Triple-gauge turnout constructed by PRRPS (Photo: Andrew Thompson)
Triple-gauge turnout constructed by PRRPS

For most of the last decade Pichi Richi Railway Preservation Society Inc. (PRRPS) has generated useful surpluses through the hiring of our track machinery to other railways including Zig Zag Railway, Australian National and BHP Co Ltd Whyalla. These surpluses have contributed to numerous projects around Quorn, including completion of the CWA Hut, the diesel annexe etc.

Earlier in the year, PRRPS was invited to tender a lump sum price for the provision of labour and equipment to construct six mixed-gauge turnouts at the Port Dock Museum site. The work was part of their $550,000 Commonwealth Railways Museum project funded by the Centenary of Federation.

PRRPS was the successful tenderer against 'mainstream' railway maintenance contractors which included Transfield, Rail Services Australia, Railways' General Supplies and others. Subsequent negotiations with Port Dock management enabled an excellent working relationship to be established between both groups with successful outcomes for all concerned.

The majority of the works entailed constructing 3'-6" / 4'-8½" dual gauge turnouts to enable the museum's narrow and standard gauge exhibits to be relocated from time to time to develop different display themes. Unlike the broad gauge exhibits these items have been 'trapped' since their original positioning over a decade ago. Also included was a fully triple gauge turnout i.e. three gauges, 3'-6", 4'-8½" and 5'-3" on both legs. In addition two of the dual gauge turnouts had a broad gauge track running through on the straight!

Has PRRPS just built the first dual and triple gauge turnouts this century?

The turnout rail components were originally fabricated .in the mid 1960's for the Sydney Perth standardisation project and were installed at Gladstone and Peterborough. Recovery of the components was completed shortly before the.contract was due to start. All rail was 94 lb/yd (47 kg /m) and most was in 'as new' condition! Just imagine new 94 lb rail for a 'static' museum while PRR still runs on 50 lb rail on our mainline at 20 mph 50 lb rail rolled in 1888!

New red gum crossing timbers and sleepers were provided by the museum and new crushed rock ballast was ordered on an as required basis during the construction. Work commenced on site on 18 March with a team consisting of myself, member Andrew Thompson, and Barry Retallack and Andrew Illich from our recent successful Stirling North works. Later, additional labour was provided by member Jonathan Thompson. The Ford A62 loader arrived on Marlington Transport from Quorn and the Toyota ute carried the necessary tools, air compressor and generator. The team was highly focussed and was only delayed for around two hours by rain during the entire period. With the assistance of Robert Gates and Richard Crookall from Port Dock as part of the contractual negotiations, the initial scope of works, including lifting and ballasting of all six turnouts, was completed in a little under 22 working days. This efficient progress resulted in PRRPS being offered additional works at the site for a further seven days. This involved dual gauge track construction, realignment and packing of other existing track on site in conjunction with the new turnouts.

As before, the successful completion of these works resulted in a surplus for PRRPS to assist in our own preservation objectives. I acknowledge the total dedication provided by the employees involved and the interest, support and involvement of various Port Dock people including Steve Y, Robert, Steve G, Martin and Bob. A most pleasurable project for all involved, and made even more so during the last week when PRRPS's first life member, former CR Commissioner K A Smith and PRR's first President, Reg Mayes, visited to inspect progress while researching for KA's book project! In 1973 could either of these gentlemen ever have imagined how PRRPS would have developed to this stage in 27 years?

I'll certainly look forward to seeing NM34 out in the sunlight (at least for a short while) in the not too distant future.