Before undertaking a tree-change relocation to Junee in early 2015, I had resided at suburban Loftus in the Sutherland Shire since 1955. This was on a double 44-ft block at 26-28 First Avenue, in the centre of which was located a typical 1950s style fibro-asbestos dwelling with a simple single car lock-up garage. The latter became home for my model railway layout, doubling in size around 2010… but that is another story!
From 1975, this block became the home for a 2-ft (610mm) gauge railway – originally intended to be only static, but later grew to become operational. No Council approvals were sought or gained – the railway just “grew”, until finally it was around 150-ft (less than 50m) in length, stretching from the front fence to run between the house and the garage, thence by a ninety degrees left have curve around the back of the house to the side fence. An elevated inspection pit was subsequently constructed. While it operated infrequently, the whole of Loftus knew of its existence and I became known as the “train man”. No complaints were ever received about its operation.
In late 2014, I received an offer for my property too good to refuse – a sale eventuated, resulting in the railway being closed and dismantled. This is the story of the Weavering Light Railway.
Peter Neve OAM
Introduction – The background story
To set the scene – Since childhood, I have had an interest in railways, real and model. Following an extended rail tour of Queensland in 1964, I developed a liking of Australian narrow gauge, which (unlike the British definition) covers gauges of less than 3’6” (or 1067mm), but in particular, 2’0” (610mm) and sugar tramways.
Repeat visits in the early 1970s revealed that a number of steam locomotives of various makes and models, displaced by dieselisation in the 1950s and subsequently placed in parks, etc., were becoming very run-down, eyesores, prone to graffiti attacks and vandalism and thus complaints from (in particular) the local residents.
I particularly liked two such locomotives, which, whilst looking “bad”, appeared to be in reasonable condition.
Inquiries with the local Councils disclosed a desire to rid themselves of the problem and so, by early-1975 and in exchange for a mere couple of hundred dollars worth of playground equipment, I became the proud owner of two steam locomotives (as-is,where-is) … a Hunslet 0-4-2T of 1915 vintage and a locally-constructed 0-6-2T Perry, built in 1939. Both were transferred by road to my Loftus address, arriving in May and August 1975 respectively. Here they joined a 48hp Ruston diesel loco and an internal combustion track inspection vehicle.
Weavering Light Railway – Loftus
A short section of track had been laid in the front yard of my residence in Loftus, a southern Sydney suburb in the Sutherland Shire. At this stage, it was solely my intention to save the locomotives from being scrapped – simply to undertake some cosmetic retoration for static preservation. No consideration had been given to the possibility of restoring any of the items to operational condition.
However, after several years in static storage, I decided to ascertain whether the Hunslet locomotive could be returned to operational condition. Following a cold water hydrostatic test which evidenced that the boiler was usable, the necessary repairs were carried out. These included the replacement of all plumbing, fitting of two safety valves and water gauges, together with the manufacture and fitting of two new side tanks to hold both water and fuel, together with a new ash-pan. The boiler was subsequently inspected on 5/8/1980 under the Factories, Shops and Industries Act, 1962, Boiler and Pressure Vessel Regulations and certifed to operate at a maximum boiler pressure of 130 lbs per square inch.
The Hunslet was subsequently steamed on an irregular basis, perhaps three or four times a year – one such occasion being in conjunction with a bus tour by the ARHS/ACT to the Sydney Tramway Museum at Loftus on Sunday 27/7/1997.
By early 2001, the Hunslet was experiencing boiler tube problems – not surprising as these were the tubes in use at the time of the withdrawal of the loco from service at the Mill 40-plus years earlier. All 44-tubes were replaced with new steel tubes – but only after the boiler barrel had been internally examined and found to be in good order. The loco was recertified for service in October that year.
The final locomotive to be obtained was another steam engine, this time an 0-6-0 tender-tank type, built by John Fowler in 1900 – being delivered in February 1983. It was originally an 0-6-0 tank locomotive, but in subsequent years, a separate bogie tender was added. It had been fitted with a new boiler in 1932, while in 1965 it was fully overhauled to become a standby locomotive to the Hudswell-Clarke 0-6-0 tender locos at the Colonial Sugar Refining Co’s Victoria Mill near Ingham in North Queensland, but received minimal use. Mechanically and boiler-wise, the locomotive was in good condition, although some parts (in particular, the stuffing box for the throttle) had been removed, presumably to keep other locomotives operational. Over the years, the tender body has deteriorated considerably. Initial steps to restore the locomotive to its original tank type have seen the construction of two replacement side-tanks.
The future of both the Perry and Fowler steam locomotives will be discussed in a subsequent Progress Report.
With the introduction of the original (NSW) Rail Safety Act in, from memory, 2002 – which was intended to cover all railways and tramways with a gauge of 600mm and above – I was able to gain an exemption. This meant inter-alia that it was not necessary for me to prepare all the written accreditation requirements that the main line operators and tourist railways etc. were required to do. Subsequent revisions of the Act saw this exemption carried forward, thank heavens!
In all the years that the WLR operated at Loftus, I was subject to only one inspection by the Regulator – from which I was required to produce a basic procedures manual for the preparation, operation and stabling of both steam and diesel locomotives. A short time later, I was requested to provide full particulars of the interface arrangements between my railway and the Government rail system. This was despite the fact that there was no interface at all – in fact several hundred metres separated our respective boundary fences! The request was later withdrawn!
Back in 1975, the requisite “Tickets” to operate steam locomotive boilers were issued through the (NSW) Department of Labour and Industries, later to become WorkCover. This is how I obtained my fire-tube boilers Ticket, along with the next Ticket “up” to drive reciprocating steam engines.
After a lengthy period of gestation, this State-based system was replaced by an Australia-wide one, recognising one’s qualifications throughout the country. As such, I now hold a National Licence for BB basic boiler operation, BA advanced boiler operation, ES reciprocating steam engine operation and TO turbine operation.
Demise of the Weavering Light Railway
During September-October 2014, I was hospitalised three times, including a period in intensive care. On being released for the third time and pondering my future, I received an offer to purchase my Loftus residence which was too good to refuse… particularly when I could purchase small acreage in a country town such as Junee, enough for a “real” hobby railway, for less than half the amount received. At Junee, I would also be closer to those would could act as informal carers for me. Hence the decision was made to relocate.
The last operations on the WLR took place on 15th January 2015 when all locomotives and rollingstock were removed by road. During the following weeks, all track and other equipment were recovered.
The WLR owes its operating life in particular to Paul Dove, also the late Barry Tulloch and Paul Simpson. Many thanks, guys, for your help!