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.

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.