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Linking central Victoria via the old railway line
A Historical Overview
The Victorian Railways had a total of 6320 all-steel 22-ton capacity 4-wheel open wagons constructed between 1939 and 1958. Approximately 50 percent of these wagons were built at the Victorian Railways’ own workshops at Newport Melbourne, North Ballarat and North Bendigo.
The balance of the manufactured wagons were built under contract by A.E.Goodwin NSW, Pressed Steel Co. Lindwood Scotland, Birmingham Railway Carriage & Wagon Co, and Metro-Cammell Birmingham England.
These GY and HY open wagons were used all over the Victorian Railway’s broad gauge main line, cross country and branch line network for bulk grain as well as general freight haulage. A fitted tarpaulin would be used to cover bulk grain and frequently also for general loads.
The HY type wagons were built specifically for general freight. Numbers 15870 to 17030 being constructed between 1948 – 1958, with HY 17024 being the last of the HY’s built at the Bendigo workshops and issued to service on 07.08.1958 (RS 58/8312). A total of 675 HY/GY wagons were to be built at the Bendigo railway workshops.
When the GY and HY wagons were built, they were painted in VR ‘wagon red’. From around 1948, a diagonal yellow stripe was applied to the corners of GY wagons to differentiate them from non-grain proofed HY wagons. Commencing in 1961, the HY wagons were modified to be grain proofed, received the GY classification (G=Grain, Y=ton underframe) whilst mainly retaining their original HY identity. At manufacture, the wagon’s number was stamped on a plate that was welded onto the chassis.
The GY and converted HY wagons were mainly required for carrying bulk grain from rural farming areas to bulk silos for export (via shipping) or to milling / flour mills located around the State. To transport the bulk grain, the side doors needed to be tight and grain proof to prevent leakage. When not used for grain traffic, the wagons were used to carry general freight as required, from timber, firewood, hay and milled timber, to vehicles, machinery and in reality anything that could fit into the interior space.
From 1969, the GY grain proof wagons were gradually repainted from ‘wagon red’ colour to the ‘Hansa’ yellow livery, so as to improve their visibility to road traffic at level crossings. Specific white square markers were painted on the body, to assist rail staff with the location of the one handbrake lever. Yet wagons painted in the original VR ‘wagon red’ livery could still be seen in the rail network into the late 1970’s.
By 1981, wagons for general class traffic were being scrapped, so the railways de-rated many of the grain wagons to general class by reclassifying them to ‘G’ and retaining the same number. The grain proofing maintenance of the wagons was stopped. From 1984, the railways began to apply computer check lettering to the number, hence the ‘R’ at the end of the number e.g. GY16625R. With the change to ‘G’ and non-bulk proofing/grain proofing, those yellow wagons had a red stripe applied in the diagonal corners. When serviced (‘lifted’, a 5-year cycle) these ‘G’ vehicles with red stripes were re-issued painted all in the former ‘wagon red’ livery.
The 1972 Bland Report and 1980 Lonie Report, both commissioned by the Victorian Government, were to influence the introduction of larger capacity freight wagons in Victoria for bulk transportation, plus there was also an increasing general use of shipping containers for freight. The Lonie report’s recommendations also enabled Victorian Governments to close many of the rural railway lines. All this resulted in all these wagons being withdrawn from traffic service by 1990 and scrapped.
Of the surviving wagons, approximately 50 still remain owned by the State (PTV), with most of this wagon class now being located with Victorian heritage tourist railways. Two wagons are now on public display as static heritage examples of past railway rolling stock, with one wagon on the O’Keefe Rail Trail at Axedale (HY16625) and one on the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail at Cowwarr (GY2300R).
This railway goods wagon, originally numbered HY16625, is a typical example of a standard 4-wheeled open wagon once used by the Victorian Railways on the likes of the former ‘Wallan, Heathcote and Sandhurst’ cross country line and the broad gauge railway network in general. The O’Keefe Rail Trail is now based upon a section of this former cross country line. The wagon’s brief history –
Removed from operational use, this wagon was then stored at the Korumburra Station yards where the heritage South Gippsland Tourist Railway was based. Following the cessation of that tourist railway group in 2016, wagon GY16625R was formally allocated to the Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail community group by Public Transport Victoria (PTV) in February 2018. Transported by road to the O’Keefe Rail Trail at Axedale in May 2018, this transportation was enabled by funding provided by a Kirkland Lake Gold Community Grant.
With the decision to restore the wagon back to its original HY appearance, restoration works that included sandblasting back to bare metal was carried out by BRW (Bendigo Railway Workshops) company during Nov 2019-Feb 2020. This restoration work was made possible by significant funding provided by the Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail community group, as well as being helped by the enthusiastic cooperation of BRW staff.
Following restoration of the wagon HY16625, with some of its ‘post work life imperfections’ retained, it was placed back at the former Axedale Station site (O’Keefe Rail Trail) on the section of reconstructed track. Such shows its direct link to the former VR North Bendigo Workshops (employing 720 staff in 1966) and identifying the past importance of the railway industry to Bendigo’s economy.
This wagon also provides a reflective link to the former ‘Wandong, Heathcote and Sandhurst’ cross country line, which became known for its Wallan-Bendigo service, then the Wallan-Heathcote service, and decades later the O’Keefe Rail Trail being located on the former Bendigo-Heathcote section. A link to how this railway line assisted the growth of those connected small rural towns and farming communities, for about 70 years for the Bendigo-Heathcote section (79 years for Heathcote-Heathcote Junction section) before being finally closed and dismantled.
The wagon restoration project’s next stage was to provide all abilities access for the public into the wagon’s internal area, where freight was once carried. With the new ramp manufactured and installed just prior to a relaxation of COVID19 restrictions, an official opening by City of Greater of Bendigo Mayor Cr Margaret O’Rourke was able to take place on Sunday 20 Sept being witnessed by a small number of invitees.
“As the only item of heritage railway rolling stock now on public static display in the Bendigo area, this is an important asset for Bendigo as well as a great point of interest for the popular O’Keefe Rail Trail” said Cr O’Rourke.
Date: 22 Sept 2020. (V10). Garry Long