Happy Sunday everyone! As you may have undoubtedly noticed, my uploads here have pretty much stopped, mostly due to a lack of time and motivation to take new pics or to edit old ones. This is by no means a permanent state, especially with the nice weather we're having at the moment, but for now, I don't have anything new or interesting to offer on that front.
However, I wanted to share a little story I came across quite a long time ago, but only now fully grasped and understood. It's a story about a locomotive class that was commissioned by the Commonwealth Railways of Australia in the 1950s, built by the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company from the UK and powered by Sulzer prime movers made in Winterthur, Switzerland, with only 14 units having been built and ordered. What intrigues me about these locomotives is their place of service, the Central Australian Railway, a narrow gauge single-track line running throug the outback, from Port Augusta at the southern coast to Marree in the middle of nowhere. From that point on, the line had been upgraded to standard gauge due to the heavier loads from coal trains, running all the way to Alice Springs, making Marree a break-of-gauge. Recently, in 2004, the standard gauge line was extended all the way to Darwin, linking Australia's southern and northern coasts. A long time before that however, in 1980, a new standard gauge line had been constructed, effectively bypassing the old narrow gauge line and a smaller portion of the standard gauge line from Marree. This made the old narrow gauge redundant, leading to its immediate closure, as the times of heavy use and little maintenance during WWII took its toll on the equipment. Starting halfway between Marree and Port Augusta, contractors began pulling up the rails, using the very locomotives that once worked the line to rip the rails from the sleepers before cutting them up and loading them onto flatcars for transport back to the respective ends of the line. After this was completed, the remaining portion of the standard gauge line was also pulled up from Maree onwards.
Three of the NSU class diesels that were used to pull up the rails are still at Marree, standing at the exact same spots where the contractors abandoned them after pulling up all of the narrow gauge trackage. It was the photos of these forlorn machines standing in the middle of nowhere on a short section of surviving trackage that first caught my attention and lead me to read about this topic a little more since then. It's kind of heartbreaking, for a railfan at least, to think about how these locomotives were used to tear up their own line, effectively working into a dead end, as the narrow gauge line didn't continue beyond Marree. They could of course have been loaded onto flatcars and transported somewhere using the standard gauge line from that point onward, but for some reason, they decided to just park the locomotives there and leave them behind as they continued to rip up the standard gauge line, isolating the machines (and the town of Marree) from the rail network.
A little more history on the line and the locos:
The original narrow gauge line had been built towards the end of the 19th century, and was beset by the big problem of running steam engines through endless and most of all waterless terrain. The line was built along the route of the overland telegraph to make use of enough natural springs and wells on the way to replenish the locomotives' water supply, but the quality of the water often made it necessary to construct de-mineralization towers at stations to avoid longterm harm to the boilers. This lead to the problem that the line often ran through floodplains that were dry almost all year around, but if heavy rainfall did occurr, it would usually wash out and damage the trackage. Riding this train was pretty close to an adventure, and it was not uncommon for it to be delayed by days, rather than hours. An interesting fact: In those days, a car with spare sleepers and tools was hauled along behind the locomotive, so that if significant damage was discovered up ahead, the crew, and the passengers, would have to repair the trackage before they could continue. As you can imagine, it wasn't exactly a high speed train.
As the already overly long travel time was further increased by the steam engines having to take on water, in additon to regular inspections, the switch to diesel engines was an expected move. However, it was not an easy task to build an engine to run in such harsh conditions, in the 40-50°C heat of the desert, with no way of rescuing a train within reasonable time in case it broke down. Of the many responses to the tender the Commonwealth Railways put out, only a few made it past the initial selection, mostly due to the preference for slow reving prime movers and electric transmissions at that time. In the very end, it was the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company that received the job of building the locomotives that would haul trains right across central Australia, even though this company hadn't built any diesel locomotives before. The slow reving Swiss prime movers were the heart of this project, which is why Sulzer was put in charge of all technical issues involving this project.
The locomotives that resulted bore a slight resemblance
to the classic EMD F-unit, after Japanese watermelon growers had their way with them, being very boxy in appearance. They were optimized for their difficult jobs in several ways, such as pressurized engine rooms to keep out the desert dust, six-axle undercarriage to keep the axle loads very low for the light narrow gauge tracks, as well as a very soft suspension with good dampening to deal with the very bumpy ride. Even for the case of derailments, interlocks prevented the body from lifting off the bogies. A set of standard gauge bogies was also ordered to permit the locomotives to be transferred via standard gauge trackage as well, and it was on these bogies that the machines were first tested
around Birmingham, wearing their maroon & silver Commonwealth Railways livery.
These locomotives proved to be reliable workhorses in this rough environment, often looking rather unkempt in their last few years of service, probably never having been re-painted after leaving Birmingham. Then again, in the dry and hot desert, rust isn't exactly the biggest problem they could encounter. Most of the machines were retired after the narrow gauge railway had been pulled up, but interestingly, the entire locomotive class has survived to this day! All of the 14 machines still exist and are accounted for! The best fate was of course that of the museum pieces, some having been restored to running order, with brand new paintwork.
Others were used as spare part donors, but are still around, tucked away on museum sidings. A few more are static exhibits, often having lost large components like prime movers, drive motors and fuel tanks, but are nevertheless still around and kept in shape cosmetically. One of the forlorn machines in Marree is looking worse for wear,
having been left further away from the former station. The two other locomotives
standing next to the former dual gauge platform have received at least cosmetic paint jobs at one point in the near past, and even though all the windows and smaller pieces of equipment are missing, the prime movers are still there, as are all major components of the internal machinery.
Yeah, I just kinda wanted to tell y'all about this tiny locomotive class that still survives to this day in the heat of the Australian desert.
Interestingly enough, in 1955, pretty much the exact same locomotives were built a further five times, for the Sierra Leone Development Company, to haul iron ore trains from the country's interior to loading facilities at the coast. After years of hard work, they were joined and later replaced by a number of Alcos, soon forgotten in the dense jungle after the mine closed, soon forgotten as the country descented into a catastrophic civil war. Ironically, due to the remoteness of the railway facilities, and the jungle quickly overgrowing everything, remnants of the locomotives could still be observed as late as 2005. Several body shells
could be found basically dumped
and left to rot near the workshops, sometimes with the original paintwork and road number still visible. One was even used as a toolshed
but in 2006, it seems that all the remaining junk was to be liquidated, including the rusting hulks of the locomotives.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my ramblings, with much more detailed info being available on Wikipedia or the appropriate fan pages
and photo collections.
There's also a collection of footage
from the early 80s of the old narrow gauge being torn up, including the photographer getting a cab ride from one of the contractors.