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Trains stopped running on the historic Ida Bay Railway in 2018 after a derailment, but former driver Dave Collins says "it sucks you in" and he and other enthusiasts want to pay to get the attraction back on the rails.
The narrow-gauge line, which had been used to haul limestone from nearby quarries to the coast, became a tourist railway soon after.
"For the next few years, once it was running as a tourist operation, I would come down on school holidays and weekends and do anything I could to support the operation," Mr Shugg said.
"By the time I was 16 I was driving trains all the way down to end of the line, doing the tourist talks, selling tickets, doing track work."
Now, Mr Shugg and 24 other heritage rail enthusiasts, who make up the Ida Bay Railway Preservation Society, are hoping to restore the century-old line and its rolling stock.
James Shugg says the operation could be running this summer in a limited circuit.(ABC News: Mitchell Woolnough)The society has asked the Parks and Wildlife Service (PWS), the site's caretaker, if it can take responsibility for the bush tramway.
"From within our own resources we've found enough funds to get a third of the track restored to safety accreditation standard and be able to run small tours in the coming summer, if we're given permission," the society's secretary, Dave Collins, said.
He said he expected the entire 7 kilometres of track could be back in use and comply with safety standards within a few years.
Dave Collins says the beach at the end of the trip is popular.(ABC News: Mitchell Woolnough)The tourist railway at Ida Bay has always been run as a business.
The most recent lease holder, Meg Thornton, said she spent $800,000 on the railway.
For years she called on the State Government to help fund capital works at the site.
Ms Thornton was unable to meet the costs herself, and after a derailment in 2018, the rail safety regulator stopped trains from running on the line.
Late last year, that lease ended.
Mr Shugg said it was thanks to Ms Thornton and previous leaseholders that the railway was still there.
But he said a not-for-profit model would be more sustainable.
He said it would mean any money earned could go back into the railway, it could rely on volunteers, and it would qualify for heritage grants.
"If you look at every tourist railway in Australia, they all run as non-profits," Mr Shugg said.
"It's a model that demonstrably works."
One of the WWII locomotives that was used to haul limestone and, since 1976, to haul passenger carriages, at Ida Bay Railway.(ABC News: Mitchell Woolnough)The society is confident the railway will draw visitors to the region.
Mr Shugg said about 15,000 people visited the railway in its last year of operation.
The society put its proposal to PWS in December and is waiting for an answer.
In a statement, a PWS spokeswoman said the service recognised the historical importance of the Ida Bay Railway site and the community interest in the site's future.
"The PWS is continuing to prioritise site maintenance, security and safety whilst the future of the site is considered," the spokeswoman said.
A sign advising of the closure of the Ida Bay Railway, after a derailment in 2018.(ABC News: Mitchell Woolnough)Although he left his volunteer role when he was at university, and moved to London, Mr Shugg's interest in the railway has remained.
He said he was devastated to see the line and rolling stock falling into disrepair.
Mr Collins, a former volunteer driver on the railway, said the line was like a journey through history.
"It sucks you in and suddenly you're enmeshed, and you'd lay down as a sleeper," he said with a chuckle.
He said the two-hour round trip passed through areas that highlighted Aboriginal history, the arrival of French explorers, and early industry.
This rail motor at the Ida Bay Railway is ready to take passengers again.(ABC News: Mitchell Woolnough)"We pop out down near Southport on a beautiful white sandy beach and usually we stop there and people walk along the beach and enjoy themselves, [we] turn the train around and trundle our way back through the history, back to the present," Mr Collins said.
Mr Shugg said: "You can tell the history of Tasmania by the railway."
They and the other society members are keen to get started on the restoration work.
"We're not asking for a penny from the Government, but we just need the permission to start now," Mr Shugg said.
The Ida Bay Railway station is currently under PWS management.(ABC News: Mitchell Woolnough)
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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