STORIES

Dr Roman Abt

Dr Roman Abt

Inventor of the Rack and Pinion Railway

Dr Carl Roman Abt was a Swiss engineer, inventor and entrepreneur who would have a profound impact on the people of Tasmania’s west coast.

Dr Abt worked under the renowned German railway engineer Niklaus Riggenbach, who had developed a railway system that featured a central rack and rail, that enabled locomotives to climb steeper sections of track. The Riggenbach system was widely used, but expensive to build and maintain.

Dr Abt decided to invent a system that would improve upon the Riggenbach mechanism. His ground breaking rack and pinion design was inspired by the cogs of a clock, and involved a third central rail of solid bars with vertical teeth that engaged with small cogwheels – known as piston wheels – on the underside of the locomotive engine. The system enabled trains to haul loads up steeper hillsides, and created a braking effect on the downhill side. The Abt system was also safer, and cheaper than the Riggenbach system.

The Abt system spread all over the world – in Japan, Spain, South America – and in a remote, wilderness corner of western Tasmania.

In that remote place, Bowes Kelly of the Mount Lyell Mining Company heard about the Abt system. It was untested in Australia, and Kelly had no idea if it would work in the daunting terrain of Tasmania’s mountainous west coast, but he bought a section of rack rail and one of the special steam engines fitted with the cog wheels.

His decision would revolutionise the railway and change the fortunes of the west coast.

Image of Dr Roman Abt Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4535473">Link

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