Canberra Heritage Rail – 8th December 2012
Canberra Heritage Rail is the Canberra (ACT) division of the Australian Railway Historical Society. They operate main line trains using historical steam and diesel locomotives, the diesels they currently operate are solid Alco with the choice being DL500 44 class, 4403 or DL531 48 Class, 4807. During the run up to Christmas, generally in December, the group run Diner & Dance trains from Canberra to Tarago and return, 2012 being no exception, in fact they were so popular in 2012 that an additional train was put in at late notice to run on 30th November.
When the trains are well loaded they often have to use both the 44 & 48 to get up the 1:40 gradients towards Tarago so before we headed out a polite question was asked if this could be the case on the day we’d picked to fit the train into our schedule. The answer being a very positive one indeed.
Saturday 8th December 2012
It had been a morning of flying, bizarrely to get to Canberra for any sort of reasonable time in the afternoon we had to fly via Sydney or Melbourne. The first direct flight Adelaide to Canberra not getting there until after 1600, which was a bit too tight for our 1815 departure from Canberra that night. At least we had time to nip into town and sample a few beers before the train that evening with flying via Sydney.
We were back at the station for about 1745 where people were already waiting for the train, dressed in some sort of fancy dress type gear. It turned out these folk were the entertainment on board and at Tarago so we’d not missed any memo! The stock was just being shunted out of the museum area, over the back of the station, 4807 leading 4403 and load 10. As had been the story of our trip thus far it soon became apparent that 4807 wasn’t doing anything during the shunting, something we all thought, or hoped more than thought, would be due to it being switched out to save fuel or something along those lines. The driver unfortunately confirmed otherwise. 4807 had suffered a burst cylinder liner which was chucking out oil quite badly when under power. As a result it would remain on the train but switched out, just in case the 44 didn’t make it up the hill to Tarago on the heavy load. Only if it slipped to a stand would the 48 be used to help over the hills.
Of course we were all a bit disappointed at not having the 48 but hope was still on our side. Little did we realise just how hard 4403 was going to have to work to get to Tarago. We’d been allocated the compartment right behind the locos, with opening windows and barn door style doors at the front. The train was a diner so food would be served at our seats, in between us being constantly up and down to listen to 4403 hammering away on the front.
At times 4403 was flat out on full power, doing nothing more than waking pace, for 10 minutes at a time. It slipped a few times on the dry rails, each time I thought the 48 would surely be switched in but no, the driver confidently fanned the power handle and sanded as he needed until he regained control and then left 4403 wide open again until the next time it slipped. It was nothing short of cracking driving and one of the best runs I’ve ever had off a 12 cylinder Alco. You could tell just how hard 4403 was being worked when we went through tunnels, the exhaust being too hot to contemplate keeping your head out. Unfortunately my bellowing came to a rather abrupt end and I was confined to keeping my my head inside due to a very untimely bout of sneezing and eye watering; hayfever! The thrash up to Tarago was definitely worth the consequent evening of suffering. A few cold beers helped ease the situation when we got there though.
Before departure we tried to talk the General Manager into allowing the 48 to be used on the way back, just between two points, but he just wasn’t willing to risk it and quite rightly so; you don’t get if you don’t ask though. Another place where a return looked likely……..
The run back into Canberra that night was a lot quicker than the outward run. It was a late arrival back though, after midnight, but luckily we’d seen sense to book a hotel as close to the station as we could get. The lay in before our flight to Hobart in Tasmania the following morning was going to be a very welcome one.