22 May 2011

This is where it all starts...

...The branch line to Coonamble that is! 

You are standing in May 1979, looking at Dubbo yard, facing east, near to the ground at the eastern-most tip of the station platform.  

To your immediate left is the platform road.  The large signal gantry is the starting point for the branch line. Careful examination of the track work shows the turnouts (points) leading away to the left from the platform road.  That's where it all begins.

This photograph is a little gem, full of the quintessential country depot.

First of all is the vintage worker's train on the right.  It appears to be a HG, S wagon and an FO - which is a long way from home (starting life as a suburban carriage).

To the immediate east of the workers' vans is the goods shed, with its distinctive covered road.

Two large signal gantries straddle the tracks - one a common feature of most significant railway yards across the State.

As its now 1979, steam is long gone (with one exception - a tender from a standard good loco being used as a water ginty - but that is another story).  With the demise of steam, Harman coal stage, water tanks, water columns and two-road shed have all been removed.  For a substantial depot, Dubbo was left with rather pitiful shelters for the staff to maintain locomotives.

On this day in May 1979, two 73 class shunters sit idle, along with a 44 class mainline locomotive.  Of great interest is the locomotive to the right of the 73 shunters.  What appears at first glance to be yet another example of the 165-strong 48 class, is something rather more exotic.  It is an 830 class on hire to the NSW Railways from the South Australian Railways - I think its almost certainly 847.  More too about this cute little foreigner too, but later on.

Lurking inside the shed is another branch line unit - most likely a 48 class.  Alongside the 830 class is a goods guards van; probably a weather-beaten MHG seeing out its days in quiet style.
To finish off the scene is the almost obligatory palm trees, providing welcome shade to railway workers even in mid-May. They remain standing, 32 years later, just in case you are interested.

I trust you have enjoyed a viewing of the launch point of the Coonamble branch!

Leaving Dubbo....

It almost goes without saying that the growth and reduction of Dubbo as a railway centre is the single-largest influence on the Coonamble branchline.  This influence is amply illustrated through the facilities provided for passenger trains.

For the first ninety-odd years passengers journeying along the Coonamble line commenced from the main platform or the eastern dock at Dubbo.  Even before leaving Dubbo passengers had the shelter of a substantial sandstone building, plus refreshment facilities. Once ready passengers would board the train located either on the main platform or the eastern dock road.

The journey on the Coonamble line commenced precisely at the crossover points to the east of Dubbo station platform, approximately adjacent to the locomotive shed.  This location was sign-posted by the Down Starting Signal for the Coonamble branch, which had been moved 400 feet further away from the station on 29 January 1924.  However the journey to Coonamble grew closer once more just nine months later when the crossover taking trains from the main line to the Coonamble line was moved 160 feet closer to Dubbo station.

Nonetheless, commencing a passenger rail journey to Coonamble in this manner is now no longer possible, as a rationalisation of Dubbo yard in the mid-1990s removed the cross-over points entirely.  Today, trains leaving for Coonamble can only depart from the loop or the rail yard.  This probably further reduces the chances of passenger train operations ever again traversing the Coonamble line, even if those services amount to no more than an occasional tourist excursion train.

So, to start a journey along the Coonamble railway from some part in Dubbo yard is still necessary to pass through the road crossing of Fitzroy Street, the exit the eastern end of Dubbo yard, by swinging north-east past what is presently the city’s Caltex petroleum sidings to Dubbo East Junction.

Dubbo’s North Junction was established by the construction of a turning leg off the old main line, which enabled trains approaching Dubbo from the east to veer to the north in order to join the Coonamble branch line.  The same infrastructure also created Dubbo East Junction, at the south eastern apex of the triangle.  This arrangement, with modification, remains operational into the 21st century.

Early working timetables issued for the Coonamble line refer to Dubbo North Junction as simply as ‘Dubbo Junction’.  While these timetables disclose nothing of significance about Dubbo Junction, it is known that a 90kl water tank was installed at this location in time for the line’s opening.

In mid-1913 the Weekly Notices noted the existence of 15 chain curves around Dubbo Junction as the only curves on the line considered to be extremely sharp.  Restrictions on speed have been repeated in the NSW Railway’s subsequent timetables and local appendices.  So this new arrangement was not perhaps the greatest of engineering feats in western NSW and a less than auspicious start to the branchline.

The railway infrastructure to the east of Dubbo underwent a major metamorphosis at the time of the building of the Scenic Route between Yeoval and Dubbo on 31 May 1925.  Prior to this on 10 October 1924 the Dubbo East and Dubbo North junctions were re-laid as the main line was slewed to allow for the Molong line.  A new fork for the Coonamble line and a construction siding was provided on the down side of the main line to permit further work in the area.

The main line from Wellington was also slewed to the south then forced back in an arc back north whereupon it joined with the Molong line at Dubbo East Junction.  This Junction then sent Dubbo-bound trains off to the north-west.  This Junction retained the capacity for direct access to the Coonamble branch through a connection from the East Junction to the North Junction.  This new alignment also required the removal of the redundant main line and the original turning leg.

This new arrangement opened for traffic in April 1925 when a new signal box at Dubbo East Junction was installed.  The new signal box acquired the responsibility for the points for the entry to the Coonamble branch at Dubbo North Junction.

It is doubtful whether until recently trains routinely used the rails on the eastern leg of the triangle for anything greater than just reversing locomotives and trains – although it is recorded that the Wirths Circus train worked directly through from Gilgandra to Wellington on the evening of 31 May 1921 using the turning leg.  However current day operations use the eastern leg of the triangle more routinely than in earlier times.  Bulk grain trains operating from the Coonamble line do not routinely enter Dubbo’s yard for the locomotives to run around their trains.

More regular use of the triangle included the turning of locomotives during the formative years – with the Weekly Notices from 1911 permitted locomotives of the J483, N, O, P and T classes to run through the triangle at Dubbo, as well as lighter classes of locomotives to run through the triangle coupled in pairs – all at 10 miles per hour or less. Who would have ever thought that 800 words could be written about so little.

Next stop on iour trip up the branch, Troy Junction.  Stay tuned!

15 May 2011

A bit more about Dubbo

I’ll doubtless get around to writing more about this fine location at some time, but I thought it necessary to complete the top level story of Dubbo, so we can get on up the line.  So, here we go… Dubbo Part II.

The enhancements to the railway at Dubbo around the time that the Coonamble branch came into existence included an 18.2 metre turntable, which was commissioned on 1 November 1902.  The turntable removed the need to turn locomotives using the triangle at the eastern end of the yard.  Ironically, custom and practice of the time to turn many locomotives on the triangle appears to have continued throughout the entire steam era.

In September 1904 a further extension of the station platform occurred – this time at the eastern (Sydney) end, apparently to more easily facilitate passenger train movements from the Great Western Railway onto the Coonamble branchline.

The remainder of the first decade of the 20th century saw further consolidation of Dubbo as a regional centre.  In October 1906 a transshipping shed was erected, while September 1909 brought the commissioning of Dubbo’s first grain shed.  Locomotive servicing facilities also expanded during this period – in May 1907 two 22.5kl tanks from Wellington were re-erected on-site.  These are thought to have been erected at the eastern end of the loco depot.  September 1910 brought a third water tank of the same size, which is thought to have been erected at the western end of the yard.  An extension to the loco shed was also completed around this time.

The growth of Dubbo during the second decade of the 20th century was somewhat stultified by the Great War.  However well prior to the commencement of hostilities, on 28 October 1911, Dubbo loco depot was extended 120 yards at the western end with a new dead end siding.  Ten days later the Dubbo Municipal Gas Siding brought into use, which was a 110 yard dead-end siding laid off the up side of the line at Mileage 282.79.  Room was provided for storage of three four-wheel wagons.

More was to come as January 1912 saw the enclosure of the water tanks at the eastern end of the depot, while October 1915 brought the installation of a vertical wall engine from Eveleigh depot and March 1917 brought a new wheat stacking site.  This last enhancement may have proven to be somewhat poorly designed, as August 1919 brought further work to raise the site presumably in order to reduce the potential for flooding and pestilence.

This period of construction closed with the construction of a wheat silo on the southern side of the yard in 1920, and the installation of gas lighting in the yard in May 1921.  To punctuate this period of growth and as if to confirm the growing size of Dubbo’s railway community, in May 1920 the Dubbo Railway Institute building was erected.

The mid-1920s brought the final major phase of Dubbo’s growth as a major regional centre for the railway.  The completion and opening of the Scenic Route between Orange, Molong and Dubbo in May 1925 created the fifth railway emanating from the hub of Dubbo (following lines to Wellington, and lines to Nyngan, Coonamble and Mendooran).  In recognition of this, as well as an appreciation of the impact of faster and more powerful locomotives, Dubbo emerged as the logical centre for railway operations.  The demise of Wellington’s locomotive servicing facilities was understandable from another point – as trains operating along the Scenic Route could not access the facilities.

This new role brought manifest changes.  Commencing on 24 August 1924, an extensive re-signalling of Dubbo yard included the bringing into use of a new connection for a shunting neck between the Main line and the Coonamble branch.  This new signalling arrangement required the officer working in Dubbo Signal Box A to place Opposing Lever No. 10 into reverse in order to issue the train staff.  To do this the officer in charge at Eumungerie would hold down his plunger a sufficient length of time to allow the electric lock to release.  A complex, labour-intensive arrangement, indeed!

On 12 January 1925 the Railway Refreshment Rooms were transferred from Wellington to Dubbo.  Six months later on 1 June 1925 Wellington locomotive depot’s responsibilities also made the westward journey.  Mr J R Webb, the Dubbo Steam Shed Inspector, assumed responsibilities from the former location.  This required an immediate and further extension to the locomotive servicing shed.

The increased steam railway operation at Dubbo also required the construction of a much-expanded water supply.  In July 1925 this included the erection of two new water columns and a new 270kl water tank adjacent to the western tank which had been erected in 1910.  Next, September 1926 brought the construction of a new pumping well and pump house station at the Macquarie River.

The increased traffic warranted new telegraph buildings in September 1925, while 1927 brought larger marshalling yards and a installation of a Sellars-built turntable to permit the then-new C36 class locomotives to be turned at the location.

The next phase of growth of Dubbo’s railway infrastructure was associated with the early introduction of a new form of railway conveyance – the low-cost alternative of rail-cars driven by an internal combustion engine.  In July 1928 a rail motor shed, inspection pits and workshops were constructed at the western end of the railway yard.  In October 1936 fuelling facilities were installed for the new diesel trains operating to Bourke.

Around the same time, the increasing industry in the location necessitated other improvements.  One such example included the Vacuum Oil Company siding at Dubbo, which was brought into use on 12 June 1931.

The Great Depression and the Second World War brought a slower pace of change around Dubbo during the 1930s and 1940s.  This period ended on 16 October 1951 with a major alteration to Dubbo’s skyline achieved due to the commissioning of the imposing Holman coal hoist.  This required some ancillary adjustment to the track layout in the yard.  This structure lasted until the demise of regular steam locomotive operations in the area and was removed in 1973.  The demise of steam operations also resulted in the removal of the three water tanks (of 90kl, 315kl and 360kl capacity) in July 1976.

If the first score of years in the 20th century brought great growth to Dubbo’s railway, the final score brought reduction.  Rationalisation commenced in November 1982 when the Municipal Gas Siding was removed.  June 1983 brought the bull-dozing of the stockyards.  November 1984 saw the removal of the gatehouse (at 460.031km), while August of the following year brought the demolition of the Darling Street gatehouse.  

The 1980s rationalisation of the railway infrastructure was completed in 1987 with the sale (for $100) of the Railway Institute building to the Macquarie Lions Club and the July 1987 sale (for $250) and subsequent removal of the carriage shed by the Macquarie Valley Railway Society.

So, at this point I'll leave you as I prepare for a trip up the branch.....

11 May 2011

A little bit about Dubbo

Starting with Dubbo, there are at least a dozen major villages or landmarks along the Coonamble railway line.  So, lets start with a bit about Dubbo…

Dubbo’s creation as a regional centre commenced in 1823 when Robert Delhunty established a land-holding of the same name in the vicinity.  By the 1840s several stores were located in the area prompting the formal proclamation of the village in 1850. 

The construction of the railway from Orange to Dubbo commenced in July 1878 with a contractor named William Watkins tasked with the responsibility.  The railway was opened as far as Wellington on 1 June 1880.  This event was followed a fortnight later with the crossing of the Macquarie River at Wellington by the contractor’s locomotive on a temporary track in order for the commencement of construction towards Dubbo.

The construction of this component of the Great Western Railway took only a further seven months.  On 1 February 1881 Sir John Robertson, the Acting Premier, opened the railway at Dubbo.  McKillop notes that the opening occurred on the hottest day recorded since white settlement in the area, with a modest 42°C (106°F) was achieved as the official train steamed under a triumphal arch constructed across the line.

At the time of the opening of the railway Dubbo had grown to record a population greater than 3,300.  The 1881 Census Compiler noted that this had been achieved through a 29% annual increase in the population over the previous decade.  In relative terms, Dubbo was approximately half the size of Bathurst, or a third of the size of Newcastle.  The size of the locale even demanded that the opening would require two special trains to transport the invited dignitaries.

The establishment of the railway at Dubbo in 1881 was marked with a major passenger rail terminal from the colonial administration.  Although being of single story construction the sandstone facade signaled a significant and enduring punctuation point on the Great Western Railway.  The substantial passenger terminal was matched by the double-story station master’s residence.  Both were constructed of sandstone quarried from an area in West Dubbo.

However the magnificence of the station buildings was not matched by the locomotive servicing facilities or the railway yard, which were rudimentary.  It suggested an initial departmental view of Dubbo as being anything other than that of a major railway junction.

The centre-piece of the locomotive servicing facilities was a small locomotive shed covering two roads built by a Mr H Brigg in 1879 and 1880, a year prior to the official opening of the railway at Dubbo.  Major servicing of locomotives remained the responsibility of the already-existing locomotive depot at Wellington, 50 kilometres to the southeast.

The further westward extension of the Great Western Railway appeared to bring the continuing status of Dubbo’s railway infrastructure into question.  According to Forsyth just five years after its construction the first locomotive shed was moved to Nyngan.  Presumably a second shed was constructed in its place, although it too was a small, two-track affair.

The 1890s did bring some modest enhancements to the railway infrastructure at Dubbo.  In May 1891 a coal stage was constructed from old railway sleepers.  A wool stage followed in September of the same year.  In March 1897 a carriage shed was constructed, while September 1898 brought an extension to the western (Bourke) end of the station platform.

However, it was the establishment of the railway to Coonamble that brought a new maturity to the Dubbo railway precinct; by giving it the status of a railway junction.  Hopefully the next post will carry a little bit of useful information about Dubbo in that role.

07 May 2011

1st train to Coonamble

As a result of one of my very many loyal readers emailing me persistently for details about the composition of the first train to Coonamble, I have made my best endeavours to identify what rolling stock would have composed that initial outing on 18 February 1903.  Sadly, the passing of time and tide appears to have removed the details of such working from history, if it was ever recorded.  So, I intend to do what all historians do when faced with a lack of source information – make it up.

What is known of that first train?  Three things are known. 

First, the passenger accommodation was composed of more up-to-date carriages than the ancient examples provided by the Department of Public Works during the construction phase. 

Second, Mr George Emilhaing was likely to have been the guard on the train, though the identity of the locomotive crew remains a mystery.  A great name for a guard, of anything.

Third, as the train ran as a mixed service there was likely a collection of stock wagons, conveying sheep into or out of the region.  There would also be open wagons, travelling empty, to convey anything from timber to wool bales on the return journey.  Perhaps too there would have been covered wagons – otherwise known as louvre vans - to convey manufactured goods from the city and internationally for the citizrenry of the Castlereagh.  As Cobb & Co had already lost its mail contracts to rail, provision within the coaching stock would have been made for mail bags to be carried within the guard’s van. 

Apart from the coaching stock, all vehicles would have been of the four-wheeled variety, with screw couplings.  This would have ensured a very jerky ride for those in the coaches at the rear of the train, even across the best parts of the new line. 

The coaching stock may have been of the bogie variety.  Passenger comforts were likely to have been few.  Sparsely covered seats and side loading, without toilet facilities, were likely the order of the day.  Still, these would have been a great improvement on those accommodations provided by Cobb & Co. or the Public Works Department.

So what hauled this first train? In the absence of a photograph or a contemporary report, one must make deductions based on the secondary evidence available.  Two such sources are reference publications authored by Leon Oberg and Alex Grunbach.  Both are excellent publications – Oberg’s covering the nation’s railways and Grunbach’s the locomotives of New South Wales.  From these publications it is possible to identify a number of likely candidates.

 It is conceivable that a G23 class 2-4-0 locomotive pulled that first train to Coonamble.  These locomotives were already 38 years of age by the time of the opening of the branch line in 1903, and were built of sturdy Beyer Peacock stock.  Oberg notes that they had been stored for much of the 1890s for a decade when, at the turn of the century, they were re-boilered and then ‘transferred to the western depots where there were few grades’.  So, the first candidate is the (G)23 class, which were later renumbered as the 14 class.

A second class of candidate is the D255 class 4-4-0 locomotives, which were introduced in 1882.  Grunbach notes that these elegant locomotives carried the nickname of the ‘Peacock High Flyers’, in recognition of their maker (Beyer Peacock) and their large driving wheels which could produce a turn of speed unneeded on the Coonamble line.  These locomotives were also rebuilt in 1901-02 with Belpaire boilers, then sent to the country depots where they continued well past 1924 when they were renumbered as the 15 class.

It is less likely that the D261 class 4-4-0 locomotives were available for service on the Coonamble line in 1903.  Just like their sister-engines (the D255/15 class), they entered service in 1882.  By the turn of the century this class too had been displaced by newer, more powerful locomotives.  Unlike the 15 class, however, the D261 class were sent north to work the increasing number of branchlines radiating out from Werris Creek.  While this class also survived past the 1924 renumbering – becoming the 16 class – it is less likely that one its representatives headed the first official train to Coonamble.

A firm candidate for hauling the first train is the H371 class 4-4-0 locomotive, which had commenced operations in 1887.  Oberg notes that the ten representatives of this class were sent to Wellington in 1890s for branch line working.  As Wellington was the major western-most depot at the turn of the 20th century, it is highly possible that an example what was to become the 17 class left Dubbo on the first train.

A sentimental, though less likely candidate for that first train is the L304 class 2-6-0 locomotive which were 18 years of age at that time.  Oberg notes that this class of locomotive were working from Orange to Dubbo and beyond in the 1890s.  This class had a lengthy association with the Dubbo area – Oberg again recording that (what was to become) 2106 was a Dubbo engine as late as 1919.

Two relatively newer classes of locomotive are also in the reckoning.  The K 294 class 2-6-0 was principally a goods brought into service 1885.  Apparently not a popular engine with the administration, by the new century it was consigned to the coal roads in the Hunter area. As a further mark of its unpopularity, this class of locomotive was withdrawn and scrapped prior to the 1924 renumbering.

While the K 294 class is therefore a less likely candidate, another 2-6-0 locomotive is a greater possibility.  The L 436 locomotive entered service 1890 and went on to become the 22 class.  Grunbach records that these locomotives, dubbed the ‘Scotch Yankees’, were re-boilered between 1916 and 1919, and assigned to light branch line working.  So, while a theoretical candidate, the 22 class also appears to be in the ‘dark horse’ category for working the first train.

The classes of locomotives described above are all possibilities for the inaugural service.  All were represented on the earliest ‘working timetable’ for the Coonamble branch-line identified by this author, though that dated from 1916 – 13 years hence. 

It is for the same reason that other classes of locomotive have been discounted – including the A93 class 0-6-0 (the 19 class), the O 446 class 4-6-0 ‘little Js’ built by Baldwin (the 23 class), the B55 2-6-0 class (the 24 class), the B205 class (the 25 class) and the ‘big Js’ – the Baldwin-built J 483 class 2-8-0 locomotives (the 29 class).  All were to feature in the Dubbo area in years to come, but probably not in 1903.

There is one other candidate, and it is this author’s pick for the locomotive class which headed that first train to Coonamble.  It is none other than the C 79 class 4-4-0 which had been introduced to service as early as 1877.  Of mixed parentage, this class of locomotive was ubiquitous relative to others.  In all, 68 were built; 26 by Dubs & Co., Beyer Peacock contributing 34 and the local Atlas Engineering Works assembling another eight of the class.  By its very numbers it was more likely than any other class to be at the head of that first train.

There other reasons to favour the C 79 class, which became the 12 class in the 1924 renumbering.  Oberg notes that prior to the 20th century this class had begun ‘... an exciting career on the State’s many light branch lines’, without specifying just how exciting that life was.  Grunbach notes that this class of locomotive ‘... handled the major portion of the traffic on the easier graded un-ballasted branch lines, being equally at home on passenger, mixed, stock and goods trains’. 

Thus, while it could have been any one of the 13 classes of locomotive listed above, until better evidence emerges it is reasonable to conclude that in all likelihood a C 79/12 class locomotive did the honours in that February day in 1903.