Down Tasman Limited hauled by Y6 and X16, Brighton, 29 December 1973. Photo: Weston Langford Railway Photography, Creative Commons.
Up Tasman Limited connector at Launceston formed by DP29 and DP26, 9 January 1965. After locomotive-hauled trains replaced the DP railcars on the Tasman Limited, the railcars were used on connecting services. Photo: Weston Langford Railway Photography, Creative Commons.
23 June 2021
Tasmania’s most prominent passenger train was the Tasman Limited, which operated from 1954 to 1978. It provided services between Hobart, Launceston and Wynyard. The train was operated by Tasmanian Government Railways.
Tasman Limited services
The Tasman Limited made its first journey on 5 April 1954. Services linked Hobart, Launceston and Wynyard. When it was first introduced the train departed from Wynyard on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and services ran from Hobart to Wynyard on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. From December 1954 the train operated on Mondays to Saturdays in both directions.
Trains were initially formed by DP Class railcars, which were built by Commonwealth Engineering and had entered service in 1950. Three separate two-car railcars operated on the Tasman Limited, with all meeting at Western Junction (18 km from Launceston) to enable passengers to change trains. The northbound service departed from Hobart at 8.35 am, arriving in Wynyard at 4.50 pm. The train from Wynyard departed at 8.35 am, running to Launceston, where it arrived at 1.08 pm. Another train departed from Launceston at 12.20 pm and arrived in Hobart at 4.50 pm.
On 15 December 1955 the Tasman Limited became a locomotive-hauled train. From this date northbound and southbound trains both operated between Hobart and Wynyard, with a railcar connection running between Western Junction and Launceston. Steel articulated passenger carriages were purpose-built at Launceston railway workshops. The carriages were finished in Queensland maple and featured wide windows. Extensive use of rubber in the bogies helped to provide smooth riding comfort. Despite the introduction of the new carriages, older passenger carriages were also used on the train. Motive power for services was typically provided by X Class locomotives, which had commenced service in 1950 and were the first mainline diesel locomotives to operate in Australia. From the late 1960s XA Class and Y Class units began to be used regularly.
The Tasman Limited provided meals, recorded music, and a commentary regarding places of interest along the journey. When introduced it was a limited-stop service, but the withdrawal of other passenger services in 1956 and 1957 led to numerous additional stops being added. Changes were made to the timetable to enable time for the additional stops, and further changes were also made to provide better connection with ferry services crossing Bass Strait. From its beginning the Tasman Limited was popular with passengers. It continued to operate successfully throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
Difficult economic conditions in the 1970s led to increasing losses for the train. In addition, competition from airlines, coach services and private motor cars led to declining passenger numbers. Many of the passengers that continued to use the train were students and passengers who travelled on reduced fares, resulting in lower revenues than those from passengers paying full fares. Hobart suburban passenger trains were withdrawn at the end of 1974, and from the beginning of 1975 the only regular passenger train services continuing to operate in Tasmania were the Tasman Limited and one fortnightly railcar service between Hobart and Parattah. Ongoing losses placed pressure on the Tasman Limited’s ongoing operation, and in 1976 it was recommended that it be discontinued. The Federal Government provided a subsidy to keep the train operating through 1977 and into 1978, while a campaign attempted to increase passenger numbers. However, by this time the train was regularly operating with numerous empty seats. Tasmanian Government Railways was absorbed into the Australian National Railways Commission on 1 March 1978, from which date the Tasman Limited was reduced to three weekly services in each direction.
Low passenger numbers continued and the end of the Tasman Limited was inevitable. The railcar service between Hobart and Parattah ceased running on 21 July, and the Tasman Limited operated in both directions for the last time on 28 July 1978. Additional carriages were added to enable passengers to farewell the service. The northbound train was hauled by locomotives X29 and X17, while the southbound train was worked by X20 and X16. In addition to being the last time that the Tasman Limited operated, it also brought the end of regular passenger train services in Tasmania, 107 years after the first passenger trains began operating in 1871. Video footage of the Tasmanian Limited, including the final run in 1978, can be seen on YouTube.
Some of the carriages from the Tasman Limited are today on display with an M Class steam locomotive as the Margate Train, near the Tasmanian town of Margate, about 20 km south of Hobart. The carriages have been converted for use as shops. Ironically, the Tasman Limited never visited Margate when it was in service as there is no railway connection to the town. The Queen Victoria Museum & Art Gallery is housed within the former Inveresk Railway Workshops at Launceston, where the locomotive-hauled carriages of the Tasman Limited were built. Exhibits include a Y Class locomotive, which was used to haul the train.
Although regular passenger trains ceased running in Tasmania in 1978, it is still possible to ride a train in the state. Operating tourist railways include:
Don River Railway, near Devonport, approximately 290 km north of Hobart. Train rides operate from the depot at Don to Coles Beach. Services run every day except Good Friday and Christmas Day.
Sheffield Steam & Heritage Centre, approximately 270 km north of Hobart. Trains operate on the first weekend of each month along a 1-km section of 610 mm gauge railway.
The Tasmanian Transport Museum, located in the Hobart suburb of Glenorchy. Train rides operate twice each month, using a rail motor on the first Sunday and a steam locomotive on the third Sunday.
Wee Georgie Wood Steam Railway operates a 1924-built 0-4-0 well tank steam locomotive Wee Georgie Wood. The train operates along 1.6 km of 610 mm gauge railway at Tullah in the west coast region of Tasmania, approximately 310 km north-west of Hobart.
West Coast Wilderness Railway operates 35 km of railway between Queenstown and Regatta Point at Strahan in the west coast region of Tasmania, approximately 300 km north-west of Hobart. The line traverses rugged mountain terrain and is one of Australia’s most scenic train journeys. Various journeys are available on different days for travel over part or the whole line.
Don River Railway <www.donriverrailway.com.au>.
Stokes, HJW, 'The rise and fall of the Tasman Limited', Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, no. 493, November 1978, pp. 237–4.
Queen Victoria Museum & Art Gallery <www.qvmag.tas.gov.au>.
Sheffield Steam & Heritage Centre <www.sheffieldsteam.com.au>.
Tasmanian Transport Museum <www.railtasmania.com/ttms>.
‘The Tasman Limited’, Railways of Australia Network, vol. 1, no. 5, October 1964, p. 3.
Wee Georgie Wood Steam Railway <www.weegeorgiewood.com.au>.
West Coast Wilderness Railway <www.wcwr.com.au>.
DP railcars at the Tasmanian Transport Museum, Hobart, 7 October 2020. Photo: Hothguard11, Wikimedia Commons.
Former carriages from the Tasman Limited on display at Margate, south of Hobart, March 2009. Photo: Reinhard Deitrich, Wikimedia Commons.