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.

Current critical issues include establishing affordable industry based training and assessment regimen for the multitude of skills needed to safely operate railways, affordable public liability insurance and representation of the tourist and heritage rail sectors with the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) and the Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board (RISSB). The management board draws on a representatives from each of the states and seconded members to bring together considerable skills and experience.

ATHRA is a member of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) which represents the whole rail sector.

The heritage of railways connects people to the days of strong communities and the importance of rail heritage has been recognized 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. A review of this figure is presently underway with expectations of a significantly higher contribution to the economy expected.