Edmonds eloquently captures the essence of working at WCWR: a blend of harsh weather, challenging terrain, and unforeseen natural barriers.

“The railway’s maintenance and operations, often in inaccessible terrains, exemplify the relentless spirit required to preserve this engineering marvel,” she said.

Currently, WCWR operates limited services along 6km of its 35km line, with plans for extensive upgrades to enhance reliability and appeal.

This strategic development, aligned with Liam’s growth as an engineer, symbolises the synergy between heritage preservation and contemporary engineering education.

Liam’s journey with WCWR, fostered by PWI, is more than a personal triumph; it’s a beacon of hope for the future of rail engineering.

His story, emblematic of the potential within the rail industry, stands as an inspiration for aspiring engineers and a testament to the enduring legacy of WCWR.


Liam’s tenure at WCWR, facilitated by the PWI Cadet Program, saw him under the wing of rail infrastructure engineer David Tonash and track engineer Gilbert Ness.

From participating in risk assessments to troubleshooting and installing sleepers, Liam’s exposure to diverse railway tasks has been profound. His ownership of projects, such as level crossing inspections and turntable ring rail design, is honing critical engineering skills.

The strategic decision to include WCWR in the PWI Cadet Program has addressed the looming talent shortage in rail infrastructure expertise.

As Edmonds highlights, nurturing talents like Liam is a step towards enriching the pool of future rail engineers, a crucial investment for the industry’s sustainability.

The continued investment in training and nurturing young engineers via the PWI Cadet initiative is not just an investment in individual careers but a fundamental contribution to the enduring vitality and innovation of the rail sector.