Rare locomotive makes move to museum

Bundaberg Railway Museum has taken delivery of an important piece of Queensland history after it was gifted a decommissioned 1960s 1600 class diesel-electric locomotive.

There are just five existing 1600 class locomotives remaining, located at railway museums and displays around Queensland.

The DEL1603 locomotive, the model of engine gifted to the museum, was built by English Electric in Rocklea Queensland, between 1962 and 1964, along with 17 other locomotives in the 1600 class.

At the time of their introduction, diesel locomotives in the 1600 class moved freight for approximately half the cost of the older steam engines.

In a massive day-long effort, the DEL1603 was moved from CQUniversity’s Bundaberg campus to the Bundaberg Railway Museum under the watchful eye of Bundaberg Railway Historical Society President Jim Morris.

Transporting a 62-tonne locomotive by road was no easy feat, involving three cranes, four trucks and many hours of careful planning.

Jim said the historical society had been planning and working toward the relocation for around 18 months after being offered the locomotive in late 2021.

Assisting the Bundaberg Railway Historical Society in planning the move was local businessman Shane McEwan from Heritage City Earthmoving.

“This wouldn’t have happened without what [Shane’s] done for us,” Jim said.

“Because the diesel had sat for so long, all the oils has solidified; he got it moving again.”

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Locomotive relocation a delicate operation

Relocating the locomotive was a multistep process in which the engine was hoisted by two cranes from Wide Bay Crane Hire working in unison, one 200-tonne crane and one 150-tonne crane, onto a 5×4 multideck truck with dolly.

A section of railway track had to be put onto the truck to sit under the locomotive, so the wheels didn’t cut into the truck deck and damage it.

The locomotive was hoisted from steel lifting lugs which were borrowed from a Gympie-based railway enthusiast, and the wheel sets, known as bogies, were supported to stop them twisting and damaging the underside of the engine.

“We were concerned that the bogies would move up or down or sideways,” Jim said.

Once successfully on the truck, the relief of the watching historical society members was evident, though short-lived, as attention then turned to the effort required to transport the heavy load across Bundaberg to the railway museum.

The locomotive, which doesn’t have working brakes in its non-operational state, had to be secure for the journey.

As the cranes prepared for the second lift a lot of skill was required to manoeuvre the long load down suburban Bundaberg North streets and reversing it through the narrow entrance of the Railway Museum.

Shane likened the process of reversing a truck with a dolly as “about as fun to drive as pushing a garden hose ahead of you”.

Watching the process were Queensland Rail employees on their lunchbreak who were happy to be able to witness the locomotive’s arrival.

Rail worker Robbie Hewitt recalled seeing the 1600 class diesels used in the Maryborough railyards.

“When they were short of the shunting engines, which are the little green DHs, they'd use these and the 1700 class,” Robbie said.

“It brings back some good memories.

“As soon as we saw it as a 1600 class, we knew it was an old one.”

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Railway Historical Society volunteer hours to prepare for locomotive's arrival

To prepare for the locomotive’s arrival, Bundaberg Railway Historical Society members had spent many volunteer hours re-sleepering and re-ballasting a section of the current line at the railway museum.

The truck was positioned over the prepared section of track and, as the diesel engine was again hoisted skyward, the truck slid out from underneath, allowing the locomotive to then be gently lowered onto the rails of its new permanent home.

When asked how he felt to see the locomotive safely in place, Jim laughed and said that he “still feel(s) nervous.”

“It feels pretty good,” he said.

“It's been a big day but worth it. Been a long wait.”

Historical society secretary Gillian Lewis-Shell was pleased to see the operation successfully completed.

“It is just so exciting to actually see it in place, I can't believe it,” she said.

DEL1603 to be carefully restored

Next priorities for the Bundaberg Railway Historical Society will be the gentle restoration of the DEL1603 and the extension of the existing cover to provide protection from the weather.

Visitors to the Bundaberg Railway Museum can see the DEL1603 in its new home during museum opening hours on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

The museum welcomes interested volunteers to get involved in the restoration of the DEL1603 and other Bundaberg Railway Historical Society activities.

Keep an eye out for our 21 July edition of Weekender to read more about the interesting history of this now rare locomotive.