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North West Group Goes Down Under 11 June 2016

Members of the North West Group braved torrential rain to meet in Central Manchester on Saturday 11 June 2016, to hear local member Peter Ainley describe the narrow gauge railways he saw during a recent visit to family in Australia, and to watch his videos of trips on three separate lines.

We began our tour two hours east of Melbourne, in the former gold mining community of Walhalla, which was linked to the main Victorian Railways network in 1910 by the 2ft 6in gauge Moe – Walhalla line, the last of four such lines built in Victoria around the same time as the L&B. A number of heritage attractions in the area (former gold mines, the “wild west” style town, etc.) draw in visitors, who can also travel 4km along the winding creek (reminiscent of the Aberglaslyn Pass) on a reopened section of the old line, now called the Walhalla Goldfields Railway. Although a steam loco sometimes visits for Gala weekends, the line is usually diesel operated.

Since the Walhalla Goldfields Railway is twinned with the L&B, we ought to know a little more about it.  Below are a few screenshots from Peter’s video, to show a little of the line and the bush country through which it passes.

1. Walhalla station from the buffers. A train of two VR coaches and a modern observation car waits to depart.

2. The train winds its way slowly among the gum trees and tree ferns.

3. The diesel loco, with coupling rods on its bogies!

4. Not quite Lancey Brook Viaduct! The bridge over the Thomson River.

5. The view from the train of the adjacent road (?) bridge as it crosses the river bridge

6. Aberglaslyn Down Under?

We then moved an hour or so west into the Dandenong Ranges, nearer the suburbs of Melbourne, to the famous fifteen-mile “Puffing Billy” line (another of the four VR NG lines). This line is a major tourist attraction, its fleet of VR-built Baldwin-clone Class NA 2-6-2T locos (which strongly resemble our Lyn) and a Garratt, hauling passengers between the end of the suburban network at Belgrave and the small rural town of Gembrook.  Peter had joined crowds of Chinese tourists (it was their New Year holiday) for a trip over half the line, from Belgrave to Lakeside, successfully playing the “we’re building a replica Baldwin” card, to be offered a footplate ride from Menzies Creek to Lakeside (the writer turns green with envy at this point, having failed to achieve this privilege during a visit some years ago…).

Finally, we ventured 500km south, across the Bass Strait to Queenstown on the west coast of Tasmania, where we saw video of the 3ft 6in gauge West Coast Wilderness Railway – specifically the eastern part between Queenstown and the quaintly-named Dubbil Barril, with a steam-hauled train (loco built by Dubs in Glasgow) traversing an adhesion section followed by a rack section over a saddle in the mountains, with 1 in 16 to 1 in 20 gradients.

At the end of this tour, everyone expressed their thanks to Peter for his descriptions of the lines, printed map handouts, and video footage.

The next meeting of the NW Group will be in the autumn, and details will be announced in due course.

Bob Barnard

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