The Canberra Railway Museum has shut its doors while it undertakes a restructure after falling more than half a million dollars in debt.
The operation was struck by a series of blows after starting its own freight company to subsidise popular but expensive passenger trips on its heritage trains.
ESPEE Railroad Services was opened to much fanfare and won a lucrative contract with a major commercial freight company. But the pressure of heavy machinery loading and unloading cargo on what was once swampland caused concrete to break and, with machinery getting bogged and no sign of maintenance on the government-owned land, the company moved elsewhere.
A wider downturn in the rail industry saw larger freight companies favoured over smaller operations. Eventually, the museum's passenger trains were subsidising its freight business.
"Our internal processes weren't good enough to keep pace with how that was going and to drive the feedback to the decision-makers which was the council to help them make informed decisions," volunteer Garry Reynolds said.
"It outgrew a lot of our systems and we were stuck with a constitution that was basically the equivalent of the constitution of a social tennis club, and now we're running this multi-million dollar enterprise on this old framework."
Time and money spent battling graffiti and vandalism also took its toll. Provisional liquidators Deloitte have installed 24-hour security to prevent more damage being done.
Mr Reynolds said the museum was exploring all its options to prevent permanent closure, including selling off or scrapping some carriages, becoming a static museum or, longer-term, moving to a different site.
The ACT government has stepped in to help the organisation with its restructure while Deloitte examines its finances. It is unknown how long the process will take.
"They've got to have a look into the accounts and this is going to be the mystery bag to see what is there, what isn't and what surprises we might come across," Mr Reynolds said.
But Mr Reynolds said volunteers were optimistic about the museum's future.
The museum has been at its Kingston site for 34 years, is home to Australia's oldest and largest steam locomotives and serves as a popular event venue.
"I think we've been punching way above our weight for a long period. Somehow things kept going our way. Our luck's run out. We don't think it's permanently run out, we're still optimistic, and we'll pursue it to a 1 per cent chance of reopening," Mr Reynolds said.
"This is weird. We've got this problem, masses of people, we're being loved to death, and yet we've got this financial and administrative problem.
"We're really looking forward to rebuilding the place, restructuring it, getting on a sounder footing and probably won't be business as usual. I really hope we don't bounce back, I hope we bounce forward."