West Coast Railway's local 'larrikin' James Smith bade farewell

James Smith is a third-generation railway employee. After 20 years, he has retired. Photo: Supplied
James Smith is a third-generation railway employee. After 20 years, he has retired. Photo: Supplied

When James Smith started his first day of work at the West Coast Wilderness Railway, he already had a family legacy behind him.

A third generation employee, he grew up watching his dad drive trains for the company and hearing his pop's stories of working on the railway back when it was run by the Mt Lyell Mining and Railway Company.

Now, after 20 years and more than 2500 train journeys in the unforgiving West Coast terrain in Tasmania, Mr Smith has hung up his hat.

Leaving with the fond nickname 'the Smithsonian', he said he'll fondly remember the times he was able to make visitors smile despite the weather, and the opportunity to "meet people from all over the world".

"My first job with the railway was walking the 1/16 rack to check for loose bits," Mr Smith said.

"As it hadn't been used in Australia for 40 years, we had no idea whether the rack would allow the safe passage of a passenger train."

This was before the track was reopened to the general public, an opportunity he didn't take for granted.

"Just being able to drive a steam locomotive (is a favourite memory) as it generally can't be done in Australia now."

The "resident larrikin" will be missed, rail division manager Neil Halliday said.

"James is... quick-witted and known to play a friendly trick or two amongst the team," he said.

"His knowledge of the locomotives is exceptional and his passion for maintaining the heritage of the railway runs deep.

"He leaves a cheeky grin-shaped hole in the team."

The team at the West Coast Wilderness Railway were sure to give Mr Smith a suitable send off, coming together to organise a gift worthy of their peer's legacy.

Pairing up with casting and machining engineering company APCO, a brass replica of the railway's first locomotive's nameplate was cast, alongside a factory badge.

The West Coast Wilderness Railway runs between Queenstown and Strahan, along 35km of rainforest and wild terrain. With a history spanning more than a century, the railway reopened for tours in 2000.

This story After 2500+ train journeys over 20 years, this driver pulls up first appeared on The Advocate.