6029 is owned by the Australian Railway Historical Society, ACT Division and the restoration is proudly supported by their tourist operations and by the generous donations of members and public supporters.
The society operates rail tours out of Canberra with our heritage fleet of steam and diesel locomotives and rolling stock every few weeks.
To travel in style on any of our tours, or to learn more about our collection and operations, go to Canberrarailwaymuseum.org

Jun 18, 2015

Winter Safari, and getting some miles under the wheels

Its been a while since I last posted an update on what is happening with the Garratt, but you can be assured that things have certainly been happening. 

Since the first trip to Thirlmere, we have used the Garratt for a couple of trips to Bungendore, including its first night time trip at Easter, and it has had its first unassisted mainline trip from Mossvale to Goulburn and return with a train for 3801 Limited  that originated in Sydney. These trips have been used to both train crew, and progressively prove the loco, with the result of a few areas needing a little attention and improvement.

The mainline trip was a little special as the loco was towed in light steam from Canberra to Mossvale, very early in the morning by a diesel to meet the train, in order to save coal and water, allowing the whole trip to be done on one bunker of coal. Once at Mossvale, the diesel was left behind and the real work started. As the trip from Mossvale to Goulburn and return was unassisted, there was no room for error, and the Garratt proved very capable of hauling a decent rake of carriages on its own.  

Following the success of this trip, focus was turned to preparations and planning for the next big adventure, a trip that was dubbed the Winter Safari, and planned for the June long weekend here in New South Wales. Lots of planning, some last minute changes and lots of maintenance work on the Garratt and our fleet of carriages was planned and undertaken. With this work completed, the cab is noticeably cleaner and safer, and the risk of oil spills and tools floating around on the floor is pretty much eliminated.

One of the biggest undertakings, was to remove the second brake stand from the cab of the Garratt. This allowed us to address one of our major concerns when operating the loco, that of safe storage space for oil cans and crew bags, issues that had shown up on the earlier runs. With this work completed, the cab is noticeably cleaner and safer, and the risk of oil spills and tools floating around on the floor is pretty much eliminated. Among other works performed on the Garratt was the replacement of a number of bricks in the arch that had proven too small for service, our annual boiler exam, the front tank was removed to allow some work to be undertaken on the lubrication system that was giving trouble and some pipework was fitted to allow through train watering on the long trip.

Even then, preparation for the massive adventure to Junee and Wagga Wagga was not restricted to the Garratt or the previous week. Many, many hours of man power was put into the essential checks, maintenance and simple logistics of such a long distance trip. As the Garratt had not performed such a long distance trip in some 30 odd years, it was in the back of everyone’s minds that there were, potentially, many issues that could possibly arise during the tour. Therefore as much as possible, all the i's were dotted and the t's crossed before we left. Coal was ordered and left in Junee for us to use while we were there, even more was bagged and loaded into the old freight car we have, along with wood for light-up purposes. Telehandlers were hired and placed in Harden and Junee and the Harden fire brigade was put on notice to supply water for us as we passed.

Other preparations involved the assembly of one of the largest and longest trains we have seen in Canberra for a very long time. The train would consist of the Garratt, heritage diesel 4403,the Jumbo(aka 44208) and almost every operational sleeper and sitting cars we have, 2 power cars, a water gin and the gondola filled with coal and wood, it was an effort and a half just to assemble it all into an order that would not exceed any limits and still be suitable for passengers. The logistics just to confirm the cars were fit to travel, cleaned, marshalled and then tested as a consist was no small effort – thanks have to go to the train maintenance crew and the various shunters for their efforts in this area.

Come Friday afternoon, the train departed Canberra for the relatively short trip to Goulburn where upon arrival, two key activities were performed. The Garratt was cut off and dispatched to the loco shed for preparation including watering and checking of oil and various other components including a crew change. The second activity was was somewhat larger and more complex. We had arranged to use a number of carriages from 3801 Limited and Goulburn was where we would meet them and combine the two trains into a massive train of some 26 cars with 2 diesels and the Garratt up front for the overnight trip to Junee. The whole train was made up and resulted in a total weight of some 1600 tons and 600+ meters in length...probably the longest passenger train on the road for many decades.

With  4501 and 4403 in the lead and then the Garratt, the consist commenced its journey west at 11.30 pm with many passengers probably not able to sleep due to the excitement despite the late hour. Some will not be named to protect the innocent but are known to have played golf for a short while.

The journey to Junee involved a stop at Harden for crew changes and water changes. The stop was made around 4am in the very cold and misty morning however it did not deter the diehard rail fans. They were on bridges, platforms and other vantage spots along the journey. This was indeed going to be a very memorable “first” for all – a Garratt hauling a long train for a weekend of short runs and two glorious long runs one at night and one during the day.

The Garratt was kept travelling under light steam light for most of the journey to Junee, however with a train this size, the Garratt was called upon to assist at times when the going got a little slow. I suspect a few horses have escaped from the old diesels over the years. Travelling light allowed the crew to assess the Garratt and ensure that not only was coal consumption minimized throughout the night but also that we could as best as possible maintain the timetable set down for us.

The approach into Junee is a long straight run, and mostly parallel to the road. The Garratt did not let the viewers down. Looking back towards the sunrise from the the cab of the 45 one could see a magnificent cloud of steam and light smoke pouring skyward and streaming back over the train against the early dawn light. For the diesel crew, Slim in particular, this was just a brilliant sight. It took some of the volunteers 8 years to get to this point and Slim only 3, but it was heaven on a stick to see!  

The order of the morning upon arrival at Junee was to clean and prepare the Garratt for the day’s shuttles between Wagga Wagga and Bomen. This meant the Garratt was uncoupled and moved up to the roundhouse at the Junee to clear the ashpan, fill the water and oil the loco for the day ahead. While this was happening, the two diesels were left rearrange the train into an order suitable for the days shuttles and to leave the stuff we didn't need in Junee. This eventually saw not much more than the sitting cars coupled up with 4501 while the Garratt was serviced.

Unfortunately we left Goulburn late after needing to allow a wheat train to proceed before us and with the the complex and demanding shunt in a very tricky yard with many catch points, we were not coupled up to the Garratt until quite late. The crews and staff were sorry to be late and felt compelled to apologise to patrons as they had all waited so long for their view of the Garratt. Finally however, we were ready, clearance was given from network control and we were able to proceed down to the station at Junee, pick up some passengers and head south to Wagga Wagga. The Garratt lead the charge into Wagga Wagga for the day.

Our entrance into Wagga Wagga across the viaduct and into the platform for the first shuttle of the day was late, and we apologize to those who had waited patiently for us to arrive at the station. There was a seriously large number of people spread along the platform and the sight of so many people from Wagga Wagga coming down to see and ride on the train was simply brilliant and made us feel very welcome. They did not stop coming all day long, young and old all wanting to ride, but more importantly to see the largest steam engine in the southern hemisphere running on their doorstep! Literally on their doorstep if you consider some of the houses in Harden

Some say that firing and driving a steam engine is a dream come true and it is for every crew who gets the opportunity to get dirty,  and it is an experience never to be forgotten, with such an awe inspiring engineering marvel like 6029. It is indeed all this and so more, but it is also exhausting dirty work. The shuttles required vigilance and hard work for all involved, something that the crews gave happily even though they looked tired and worn out at the end of the day. Seven full shuttles to Bomen and back and a trip to Uranquinty were hard hot work, but we loved it and look forward to possibly doing the same next year!

Thanks as always to Howard Moffat, Bevan and Ross Wall, for the pictures and video content they generously allow us to use on the blog. Without their contribution of time and expertise, there would be very little to see here, and likely no blog at all to keep everyone across what is happening.