A Descriptive History of Hotham Valley Tourist Railway
Because of the steep grades and small radius curves on this line, special locomotives were required for operation. With the cessation of steam locomotive operation in Western Australia in 1971, many were stowed at Collie awaiting their fate. The Mountain type “W” class, which had worked the Dwellingup line during the latter years of steam, was found to be the most suitable and four of this type were purchased by Hotham Valley. As a fine representative of the remarkable locomotives operated by the many timber companies in the district, Hotham Valley has G class type locomotive, No. 71, “Menzies” donated by Millars (WA) Pty Ltd in 1977.
The former Pinjarra Loco Depot buildings, leased to a local fuel agent since becoming redundant during the 1960’s, were leased to Hotham Valley in March 1976. Turnouts, track and sleepers were collected from many sources and re-laid and the two parallel ash pits were excavated and timber capping replaced. The depot was officially opened on 17th July 1977 by Westrail’s then Metropolitan District Engineer, Mr Don Pearce, who drove home a gold dog spike in the time-honored manner.
Steam returned to the Hotham Valley Railway on 12th September 1976 when W 920, aided by a Westrail “F” class diesel electric locomotive, hauled a hired special from Perth up into the ranges to Dwellingup. “Double headed” steam locomotive operation from Pinjarra commenced in Autumn 1978 with the return to traffic of W 945. Subsequently, W 903 joined the Hotham Valley operational fleet in October 1979 and a fourth, W908, came into service in 1988. These locomotives have been used regularly in the cooler months from May to October on Forest Ranger picnic trains to Dwellingup.
Hotham Valley’s operations have expanded dramatically in recent years. To augment the Dwellingup operation, an extensive program of diesel and steam hauled tours – ranging from half day to three days duration – is operated each year over a wide area radiating from Perth or from Hotham Valley’s steam depot at Pinjarra.
In order to reduce the dependence on Westrail’s ageing wooden coaches, Hotham Valley initiated a world wide search in 1987 for second-hand, modern steel coaches that would meet the needs of the railway for a very long time into the future. The outcome of this search was the acquisition of a large fleet of eminently suitable coaches from South Africa in 1988. These former third class sleeping cars have been converted to first and tourist class saloon coaches (Two with Buffets) and are now used on most trains. One Dining Car and one Galley/Kitchen Car have also been fitted out in more recent years.
On long-distance steam hauled tours, large mainline tankers are used as water support for the locomotives. Donated by Shell, these former fuel tankers have played a vital part in operating steam locomotives in areas from where suitable service facilities have long disappeared. Wagons also suitable for carrying coal have also been purchased by Hotham Valley.
The first building project
undertaken by Hotham valley was notable for its sheer size. A shed measuring 106
by 18 meters was erected in the north east corner of the Dwellingup Station yard
in 1982. Site preparation included removing 3,100 cubic meters of gravel and
rock. Volunteers laid four railway tracks into the shed which now houses the
sleeping cars as well as the locomotives and coaches used on the popular Etmilyn
Forest Tramway and Etmilyn Forest Diner services.
Extra shelter has also been erected at Pinjarra to accommodate two locomotives, while at Dwellingup a refreshment kiosk was built on the platform and the old booking hall and Station Master’s office became a souvenir sales area.
Although not constructed by Hotham Valley, one of the most significant buildings to come under the control of the society is the former Westrail trainmen’s barracks adjacent to the Pinjarra loco depot. The elimination of Pinjarra as a train crewing depot in 1986 made the barracks redundant and Hotham Valley was able to lease the premises. Following the provision of a ladies ablution block, the barracks now provided excellent facilities for volunteer day workers or those who wish to spend some days at the depot.
In 1987, the people of Narrogin agreed to release steam locomotive Pm 706 from a park in their town so that Hotham Valley could restore it to operating condition. Following an overhaul in 1990, this locomotive is now a star performer on mainline tours. Its weight precludes it, however, from operating on Dwellingup Forest Ranger trains from Pinjarra to Dwellingup.
In addition to the locomotives and coaches mentioned above, Hotham Valley has acquired many items of rolling stock and equipment that are invaluable in operating a tourist railway. Some of these include a twenty five tonne steam crane, a turntable from Katanning and a wheel lathe from Geraldton.
In recent years Hotham Valley has had a presence at major railway events.
On 28th March 1985, W 903 was loaned to Westrail to work the last “Australind” to run to the old Bunbury Station before it was replaced by the new terminus at Wollaston. During the America’s Cup yacht races, Hotham Valley leased a W class steam locomotive and a set of six ex-Tasmanian coaches to Westrail to provide a daily passenger service between Fremantle and South Beach, known as the “Spinnaker Run”, the train operated between October 1986 and February 1987 providing valuable publicity for Hotham Valley. A major event in WA during the 1988 bi-centenary year was the Yarloop Steamfest on 17th April and Hotham Valley played a major part in providing and servicing the six steam locomotives that operated to Yarloop that day.
Two very successful Community Employment Projects have been undertaken by Hotham Valley. The first project refurbished the former Tasmanian cars and repainted the sleeping cars in 1984, while the second re-sleepered the Alumina Junction to Dwellingup line and completely rehabilitated the disused 8.5 kilometers of line East from Dwellingup to Etmilyn.
On completion of the latter project in 1986, the Etmilyn Tramway services commenced and since then wagons have been converted into open excursion coaches and the “Etmilyn Diner” service has been launched.
Up until more recent times all mainline traffic operations were handled by Westrail Personnel until changes in the rail industry enabled Hotham Valley to take over the operation of all mainline services. Planning and preparation of tours, management and passenger care is also co-ordinated entirely by Hotham Valley.
To handle seat reservations and to ensure patrons enjoy the best care and attention, Hotham Valley has developed a fully computerized reservation, seat allocation and ticketing system. Based in an office in Perth, this service is part of the Hotham Valley Travel Center which is manned by both full time staff and volunteers.
The achievements of Hotham Valley and its contribution to tourism have been recognized and rewarded. In 1986 Hotham Valley won the Transportation category of the National Tourism Awards and the following year won the Sir David Brand Tourism Award for the same category. This success in the State awards was repeated in 1988 and in 1990.
HVR is a Volunteer Operated, Registered Tax Deductible Gift Recipient
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