≡ Menu

A Wartime Railcar

The need to move troops and goods as well as normal paying passengers during World War II placed an incredible burden on railways in Australia. Some lines that had been relatively sleepy backwaters suddenly became major arteries that were vital to the defence of the nation.

Perhaps the line that was least prepared for the task that had been thrust upon it was the 508km long North Australia Railway (NAR) that ran from Darwin south to Birdum. This line had been built by the Commonwealth Government and was operated by the Commonwealth Railways.

The 1067mm gauge line was opened in stages from 1889 to 1929 and the original intention was for the line to reach Alice Springs but the NAR never reached its final destination and the last train on the NAR ran in 1976.

Years later Darwin was connected by a standard gauge rail link to the rest of Australia and today heavy freight trains and modern airconditioned passenger trains run regular services but when World War II arrived on Australia’s doorstep the NAR was not ready for it.

Services were infrequent, the locomotive fleet was small and old … the very first loco to operate on the line was still in regular use. Haulage capacity was limited and suddenly the NAR was embroiled in a war that it certainly wasn’t ready for.

Construction of new locomotives was out of the question. The NAR needed locomotives fast and they couldn’t wait for them to be built so they were sourced from other 1067mm gauge railways around Australia.

But not everything could be borrowed or bought from other railways. Passenger traffic on the NAR had never been huge and at one time had been handled by a small fleet of passenger carriages and a single Sentinel steam railcar.

Unfortunately by the time war arrived in 1942 the Sentinel steam railcar was out of service. An accident in 1936 had damaged it beyond repair and it had never been replaced. However, when war arrived so did the need for a small passenger carrying vehicle and this time the Army stepped in to find a solution.

The Army’s solution was a Leyland Lynx 3 tonne (approx.) truck chassis. The rubber road tyres were replaced with flanged wheels and a body, similar to that of a bus, was added to the chassis. The new railcar arrived in 1941 and was immediately placed in service where it was operated by railway staff.

It could carry up to 25 passengers and was often coupled to a small van that had been originally used with the steam railcar.


The Leyland Lynx railcar photographed at Katherine during WWII

After the war ownership of the Leyland Lynx was passed to the Commonwealth and it remained in frequent service up until 1953 and was probably scrapped sometime after 1954.

The Leyland Lynx would make a rather interesting modelling project. Finding a single-axle power unit would be a challenge but not impossible. Perhaps the biggest challenge would be finding a plan.

Technical Details:

Length over coupling points: 24ft 9.5 inches

Total weight: 4 tons 8cwt

Fuel capacity: 24 gallons

Maximum speed: 30mph

In the above photo the Leyland Lynx railcar is not fitted with a cowcatcher however photos do exist that show a plain, sheetmetal cowcatcher fitted to the front of the vehicle.

Port Dock Railway Museum (1996). Locomotives and Railcars of the Commonwealth Railways: Gresley Publishing.

Photo courtesy of the Australian War Memorial


Australia’s First Diesel Locomotive

If I were to ask you to name the maker of Australia’s first locally built diesel locomotive I’m sure that most of you would have an answer but it’s unlikely that it would be the right answer.

Of course some people would nominate Clyde’s GM1 Class from 1951 while others might suggest the D1 Class shunters built for Australian Iron and Steel in 1950 but they would not be correct.

If you were from South Australia you might suggest that the two 350 Class shunters built by the South Australian Railways workshops in 1949 were the first but that would not be correct either.

If you were a Queenslander you would probably know that the Ipswich Railway Workshops built the first DL Class diesel locomotive in 1939 but that wasn’t the first Australian build diesel locomotive either.

This little 12 ton, 3 foot gauge, monster was one of three locomotives built by Armstrong Holland in 1930 and fitted with an imported engine1. These locomotives were built for use in the construction of Wyangala Dam in NSW that was being built by the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board2

the first diesel locomotive in Australia

One of the three diesel locomotives built in 1930 by Armstrong Holland seen here during the construction of the Somerset Dam in Queensland

In 1935 the locomotives, thought to be named Dulce, Jack and Archie, were in the possession of the Stanley River Works Board and were being used in the construction of the Somerset Dam. In 1949 Dulce was sold to a Mr Moore, sawmiller of Mt Hallon where it was subsequently scrapped without being used3.

Neither of the other two locomotives survived.

Armstrong Holland Pty Ltd
Not a whole lot is known about the firm of Armstrong Holland Pty Limited.

The company’s head office was located at 4 Bridge Street Sydney and Armstrong-Holland (Melb) Pty. Ltd. was located at 72 Market Street South Melbourne. The company had agents in all the other major capitals.

On a number of their brochures the company name was displayed without a hyphen while on other brochures a hyphen is used. The manufacturer’s name on the locomotive does have a hyphen.

On one of its brochures the company is described as “Australian Distributors for International Industrial Power” while other brochures clearly state that it was a manufacturer of heavy equipment ranging from graders and scrapers through to concrete and ashphalt plants.

Armstrong Holland built other motive power besides these three 12 ton locos. Three smaller 0-4-0PM tractors were built for Wyangala Dam in 1930-31 and they went on to work on the construction of Burrinjuck Dam and there may be others that I am yet to come across.

A note on Flickr (of all places)4 suggests that the company commenced business in the early 1920’s and faded away around 1980.



1. https://www.railpage.com.au/f-p177359.htm#177359

2. Information supplied by John Armstrong via email on the LRRSA email group – thread no. 7966

3. Information supplied by Richard Horne via email on the LRRSA email group – thread no. 7966

4, https://www.flickr.com/photos/94854784@N06/sets/72157641452797184/

Photo supplied by the State Library of New South Wales


Moving Cars by Rail

Moving cars by rail here in Australia has undergone a massive change over the years.

Back in the days of steam there were no specialised wagons. New cars being shipped by rail from the plant in one state to the distribution centre in other states would be loaded onto basic flat wagons.

There was nothing fancy … just two or three vehicles to a wagon lashed down with chains.

Then came double deck wagons that could carry twice the number of vehicles. At first the sides of these wagons were open but later the sides were covered to provide added protection.

And the vehicles … especially those at the front of the train … needed protection.

Back in the mid-1970s I spent a few months working for the NSW Datsun distributor. New vehicles were shipped up by rail from the plant in Melbourne and were moved from the unloading point to the distribution centre in Auburn by truck.

You could always tell which cars had been located at the front of the train and you could always tell which vehicles were located at the front of the front wagon because they were often covered in dirt and there was always a lot of paint damage.

The paint damage was caused by tiny pieces of the brake blocks from the loco that came off during braking and were picked up by the air flow and thrown back onto those vehicles in the front wagon.

Those tiny pieces were extremely hot and burnt into the duco on the vehicles at the front.

Obviously it wasn’t an ideal situation … the expense of repairing brand new cars that needed a lot of expensive paintwork before they could be sold was an expense no one wanted … but there were few alternatives back then.

Since then moving cars by rail has become almost a thing of the past. Road transport is now the way most new vehicles are shipped around the eastern states but rail isn’t entirely out of the loop.

A new system that has been introduced by Toll may see moving cars by rail make a comeback.


The Silver City Comet

Silver City Comet at Moss ValeThe Silver City Comet was the first complete air conditioned train to operate in Australia and it was also the first all diesel air conditioned train to operate anywhere in the British Empire … something that the New South Wales Government Railways were immensely proud of.

The requirement was for a train that would provide fast, reliable and comfortable travel for passengers who needed to get to Broken Hill … 970km from Parkes. It also had to be reliable and economical.

The result were 5 power cars built by the Railways own Eveleigh Carriage Workshops, 12 carriages built by Richie Bros of Auburn and 2 parcel vans built by Eveleigh Workshops.

The very first Silver City Comet consisted of one power car, one first class carriage and one second class carriage that also contained buffet facilities. It left Parkes on September 27, 1937.

Silver City Comet at Centr

PH101 at Central Railway Station prior to departing on it’s test run to Moss Vale

A little over 62 years later the final service ran on November 3 1989. In those 62 years the power cars had only had one major rebuild.

The Silver City Comet always connected with the Central West Express … or it’s precursors … and in later years when the Express was changed to run to Dubbo instead of Parkes the Comet was extended to Orange to continue that connection.

More modern passenger trains and railcars came and went on other lines and the loco hauled Central West Express morphed into an XPT but the Comet kept on doing what it was designed to do. The fanfare and the novelty had worn off and their design was definitely dated but they were reliable.

One XPT driver who arrived in Orange for the first time in 1982 was surprised to see such an old train waiting on the other platform.

“I was in the cab of XP2006 on one of the early runs to Dubbo, nearly fell out of my chair when we pulled into Orange and I saw that at the other platform. I had no idea such trains still existed, let alone were in daily use in 1982.”

I took this photo of the Silver City Comet at Orange East Fork on its inbound journey in 1989. By that stage the cars that made up the Comet set had worn three different paint schemes.

Silver City Comet

The original paint scheme was silver with a blue stripe but in the 1950s that was changed to tuscan with yellow lining and in the 1960s that scheme was changed to a pale grey with blue lining.

The power cars
The 5 power cars were numbered 101 to 105 and were classified as the 100 Class with the coding PV although that coding was changed to PH fairly soon after their introduction. In the 1950s the four surviving power cars were rebuilt and coded as DP.

Silver City Comet

The original engine compartment in the power cars

As built these cars had cabs at each end and three compartments in between. The main compartment housed the engines … originally two inline 8-cylinder Harland and Wolff diesels.

The second compartment contained generator sets and other equipment while the third compartment was designed to carry the guard and up to 3.5 tonnes of luggage.

Power from the two diesel engines was transmitted to the inner axle of each bogie via a coupling to an overdrive gearbox and then to a Voith Sinclair Turbo Transmission. Two of the power cars had a top speed of 128km/h while the other three were limited to 112km/h.

The Harland and Wolff engines proved to be lacking in power and because of this the parcel vans were only used infrequently although they did see more use once the power cars were re-engined and lost their luggage capacity.

Silver City Comet test run

The Silver City Comet pauses for an inspection on it’s test run to Moss Vale

During the 1950’s rebuild the original engines on the four remaining power cars were replaced with four GM 6-110 engines. While the transmission components were changed the method of transferring power from the engines to the axles remained the same.

Extra room was needed to house the new engines and so the luggage space was absorbed into the engine compartment.

Silver City Comet passenger car

Interior of one of the Silver City Comet passenger carriages

The carriages
Ritchie Bros of Auburn built 12 air conditioned carriages for use on the Silver City Comet. Four first-class carriages were coded BT … four economy class carriages were coded RFT because they contained buffet facilities … and four straight economy class carriages were coded FT.

Silver City Comet passenger carriage

Publicity shot of the interior of a Comet carriage

The parcel vans
While the power cars and carriages from the Silver City Comet were rarely seen in Sydney the parcel vans were frequent visitors to Central and even I recall seeing one of them around Sydney yard from time to time.

When in use they would be attached to the Forbes Mail (in either direction?) and left at either Parkes or Orange to be attached to the Comet.

While these units were built for use in western New South Wales they were used at times in other parts of the state and at least one test run was conducted between Sydney and Moss Vale before the first unit entered service.

Between 1939 and 1945 two of the power cars were used on trains between Sydney and Canberra and for a short period in 1940 the other three power cars were transferred to Sydney.  Industrial action by coal miners had produced a coal shortage and the three power cars were used to haul trains between Sydney and Newcastle.

This has really only been a very condensed history of these unusual units and there is a lot more information available if you care to search for it.

Silver City Comet at Darnick

The Comet arrives at Darnick near Ivanhoe.

The beginning of the end
The first power car to be withdrawn was PH105. It was destroyed by fire in January 1950 when it collided with a truck.

DP102 was the next to go. It was condemned after a level crossing accident in August 1982 but remained at Parkes until it was scrapped some years later.


DP102 outside the Comet shed in Parkes on August 31, 1982. Photo courtesy of Bob Richardson


DP101 is now on display in Broken Hill with four carriages. DP103 and several carriages are now part of the Dorrigo Steam Railway and Museum’s collection and DP104 and several carriages are now on display at the NSW Rail Transport Museum at Thirlmere

The Silver City Comet made its last run in November 1989 and was replaced by a bus … a sad ending to a service that helped connect people in remote areas to the major population centres.

DP101 hit a truck in 1963

In 1963 DP101 had an altercation with a large truck … there are no notes with the photo to indicate where the accident happened but obviously level crossing accidents are nothing new.

All black and white photos come from the State Library of NSW and are used with their permission.

 Cooke, D (1984). Railmotors and XPTs. Sydney:Australian Railway Historical Society, New South Wales Division

Wikipedia. Silver City Comet; accessed 5 September 2014

Facebook. Parkes Rail Group; accessed 5 September 2014


More Lineside Detail

Way back in the late 1970s Model Railroader published an article by Earl Smallshaw. It was Earl’s view that the front of a building wasn’t half as interesting as the back of a building … especially when it came to the tenaments found in major US cities .. and that idea has always stuck in my mind.

Even here in Australia the back of a building can be a whole lot more interesting than the front … and modelling the back of a row of town buildings can deliver a much more interesting scene than modelling the scene from the street.

I took this photo in Childers (Queensland) a couple of weeks ago when the lineside detail caught my eye.

The street side of this view is your usual bustling and prosperous country town. Lots of cars, lots of trees … and quite a few people. And that would be interesting to model but what’s out back … along the railway line … is even more interesting.


Click the image for a bigger version of the photo minus all the numbers and arrows.

There are public toilets sheltering under a shady tree (1) … a pile of used tyres (2) waiting to be shipped off to a recycler … 40′ containers (3) … an open shed that you could load up with detail (4) … the back end of the town’s swimming pool complete with pumps and filters (5) … a beautiful old wooden structure that has a very imposing facade facing the street (6) … and the 610mm gauge track that’s part of the Isis sugar mill’s cane line network.

On the town side of the track the grass is neatly cut while on the other side it’s not so neat. There are plenty of trees and they tower over most of the buildings … and there aren’t many fences.

This might be a cane railway but that doesn’t mean that the trackwork isn’t kept in top condition. This photo was taken before any pre-season maintenance work was done yet where are the weeds and the grass growing between the rails.

Here at least the trackwork is in good condition with plenty of clean ballast in place … and there are warning signs for the loco drivers too. The one facing away from the camera warns drivers that they are approaching a busy level crossing.

You could spend weeks modelling all the lineside detail that you can see in this photo and it would be a real talking point for visitors.


Railway Sheds

Long before recycling became fashionable … and a necessity … the various state railways around Australia were into recycling in a big way. Of course they weren’t thinking of recycling … they were just making sensible use of equipment that still had some life left in it.

For example when an open wagon was surplus to requirements you could remove the sides and ends and use the frame as the basis for a container wagon.

The need to carry horses may have passed but there was plenty of life left in the underframes of the wagons that had been used for horse transport so why not build passenger carriages on those underframes.

Suburban power cars might have passed their use-by dates but the bogies still had plenty of life in them so why not have Clyde use them under a new class of branchline locos?

And there were times when the reverse applied and the body was fine but the underframe was beyond repair or no longer suitable for a use on a modern railway.

Here are two examples:

At some stage there was a need for a simple storage shed in the yard at Bathurst and somewhere on the system was an old HG guards van that was no longer required and here is the result photographed sometime after 1978.


It may have fairly dilapidated to begin with but after years on the ground in Bathurst it looked even worse.

In Queensland the move away from 4-wheel rolling stock saw a number of wagon classes removed from operation despite being in relatively good condition.

The ALY steel louvered vans were one group of wagons that still had a lot of life left in them and what better use for these steel-bodied vans started finding their way into various railway yards.

I photographed this one in the yard at Mungar on the North Coast mainline a couple of years ago.


While modelling the old HG may be something of a challenge modelling the QR ALY is going to be a little easier thanks to Southern Rail Models who have grounded bodies available with or without graffiti.



Modelling Grain Storage

These days there are some great individual kits available if your modelling grain storage facilities but if you live in the city it can be hard to know just how all these kits can fit together.

A couple of weeks ago my partner and I headed west … a long way west … and I spotted these two grain storage facilites just west of Dalby (in Queensland). Both examples could look good on a model layout and the photos should give you some idea of how these facilities are set out.

Trucks obviously feature in the supply chain for these facilities and, being Queensland, you just know that they’re going to be big trucks. Just out of view on the right-hand side of the second photo was a B-double that appeared to be empty and on the way out the gate.

The facility in the first photo can ship by rail while the second larger grain storage facility may not be served by rail at all even though it does sit beside the railway line.

grain storage facilities

Grain storage facilities


Chasing Cane Trains

Here at the southern end of the Queensland sugar belt harvesting is in full swing so the weekend before last we decided that we would go and do a bit of cane train chasing. At this time of year you’re sure to see plenty of trains … at least that’s what we thought.

So we headed north to Childers where there was nothing to be seen and some of the rails looked a bit rusty. We pressed on up the Isis Highway and took the turn off that leads down to the Isis Sugar Mill.

The yard was stuffed full of loaded cane bins but there was not a loco in sight. So we headed down towards the Cordalba pub … there was bound to be a cane train working somewhere along that line … but of course we were wrong.

We did see Isis No.10 and two ballast hoppers stowed in the small yard that’s just south of where the dual track ends but that was it. There was nothing happening around Cordalba so we followed the road down to the Isis Highway and turned north.

cane trains

I expected to find something at Alf’s Pad … and we did but I wasn’t quite ready for Isis No5. It had put together a long string of full bins and was waiting to leave. Unfortunately we were stuck in a long line of traffic turning around was not going to be easy so we decided to continue north and take the shortcut across to Wallaville … surely there would be something happening there.

Burnett in the Wallaville compound waiting for its next outing on local cane trains

Burnett in the Wallaville compound

Wallaville is an out depot of Bingera Mill and two of the Mill’s smaller locos are usually stationed there to work the branches that radiate out from Wallaville. They take the empties out and bring the loaded bins back so that one of the Mill’s larger locos can collect them and take them back to the Mill.

Invicta in the Wallaville compound ... that fence sure does ruin some good shots :(

Invicta in the Wallaville compound waiting for its next call to duty on local cane trains

And of course when we got to Wallaville nothing was happening. It was so not happening that Invicta and Burnett … the two locos assigned to Wallaville … were locked in the compound and the yard was empty apart from a couple of short strings of empties.

Somebody had an 'oops' moment at the end of one of the sidings in Wallaville yard

Somebody had an ‘oops’ moment at the end of one of the sidings in Wallaville yard. That’s the main line back to Bingera Mill in the foreground.

Ok … so maybe we should head for Millaquin Mill … there’s sure to be something loco action there. But of course there wasn’t … just another yard stuffed full of loaded bins and not a loco in sight … and no sign of anything along any of Millaquin’s lines that we passed on the way home.

So after 400km we managed to see just four locos and not one of them was moving … but there’s always next time.



The End of Signalling

No trackside signals and trains following each other with 4 minute headways … it’s impressive technology but I wonder what happens when it stops working and takes some time to recover?

{ 1 comment }

Coal Trains in Queensland

When you think of coal trains in Queensland it’s almost guaranteed that you’re going to be thinking of high-horsepower locos … distributed power … and long trains of high-capacity hoppers snaking through central Queensland heading for the ports of Gladstone or Mackay.

And that’s pretty much the way it is … in central Queensland. But these are not the only coal trains in Queensland. On the line that stretches inland from Brisbane coal also dominate but the coal trains in this part of Queensland are quite different.

Unfortunately the big hoppers used on the system in central Queensland won’t fit the smaller loading gauge for the line west of Brisbane and nor will the locos used in central Queensland so you can forget long trains, high-horsepower units and distributed power.

The coal trains that service the mines west of Toowoomba are shorter, use older, lower-capacity hoppers and fewer, lower-powered locos too. In fact these trains have just two 2300 class diesels on the front.

Locos in the 2300 class are rebuilds of two earlier classes. They feature a turbo-charged EMD 12-645E3C engine that produces 1655kW/2250HP1.

Here are three videos that feature the arrival, loading and departure of a coal train at one of the loading points west of Toowoomba.

1. Info from Qrig.org