Let’s take an imaginary train ride along the Pine Ridge railway…
It’s early morning, cool and clear with the promise of a fine warm day to come. We join a crowd waiting at Henty to board our train, the morning service to Pine Ridge, via intermediate towns. In platform No.1 is a very clean set of Vline N cars awaiting a locomotive. We are asked not to board until staff have prepared the train, but that does not worry us as we are more anxious to see what loco will arrive. Shortly a horn blast beyond the platform heralds the arrival of our motive power for today, an aged and well worn S309.
After watching this veteran couple on to our train, we make a quick observation of activity in the freight yard. There are many wagons there but not a great deal of activity this early in the day. But what is this? On the far track over by the warehouse is the unmistakable wisp of black smoke drifting skywards. Obviously a steam loco. But wagons block our view of it. Time to get aboard as departure time nears.
Shortly we are gliding out of the platform, clattering across the pointwork beyond the railcar bay where DERM 6ORM awaits its first call of duty for the day. Eyes strain to the right, to get a glimpse of the steam loco. And there it is, 4-8-4 H220 old Heavy Harry at the head of a long string of four-wheelers, ready and waiting to follow us down the main line.
Gently gathering speed, the goods yard fails behind, but on our left is Henty Pier. Plenty of action here with an assortment of rolling stock ranging from elderly trucks and vans to modem container wagons on the wharf. W242 is fussing around sorting a rake of GY’s beside a small coastal steamer. Behind the wharf shed are a few empty coal hoppers, while out near the end of the pier the container gantry is busy loading a large container ship.
Adjacent to the pier we pass Henty motive power depot where, waiting for their rostered duties, are some Victorian diesels in a variety of liveries: how we still like the classic blue and gold best! Also there is interstate visitor Alco 603, in its South Australian maroon and silver livery. But all eyes are on R707 and K155. The pristine R class Hudson in immaculate black and red – the K grimy and well worn. The depot passes all too quickly as we gain the down main.
We gather speed. The ride is now smooth and comfortable and we settle down for the journey to Pine Ridge. We are on heavy duty, double main track now. With a blur an up goods flashes past: too fast to recognise the engine. Now out in the country, the dry paddocks on our left stretch to the coast. To our right rocky slopes rise to barren grassy hills devoid of heavy vegetation. A long gentle curve to the left and we cross Kalinga Creek, over an interesting little plate girder bridge. Not much water now, but a torrent following the spring rains. Rather flat terrain here, so our S class has no trouble keeping to the tight timetable as we bowl along at the maximum allowed 115 km/h.
All too soon the power comes off as we slow for our approach to Broughton, the first town since leaving Henty, and the largest centre until Pine Ridge. Drawing into the island platform, the train comes to a haft. The adjacent goods yard to our right is a hive of activity.
Broughton is a major rail centre. Here all freight trains from further down the line are consolidated and marshalled into fewer, larger trains before despatch to Henty. Conversely, freights from Henty are broken down here, so those that go beyond are usually much shorter and lighter. With good reason too, as we shall soon see.
Our train has an enforced stop here, as a late running goods is occupying the single main line beyond Broughton. Observing the yard activity, time soon passes and before long, our departure call is made. More passengers have joined whilst a few have disembarked, and our train is quite full.
The reason for our delay becomes clear as vintage heavy goods 2-8-2 X29 brings a short goods into the yard. This is classic VR – mostly GYs, and a few U vans trailed by a six wheel Z van. X29 clanks to a stop opposite the station. Then we soon have the green, and our S class slowly draws out of the platform. As we pull out, we observe the busy goods shed, and Y151 pushing some empty cattle wagons into the livestock dock. The holding yards are full of cattle awaiting transport to Henty. We guess they will be on their way later today.
The narrow gauge interchange is all but deserted; only two empty open wagons await loading. There is very little traffic on the narrow gauge line to Timbamba these days – its heyday is well past. This line was built last century to open up the heavy forest country, and served the timber industry well until the coming of roads and heavy trucks spelt an inevitable decline. However tourism may yet be Its saviour.
Immediately upon leaving Broughton we hear S309 increase power as she tackles the grade just beyond the station. Not only steep, it also curves sharply to the right as the railway ascends to the escarpment above Broughton. On single track now, the grade demands double heading or banking on all heavy trains. However, with our light load of only three cars, the S has no trouble, despite her age. Grinding upgrade, we enter a cutting before passing through a short tunnel bored through the hillside to ease the climb.
The roar of that old GM echoes through the train as our driver keeps the power on. Very soon we burst out of the tunnel into daylight again, diesel smoke pouring from the exhaust. How much more smoke would come from an Alco, we ask ourselves?
No view now as the line continues through a deep cutting for some distance, still climbing, climbing. Eventually the grade eases, the strain on the loco decreases and we break out of the cutting. Now on top of the escarpment, we have a magnificent view back across Broughton to our right. Far away across the plains to our left is the imposing grey structure of the Jumbunna Coal Mine. In flatter country now as we enter the wheatbelt, where the dry paddocks shimmer with heat haze to the distant horizon.
Before long our train slows and we arrive at Windana. Hot and dusty, it is just a small station and settlement dominated by two concrete silos. It’s typical of many tiny wheat towns in north west Victoria. Waiting here to cross is a down passenger train: four blue and gold Spirit cars headed by flat-top T339. It has already been at the platform, then has set back on to the through track to allow our train access to the station. As we clear the main and enter the platform loop, the T class gives a blast on its whistle and slowly moves out on its way down the hill to Broughton. At Windana a few passengers alight, and we too are on our way. No activity at the silo, although a few GHs and GYs are in the silo road. Windana is the junction of the short line to the mine that we had seen earlier. Waiting just beyond the points is a loaded coal train headed by 880. Once the two passenger trains have cleared Windana the B will draw its train into the yard, run around and then depart for Henty, where its load will be taken to the wharf for export.
Back on the single main, we cross a creek via a single span steel truss bridge, a rarity in Victoria. Only a short distance to our next stop, and soon the town of Elbridge comes into view. Elbridge is far more substantial than Windana. We crawl to a halt at the island platform. A major industrial centre, Elbridge boasts a manufacturing factory complex, oil and cement facilities and a general goods depot. Therefore it is a good source of revenue for the railway. The yard area bustles with activity, such a contrast to our last stop at Windana.
Although only scheduled for a short stop, an announcement is made to expect a small delay, as a steam special from Pine Ridge is due soon. This is an unexpected bonus. Before long the wail of a steam whistle is heard to the east as we head to the end of the platform to catch our first glimpse. It comes into view, 0885 fresh after years of restoration, in gleaming black at the head of five vintage wooden W cars. What a sight – this train loaded with rail enthusiasts does not stop, but steams slowly through Elbridge and disappears round the curve and out of sight, heading for Windana and beyond, its rapid exhaust beat trailing off into the distance.
We reboard our train and get under way again, clattering over the pointwork and once more climbing, this time to Pine Ridge and the end of the line. The train continues along through undulating country before reaching the highlight of this section, a massive viaduct over a broad valley. Built at great cost last century, it is similar to those at Taradale and Moorabool.
The great bluestone piers rise from the valley floor carrying the single line far above – what a spectacular sight as our train rumbles across.
All too soon, we slow again as the train reaches the outskirts of Pine Ridge, the terminus and our destination. Busy, bustling Pine Ridge is a major commercial and industrial centre relying on the railway for much of its economic health. Our train, its momentum down to a crawl, enters a sharp right hand curve, passes the loco depot where yard pilot F208 is by the turntable. We lurch and clatter over the points leading into the station and draw to a stop at platform 1. The imposing red brick station building still boasts a bar and dining room, quite a rarity these days. A footbridge at the far end of the platform leads over the yard and into town, just a short stroll away.
Shunting the yard is blue and gold B68, breaking down an earlier goods arrival. A superfreighter loaded with containers is ready for departure on an adjacent track, hauled by class leader C501. It will depart soon after our arrival.
It is now early afternoon, and the outside heat is intense after the pleasant air-conditioned comfort of our train. The platform bustles with people arriving and departing. A quick turnaround, a loco change and our train will be on its way again retracing its path, this time forming the afternoon up service back to Henty.
We hope you have enjoyed sharing this journey with us – yes we have mixed our steam and diesel eras beyond the realm of reality. Here we can enjoy what in the real world is impossible, and this fantasy is surely one of the many pleasures of railway modelling.