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Messing Up Sydney Harbour




This is another of those speculative posts about possible layouts, so here goes....


Not so long ago someone posted a video to Clive Mortimore's layout thread that got a few people going - including me.




In short it was a rather eye-opening documentary film about operations at Darling Harbour Goods in Sydney in its dying days during the late 1970s. Backed up with another film mostly shot 7-8 years earlier showing the last stand of steam shunting in the Darling Harbour yards using Victorian 0-6-0s : these locos were over 90 years old when finally withdrawn in 1970-1. A total of 35 minutes of fascinating and very high quality rail video.


Now, the family went out to Sydney in 1979, and came back at the end of 1983 - Darling Harbour Goods shut the following year. Although the general lack of rail enthusiast material in Australia meant I was only very faintly aware of the existence of the place, never mind what was down there, and so never attempted to go and have a look myself, still - this is very firmly in "my period". And 35 minutes of video is a lot of reference material - about as much as my treasured copy of Sydney's Forgotten Goods Railways which I was lucky to get my hands on.


So I went poking around on a few Aussie manufacturers/retailers sites to see what is actually available for the period. There's no 19-class , 73-class shunters have been done and sold out, its all pricy , but still... Somewhere tucked away I have a Hornby-Lima 422-class and two NSWGR coaches. Arguably I need to acquire a few more bits of stock while I can - say a brake coach, some wagons , a brake van...


What would I run them on? Well, a half-formed idea about a NSWGR industrial shunting micro set on Sydney's North Shore has been kicking around my head ever since I reach a brief comment in Sydney's Forgotten Goods Railways about an obscure operation in the North Sydney area served from Darling Harbour Goods:


From about 1895, a punt was employed to carry railway wagons from Darling Harbour across the main harbour to the warehouse of the Pastoral Finance Association at Kirribilli, located alongside Admiralty House. It had been intended to extend the Hornsby - Milsons Point line around the northern edge of the harbour to the warehouse but, apparently, acquiring the necessary property proved too difficult. The punt was towed to a special dock located within the building. The unusual operation continued until the warehouse was destroyed by fire.


For those unfamiliar with the geography - ie 99% of the forum - this is almost under the shadow of Sydney Harbour Bridge, on the north side of the harbour, directly opposite the Opera House. Admiralty House is the official residence of the Australian Prime Minister in Sydney - in other words Kirribilli is today a very posh harbourside suburb with historic properties and the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron


In this photo Kirribilli is in the lower centre, and Lavender Bay is upper right, above the Bridge


And in the heading photograph, Lavender Bay is to the left of the Bridge, and Kirribilli out of shot to the right (I think this photo may have been taken from the Opera House. Ahem, Fort Macquarie tram depot, as was...)


Half-remembering the details I went searching on Google. As I searched on the wrong point, I didn't find much , but what I did find was this:




which is a transcript of hearings by the Public Works Committee of the NSW Legislative Council into the proposed extension of the North Shore Line from St Leonards to Milson's Point in 1890 (a gentleman will be passing among you handing out matchsticks for your eyes very shortly, though I assure you it's really quite fascinating if you know the patch, and the history of what was actually built and when...)


Here is chapter and verse explaining the background to that car-float operation , complete with all the politics and arguments in Dolby Surround-Sound and glorious Technicolor


What seems to be a talk on Darling Harbour Goods given to the NSW branch of the Australian Railway Historical Society (whose bookshop in a terraced house near Central I remember from my teens) gives a few further details of the operation:



From 1895, meat wagons were floated by barge to the Pastoral Finance Association’s warehouse and cold stores at Kirribilli. The business was located between Admiralty House, Campbell Street, Beulah Street and the harbour. The meat wagons were loaded at a pontoon wharf located at the Fresh Food and Ice Siding at the south end of Darling Harbour near Liverpool Street, a section of the waterway that has long been reclaimed. The barge carried two BRC bogie refrigerated (ice) wagons. The building at Kirribilli was destroyed by fire on 13 December 1921.


There is even - this being the age of the internet - video of the fire on Facebook


This seems to have been Sydney's - and Australia's - only car-float operation: something quite common in New York and some other big American cities, but - as far as I'm aware - extremely rare in the British Empire.


Now car-float operations have been seen by US HO modellers as an ideal subject for an urban shunting micro. Here is a self-contained freight facility to shunt, with a built in "fiddle yard" in the form of the car-float . This can be made removable so that you can actually dispatch and receive wagons in a prototypical manner , giving the layout operational credibility. I think Chris Leigh floated the concept a few times in Model Trains International


Very promising indeed. And here's one right on my patch,just down the hill from where I went to school for a couple of years, which was supposed to be served by what was my local line. .Mmmmmm.


Some historical background is useful to make sense of the sources. After a long - and in places, wild - boom, Australia entered a severe depression in 1891, culminating in the collapse of most of Australia's banks in the first half of 1893 . My fifth-form History of Australia notes three pillars of the boom - the "land boom" , speculative property development ; the wool industry; and public infrastructure, above all railways: "the colonial governments had carried their railway building to excess, just as private investors had done with urban building and pastoralism....lines were pushed out into thinly settled districts where there was likely to be little settlement for years to come...freight rates were kept artificially low to stimulate traffic so that although in the long run most lines were of value in encouraging economic development, in the short run few of them could pay their way."


All of this is vividly on display in the testimony to the Public Works Committee in 1890.


We learn that the NSWGR were offering wool shippers free cartage from Darling Harbour Goods to any wool store in the city centre - not, say the Railway Dept witnesses, out of the goodness of their hearts, but because Darling Harbour was so congested that they needed to get the stuff out the door straight away or they would be overwhelmed. Not being in the city centre, the Pastoral Finance Association’s warehouse didn't benefit - so they wanted their own direct rail link with wagons delivered to their door.


It becomes painfully obvious why "acquiring the necessary property proved too difficult". After 1891 Australia was in much the same state as Ireland after 2008 - the cash just didn't exist for this kind of "top of the boom" project. Extension beyond Milson's Point was quietly forgotten about and once the worst of the crisis eased, the Pastoral Finance Association was offered direct delivery by car-float as a compensation. A lot of time before the committee was spent arguing about the idea of running trains onto train-ferries at Milson's Point and floating them across the harbour to meet a new railway (which didn't exist either) round the city centre to the main railway station, as an "alternative Main Northern", based on US models. This was nonsense, if not nonsense on stilts, but you can see where the idea of a car-float came from.....


It is also clear that a number of witnesses were adherents of the "if you build it, they will come" theory. Unfortunately in the end you will build it, and there will be no-one left to come, and the sky will fall in on you..... The first whispers of the gathering storm can be heard in the admission by a number of witnesses before the Committee that in the last year or so trade has been a little quieter.


It is fascinating to see the idea of a harbour bridge being considered so early - that was still four decades away. And some prize should be awarded to the proponent of the alternative route, who was also proposing a cross-harbour railway by laying two tubes on the bottom of the harbour , to be reached down a bored helix at Milsons Point on a 1 in 70 grade , the whole thing to be worked by steam...."1073 Q: Can you refer me to an example of such a railway? A: I do not know. Q: Then we should have to make an experiment?" Ouch!


What was actually built shortly after was the railway to Milson's Point, as proposed by the Railways Dept; and it was a purely suburban line - and in due course a very busy one. The ferry connection to the city was operated by the existing ferry company. Building the Sydney Harbour Bridge was the centrepiece of the 1915 Bradfield Report, the blueprint for Sydney's 20th century public transport - construction began in 1924. As the North Pylon of the Bridge essentially obliterated the old Milson's Point terminus the line was cut back to a new terminus part way up Lavender Bay - after the new line opened, the platforms were removed and it became carriage sidings. They can be seen here- despite all the grand talk about "1560 feet of harbour frontage " nobody has ever built commercial wharves in Lavender Bay. It remains a quiet anchorage for small boats.




The North Shore line was electrified at 1500V DC in 1932 in connection with the opening of the new line through North Sydney, across the Harbour Bridge and in tunnel under the city centre to Central. There was talk between the wars of a Northern Beaches line turning east towards Manly - it was in the Bradfield Report, the Depression killed the idea and I suspect that it will never happen.

In the late 1970s there was a pickup goods along the North Shore line - I never saw it , but I saw occasional traces of its presence in the appearance or disappearance of a refridgerated box car outside what appeared to be a coldstore dock at St Leonards. I think it disappeared sometime in the 80s


So - any model would be a compact urban shunting layout, with a small two wagon or four wagon car-lift as fiddle yard. Almost a cassette fiddle yard. It would feature a big Victorian Italianate warehouse as its backdrop. On one side there would be a blocked tunnel mouth for the access route that never happened . It might be set into a ledge carved out of the sandstone hillside.


Traffic would be wool and meat for the cold-store. Possibly some general goods across a wharf, maybe a little timber.


We need a trackplan. Now the only space which might be available is the 4'3 x 18" where the desktop computer currently sits - and which has an alternative claim from a possible OO9 layout: http://www.rmweb.co.uk/community/index.php?/blog/343/entry-20376-shifting-sands/


That's too short for the obvious candidate, John Allen's Tymesaver . Cut it how you like, 51" is not enough length unless you lose chunks of the layout to a sectorplate. And how you would arrange the carfloat connection on such cut down versions I can't see:


A hunt around Carendt.com turns up one possible design - Triple I Industrial Park:


Something can certainly be done with this. The great Victorian warehouse towers at the back in half-relief - I can certainly spare an extra 4" depth to take it, and it provides a perfect backscene. "Industry A" then becomes the wool reception road, and "Industry B" the cold-store road. The extra 3" in length would be added on the left side: "Industry C" becomes a track on the wharf, and "Industry D" gets a Y point and becomes the car-float connection. What is marked as "office" is the plant where the wool is "dumped" (compressed into bales). Wool wagons are shunted across from A into here, after which they are empty and due to go back to Sydney on the barge


Yes, using C as the headshunt off the car-float is awkward, but this would be the least used siding of the four. With the extra length you would have about 20" clear of the point after allowing for buffers


Stock? Well NSWGR refridgerated vans are available RTR from specialist Australian sources. As is the 4 wheeled S-wagon , prominent in the Darling Harbour videos , and evidently still in regular use as late as 1977. Other opens and vans can be sourced.


But some of these vehicles are big - NSWGR and VR bogie vans can run out at 56' or longer. That starts to be problematic for micro plans based around US 40' cars. There's no justification for goods brakes


Traction is a little complicated. For the 1970s you'd need a 73-class. But if you go back before 1970 things are more difficult. The NSWGR wasn't really into tank engines - and definitely not small ones. Their idea of a dock shunter was - as we've seen - a long-boiler 0-6-0 goods. They never owned British-style 0-6-0 diesel shunters. C30-class 4-6-4Ts seem to have been pressed into service for trip goods /shunting : these were what worked Sydney's suburban lines before electrification (limited to 6 bogies on the N Shore line out of Milson's Point). A Baltic tank is nobody's idea of a small shunter....


And currently 73-class are out of production, while nobody seems to have produced the C30s RTR , never mid a RTR 19-class.


There's also a serious issue with period. As already noted "my period" would be the 1970s and early 1980s. But we are talking about an operation that in real life ended in December 1921 - a huge time- gap. In the USA car-float operations were vanishing fast after about 1960s and seem to have barely made it into the 1970s. If I were to push things back a decade or two for credibility - say to just before the end of the N.Sydney tram system in 1958 - a suitable loco is quite a problem


And this highlights a real problem. The Aussie stock I actually have comprises a 442-class - that is, a 1970s mainline diesel - and two coaches. I could not run any of it on such a layout, and in any case it would all be out of period. If there was access from the right, as envisaged by the designer, I might have a pickup goods, perhaps worked by a 48-class diesel - something that is small, available, and which I understand worked the N Shore goods. But on the right there is actually the external wall of the flat. And a 48-class would not have come across on a car-float


Oh, and any rail access would have been from the left, not the right, in reality.The thing starts to bristle with problems and won't quite gel.


I might well attempt a version of this project at some time, but as far as the space in the study currently occupied by the desktop is concerned, the 009 scheme fits more neatly, works a little better scenically , and uses things I already have in stock. And the extra stock to be bought can be obtained from a nearby model shop or from traders at shows . There are no currency issues to face.



Edited by Ravenser
add heading photo

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Thanks for the info. The prices are a bit eye-watering though - AUD595 + postage for the C30 (that's about GBP340), and AUD775 for the Z19. Austrains website seems to have evaporated, 

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Hi I find this really interesting. I thought the Darling harbour goods yard was the one nearer Balmain in the shadow of the Anzac Bridge. It had three large cranes, When I snuck in there in 93 there where lots of wagons still there rusting away. it was also in the shadow of the Balmain power station and the Grain silos. I went up one of the huge cranes and took many photos.

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There seems to have been a whole complex of goods facilities right along from the bottom of Darling Harbour to the tip of Pyrmont . I presume Pyrmont power station was rail served - it was coal-fired and intermittently in use into at least the mid 80s 


Your photos sound interest.

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