620 Class
Photo: Bruce Agland


In early 1983, the State Rail Authority foreshadowed the withdrawal of the CPH Rail Motors from country branch lines after 60 years of faithful service. The introduction of a new country timetable on 27 November 1983, resulted in the majority of the class being allocated to Wollongong for Illawarra line working with some based at ACDEP (Sydney) for relief work, while the remaining cars were to be withdrawn and either scrapped or sold for preservation. The country services previously provided by rail motors were taken over by State Rail Authority road coaches. No.38 and the 400 and 500 Class rail motors were also withdrawn at this time.

The concept of a preservation group to specifically operate rail motors originated amongst the members of the Newcastle Branch of the Australian Railway Historical Society. A partnership was formed early in 1984 with Australian Railway Historical Society (NSW Division), the NSW Rail Transport Museum, the South Pacific Electric Railway (Sydney Tramway Museum) and Zig Zag Railway Co-operative. The four groups individually purchased various rail motors which they placed under the control of the Society until it became a separate entity following incorporation on 26 May 1986.

A Depot was established on the site of the former goods yard adjacent to the railway station at Paterson on the North Coast Line. The property, which was leased from the SRA (now ARTC) includes the former Station Master's cottage and the Goods Shed. The Society was successful in obtaining Commonwealth Employment Program (CEP) Grants from the Federal Government to provide a security fence around the Depot and for the restoration of a CPH Rail Motor. The Society also negotiated an Operating Agreement with the State Rail Authority to use the NSW rail network.

Rail Motor 402, being still in reasonable operating condition, was hired by State Rail initially for a period of 6 months in December 1986 to carry out radio testing on the NSW network. 402 remained with SRA and subsequently the Rail Infrastructure Corporation before being eventually returned to the Society in June 2001.

Rail Motor No.1 operated its first trial trip to Kilbride on 19 October 1986 and this was followed by Rail Motor No.7 on 18 January 1987. The availability of two Rail motors enabled the Society to commence tourist operations, with the first operation being undertaken to Taree on 1 March 1987. The Society's tourism business grew from strength to strength over the next three years.

THE 1990's...

In late 1989 the Silver City Comet was retired by State Rail and two sets were purchased by the Rail Transport Museum and by Dorrigo Steam Railway and Museum. As neither set could was complete enough to form a working unit, it was agreed that the two sets would be pooled and entrusted to the Society to operate. The delivery of the Comet to Paterson from Parkes took place over Easter 1990.

The accident involving a heritage service operated by 3801 Limited on Sunday, 6 May 1990 changed the face of heritage rail operations in NSW forever. In a massive "knee jerk" reaction the State Rail Authority immediately suspended all heritage operations with wooden bodied rolling stock. This pre-emptive action stifled the Society's primary income source (along with many other operators) and effectively put the Society into a near dormant state. The small band of active members were, however, determined to "soldier-on" operating sporadic charters with hired 620 Class units. Prohibitive charges from State Rail limited the use of these vehicles and the Society's only regular income source was the hire charges from Radio Test Vehicle HPC 402.

In 1991 the State Rail Authority instituted a process of accreditation for private operators and after a lengthy period of evaluation the Society achieved accredited operator status in late 1992. Meanwhile, the NSW State Government had decided to remove regulatory control of railways away from State Rail and place it in the independent hands of the Department of Transport (DoT). Under this arrangement State Rail became another operator under DoT's regulation. As an existing operator, the Society received interim accreditation under the Rail Safety Act, 1993. Following an exhaustive process of submissions, the Society was granted full accreditation as a railway owner/operator by the Department of Transport on 12 May 1995.

After a further series of submissions to DoT, the Society carried out a number of modifications to its CPH Rail Motors. This involved enhancing the safety systems with an improved "dead man" facility, impact resistant front windows, speedometers, data loggers and strobe lights for improved level crossing visibility. CPH 1 and 7 operated a trial trip to Kilbride in June 1996 and recommenced tourist operations in August 1996. Initially, approved operations were limited to selected routes in the north. This limitation was later lifted and the Society was free to undertake state-wide operations.

In early 1992, 600 Class set 602 and 702, power car 606 and trailer 707 were purchased by the Rail Motor Society, following their withdrawal from service. However, 702 was burnt out by vandals at Mortdale Maintenance Centre before delivery could be taken. The partially stripped bodies of 604 and 704 were given to the Rail Motor Society as compensation. In April 1992, the transfer of the six cars to the Society's Depot at Paterson took place.

A survey of the Silver City Comet vehicles revealed that the level of deterioration due to lack of maintenance in their last few years of service was of such proportions that the Society would be unable to restore sufficient vehicles to make operations economically viable. The sets were therefore returned to their respective owners between 1996 and 1998. This freed up more space in the depot and permitted most of the Society's rolling stock to be placed under cover.

In 1993, the NSW Government introduced a new regime for open access to the NSW Rail network. This involved the break-up of the State Rail Authority into four separate Government owned corporations. These new entities separated the train operating business units from the infrastructure and maintenance organisations. These new organisations were:

  • State Rail Authority - metropolitan (CityRail) and country (Countrylink) passenger services
  • Rail Access Corporation - infrastructure owner
  • Railway Services Authority - infrastructure maintenance (later Rail Services Australia)
  • Freight Rail Corporation (FreightCorp) - freight services

The Society negotiated an Access Agreement with Rail Access Corporation, providing access to the NSW rail network. In the break up of the old State Rail, the new entity retained ownership of all stations. The Society was therefore obliged to negotiate a "Use of Facilities" Agreement with State Rail for use of passenger platforms. As an independent operator, the Society was also entitled to employ its own operational crews and an Agreement was negotiated with Australian Rail, Tram and Bus Union for coverage of working conditions for our employees.

The income from 402, combined with a "dollar-for-dollar" Heritage Grant enabled the Society to construct a large steel rail motor shed during 1992-93. The shed, 75 metres long by 14 metres wide, covers three roads and accommodated most of the Society's rolling stock fleet away from potential weather damage.

Following the Cowan Bank incident, the NSW Government, perhaps in a touch of conscience about State Rail's aggressive actions, made money available for Railway Heritage Grants. The Society was successful and was able to install a comprehensive fire fighting system in our rail motor shed.

A decision was also made to proceed with the restoration the CPH class leader - Rail Motor No.3. Through a number of avenues, the Society was able to obtain the services of experienced workers and work on the restoration of the wooden body of No.3 commenced. As these workers included a body builder on workplace rehabilitation, the level of work was not continuous. Various other avenues of funding were requested during this period but the only support was through the workplace rehabilitation scheme.

From 1998 onwards, the Society had re-established itself as a creditable heritage operator and tour provider. Operations are now approaching the Society's voluntary capacity to maintain its vehicles and deliver customer services.

THE 2000's...

During the late 1990's the Society embarked on an extensive program of development at Paterson Depot. This work involved construction of a concrete servicing pit, an on-site fuel storage facility and improved site drainage. The first stage of the works including the base concrete work for the servicing pit and fuel storage was completed in 2000. This was followed by the installation of a fuel tank and drainage during 2001. The fuelling system was completed in 2002 when pipe work in the shed and fuelling hoses were installed. The servicing pit was completed in January 2003 when the concrete aprons and jacking pads were poured.

The Society's collection of Rail Motors is significant and was listed on the NSW State Heritage Register in June 2000. During 2002, the Society received a Heritage Grant of $30,000 to assist with the restoration of CPH No.3.

Rail Motor 402 was returned from State Rail in July 2000. In almost 14 years service of radio testing, 402 had traversed every active railway line and connected private branch in NSW and covered some 200,000 kilometres. It was also used to carry out a survey to locate the entire NSW rail network using satellite (GPS) technology. The survey project received an Excellence in Surveying Award from the NSW Institution of Surveyors in 1995.

After its return to the Society, 402 was contracted to carry out a number further tests including the Hunter Valley, Dapto to Kiama electrification and re-signalling and re-testing of MetroNet radio system in the CityRail area. The vehicle was also used as an inspection vehicle for Rail Infrastructure Corporation Management. During these latter engagements, 402 operated under Society control with Society crews. 402 continues to provide ARTC and other customers with rail based inspection services as well as providing specialist tourist operations.

Rail Motor CPH 18, originally part of the Society's fleet, was exchanged for CPH 3 that was part of State Rail's collection. CPH 18 was considered to be in a "more original" condition than CPH 3 and it was felt that this unit would make a more historical exhibit for display at Thirlmere. CPH 18 was a long time tenant of the Society's depot and in early 2003, was removed to the Maintrain Centre at Clyde where it was restored by State Rail apprentices for future RTM operations. CPH 18 is now an exhibit at Trainworks, Thirlmere.

Over the years, the Society has gathered a collection railway artefacts and memorabilia and has established a small museum to display these items in the old Station Master's residence. The display features safeworking instruments and items form both the steam and diesel era in NSW.

On 1 January 2001, the Rail Access Corporation and Rail Services Australia were amalgamated to form the Rail Infrastructure Corporation. July 2002 saw FreightCorp as well as the State's interest in National Rail sold to a private enterprise consortium of Patrick Corporation and Toll Holdings, the new business being called Pacific National.

In September 2004, the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) took control over the majority of the NSW network leaving only the metropolitan area bounded by Unanderra, Macarthur, Bowenfels and Islington Junction under government control. The Society has negotiated a separate Access and Safety Interface Agreement with ARTC.

Once the bodywork on CPH 3 was completed and the vehicles handed over for the mechanical side of the restoration, the Society commenced restoration of the body of Rail Motor Trailer CTC 51. In April 2009, the Minister for Planning, the Hon. Kristina Keneally MP, approved a Heritage Grant of $40,000 to progress the conservation works on the trailer car. CPH 3 was returned to main line service in August 2011.

July 2007 saw the introduction of the Hunter rail cars and the retirement of the last of the 620 Class rolling stock. 621/721 and 623/723 were allocated to RailCorp's core heritage collection and would be managed, like other core collection items, by the State's heritage operators for RailCorp. The Society had, for many years prior, lobbied for the class leader 621/721 to remain in the Lower Hunter Region where it held a significant historical relationship. Tenders were called in mid-2008 for the custody of the two units and the Society was successful in obtaining the custody of 621/721, while 623/723 went to the Rail Transport Museum. 621/721 was transferred from Broadmeadow to Paterson in October 2008 and has subsequently operated a number of main line tours.

In November 2008, the Society was accredited for standard gauge operations in Queensland.

THE 2010's...

During 2011, the NSW Government decided to tender for the management of the Country Regional Network (CRN), that was up to then then managed by ARTC. The tender was awarded to John Holland Rail and they assumed control of the CRN in January, 2012. A separate Access Agreement and Safety Interface Agreement has been negotiated for use of the CRN.

At the behest of ARTC, the Society sought accreditation of limited operations in Victoria to support ARTC's standard gauge projects. After protracted negotiations with Public Transport Safety Victoria, the Society was accredited for limited standard gauge operations in August 2012.

In December 2012, the Society was recognized by the NSW Office of Rail Heritage (ORH) for its outstanding efforts in the conservation of NSW's rail heritage.


   ORH Certificate

The Council of Australian Governments was committed to the national reform of rail safety regulation, which has seen the establishment of a single national regulator, the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR), to administer nationally consistent legislation, the Rail Safety National Law. This represented a major change in rail safety regulation which had historically been delivered by State and Territory regulators. The Rail Safety National Law was first enacted in South Australia in 2012 and each state and territory has enacted enabling legislation to make the Rail Safety National Law the applicable rail safety legislation in that jurisdiction. The law also established ONRSR as the body responsible for rail safety regulation nationally.

The Rail Safety National Law came into effect on 20 January 2013, with South Australia, Northern Territory, Tasmania and New South Wales as the first participants. Victoria joined on 19 May 2014, followed by the Australian Capital Territory on 2 November 2015, Western Australia on 2 November 2015 and finally Queensland on 1 July 2017. In the transition period (2013-2017) the Society continued deal with multiple regulators. The establishment of ONRSR has simplified the regulatory environment and provides a consistent approach across all jurisdictions, although accreditation is still processed and handed out on a state-by-state basis.

The Society made an abortive attempt in 2017 to obtain accreditation by ONRSR in South Australia and the balance of Victoria. In what was a poorly managed process by the Regulator, one of the issues raised was how do we recover our rolling stock in the event of a total failure. The answer to this came to fruition when 73 Class loco, 7344, came available for management through Transport Heritage for NSW (THNSW). 7344 is part of RailCorp's core Heritage Fleet and was for many years was in the hands of 3801 Limited. With 3801 Limited's demise, the locomotive was retroceded to THNSW. The Society was successful in its application for management of the unit and following the relevant paperwork and variation to our Accreditation it was transferred to Paterson on 28 December 2018. This also answered a long cherished dream to have our own shunting locomotive for Paterson Depot, now with a main line operational capability.

During this decade the Society has received a number of grants through various government sponsored programs. Many of these were through Transport Heritage for NSW for maintenance projects on our rolling stock. Others were for development of infrastructure at the Paterson Depot. Key among these was $24,500 under the Hunter Region Heritage Grants Program 2016-2017 to enable the construction of a 30 meter by 4 metre extension to the Rail Motor Shed. This project involved the relocation of KB 2511 from the north to the south side of the Goods Shed, prior to construction commencing. Work was completed in May 2017.

2020 AND BEYOND...

During 2019, a further application was made to ONRSR for accreditation in South Australia and the balance of Victoria. Despite a very rocky start, accreditation was finally granted on 3 June 2020. This has now meant further negotiations for access agreements with V/Line and Great Southern Rail for use of their respective infrastructure. Negotiations with these entities are still in progress.

Further grants were received in late 2019 for projects completed in 2020. $20,000 was received under the Federal Communities Environment Program to facilitate the piping of the open drain along the north-western side of the Rail Motor Shed. The work involved the laying of over 100 metres of concrete drainage pipe and the construction resulted in the formation of the foundations for No.4 Road. Negotiations had been underway with ARTC to take over the abandoned siding outside of our boundary. Agreement was finally reached in late 2019 and a grant of $7,000 under the Federal Stronger Communities Program was received to assist with the cost of the new security fence around the siding. Work on both projects was completed in June 2020.