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A Descriptive History of Hotham Valley Tourist Railway

Dwellingup Townsite 1961 after fires. The railway can be seen to the top of the picture For fifty years Dwellingup was a busy center for the thriving timber industry in the area. However, a disastrous fire in January 1961 saw the demise of most of the surrounding timber mills leaving only the Dwellingup operation.

The railway line to Dwellingup, which had opened in 1910 as part of a connection between Pinjarra and Narrogin, then saw ever decreasing use until the once weekly freight service was withdrawn completely in 1984.

 

During the early 1970’s some Pinjarra residents realized that the lightly used branch line still had something to offer the people of Western Australia and so in 1974 they formed the “Pinjarra Steam and Hills Railway Preservation Society” which later became the “Hotham Valley Tourist Railway”. The foundation members realized that the branch line was a historic remnant of the pioneers early endeavours to open up the western third of the continent. All other railway lines climbing the Darling Range to give access to the forest, wheat belt and goldfields of the State had either been drastically modernized or closed and lifted. Here was a railway which retained its original character and was scenically located a handy distance from Perth.

Class leader Mountain Type W 901 Brand New.

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.

Former Western Australian Government Railways (W.A.G.R.) dining car AV 426 became Hotham Valley’s first item of rolling stock when purchased in 1975. Dining Car AV 426 with AL2 behind
Second class sleeping car AQM 287 was purchased in 1976.

 Eight country passengers coaches, redundant after the withdrawal of the “Albany Progress” passenger service, were leased on a yearly basis in 1979 and subsequently purchased.

2nd class sleeping car AQM 287 at Swan View - Photo by Westrail
Six ex Tasmanian Government Railway suburban coaches were shipped to Fremantle in 1979 and are now based at Dwellingup. Ex Tasmanian Suburban Car SSS1 photo by John Purcell

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.

W 920 and Westrail F class diesel return from Dwellingup on the 24th October 1976                    © Photo by David Whiteford

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.

The tour trains were initially made up of hired Westrail suburban and former “Australind” coaches, together with the Hotham Valley buffet car AQL 290 “Mullewa”, and occasionally augmented with sleeping cars.

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.

The 2002 Avon Descent train photographed at West Toodyay Yard on August 4th shows the majority of the ex S.A.R. Riverland cars with the Galley car at the front followed by the Blue Ribbon Diner and then a Buffet and assorted other cars

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.

Two of HVTR's Tankers can be seen here behind W945 and Pm 706 on the popular Collie Black Diamond Explorer tour

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.

Construction of the new carriage shed at Dwellingup Pm 706 and W 903 rest outside the shed extensions at Pinjarra

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.

Pm 706 steams through the Avon Valley carrying the W.A.G.R. livery of larch green prior to being given a new coat of red paint for the Wizards trains

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.

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