|Former type||Division (business)|
|Headquarters||Geelong, Victoria, Australia|
|Parent||The Victorian Railway Company Pty Ltd|
West Coast Railway was the trading name of The Victorian Railway Company Pty Ltd, a railway company operating in Victoria, Australia. The company operated passenger services between Melbourne and Warrnambool from 1993 to 2004.
West Coast Railway was formed in 1993 when the Kennett Liberal Government offered long-distance country rail services previously run by the government-owned operator V/Line to private operators. Their bid was entered in February 1993 and was announced as the successful tender on April 30 the same year. The initial franchise was for 8 years, being later extended for 3 more. Their head office in Geelong was opened on July 12, 1993 and the company officially came into existence on August 1.
While several rail services were replaced by road coach services, West Coast Railway successfully tendered to maintain the South-West region's rail service, thus - in the words of the company - "giving new life to a region serviced by rail for over 100 years". During the 11 years of WCR operation of the line, patronage increased by 20%. The first rail service under WCR operated on September 19 when V/Line locomotive N466 City of Warrnambool hauled the 17.00 up Warrnambool to Melbourne service.
In 2001, the two directors of the company brought a 50% share in Tranz Scenic, the national passenger operator in New Zealand. However, the investment was not successful, and the share was sold in 2003 to Toll NZ.
West Coast Railway operated a fleet notable for being largely made up of 1950s-era locomotives and rolling stock bought second-hand from the Victorian Government, replacing the 1980s-built locomotives and rolling stock V/Line had operated on the line until 1993. This was in contrast to the successful tenderer for the Shepparton line rail service, Hoys Roadlines, who decided to lease rolling stock from V/Line.
The fleet included early streamlined B class and S class GM EMD diesel-electric locomotives, and former Spirit of Progress S and Z type passenger carriages. The WCR fleet was painted in a distinctive blue, white and yellow livery, to symbolize the water, sand and sky of the beach.
The first locomotive to be fully overhauled by WCR was S 300 which begun trials on January 23, 1995 and entered regular service two weeks later. The railway depot at Ballarat East was leased by the company as a heavy maintenance base, with transfer runs being made over the Geelong-Ballarat railway.
Specially modified R class steam locomotives were also used to operate a Saturday return service, becoming the fastest regular steam hauled passenger service in the world. R711 entered service on regular trains on November 21, 1998 and was fitted with multiple unit control equipment for diesel electric locomotives.
As well as operating regular Warrnambool passenger services, West Coast Railway also offered charter services and operated special excursion trains to various destinations within Victoria. The company assisted with the restoration of a number of steam locomotives, with R711 and Y112 made operational, with work being carried out on J 536, D3 638, D3 641, and A2 986.
West Coast Railway encountered a series of operational difficulties during 2003–04 which impacted on its business. The death of one of the company's key founding principals, Gary McDonald, on April 25, 2003 removed the guiding light and spirit of the company. The closure of the Warrnambool line between Melbourne and Geelong for rebuilding as part of the 160 km/h (100 mph) Regional Fast Rail project caused the company to temporarily replace rail services with road coaches while construction works were underway, with a resulting drop in passenger numbers.
On 31 May 2004, only a short time after West Coast Railway's rail services resumed on 1 March 2004, the Victorian Department of Infrastructure issued an alert on stress cracks in the underframes of B and S class locomotives including the units owned by West Coast Railway. Once again, the company was forced to replace two of its three daily-return rail services with road coaches.
There had also been a change in government transport policy following the election of the Bracks Labor Government following the failure of privatisation of V/Line Passenger, with then-Opposition transport spokesman Geoff Leigh predicting the proposed retendering of statewide regional rail operations in 2006 would result in West Coast Railway being "executed".
Although West Coast Railway announced as recently as May 2004 its intention to negotiate a new contract to operate Warrnambool services beyond the expiry of its then-current contract in June 2004, the expected locomotive repair bill in excess of AUD$1,000,000 was the last straw for the company. On 31st August 2004, West Coast Railway operated its final services and handed back the contract to the Government. V/Line Passenger resumed passenger rail services to Warrnambool the following day with the 05:40 8220 Up Warrnambool to Melbourne passenger service.