Tucked away in a small town in New South Wales, Australia, you can find several giant time machines. In a quaint countryside rail yard, historic rail cars await, ready to transport passengers back in time to experience the glory days of rail travel.
The members of the Rail Motor Society (RMS) are caretakers of these mechanical marvels. Since 1984, this group of volunteers has been dedicated to preserving Australia’s railway heritage. Through the passionate work of the RMS, the historic vehicles are available for everyone to enjoy, for local day trips, special events or long weekend getaways across the state of New South Wales. Rail enthusiasts also visit the rail yard as the trains are restored to their former glory.
The RMS’ collection consists of three CPH class rail motors, a rail motor trailer, a complete 400-Class set and the last surviving 600-Class units. The history of the CPH dates back to 1923, when it first entered service. A total of 37 CPHs were built by the New South Wales Government Railways. They were an immediate success and passenger service increased steadily. The vehicles were known as “Tin Hares,” named after the mechanical lures used in greyhound racing in Australia.
“The CPH worked mostly on country branches, connecting with mail trains and providing service to rural communities throughout New South Wales,” says Bruce Agland, RMS operations manager. “They consisted of a passenger compartment on each end, and a central compartment for luggage, light goods and parcels.”
CPH rail motors were built with a separate body on a steel underframe. The body utilized beautiful timber construction, mainly Queensland yellow wood, pines and cedars. Plenty of windows on both sides provide spacious panoramic views of the passing countryside.
Originally, CPH Rail Motors were fitted with gas engines. The advent of powerful lightweight diesels in the late 1940s provided the impetus for an upgrade. The first Detroit Diesel 2-Cycle 6-cylinder Series 71 engine was deployed in New South Wales in April 1945. Its success led to further installations in the other surviving CPH rail motors. The Series 71 engine provides approximately 150 hp to power the 25-ton rail cars, coupled with a Twin Disc hydraulic torque converter transmission. “The 6-71s have a sweet distinctive sound,” says Agland. “The Rocky Mountain Hummingbird nickname always comes to mind when I hear them running.”
In later years, CPH rail motors served the outer parts of Sydney. When the lines became electrified, the CPH was no longer needed. After 60 years of faithful service, the last of the CPHs were withdrawn from country branch lines in 1984. But that wasn’t the end of the line. The same year, the Rail Motor Society was formed to collect, preserve and operate these historic vehicles.
Today, RMS members continue to work tirelessly to keep the collection in top condition. Three CPH rail motors are powered by the Series 71, as well as one 400-Class rail motor with twin Series 71 engines. It is a credit to their engine design that these vehicles are running well into the 21st Century, fully accredited for main line operations. Routine maintenance is all that’s needed—regular oil changes and inspections, and the occasional injector change.
The rail motors in the RMS collection have enjoyed a long run. Most of the vehicles have travelled well over one million miles in their lifetime. “They just keep on keeping on,” says Agland. Thanks to the efforts of the Rail Motor Society, these vehicles continue to provide an important connecting service—transporting passengers from the present to the past, and back again.
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