Historical Society says Rattler owes them $1 million
WHEN the fully restored C17 No 45 steam engine launched with the Rattler in 1998, it was a time of joy and hope for the future.
But rather than being a rallying point, the engine's now-decrepit state is the main piece of a $1-million sore point between the heritage line's bodies and the Gympie District Historical Society, which wants to be compensated for its loss.
GDHS president Frank Lightfoot claimed the group was owed a debt by the Mary Valley Heritage Railway group for its failure to honour a lease for No 45 by letting it fall into disrepair.
Speaking independently of the society, which has been trying to broker a solution for several years, Mr Lightfoot said he wanted to find one which suited all ASAP.
But not without recognition for the years of restoration work put into getting the historic engine running again.
"The society is keen to get the matter resolved, but is not willing to write off the debt," he said.
The locomotive was one of 81 items leased to the MVHR in 1998. As part of the lease the MVHR was required to maintain the train in the same condition as it was hired in.
Instead, he said, it was run into the ground by 2005, taken out of service and then "cannibalised" for parts.
It is now nothing more than a shell, sitting at the workshop, and after waiting eight years for the MVHR to repair it the GDHS sent them a $250,000 bill in 2013 for "unauthorised modifications".
MORE RATTLER CONTROVERSY
In November 2014, the MVHR's assets totalling more than $476,000 were transferred to the Rattler Railway Company as part of the efforts to bring the Rattler back.
But the subsequent winding up of the MVHR has been halted by an injunction placed on them over the alleged debt.
Mr Lightfoot said it should have been settled before the assets were moved.
"They have to deal with their debt," Mr Lightfoot said.
He said some of the other leased items have been lost, dumped or stolen over the years, and he estimates in total the GDHS is out of pocket to the tune of $1million.
Last year, the GDHS asked Gympie Regional Council, which owns the RRC, for compensation as it "benefited from the transfer of MVHR assets".
In August, 2018, council CEO Bernard Smith replied, saying the council was not a direct party to the claim, and was not responsible for substantiating or settling it.
Mr Smith asked for the injunction to be removed "to allow forward progress of the RRC and heritage development in the region" if the GDHS was satisfied the council's commitment to heritage was enough to offset any loss.
A request for the transfer back of "functioning (GDHS) rail assets at the end of their current lease" was declined and not being considered while any are needed to run the Rattler. However, the council was happy to work on a lease for the RRC's ongoing use of any GDHS assets.
Mr Lightfoot said at the moment this included at least two carriages, which were still part of the original lease he said was unresolved.
"You can't lease something twice," he said.
Contacted for comment, Mr Smith said this week the council was aware of the matter between GDHS and MVHR when the assets were being transferred across.
He said the council's response had hoped to facilitate a solution between the groups.
"We have been advised that the locomotive in question is only suitable for scrap, has had no parts removed, and GDHS are free to go and collect it," he said.
An RRC spokeswoman said the train had been in very poor condition long before it and other assets were transferred from MVHR to GRC and then RRC.
She said engineers advised it was suitable only for "scrap purposes," and no parts had been taken by the RRC.
"The (RRC) have always been open to discussions with the Gympie and District Heritage Society and this continues to be the case, however the RRC has no interest in retaining the locomotive.
"At least a year ago, we offered the GDHS the opportunity to collect the loco and relocate it to another location.
"This offer stands."
Mr Lightfoot said all he wanted was a settlement that benefited everybody, but not at the expense of the recognition of "all of the work that our volunteers have put into this project".
The MVHR was contacted for comment.