THE RIVERLAND COACHES
Due to the aging fleet of Westrail's wooden coaches and as Hotham Valley was gradually expanding it’s operations, there were certain limitations and restrictions associated, so to avoid this in 1987, Hotham Valley initiated a world wide search for a large fleet of modern stainless steel coaches that would meet the needs of the railway.
The outcome of the search was a fleet of cars in South Africa, a total of 25 coaches.
The cars were second-hand and were in immaculate condition. They were constructed of Corten Steel and have standard body framing and have a 34-35 ton tare.
Dimensions are- length over buffers 19.96m
bogie centres 14.48m
Twenty four of the Hotham Valley cars were converted from a group of sleeping cars that were previously H8 centre aisle cars during 1985-6. Cars numbered AHT 323 and 324 were built by UCW during the late 1970’s with a 24 volt electrical system and have higher ceilings than the rest of the coaches. Of the other cars, AHF 314 was built by LHB as an E1 sleeping coach and the rest were built by UCW in the 1960’s and have a 110 volt electrical system. All coaches were transported totally refurbished into the first and second class seating now found on our trains
These coaches had been made redundant with the withdrawal of passenger trains in South Africa so members were sent to inspect the cars and carry out the necessary conversions. The refurbishment of the interior and painting was carried out at SAS’s Bloemfontein Workshops.
The coaches are coded in the Westrail system ; A for narrow gauge passenger car; h for steel bodies and the third letter distinguishing the Hotham valley type. The 3xx series numbers were nominated by Westrail.
All the coaches are painted in the Hotham Valley livery of green and cream with the roofs painted mustard. They were named after all the rivers in Western Australia and were given the name “Riverland” coaches.
AHA 301, 302 and303, named Ashburton, Murray and Fitzroy, are 56 seat first class cars with guards compartments at one end; AHB 304, 305 and 306, named Greenough, Gascoyne and Fortescue, are 28 seat first class buffet cars; AHD 307 named Serpentine is a dinning car. AHE 308, 309 and 310 named Kalgan, Coongan, Chapman are 64 seat tourist class with a guards compartment . AHF 311 to 317 named Bloemfontein, Avon, Brunswick, Denmark, Murchison and Lunenburg are 56 seat first class cars AHG 318 is the galley car. AHL named Hotham is to be transferred into a Lounge Car. AHT 320 to 326 named Harvey, Irwin, Preston, Blackwood, Mortlock, Canning and Dale are 64 seat tourist class cars.
The first class cars are equipped with seats that are upholstered with fabric in grey, white and red, tables are located between facing pairs and red carpet covers the floor. Racks above the seats provide room for luggage and are also painted red.
Tourist class cars have bench style seating with blue upholstered vinyl with a blue vinyl floor and luggage racks above seats for luggage. All cars have drop windows and toilets at each end of the coach. They all have walk through ends allowing passengers to walk up and down the train. On the windows you may see the SAS national emblem of a Spring-bok head.
The SAS “buck” coupler remains within the set except the Westrail Drop-yoke coupler has been fitted to the Guards compartment ends of the train.
On the 24 August 1988 SAS steam locomotive 25 NC hauled AHF 311 to Theunisseen where a commemorative plaque was fixed to the vestibule of 311. The cars then travelled to Australia in three shipments. The first 8 cars arrived in Fremantle on the MV Pietersgracht and were unloaded. The next nine arrived on the MV Looiersacht on the 11 November and the last nine on the MV Carliner on the 2 February 1989.
On the 17 December 1990 the first 8 cars were launched into service by the then Tourism Minister, Pam Beggs , on a run from Fremantle to Perth.
Since then these cars have travelled over most of the operational narrow gauge system in WA from their base in Pinjarra to the furthest destinations such as Geraldton, Pemberton, Albany, and Merredin along with the many other places in between and in some cases they have travelled there many times.
In the earlier days of the Riverland Cars there was the need to use almost all of the coaches for some of the tours with the outings to Bridgetown being the most notable. It is quite impressive to see a tour that requires the use of most of these coaches The most recent example of this was the 2002 Avon Descent tour which saw 21 coaches used (shown here above).
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