Who we are
Railways were once a dominant political and economic force in developing Australia, enabling the agricultural and industrial development of the country, the growth of our major cities and providing the birthplace of many country communities by their strategic placement and the need for services. The evolution of Australian transport has seen the importance of rail shift from being the primary mode of transport to one of many well-developed transport modes.
Heritage railways provide a means of preserving, educating and demonstrating rail’s cultural and historic significance to today’s society. They account for over a third of accredited railway organisations. The heritage rail sector also provides significant economic benefits to Australia through employment, tourism and expenditure and the intangible benefits of volunteering.
For many people these organisations are now the public face of our national rail industry.
Australia’s tourist and heritage railways have since their inception suffered from a parochialism that has seen a multitude of gauges, standards, policies and procedures.
The Association of Tourist and Heritage Rail Australia was incorporated in June 2004 as a National body that would represent the interests and needs of all Australian tourist and heritage rail organisations. Since that time, ATHRA has served the industry by providing a united front for the sector by representation on behalf of its members to Government statutory bodies as well as contributing to Government regulatory reviews and legislation concerning rail and tram operations and safety, from the wealth of knowledge and experience of its members.
In 2017, ATHRA was restructured with a new purpose to truly represent and deliver real benefits to our members – the grass roots individual Tourist and Heritage rail operators. Critical issues being addressed include establishing affordable industry based training and assessment regimen for the multitude of skills needed to safely operate railways, affordable public liability insurance, accreditation support and representation of the tourist and heritage rail sectors to the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) and the Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board (RISSB). The ATHRA management board draws on a representative from each of the states and seconded specialist members to bring together considerable skills and experience for the benefit of the sector.
The heritage of railways connects people to the days of strong communities and the importance of rail heritage has been recognised by the Tourist and Heritage Rail Sector being the largest volunteer sector looking after technically complicated equipment and infrastructure.
A primary ethos of the sector is to keep our heritage alive by the operation of heritage trains – no mean feat in today’s regulatory world. Across Australia the economic impact of the tourist and heritage rail sector was estimated a number of years ago to be in excess of $370 million.
ATHRA is a member of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) which represents the whole rail sector.