23 August 2023

Restoration plan for Canberra's oldest train to go full steam ahead

| Sally Hopman
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Jane Wheaton, in the driver's seat of the museum's 3016, a C30 class steam locomotive.

Chair of Canberra Railway Museum Jane Wheaton in the driver’s seat of the museum’s 3016, a C30 class steam locomotive. Photo: Supplied.

Members of the Canberra Railway Museum share a passion – ensuring the history of Canberra’s train network, unique to all other states and territories, stays on track.

They also share something else: when they’re together and someone gets a text, they almost all check their phones immediately – yes, the text ring is a train whistle.

This passion for all things railway has been rewarded with a $24,130 ACT Government Heritage Grant to Capital Heritage Rail Ltd, which manages the museum. The money will go towards a conservation management plan for the centrepiece of its collection, Locomotive 1210, which pulled the first train into Canberra in May 1914 – then a city under construction.

Built by Beyer, Peacock and Company in Manchester, England, in 1878, it arrived in Sydney 145 years ago this August. One of 68 locomotives of this class, it was built for NSW Railways at a time when rail was expanding across the state. The 1210 operated across southern NSW, from Goulburn and Canberra out to the Monaro and as far south as Bombala.

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Chair of the Canberra Railway Museum Jane Wheaton said the historic engine was removed from service and scheduled to be scrapped three times, but each time was saved and brought back into service.

“How lucky we are to still have this important locomotive to be enjoyed at the Canberra Railway Museum,” she said. “Of those 68 locomotives built for NSW in the late 19th century, only three of this class still survive.”

Mrs Wheaton said the 1210 pulled a train into Canberra in January 1962, when the locomotive was handed over to the then National Capital Development Commission for preservation. It was placed on a plinth outside Canberra station where it remained until 1984 when it was transferred to the Canberra Railway Museum.

She said the conservation management plan would allow the museum to pay for expert guidance on restoration of the popular locomotive which was on the ACT Heritage Register and the oldest item in the museum.

She said the 1210 was special because while the other states and territories relied on trains for transporting people and cargo, a young Canberra used rail more to bring in supplies to build the city – as well as the experts who were designing it.

Black and white photo of old train

A big crowd was on hand to watch the 1210 pull the first train into Canberra on 25 May 1914. Photo: Canberra District Historical Society.

Mrs Wheaton, who works in Defence, said she couldn’t remember a time when she didn’t have a passion for trains.

“I do remember as a child travelling with my family in the caravan, I always loved to see the trains and count the wagons,” she said.

“I’ve always been interested in history generally, but with old railway lines, they can tell you a lot about a region’s history and how it developed. They tell you where the lines go, where all the regions were, what products went where. The station buildings, too, were often attractive. Built solidly and worth restoring.

“It’s really good to see some of them in country towns being restored as community centres.”

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She believed the romantic age of rail travel was still a favourite with so many people because of the time it represented.

“We all love those wooden interiors, the whistle of the steam train, that `choo choo’ noise. There is always an atmosphere in train travel, even in the modern diesel ones.

“Maybe it’s something about the steam that gets people in – or maybe it’s Thomas the Tank Engine.”

The Canberra Railway Museum, where Locomotive 1210 is on static display, is open on Sundays from 10 am to 3 pm. More information is available online.

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Great news! This historic engine will be a special part of the East Lake redevelopment which has much railway history. Besides Locomotive 1210, the Amiens Big Gun, captured by Australians during World War 1 was parked in the middle of Wentworth Avenue until it was dismantled during WW2. Only the barrel remains and that’s now at the Australian War Memorial. There are also remnants of the Griffin’s railway in the area including the original Causeway. Photos of the gun and engine can be found at the Canberra & District Historical Society.

This is fantastic news. I think that this is the first train that I travelled when I came to Canberra as a three-year-old with my parents. I only hope that the past going on with the loss of so much ACT rail heritage elsewhere is over and that tenure arrangements etc. are front and centre of the current custodians.

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