Pulling up the old Central Australia Railway
between Oodnadatta and Marree South Australia

Page Author: reidgck@nex.net.au

Pulling up the main line through William Creek rail
yards on a very hot day in December 1982

Pulling up the old Central Australia Railway William Creek
South Australia 1982 part 1

from reidgck on Vimeo.

Pulling up the old Central Australia Railway William Creek
South Australia 1982 Part 2

from reidgck on Vimeo.

    Content: the two videos above:
The train in the video was in the charge of diesel electric locomotive NSU56. There were two rails along the outsides of the open wagons for the length of the train. Along these rails ran a converted digger with the caterpillar tracks removed. This machine was used for lifting and for various purposes including assistance in installing the wedge sleds i.e., the specially designed item that the train dragged behind itself to rip the rails from the wooden sleepers (or ties), and to lift the recovered rails high enough to allow them to be pulled on board the train, chiefly by a winch installed on the first wagon. A long cable from the winch was attached to the converted digger and this winch and cable was essential for assistance in the operation of dragging the pulled up rails on board the train. The video commences at the Oodnadatta end of the rail yards at William Creek. A shot not long from the start shows a view looking down the main line formation from Oodnadatta from which the rails had recently been removed. The branch to the right of that picture is part of the locomotive turning triangle (panned to right) at the end of which were apparently stock loading facilities. The points in the foreground to the left and running to the rear of the camera position, were for the beginning of the loop and that had already recently been pulled up, and is visible in part in other shots. The video shows the placing the wedge sleds between the rails and sleepers before the train progresses forward thus ripping up the rails. About two train lengths of main line rail were pulled up through the William Creek yard and loaded onto the train starting from this point; but then, there was a set of points about half way down the yard which together with part of the other part of the triangle line, formed a shorter loop which had a short platform installed about opposite the William Creek Hotel. The operation had to stop here and a new break made in the tracks to enable the two wedge sleds to be placed on the Marree side of these points after the track was cut there. The operation then continues and can be viewed in part two.

Demolishing the old Central Australia Railway Bopeechee 1983

Pulling up the Old Central Australia Railway near Bopeechee May 1983
from reidgck on Vimeo.

In 1982 1983, the original narrow (3ft 6in) gauge Central Australia Railway to Alice Springs was dismantled after having been replaced with a new standard gauge track via a different route that branches off the Trans Australia Railway at Tarcoola, a route that which is not so prone to washaways and sand drifts which had plagued the old route.

Work of pulling up the old railway between Oodnadatta and Marree, the section shown in this video, commenced at Oodnadatta, and this video illustrates how this section was demolished. I took these pictures about five kilometres north of Bopeechee on one of two visits to the area to record the proceedings.

The contractors used NSU class locomotives 55 and 56 to dismantle the track. NSU55 has since been restored and is now at Steamtown railway museum Peterborough South Australia. NSU56 was left at Marree and was seen there in late 2007 in poor condition. It can be viewed at http://www.nex.net.au/~reidgck/marree There were two trains of flat wagons onto which the recovered rails were loaded. They were taken to the break of gauge location, Marree, and most was stockpiled until they were eventually loaded onto standard gauge trains for the journey further south. A small percentage though, was loaded directly between narrow gauge and standard gauge trains as can be seen in another posted video. The standard gauge was later also pulled up to near Leigh Creek. South of there, the standard gauge line, that had in the 1950s replaced the narrow gauge from Port Augusta, is used by coal trains to supply the power station at Port Augusta.

Regarding pulling up the Central Australia Railway south of Oodnadatta: one narrow gauge rake of flat wagons was being loaded while the other, in charge of the other NSU class locomotive, made the trip to Marree to unload. Some of the rail was transferred directly to a standard gauge train when available for loading, but most was placed in stockpiles to be loaded on standard gauge trains later.

The rail recovery operation involved the initial outfitting of each rake of flat wagons with a pair of rails along the outside so that a converted digger that was used in the operation to lift rails and other equipment, could run the length of the train. At the front of the train was a winch mounted on the first wagon and it was used to pull each two lengths of recovered rails onto the train as the converted digger did not have sufficient traction by itself to do this.

The cable from the winch was attached to the converted digger and the converted digger pulled the cable back to the rear of the train after rails were pulled aboard. Rails were wrenched from their sleepers (ties) by two wedge like sleds being towed behind the train. when the desired length of rail was dislodged, the train was stopped and the rails were unbolted at joints, or as shown here, the bolts were burned off, before the rail ends were lifted by the converted digger allowing them to be dragged aboard by the winch.

Rail Transfer Narrow to Standard Gauge Marree 1982

Narrow to Standard gauge Rail Transfer Marree 1982
from reidgck on Vimeo.

A video made at Marree in the outback of South Australia on a very hot day in December 1982 during the time when the old Central Australia Railway was being pulled up. A percentage of recovered rail from the old narrow gauge line was transferred directly from narrow gauge recovery trains to standard gauge trains.

The narrow gauge train and the standard gauge trains were coupled together and rails were transferred by running the resulting dual gauge train back and forwards thus dragging the rails from one train to the other. Narrow gauge diesel electric Sulzer powered locomotive, NSU55 was used for this operation which was coupled to a rake of narrow gauge wagons which were coupled to the narrow gauge rake.

-- An unusual operation at the break of gauge location of Marree through which trains can no longer go to as the standard gauge railway was also pulled up after the stockpiles of recovered rail at Marree; the rail that could not be handled in the way shown in this video due to the quantity, had been taken away on the standard gauge.

Demolishing William Creek Triangle December 1982

Demolishing William Creek Triangle
old Central Australia Railway 1982

from reidgck on Vimeo.

The video above was taken on a very hot day in December 1982 at William Creek in the outback of South Australia in the period when the old Central Australia narrow gauge railway was being pulled up.

NSU55 seen in the video of the rails being transferred from narrow to standard gauge, had ran those empty flat wagons from Marree to William Creek overnight and those flat wagons were being again loaded while NSU55 was scheduled to run more loaded wagons back to Marree. NSU55 however, while returning to Marree became disabled some kilometres away and had to be towed back to William Creek by NSU56.

This video though is of the pulling up of the triangle that day, that was used to turn locomotives. The rail recovery train is shown reversing to the end of the triangle after which specially designed wedge sleds were placed beneath the rails with the help of the converted excavator - which could run the length of the train to aid in pulling recovered rails aboard. These wedge sleds were attached to the rear of the train which tore the rails from the sleepers as the train moved forward allowing them to be broken at joints and then be hauled aboard the train.

NSU56 rescues NSU55: William Creek

NSU56 rescues NSU55 old Central Australia Railway William Creek December 1982
from reidgck on Vimeo.

NSU56 rescues NSU55:
The wagons that housed the camp train for the contractors who were pulling up the old Central Australia Railway, were parked at the loop at the Marree while the section on the Oodnadatta side of William Creek was being pulled up.that was being pulled up.
In December 1982, work had reached William Creek; the main line had been pulled up to the Oodnadatta end of the William Creek yard and one of the sidings had also been pulled up when NSU55 with the camp train - which was being moved that day to Strangways loop and siding to enable the section from William Creek to be pulled up - coupled to a loaded train of flat cars with recovered rail, departed from William Creek. The camp wagons, consisted of a water tank, a diesel fuel tank, a wagon with a generator set and two wagons each containing portable cabins. Strangways loop and siding was about 40 kilometres away.
It was a very hot morning when NSU departed William Creek running in reverse with this load. The contractors at William Creek and those on NSU55s train had contact via a two way radios, setup in each locomotive. NSU56 at William Creek was to pull up the rest of the yards there, when a message was received that NSU55 had become a failure down the line some kilometres.
NSU56 had to venture out along the the main line to tow NSU55 and its train back to William Creek. For some reason, NSU56 pushed it's train of flatcars to be coupled to the end of the flatcars being hauled by NSU55, and it amounted to a fairly long train on the return to William Creek. The video shows NSU55 departing and later, NSU56 rescuing it and its train and crossing 'Breakfast Time Creek' bridge.
NSU56 thus did NSU55's job that night after a day's work pulling up William Creek yards. Because of the William Creek yards had been almost completely pulled up, making shunting impossible, NSU56 had to push the above mentioned train to Strangways loop that night. It was unusual to witness a train between these locations on a pitch black night proceeding through the outback with two tanker cars in the lead and the locomotives at the rear. (NSU55 had been transferred to the other end of the train earlier in the day while there were enough rails still down).
The video posted of the cab ride over the long iron bridge at Curdimurka was taken the following day, when NSU56 was returning to William Creek from Marree with the filled water tank and an accomodation van.

Cab Ride over the Iron Bridge at Curdimurka

Cab Ride in NSU56 Curdimurka old Central Australian Railway 1982
from reidgck on Vimeo.

A video of NSU56 travelling along near lake Eyre South with a bogie water tanker; and an accomodation van; and on to Curdimurka with a cab ride across the long iron bridge before the train continued to William Creek where it had to load another train of flat wagons with rail. NSU56 was returning from Marree to where it had transported a load of recovered rail from William Creek as well as NSU55 which had failed while attempting to transport the rail to Marree the previous day.
The contractor stopped and offered me a return cab ride over the long iron bridge from Curdimurka. Beneath the bridge is a flood plain and a main water course for water that drains into the lake Eyre water course is part of. Salt can be seen on the surface of the main water course which is dry, as the train crosses the bridge.
After crossing the bridge, the train was reversed back over the bridge to where my vehicle was parked. (it was quite a large size unconjested car park too) Upon the return to Curdimurka, my vehicle then became bogged in the mud from a spring and the contractor left the train on the main line to help with a push out of the mud.
While this was happening, the train started to roll by itself back towards the iron bridge we had just reversed over and the contractor took a short cut and climbed aboard NSU56 on its way past and then continued on back over the iron bridge and towards William Creek. The train was rolling along and the contractor climbed onto the locomotive before blowing the air horn as it continued towards William creek.
Thank you to the contractor who gave me the opportunity to video the crossing of this bridge at Curdimurka.
Information on a sign at Curdimurka:
The Curdimurka siding dating from 1888 is the last remaining station yard of significance left intact on the old Ghan Railway and includes station yard, water treatment plant, tower and associated water tank, fettlers' cottages and the nearby Stuart Creek Bridge. This 433 metre long plate girder bridge is located a kilometre west of Curdimurka and is the second longest bridge on the former Ghan line. It was built in 1887-88 and is on the register of the National Estate and on the State Heritage Register.
Local Aborigines believed that a giant snake named Kuddimuckra lived at nearby Lake Eyre. They avoided travelling along the shores of the lake, and when many viewed the approaching Ghan for the first time they fled.
During 1943-44, a Kennicott type lime-soda water softening plant was erected at Curdimurka to deal with the highly mineralised water found locally.
In 1989, heavy rains near Lake Eyre South dumped more than 381mm of rain in 44 hours, twisting part of the remaining trackwork that had been left in the Curdimurka yard. Curdimurka siding has been the location for the Curdimurka Outback Ball since 1986. The event attracts 1000s of tuxedo and taffeta-clad revellers.

Rail Recovery Train old Narrow Gauge Central Australia Railway
from reidgck on Vimeo.


Video above:   Rail Recovery Train old Narrow Gauge Central Australia Railway on its way from near Bopeechee to Marree with a load of recovered rail. The locomotive, NSU56, driven by the contractors, was running backwards pushing an accommodation van; a long distant movement which would surely have been against regulations in the running days of the line. On the first flat wagon can be seen a winch, which was used to pull the recovered rail aboard the train from the rear. There were two trains of flat wagons with one being loaded while the other was making the trip to Marree for unloading behind the other NSU locomotive, number 55, that was also being used by the contractors. The wagon on which the winch was mounted, was thus left at the work site being attached to the train that was being loaded, but on this occasion, NSU56 made the trip to Marree as well and the winch wagon went along as well. As the work moved closer to Marree, the comparative length of time taken for the trip to Marree, unload and return to the work site became less, to the extent, that rather than waiting for the return of the unloaded train, time could obviously be better spent in running some extra trips to Marree with locomotive NSU56.


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