By Taylah Eastwell
It’s full steam ahead for Puffing Billy Railway this year, with new Chief Executive Officer Peter Abbott “looking forward to a successful 2021” after officially taking the reins last week.
Having grown up playing footy and cricket on frosty mornings around Emerald and Belgrave, Mr Abbott said he “knows the unique hills environment all too well”.
“Puffing Billy is such an iconic part of the Dandenongs and Yarra Valley and I’m really looking forward to being part of the organisation and having services return to some normality in a Covid-safe way,” Mr Abbott said.
Mr Abbott grew up in the Yarra Valley, where he attended Upper Yarra High and played cricket for Launching Place.
He brings with him a wealth of tourism experience, having previously held roles of Chief Executive at Bendigo Heritage Attractions, which runs Bendigo Tramways and the Central Deborah Goldmine.
Mr Abbott has also held roles as Tourism Services Manager on Warrnambool City Council and most recently as General Manager of SeaLink Travel Group in South Australia where he directly managed the effects of the recent bushfires.
He was formerly a Board member of Australian Museums and Galleries Association (Victoria) and member of VicTrack’s Tourist Heritage Rail Strategy Development Group.
Mr Abbott said the most rewarding part about his career in tourism has been “seeing families and customers having a great experience”.
“Meeting the people that use Puffing Billy will be a great highlight to me, I always enjoy meeting the visitors,” he said.
Mr Abbot’s current visions for the future of the railway are focused “around re-engaging the community, volunteers and staff”.
“I’m looking forward to successfully opening the Lakeside Visitor Centre because we want the whole community to use it, and we are certainly working through the final stages of reintroducing sitting on the windowsills of Puffing Billy,” he said.
Mr Abbott said his background involves working in places that employ both staff and volunteers, and said he is looking forward to “warmly welcoming back volunteers”.
“With Covid last year it did interfere with our staff and volunteers so I’d certainly like to spend the first few weeks getting to know them and welcoming them back to the railway,” he said.
“One of the great things is meeting the staff and volunteers that deliver these services. The volunteer areas deliver such great opportunities to link to the community,” he said.
Chairman of the Emerald Tourist Railway Board, Tim North QC said “Peter will bring rail, museum, and volunteer experience as well as deep tourism knowledge to this role…he will bring an informed and fresh perspective for our next chapter.”
Mr Abbott officially took over from previous CEO, Steve O’Brien, on February 1 after the being appointed incoming CEO by the board on December 22.
“Puffing Billy is a much loved part of the Dandenongs and when it closed down for many months everyone missed hearing the whistle as it came through the areas so we really want to get that steam whistle blowing through the hills in a Covid-safe way,” Mr Abbott said.