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New Volunteer Activity at Eveleigh’s Large

Volunteers are again buzzing around the Large Erecting Shop (LES) in Eveleigh.

The focus is the restoration of the 1937 sleeping car TAM 502, L516. The carriage was used as a works van and most recently for crew quarters by 3801 at Port Kembla, for 3801 Limited’s ‘Cockatoo Run’, before it went into storage at the Goulburn Roundhouse. In June 2007, L516 returned to Eveleigh for restoration by 3801 Ltd volunteers. Much progress is being made and the volunteers have set up a blog at to document the restoration of the carriage.

This new activity at the LES underlines the important place volunteers play in the preservation of heritage rail rolling stock and the importance of such activities in building the heritage skill base. It also emphasises the importance of the LES as a well equipped and easily accessible location for such maintenance work. The ongoing uses of the Large for both training and for volunteer projects are central elements of the Friends of Eveleigh’s Concept Plan for the continued use of the LES for heritage rail purposes. If you want to see what volunteer involvement involves then just visit the L516 blog.

The removal of Locomotive 3801 and many of the carriages used by 3801 from the LES in Eveleigh had a detrimental impact on approximately 150 regular volunteers that worked at the LES. Over the 20 years that 3801 was at the LES, volunteers and RailCorp apprentices had drawn on the expertise of the 3801 Limited staff and former railway tradesmen. The removal of some of the carriages in early 2007 without any recognition of the volunteers who had spent hundreds of hours restoring and maintaining “their” carriages was particularly hurtful to many of the volunteers. This was compounded when volunteers found that “their” carriages were no longer being stored undercover but left outside exposed to the elements. Understandably many were reluctant to consider starting on new projects on RailCorp or other rolling stock that might similarly be taken away at some time in the future without any recognition of the emotional and financial investment made in the carriages by the dedicated volunteers.

The expectation in the Office of Rail Heritage seemed to be that the volunteers would follow the carriages to Thirlmere but this is not practical for the majority of the volunteers. Over 90% of the volunteers at the LES travelled from the Illawarra, Western and Northern Lines even as far as Swansea and some from the Northern Beaches. Most used public transport to get to Eveleigh and to go to Thirlmere they would have had a round trip of 5 to 6 hours. The lack of volunteers moving to Thirlmere was very much a product of its location and the difficulty they faced in getting to and from the location.

The Friends of Eveleigh have argued in their concept plan for the future of the LES that it should continue to function as a railway workshop for the rail heritage operators and railway heritage groups across the state. Key to their proposal is having a Sydney base where volunteers can easily work on rolling stock, with others who have the skills in steam, in diesel and in carriage building, and so broaden the skills and expertise available to all heritage rail groups.

The Friends of Eveleigh argue Sydney needs to have its own Heritage Rail Centre to service the state’s population centre and the local, interstate and international tourism trade. Sydney also needs an easy to access place where volunteers can develop their skills and contribute to maintenance of the state’s rail heritage. Those restoring L516 are not only preserving NSW heritage rolling stock, they are also demonstrating a vital aspect of the future for the site proposed in the Friends of Eveleigh concept plan for the LES.

Geoffrey Turnbull REDWatch