In a capacious brick warehouse in the historic Eveleigh railway precinct, hundreds of tonnes of heritage railway carriages and equipment is sitting idle after the NSW government terminated a tour company's access to the site and changed the locks.
For 30 years, 3801 Limited, a heritage rail company run by volunteers, has had almost exclusive use of the warehouse - called the Large Erecting Shop - to run its historic railway tours through the Southern Highlands and along the Hawkesbury River.
The heritage rail group's access to the site, so close to Redfern Station, has been periodically threatened. When in 2006 the former Labor government indicated it might sell the site for development, then opposition transport spokeswoman Gladys Berejiklian insisted it should continue to be used for heritage rail, and said 3801 had been doing a great job.
But in January, after years of failed negotiations and time extensions, Ms Berejiklian's government acted on its plans to convert the warehouse into a facility that could also be used by other other rail heritage companies.
The Large Erecting Shop manager Alan Gardner climbs aboard a carriage at Everleigh Railway Precinct, Everleigh.
The Large Erecting Shop manager Alan Gardner climbs aboard a carriage at Everleigh Railway Precinct, Everleigh. Photo: Kate Geraghty
Through its not-for-profit entity, Transport Heritage NSW, the government served 3801 Limited with a termination notice and locked the company out of the workshop, granting it restricted access only to remove its property.
As a result, 3801 has been forced to cancel its upcoming tours runs, and with lost income now mounting well into five figures, one of the state's key heritage rail operators is now in a precarious financial state.
Sharyn Gregory, chairman of 3801 Limited, said the company's eviction had let it with nowhere to go and, with no revenue coming in, no means of funding a move.
"We don't have the slush fund available to move, and we don't have anywhere to move to," Ms Gregory said.
The Large Erecting Shop at Everleigh Railway Precinct,which has been in continual use since the 1890s
The Large Erecting Shop at Everleigh Railway Precinct,which has been in continual use since the 1890s Photo: Kate Geraghty
"At this stage there is no alternative site in NSW for any heritage operator to undertake carriage restoration work."
The situation is now at a standstill, and there is no resolution is sight.
This diesel locomotive is among 3801 Limited's vintage fleet, which is now locked inside the Large Erecting Shed in Eveleigh.
This diesel locomotive is among 3801 Limited's vintage fleet, which is now locked inside the Large Erecting Shed in Eveleigh. Photo: Thomas Durber
For more than a century, tradesmen have toiled and tinkered on train carriages inside large erecting shop, making it among the oldest railway workshops still in use in the country.
Since 1986, 3801 Limited has paid peppercorn rent for use of the site, located within Redfern's Technology Park, where it maintains its fleet of vintage diesel locomotives and operates its Cockatoo Run tour.
Historic Eveleigh railway yard in Sydney under threat
It occupies most of the workshop, but Transport Heritage NSW also has property stored there, as do some smaller operators.
The decision to terminate 3801's access to the site was not a snap one, Transport for NSW said.
It first issued the company with 12 months' notice to leave the site in 2014, following a government review of the heritage rail network, which found the company's near exclusive use of the warehouse had "been a source of conflict in the sector".
The work required to make it a shared user facility, including bringing it into line with modern safety standards, "cannot happen until 3801 Ltd's assets are removed", a spokesperson from Transport for NSW said.
The department said it had "offered support" to assist with the relocation, but insisted "the overall responsibility for finding and relocating to another site lies with 3801 Limited".
Ms Gregory said 3801 Limited was prepared to downsize to allow other operators access to the facility, but they couldn't afford to gamble leaving the site without a guarantee they would be able to be to recommence their tour operations.
She said countless meetings with Transport for NSW and Transport Heritage NSW had failed to produced any written agreements about the company's access and future licensing costs.
"It appears that discussion can't occur until after we leave the shed."
As the intransigence continues, Ms Gregory said the company's ability to stay afloat was "not good", leaving a question mark hovering over the future of the company's beautifully restored carriages.