National Railway Museum (Part 1 – Narrow Gauge)

I’ve found myself going through a plane, train and ship spotting phase this year, and recently spent a day visiting two of the three transport related museums situated in the Port Adelaide area.

I should mention at this point that I don’t plan for Photo Morsels to morph into a machinery-spotter’s paradise to the exclusion of all else. I will revert to other subjects once I have worked off all this machinery spotting!

I’ve previously posted images from the South Australian Aviation Museum here. In this and some following posts, I’ll cover the second museum visited, the National Railway Museum.

The Port Adelaide museum is Australia’s largest railway museum with over 100 exhibits representing State, Commonwealth and private railway operators and the three rail gauges that have been used within South Australia. Each of these gauges (narrow gauge 3′ 6″, standard gauge 4′ 8½” and broad gauge 5′ 3″) can still be found with operating traffic, even though much of South Australia’s country network has been ripped up over the past 50 years. Briefly in 1969-1970, there were even a couple of towns where all three gauges could be found side-by-side while gauge conversions were underway.

By way of background, I’ll provide a quick rundown of the operators of the rolling stock that can be found inside the museum:

  • the South Australian Railways (SAR) was established by the colony of South Australia in 1854 and the SAR continued in operation until the country lines were sold to the Commonwealth Government in 1975 and Adelaide’s suburban lines were transferred to what is now Adelaide Metro, the city’s public transport operator.
  • the Commonwealth Railways (CR) was established in 1912 to create rail links between South Australia and Western Australia, and South Australia and the Northern Territory, both running through remote desert country. These undertakings were nation building projects and not economically feasible for the State railway systems to either construct or operate. CR also lasted until just after the 1975 merger with South Australian Railways when the combined entities became known as Australian National Railways (ANR).
  • Silverton Tramways Company operated a short section of track connecting the mines of Broken Hill through to the South Australian border.
  • BHP Ltd operated short haul railways at various mining sites including Iron Knob and Rapid Bay.

In this post, I’ll focus on the narrow gauge railways of South Australia’s northern network.

SAR Y97 2-6-0 steam locomotive

The narrow gauge 2-6-0 Y-class constituted by number the largest class of locomotives on the South Australian Railways, 129 having been built between 1885 and 1898. Y97 entered service in 1890 and was withdrawn a remarkable 80 years later in 1970 as the steam era in South Australia came to a close. The Y class was widely deployed across the State’s early narrow gauge systems.

SAR Y97 2-6-0 steam locomotive

SAR T253

By the start of the 20th century, the Y class locomotives were proving to be far too small for the heavy ore trains coming down to the lead smelter at Port Pirie from Broken Hill. The larger 4-8-0 T class was introduced in 1903 and quickly proved to be successful.  More were ordered and the T’s remained dominant on the Broken Hill line for nearly 50 years until the introduction of the magnificent articulated Beyer-Peacock Garratts.  Even then, the T’s were not completely displaced from the ore trains. The T’s also saw service on other narrow gauge networks around the state and five members of the class were converted to broad gauge for the Murray Lands lines, and were re-designated as the Tx class.  It was a T class locomotive that hauled the very last scheduled steam service in South Australia in January 1970.

SAR T253

SAR T253

SAR T253

The T class was built at three workshops. The initial four were constructed at the SAR Islington workshops in Adelaide, a further 34 by James Martin and Company at Gawler, just north of Adelaide, and 40 from Walkers of Maryborough, Queensland. T253 entered service entered service in 1917, but I probably didn’t need to tell you that!

The northern narrow gauge network operated into marginal agricultural and pastoral lands where drought is a common occurrence.  It was often necessary for the railways to transport water, both to supply the small rural communities along the tracks but also to sustain the rail operations itself, as steam locomotives are thirsty creatures.

Peterborough, at the centre of the network, once held 120 water wagons, which ranged in capacity from 1,200 to 3,000 gallons. Circumstances sometimes required additional cartage capacity and temporary tanks were fitted to the frames of existing wagons.  The wagon below is a case in point, with a tank fitted in 1923 to a wagon built nine years earlier.

Water Tanker No. 5506

The big boys of the northern narrow gauge network were the mighty 4-8-2 + 2-8-4 articulated Garratt locomotives designed by Beyer-Peacock of Manchester and built in France under sub-contract. The SAR Garratts are near identical to the famous Garratts of the South African Railways. They arrived in 1953 and only saw 10 years in service before being displaced by diesels. They were placed in storage and briefly returned to main line duties in late 1969 while all of the narrow gauge diesels were temporarily withdrawn for conversion to standard gauge.

SAR Garratt 409

Garratt 409, one of ten operated by the SAR.  The Garratts were some 87 feet long.  I would have loved to have seen the Garratts in operation, but I’m just a bit too young to have had the opportunity.

SAR Garratt 409

SAR Garratt 409

The Garratts were oil-burners and sent up a mighty plume of black smoke when worked hard up the climbs into the southern Flinders Ranges. They also had a reputation for being the noisiest locomotives on the SAR network. The Garratts near-exclusively served on the Port Pirie-Cockburn line where they met the ore trains that had come from Broken Hill to the South Australian border. The Garratts were extremely popular with their crews and they wanted to paint them green, strictly against SAR orders.  So they mixed a little green paint in with the regulation black to create a colour they called ‘Invisible Green’.  A subtle green tint is visible on engine 409, although computer monitors being what they are, this might be a little difficult to see.

Broken Hill was the site of a fabulously rich lead-zinc-silver ore body some 35 miles across the border in New South Wales.  It was the birthplace of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company, better known today as BHP Ltd and one of the world’s biggest mining companies.  A lead smelter was established in Port Pirie on the South Australian coast to process and export the ore, which was railed the 250 or so miles to Port Pirie.  Australia was yet to be proclaimed and the track spanned two colonies, New South Wales and South Australia. As a result, the first 35 miles to Cockburn on the border was operated by the Silverton Tramway Company and the remaining journey was operated by the South Australian Railways.  This required a change of motive power at Cockburn both for the loaded ore cars and the returning empties.

The three generations of locomotives operated by Silverton Tramways are represented at the museum. And why the ‘Tramways’ in the name when clearly a railway was being operated? Legislation at the time restricted ‘railway’ operations to the then colonial Governments and Silverton Tramways was a private operator.

Silverton Tramways A21 and Y12

The two early workhorses of the Silverton Tramways. The smaller loco is 2-6-0 Y12. The Silverton Tramways Y’s were near-identical to the SAR Y class seen earlier. Y12 entered service way back in 1893. The larger 4-6-0 A class (A21 seen here) replaced the Y’s in 1915 and worked the ore trains through to the South Australian border for some 40 years.

Silverton Tramways Y12

Nothing too sophisticated in the cabin of an 1893 era locomotive.

Silverton Tramways Y12 maker's plate

Y12’s maker’s plate.

Silverton Tramways A21

A closer look at Silverton Tramways A21

After World War II, the Silverton Tramways upgraded their locomotives around the same time as the Garratts were being introduced on the South Australian side of the border.  Four 4-8-2 W class locomotives were introduced in 1951, and all were were painted out in cotswold green.  The W class was a design of the Western Australian Government Railways which built 60 of the class for their own use.  Much like the SAR Garratts, the Silverton Tramways’ W class locomotives also had a short working life before being replaced by diesel power.

Silverton Tramways W25

Silverton Tramways W25

Silverton Tramways W25

Coming at the end of the steam era, the W class sported a much more complex driver’s compartment than earlier generations of locomotives.

Silverton Tramways W25

Where the power hit the ground. The narrow gauge railways were lightly built and axle loads had to be keep light. The 4-8-2 wheel layout allowed the W’s 97 tons to be spread over 7 axles.

That’s it for the narrow gauge loco’s.  I’ll be back in a few days looking at the history of South Australia’s broad gauge operations.

Camera Gear

Shot on the Pentax K-x with a new to me Pentax FA 20-35 F4 zoom.  All taken in ambient interior light, mostly at ISO 800 and using F4 – 5.6 apertures. Shutter speeds were quite low, down to 1/6th or 1/10th second in the darker corners of the sheds. This is right on the limit for my hand holding ability with Pentax’s shake reduction enabled, and I sometimes took multiple shots of the same subject before a satisfactory blur-free image was achieved.

To Learn More

More information about the National Railway Museum and its collections can be found at its website here.  The museum is open every day from 10am – 5pm.  I also recommend checking the website for special event days.

The museum is located in Lipson Street, Port Adelaide, South Australia.  It is adjacent to the South Australia Aviation Museum. If wishing to use public transport, buses from the city centre running down Port Road to the Port will get you there, or take the Outer Harbor train service and alight at the Port Adelaide railway station.


Related Posts

Other posts about the National Railway Museum:

National Railway Museum (Part 2 – Broad Gauge)

National Railway Museum (Part 3 – Everything Else)

Operating South Australian historic railway services:

SteamRanger Cockle Train

SteamRanger Cockle Train (Revisited)


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2 thoughts on “National Railway Museum (Part 1 – Narrow Gauge)

  1. Pingback: National Railway Museum (Part 3 – Everything Else) | Photo Morsels

  2. Pingback: National Railway Museum (Part 2 – Broad Gauge) | Photo Morsels

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