24 September 2011

Eumungerie's railway yard

The railway yard at Eumungerie went through three major evolutions to grow to its most advanced state.  The last quarter of a century has brought several subsequent rationalisations to return it to much reduced state.

Its initial layout in 1903 involved a single passing loop provided on the western side of the main line.  The station was provided on the main line.  The initial length of the yard was 270 yards.

The initial track plan shows nothing in the way of railway infrastructure, apart from a platform, small station building and water tank.  From 1905 livestock and timber were loaded from a loading bank opposite the platform.

In October 1912 a contract was let for the provision of a second siding to act as a crossing loop.  Work associated with this first expansion major expansion of the precinct involved the re-erection of water tanks, removal and re-erection of platform and station buildings, provision of a crossing loop and removal and re-erection of cattle yards.

To facilitate these improvements on Monday, 16 October 1911 Eumungerie was temporarily closed as a staff or crossing station.  All trains timetabled to cross or pass at Eumungerie were suspended - No 37, a conditional goods train from Dubbo to Coonamble was not to run.  Similarly, No. 26, a conditional goods train from Gular to Dubbo was not to run.  Nos. 11, 27 and 85, all conditional goods trains from Dubbo to Coonamble, were not to run on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in order to avoid crossing the up mixed train.

As part of the yard’s trackwork enhancements a 20 ton cart weighbridge was installed at Eumungerie from 2 December 1911.  This facility may have proved to be inadequate or unsound as it was replaced as early as 1915 with a similar facility.

The most expensive element of the expansion of Eumungerie was the construction of a station officer’s residence, at a cost of ₤686.  The second largest piece of expenditure involved the provision of a larger crossing loop at a cost of ₤542, including ₤203 worth of railway sleepers.

The removal and re-erection of the platform and building cost only ₤28 but additions to both incurred a further ₤128 expenditure.  Other works involving the locomotive water supply cost ₤51 and cattle-stops ₤44.  Ancillary works of ₤14 brought the overall total to ₤1,493.

The rebuilding of the station building is an interesting matter for consideration.  No photographs or descriptions have been obtained of the original building.  The earliest photographs date from the 1930s and 1940s show glimpses of a typical NSW Government Railways A3 skillion roof building.  As this type of building came into vogue around 1909 it may be that the original building was not re-erected at all, but replaced or transferred elsewhere.

Eumungerie yard was reopened on Monday, 28 October 1912.  Seal press 448 was allocated to the station as if to stamp the occasion.  However it was not until 1 December 1912 that Eumungerie station was reopened as a booking office.  This event and the completion of the station officer’s house brought the first full-time rostered railway employee to the village.

As almost an afterthought 1913 brought the commissioning of the smaller platform building on the southern side of the original building.  This construction was described as an ‘out-of’ shed on the official station register.  Its purpose was to store parcels and small goods making the rail journey into or out of the village.  On Tuesday 8 July 1913 new signal and interlocking arrangements were also brought into use at Eumungerie.

By the time that all works were completed in July 1913 a siding had been constructed on the eastern side of the mainline, which was named subsequently as the Platform Road.  The yard had been extended to 594 yards, with distant signals placed 800 yards from the extremities of the yard.

This first major expansion of the yard increased the amount of usable track capacity from 324 yards to 932 yards – nearly a three-fold increase over the original yard.

A second expansion of the railway occurred in 1915 and was associated with the increase in wheat traffic.  A wheat stacking site was constructed just to the north of where the silos still stand.  The same year brought the erection of a 5 ton gantry crane straddling the siding to the north of the loading bank. 

Late in 1915 the siding was extended at the northern end, creating what became known as a stub-ended Wheat Siding.  Although no NSWGR track plan has been obtained to show this extension, a 1920 Parish Map clearly shows this addition.  The relevant Weekly Notices also state that on 23 November 1915 the siding at Eumungerie was extended at the northern end.  The siding could then provide standing room for 63 four-wheeled trucks.

A further and final expansion in 1925/26 involved the northward expansion of the Wheat Siding, principally to provide double-ended access to the wheat silos.  By providing 1,668 yards of usable track capacity the Eumungerie rail precinct had experienced a five-fold increase in just 25 years.

The 1925/26 track arrangement represents the maximum expansion of the railway at Eumungerie and it remained in place for the following 67 years. 

20 September 2011

Finding and naming Eumungerie

To be precise, Eumungerie is 498.235 rail kilometres from Sydney.  This equates to 309 miles from the buffer stops at platform 1, Sydney Steam Terminal station.

The air of Eumungerie is hardly rarified - it is a bare 299.9 metres above sea level.  

Eumungerie is reached at the conclusion of a 36 kilometre rail journey from Dubbo. 

It is approached from the south on a 0.55 per cent (1 in 183) falling grade.  The railway yard is generally level, and trains departing Eumungerie for Gilgandra experience a 0.3 per cent (1 in 330) rising grade.

The railway’s identity at this location shifted through several guises during the early years.  During the construction phase the location was known as Coalbaggie Siding, principally so as to distinguish it from the settlement at Coalbaggie Creek which was approximately ten kilometres away.  This distance somewhat questions the rationale for the use of Coalbaggie Siding. 

At the station’s opening on 18 February 1903 the location was designated as Coalbaggie Creek.  Three months later in May 1903 the station was designated as Eumungerie, although it was also described clearly on a 1905 parish map as Eumungerie Siding.  Shortly thereafter, probably in 1905, the station was described by its final and current name, simply Eumungerie.

The name Eumungerie was not adopted uniformly by Federal and State agencies at the time it was adopted by the Railway Commissioners.  It appears that the post office was known as Eumungerie for at least 18 months before the station carried this name.  Similarly, the school’s transition to ‘Eumungerie Public School’ occurred in late 1904.  Earlier it too had carried the Coalbaggie nomenclature as ‘Coalbaggie Provisional School’.


11 September 2011

Coalbaggie Creek

Its time to approach Eumungerie, so we can spend a few posts describing the epicentre of this blog.  

Approaching Eumungerie from the south, trains were required to cross Coalbaggie Creek.  It is a modest water course of only 57 kilometres, commencing to the east of the railway and working its way south west until it empties into the Macquarie River.

Despite the modest nature of the water course, the railway infrastructure required at this location was only second in size to that needed for the crosssing of the Talbragar River.  However, unlike the wooden truss bridge provided originally to cross the Talbragar River, the Coalbaggie Creek bridge's truss was placed under the rail line. 
The major part of the bridge's superstructure is a Howe iron truss, which supported by six timber piers. The following photograph, taken around 1987, shows one span of the structure.

The result is, at track level, an unobtrusive and understated structure.  A trespasser took this photograph from the bridge's southern approach to demonstrate a driver's view of the bridge.

While unobstrusive, the inherent strength of the Howe truss has meant that the bridge has survived over a century without major change, unlike the more substantial and now-replaced Talbragar River bridge.  That is, I suspect the iron truss is original - fabricated in 1903.  There was a major rebuild of the bridge in 1955, which probably involved the full replacement of the wooden piers.

Now, 108 years after its creation, the bridge is due for replacement.  Lets hope the Coalbaggie Bridge Mark II is just as enduring....

03 September 2011

The last steamy?

On 4 May 2011 I posted a few ideas (guesses) about the identity of the first train to Coonamble.  As trains still run to that location I can’t yet deal with its book-end, that is, the last train to Coonamble.  However, other ‘lasts’ are equally intriguing –the last steam-hauled passenger train, the last passenger train and the last train in government revenue (as opposed to today’s privatised operators) are candidates.

I cannot provide the precise identity of the last steam-hauled regular passenger train, but it is possible to go pretty close.  The Railway Digest notes that as a result of a rearrangement of Dubbo’s diesel roster, the dieselisation of all passenger services occurred on the Coonamble line on Monday, 21 September 1964.  The final steam-hauled passenger service occurred on the previous Friday - 18 September 1964.  At that time there were up to eleven 30Ts as candidates - 3004T, 3040T, 3060T, 3062T, 3065T, 3080T, 3089T, 3090T, 3098T, 3122T and 3144T.  So, this is one mystery nearly solved – when the last steam-hauled passenger train ran is a ‘known’ and there is a 1 in 11 chance of picking the locomotive that hauled it.  So, its now time to move along to the next mystery!

As tomorrow, Sunday 4 September 2011, is Father’s Day in Australia, I thought I would take the opportunity to simultaneously acknowledge one father and deal with one of the other ‘lasts’ – the last steam-hauled freight train on the Coonamble branch.

After a bumper 1967 wheat harvest in Central Western NSW when steam-hauled grain trains ran regularly on the Coonamble branch (even on Saturdays, shock! horror!), the final decline of steam commenced in the following year. 

In January 1965 there had been 36 steam locomotives allocated to the Dubbo depot.  The April 1968 Railway Digest noted that Dubbo had only four steam engines remaining – 3028T, 3122T, 3144T and 3289.  These four locomotives were noted as being assigned to work as yard shunters and for excursions to Troy Junction. 

According to the same publication, six months later in October 1968 this allocation had changed to 3028T, 3127T, 3144T and 3289.  3289 was recorded as venturing far beyond the confines of Dubbo yard to clear wheat from silos as far afield as Wyanga, Binnaway, Wellington and Coonamble. 

This pattern of intermittent mainline and branch line working apparently continued throughout 1969.  While 3122T replaced 3144T at the start of 1969, it lasted only until August of that year.  Later in the year, the situation changed somewhat, which gave a chance for the steamers to work further afield.  The September 1969 Railway Digest noted that stock traffic were so heavy presently on the Coonamble line that Saturday stock specials were occurring.  This extraordinary use of Saturdays appears to be a matter of some civic concern!  Its conceivable that steam played a considerable role in this work.

One year later in October 1970, the Dubbo allocation of steam locomotives was reduced to just two - 3102T and 3289.  It was this month that 3237 replaced 3289 at Dubbo.

The following year’s Railway Digest noted that as late as June 1971 'the two Dubbo shunters are also kept very busy, 3102T keeping to the yard while 3237 ventures out to the various sidings’.  Very clearly, the opportunity for either locomotive to go for a trot beyond Troy Junction was very limited.  On 3 November 1971 3237 left Dubbo, being replaced by a heavier shunter (5408) which was not approved for operation on the Coonamble branch line beyond Troy Junction.

The real trooper in this story was 3102T, which did not depart Dubbo until much later, on 30 June 1972.  However, apparently its condition by this time was such that it could not be guaranteed to reach Enfield under its own power.  As a result, it was stripped at Dubbo, prior to being hauled dead to Sydney.

So, which of these candidates performed the duty of the last steam-hauled train in regular service on the Coonamble line?

Could 3122T have wheezed past Troy Junction in 1971 or 1972?  Its doubtful.  Apart from its duties in Dubbo yard, this loco’s general condition would have raised general concerns about its ability to handle any significant freight task on what was then a busy branch line.

A significantly greater possibility was 3237.  It was a more powerful and healthy locomotive, capable of handling large loads of freight on this very flat branch.  However, 3237’s sphere of operations was, by dint of administrative fiat and the reduction of watering facilities along the branch line by this time also pretty restricted. So, its also possible but highly unlikely that 3237 had the honour of leading the last steam-hauled train on the Coonamble branch line

This leaves 3289, as far back as 1970.  It is my sentimental favourite, for the following reasons.

In 1970, I was six years of age.  My great grandmother, a resident of Railway Street, Eumungerie, hosted us a couple of times each year.  I have a clear recollection of a trip made that year to Eumungerie, in the May NSW school holidays.

Being May, it was a very, very ‘fresh’ morning.  Only the kids and the grandparents were up and causing unwanted commotion.  After breakfast, my younger sister and I had the run of the entire village, such as things were in those days. 

This particular morning we were over in the railway stockyards amongst the brown snakes and black snakes, toughening up.  The parental supervision we should have had was still fast asleep, waiting for it to warm up outside and the second cup of tea to arrive

Upon reflection, this situation was probably not unwarranted.  I suppose it was still pretty early - probably before 8am.  Still, it was a bit of a shock to look southwards towards the station and see a very distinctive plume of white steam.  Steam!!!!

Like the very dutiful son that I remain to this very day, I beetled straight back to my grandmother’s house in order to alert the slumbering patriarchal figure in my life.  I must admit that it still rankles within me that I got a fairly dismissive grunt when I informed my Senior that a steam loco was in Eumungerie.  I recall being told that it was not possible.  I may have repressed what was actually said, but I wasn’t fluent in ‘grunt’ at the tender age of six.

Then, as if on queue, the arrival of my disappointment at this response coincided with a fairly lusty blast from a steam whistle.  No-one would accuse my father as possessing a turn of real pace (though I had cause to reassess this when I saw him spy a 50 dollar note on the ground just a few months ago), but this bright 1970 day was perhaps as close as anyone got to seeing real evidence of speed.

Over the next 20 seconds, children screamed, bed-clothes were thrown aside, cameras were clutched and someone did a cracking 70 metres across the street and the railway year in order to position one’s self on the sunny side of the track.  It is now time to present the result of that effort...

I need to going to return to this photograph in a future post, but only after it gets a bath in Photoshop.  But back to the issue at hand...

If 3289 was the most likely candidate for the last steam-hauled train on the Coonamble branch line was this morning when it ran up the branch for the very last time? 

If it wasn’t the very last time, it was certainly close to the last.  It is a tantalising thought.

After all this time, I cannot be certain that this was the last steam-hauled train on the Coonamble branch line, or even the last steam-hauled train on the Coonamble branch line hauled by a 32 class locomotive, or even hauled by 3289.  It was certainly near to the last.

And I can be certain of one more fact – this morning was the last time that 3289 was photographed on a freight on a frosty May morning in Eumungerie by a man who was wearing his pyjamas under a coat and trousers... happy Father’s Day, Dad!