Could the Comet cross the Blue Mountains?

 
  GeoffreyHansen Minister for Railways

Location: In a FAM sleeper
As a child I was once told that the early NSW railmotors such as the Silver City Comet were not powerful enough to cross the Blue Mountains so that they had to terminate at places like Parkes or Orange.

In recent years I've seen CPH railmotors pass through Katoomba which makes me wonder could the Comet cross the Blue Mountains and if not how did it get to Patterson? Don't other parts of the State have gradients as steep as the Blue Mountains?

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  Matthew Train Controller

As a child I was once told that the early NSW railmotors such as the Silver City Comet were not powerful enough to cross the Blue Mountains so that they had to terminate at places like Parkes or Orange.

In recent years I've seen CPH railmotors pass through Katoomba which makes me wonder could the Comet cross the Blue Mountains and if not how did it get to Patterson? Don't other parts of the State have gradients as steep as the Blue Mountains?
GeoffreyHansen
I was a passenger on the transfer run from Parkes to Patterson. (Sometime in the early 90s ?). It came over the mountains to Sydney.

The comet set (2 motors and most of the fleet of matching passenger cars) got stuck on the grade at Beecroft (I think, some where around there) and had to be pushed by a following V set.
When the V set pushed from behind I think that was the fastest we went on the entire climb from the Parramatta River to Cowan.

I have a vague recollection at the time being told the train probably would have made it up the grade but the brakes were sticking on one of the luggage vans, and it was proving difficult for the two power vans to co-ordinate the application of power (no multiple unit).

Crews were 'relaxed' out west in those days. On a regular run, I made to Broken Hill just to 'ride the comet before it ceased regular service', the crews were quite happy to give us cab rides and even let us walk through the power car from the train to 'swap'.
I recall at one point seeing the driver up in the buffet car drinking tea. Who's driving if you are here ?. 'One of me mates riding pass wanted to get some time up on the comet so I left him to it'.

Todays elf-n-safy would have 'kittens' at the stuff we got up to back then.

Since the comet was basically a locomotive hauled set, the answer really would depend on how many carriages the motor car had to haul up the hill. If you knew it was going to be tough, leave a car or two behind to lighten the load.
  Gaz170 Junior Train Controller

Location: Gold Coast
As a child I was once told that the early NSW railmotors such as the Silver City Comet were not powerful enough to cross the Blue Mountains so that they had to terminate at places like Parkes or Orange.

In recent years I've seen CPH railmotors pass through Katoomba which makes me wonder could the Comet cross the Blue Mountains and if not how did it get to Patterson? Don't other parts of the State have gradients as steep as the Blue Mountains?
I was a passenger on the transfer run from Parkes to Patterson. (Sometime in the early 90s ?). It came over the mountains to Sydney.

The comet set (2 motors and most of the fleet of matching passenger cars) got stuck on the grade at Beecroft (I think, some where around there) and had to be pushed by a following V set.
When the V set pushed from behind I think that was the fastest we went on the entire climb from the Parramatta River to Cowan.

I have a vague recollection at the time being told the train probably would have made it up the grade but the brakes were sticking on one of the luggage vans, and it was proving difficult for the two power vans to co-ordinate the application of power (no multiple unit).

Matthew
I was on the trip from Central to Patterson, there were also guys walking besides the power cars throwing sand on the tracks under the wheels before the V set was called into action.  Yes it was around Beecroft.

And I believe the sticking brakes were on one of the last carriages, the back 2 were empty IIRC.  I have photos somewhere.
  theanimal Chief Commissioner

There was the classic time that the Comet was doing a Gunzel run on the Up shore and was unable to lift the load somewhere between Wynyard and Town hall, I seem to recall there was a jumper coupling issue that actually had 1 car trying to run in reverse.

Well before smoke detectors etc, the fumes led to the partial evacuation of one of the stations, very early 1990's if i can recall
  fzr560 Chief Train Controller

As a child I was once told that the early NSW railmotors such as the Silver City Comet were not powerful enough to cross the Blue Mountains so that they had to terminate at places like Parkes or Orange.

In recent years I've seen CPH railmotors pass through Katoomba which makes me wonder could the Comet cross the Blue Mountains and if not how did it get to Patterson? Don't other parts of the State have gradients as steep as the Blue Mountains?
GeoffreyHansen
Ruling grade from Parkes to Orange is 1 in 40. Lithgow to Central is 1 in 42. Central to Lithgow is 1 in 33 and Unanderra to Robertson 1 in 30. As mentioned by Matthew, there's probably no definite answer. It all depended on how much was being dragged up hill. Railmotors were rostered on the Wgong- Moss Vale shuttles and did the trip without any dramas(besides needing a rest at Summit Tank).
  CPH8 Locomotive Fireman

Slightly off subject but..... As I recall, the problem with CPH railmotors crossing the Blue Mountains was not so much the power but the ability of the handbrake to hold the vehicle on a descending grade. The two railmotors used on the Wollongong - Moss Vale line had specially modified lower geared handbrakes. I was on CPH 22 when it ran from Leightonfield to Dubbo in 1987 I think it was, on delivery to the Macquarie Valley Railway Society. We were told that we could not take passengers (we actually wound up taking 7 Japanese tourists who had missed the XPT), go as fast as possible on the speedway through Penrith and not stop until we reached the summit. We stopped at Lithgow to change drivers and again halfway between Blayney and Orange in the shade of a bridge for a picnic lunch. It was quite a trip and a tribute to the excellent work done by a handful of volunteers in getting it into immaculate condition for the run. She never missed a beat. 22 is now with her sisters 6 and 8 at Cooma.
  neillfarmer Chief Train Controller

My memory is somewhat hazy here but the Comet set operated on the Short North for a time. It was found not suitable due to trouble ascending Cowan Bank. This may have been shortly after construction and before allotment to the west.
  michaelgm Chief Commissioner

Used on the short north, rings a bell with me also. IIRC! During a coal shortage, or miners strike.
  7334 Chief Commissioner

Location: In the workshop wondering why I started 7334 in the first place
There is reference to the use of the Comet sets on the short north in the book "Rail motors and XPTs" by David Cooke published by the ARHS in 1984 (pages 40 and 41).

The original plan was to use the sets on services between Parkes/Broken Hill and Dubbo/Bourke and sufficient rolling stock was built to allow this.  The Dubbo/Bourke service did not eventuate and the spare sets were sent to Sydney during WW2 for use on Sydney/Canberra services.  They were also used  between Sydney Newcastle during a coal shortage.

Quoting verbatim from page 41:

"During April 1940 the power vans still at Parkes were transferred to Sydney to operate a service between Sydney and Newcastle.  Because of the steep grades around the Hawkesbury River power vans were attached to both ends of the train and as multiple unit connections were not provided, each unit had to be manned separately.  Two vans were returned to Parkes in May 1940 and the third in August 1940."  (End quote)

I am pretty sure that I have also read "somewhere," and I assumed it was in this book but it does not appear to be, that difficulty was experienced on Cowan Bank due to the tyres on the power vans being hollow as a result of long running on the lighter rails that were their usual habitat.  Do not quote me on that as I do not know where I read it but I am pretty sure I did and it may have something to do with the use of two power vans on the train but that is just my guess, so again do not quote me.
  7334 Chief Commissioner

Location: In the workshop wondering why I started 7334 in the first place
There was the classic time that the Comet was doing a Gunzel run on the Up shore and was unable to lift the load somewhere between Wynyard and Town hall, I seem to recall there was a jumper coupling issue that actually had 1 car trying to run in reverse.

Well before smoke detectors etc, the fumes led to the partial evacuation of one of the stations, very early 1990's if i can recall
theanimal
I do not know whether it was the same occasion but I recollect one evening being on Town Hall station and the place was slowly being enveloped in diesel fumes.  Eventually a Comet set hove into view struggling rather badly on the up grade.  How or why it was there I have no idea but I do not think it was a tour train as it was quite late in the evening and while it may have been early 1990s it was more likely to have been mid to late 1980s.  It was also probably a Thursday night so not likely to be a tour.
  gordon_s1942 Chief Commissioner

Location: Central Tablelands of NSW
Every Sunday afternoon, the Silver City Comet did the run from Orange to Lithgow arriving around 5pm with at least 2 trailers to connect with an Interurban to Sydney.
It then took passengers from that same Interurban back to Orange.
This was 1963 but I cant remember when it stopped and was replaced by the 600/700 class but not before 1967/68.
Whether it was the way it was driven or had to be, it was never the fastest when leaving a station but once it got up to speed, it seemed to travel quite well.
Once a year or so, the Power Car went to Sydney for scheduled maintenance and there was only one Driver in the Lithgow Loco (the late Donny Spice) qualified to drive it as he been located at Menindee/Ivanhoe or somewhere some years before.
Don was considered to be one of the fastest drivers in the depot, wanting to get where he was going and not hanging about as some did.

He told me he took the Comet to Sydney and had it up to a 'cruising speed' (no speedo) on a hot afternoon with all GREENS approaching Blacktown and in the distance he saw people waiting on the platform for their train but the closer he got, they shuffled back and back from the platform edge and when he looked in the mirror, he saw a huge 'rooster tail ' of dust kicked up by his speed and it was just so dry............Needless to say he didnt slacken off one notch as he powered through the station............

Unfortunately those years out west were instrumental in causing his death from a form of skin Cancer.
  a6et Minister for Railways

Every Sunday afternoon, the Silver City Comet did the run from Orange to Lithgow arriving around 5pm with at least 2 trailers to connect with an Interurban to Sydney.
It then took passengers from that same Interurban back to Orange.
This was 1963 but I cant remember when it stopped and was replaced by the 600/700 class but not before 1967/68.
Whether it was the way it was driven or had to be, it was never the fastest when leaving a station but once it got up to speed, it seemed to travel quite well.
Once a year or so, the Power Car went to Sydney for scheduled maintenance and there was only one Driver in the Lithgow Loco (the late Donny Spice) qualified to drive it as he been located at Menindee/Ivanhoe or somewhere some years before.
Don was considered to be one of the fastest drivers in the depot, wanting to get where he was going and not hanging about as some did.

He told me he took the Comet to Sydney and had it up to a 'cruising speed' (no speedo) on a hot afternoon with all GREENS approaching Blacktown and in the distance he saw people waiting on the platform for their train but the closer he got, they shuffled back and back from the platform edge and when he looked in the mirror, he saw a huge 'rooster tail ' of dust kicked up by his speed and it was just so dry............Needless to say he didnt slacken off one notch as he powered through the station............

Unfortunately those years out west were instrumental in causing his death from a form of skin Cancer.
gordon_s1942
The Sunday service was restricted to 2 pax cars + luggage van owing to the 1:40 grades it encountered both directions east of Molong.

Hot and dry summer weather hampered all the DMU sets on the steeper grades including the comet, deb sets and the tin hares. The comets as mentioned and the Deb sets as they wore on/out on the NT workings until replaced later in life had troubles on Ardglen and the Moonbi's also the up direction at Ben Lomond. The WCK drivers watched things and if they looked to get too hot, would drop down in throttle for a limited time which helped, on one occassion on a very hot summers day, the driver on 23 knew he would have trouble between Pangella and Ardglen and after leaving MDI he left it in full revs to get to Pangela for the Buffet change over, he was able to stay there extra time owing to being early, entering the tunnel he dropped back to 2/3's and got through very slow.  At WCK the northbound driver was quite concerned but nursed it all the way.

The CPH's on the Wgong - Moss Vale run had larger radiators fitted as well as different set up with the hand brake. Larger radiators helped with the cooling, on arrival at Summit Tank, they would check the water levels and time was allocated to top up if required. The running times were such that if they were late on the sections as far as Summit Tank, there was enough recovery time built in for the sections to MV.

I sat beside a few of the Thiroul drivers as they descended the mountain using the hand brake to control the speed. By itself the hand brake would not bring them to a stand, but using the air constantly was also frought with care as one needed to keep the speed in check to the point where the brakes were not overheated and cause problems. Some of the drivers would bring them to a stand and wait a couple of minutes and hold the motor on the grade with the hand brake that ensured the air was recharged and the brakes and wheels were allowed to cool down a bit. A slow and gradual roll took place with the hand brake being slowlying turned off, and then set again to a hold. A chaulk line was also drawn along the top gear casing to line up with the hand brake arm/spindle as the nominal application.
  gordon_s1942 Chief Commissioner

Location: Central Tablelands of NSW
As a6et is most likely aware, there were quite some restrictions regarding the operation of the braking systems on both locomotives and trains departing from Katoomba to Sydney so if the braking system on the Comet was as dodgy as I read his posting, its very unlikely it would ever been allowed to run with Passengers towards Sydney.
After reading more and remembering back, I now realise that despite the deep throated roar from the exhaust, it simply didnt have the Grunt to tackle severe grades.
No doubt it could have run west but it certainly would have been a lot slower pace.
  a6et Minister for Railways

As a6et is most likely aware, there were quite some restrictions regarding the operation of the braking systems on both locomotives and trains departing from Katoomba to Sydney so if the braking system on the Comet was as dodgy as I read his posting, its very unlikely it would ever been allowed to run with Passengers towards Sydney.
After reading more and remembering back, I now realise that despite the deep throated roar from the exhaust, it simply didnt have the Grunt to tackle severe grades.
No doubt it could have run west but it certainly would have been a lot slower pace.
gordon_s1942
Gordon have no idea about the braking aspects of the comet but it would have had a minimal standard for the overall train. I basically had its own fitters at Parkes and based on the runs that it did, the brakes would have had to be good enough for the specific train and carriage make up. As I mentioned it was usually only a total of 4 cars including power car for the Eastern running. that I would suggest would likely have been more due to the actual HP of the diesel motor rather than simply the braking capacity.

I have a feeling that the Comet set also ran the Far West Express from Dubbo to Bourke, as the service was advertised as an air conditioned service in the early/mid sixties. That would have worked ok as the terrain was no different to that of BH line.

The aspect of whether it ran with Passengers on the mountains is something I have no idea of as to it actually happening, thing is that it could have also ran off the Southern line with no issues for repairs, but if going for overhauls, the carriages by themselves could have been put onto mail trains as swingers with loco hauled operations, and the brakes would have been compatible. Care would have been needed with the lightweight hooks though.

The Comet had different motors over the years and each had a different sound to them, the one I heard in 67 approaching Amaroo, was like a combination of a huge swarm of bees, and a very deep throated marine engine than anything else.
  YM-Mundrabilla Minister for Railways

Location: Mundrabilla but I'd rather be in Narvik
Initially the Comet had Harland and Wolff diesels. Later replaced with GMs of some sort.
  gordon_s1942 Chief Commissioner

Location: Central Tablelands of NSW
What ever the motors were, under full throttle starting on a grade the note equaled that of a V8 'Supercar' leaving the starting grid at  Mt Panorama..........but a VERY much slower, some may say sedately pace.........................
  L1150 Assistant Commissioner

Location: Pakenham Vic.
I recall riding the Silver City Comet from Broken Hill to Parkes in 1972. What ever its lack of hill climbing power was it certainly was very capable of a good speed on the level track. Timing the mile posts gave a consistent 80 Mph (130Km/h). I commented on this to a staff member on the train and his reply was that if we were running late we could wind up to over 90 Mph (145 Km/h)!Very Happy Someone once said that The Silver City Comet was the prototype for the XPT.
  CPH8 Locomotive Fireman

Scratching the rusty memory bank again....The Comet set provided the connection from Orange to Dubbo with the Central West Express 3 days a week, prior to the introduction of the XPT. Services from Dubbo to Bourke and Cobar were provided by a DEB set on alternate days.
The Comet power cars were re-engined with Detroit diesels - 4 x 6-71's for traction plus two 3-71's for auxiliary power generation. Probably the 6-71's same as in the CPH's. The railway workshops built the landing craft during WW II which were powered by 6-71's and I think the leftovers were used to rebuild the CPH and Comet from the original petrol engines.
The noise in the Comet power car was horrific, as was all the oil on the floor.

And the spare Comet set was roped in for the Dubbo Railway Centenary on Sunday 1 Feb 1981 to provide local excursions to Gilgandra as a supplement to the end platform set hired from LVR which operated shuttles to Narromine with a 48 because of the demand.

We had a bad accident at Wongarbon with the Comet. Overcast day, grey painted Comet running from Dubbo to Orange travelling at full speed. No protection on the level crossing into the village and a local schoolteacher was killed. She was my daughter's class teacher. A very sad funeral that day.
  a6et Minister for Railways

Scratching the rusty memory bank again....The Comet set provided the connection from Orange to Dubbo with the Central West Express 3 days a week, prior to the introduction of the XPT. Services from Dubbo to Bourke and Cobar were provided by a DEB set on alternate days.
The Comet power cars were re-engined with Detroit diesels - 4 x 6-71's for traction plus two 3-71's for auxiliary power generation. Probably the 6-71's same as in the CPH's. The railway workshops built the landing craft during WW II which were powered by 6-71's and I think the leftovers were used to rebuild the CPH and Comet from the original petrol engines.
The noise in the Comet power car was horrific, as was all the oil on the floor.

And the spare Comet set was roped in for the Dubbo Railway Centenary on Sunday 1 Feb 1981 to provide local excursions to Gilgandra as a supplement to the end platform set hired from LVR which operated shuttles to Narromine with a 48 because of the demand.

We had a bad accident at Wongarbon with the Comet. Overcast day, grey painted Comet running from Dubbo to Orange travelling at full speed. No protection on the level crossing into the village and a local schoolteacher was killed. She was my daughter's class teacher. A very sad funeral that day.
CPH8
The Detroit diesels were one of at least 3 different types of motors used.  One other lot were GM's and while not totally sure the others were either a Cat or Cummins.

What years was the DEB sets on the far west exp?
  petan Chief Commissioner

Location: Waiting to see a zebra using a zebra crossing!
Scratching the rusty memory bank again....The Comet set provided the connection from Orange to Dubbo with the Central West Express 3 days a week, prior to the introduction of the XPT. Services from Dubbo to Bourke and Cobar were provided by a DEB set on alternate days.
The Comet power cars were re-engined with Detroit diesels - 4 x 6-71's for traction plus two 3-71's for auxiliary power generation. Probably the 6-71's same as in the CPH's. The railway workshops built the landing craft during WW II which were powered by 6-71's and I think the leftovers were used to rebuild the CPH and Comet from the original petrol engines.
The noise in the Comet power car was horrific, as was all the oil on the floor.

And the spare Comet set was roped in for the Dubbo Railway Centenary on Sunday 1 Feb 1981 to provide local excursions to Gilgandra as a supplement to the end platform set hired from LVR which operated shuttles to Narromine with a 48 because of the demand.

We had a bad accident at Wongarbon with the Comet. Overcast day, grey painted Comet running from Dubbo to Orange travelling at full speed. No protection on the level crossing into the village and a local schoolteacher was killed. She was my daughter's class teacher. A very sad funeral that day.
The Detroit diesels were one of at least 3 different types of motors used.  One other lot were GM's and while not totally sure the others were either a Cat or Cummins.

What years was the DEB sets on the far west exp?
a6et
Series 71 diesel was from GM's Detroit Engine Division https://demanddetroit.com/our-company/history/
  neillfarmer Chief Train Controller

My memory is that during the 1960s they had 4x 6/71 series Detroit Diesels. These were designed at the same time as the EMD 567s and followed the naming system where the cylinder capacity formed the type designation, ie 567 were 567 cu in, 71 series were 71 ci in per cylinder. Being two stroke diesels they were pretty gutless at low revs but were happy to run all day at their rated RPM and power. I worked with these engines and they were able to be completely overhauled back to new by using an overhaul kit. They were good for around 12,000 hours before needing an overhaul. Although they didn't operate at higher RPM than other similar sized 4 stroke engines they had twice as many power strokes which made them sound like they were about to burst from overspeed. There used to be a lot of these engines around in trucks and heavy equipment but they have largely been supplanted by throw-away 4 strokers now.
  NSWRcars Chief Train Controller

The Detroit diesels were one of at least 3 different types of motors used.  One other lot were GM's and while not totally sure the others were either a Cat or Cummins.

What years was the DEB sets on the far west exp?
a6et
According to “Rail Motors and XPT’s” the Far West Express was always worked by DEB sets, from 1957 through to 1975. Usually a three car DEB with parcels trailer.

The same book also lists the traction engines in Comet DP as four GM 6-110 engines.
  a6et Minister for Railways

The Detroit diesels were one of at least 3 different types of motors used.  One other lot were GM's and while not totally sure the others were either a Cat or Cummins.

What years was the DEB sets on the far west exp?
According to “Rail Motors and XPT’s” the Far West Express was always worked by DEB sets, from 1957 through to 1975. Usually a three car DEB with parcels trailer.

The same book also lists the traction engines in Comet DP as four GM 6-110 engines.
NSWRcars
Thanks for the post.  I have to admit that in all my trips to Dubbo and beyond, I never saw the Far West Exp, although I once saw a 600cl or 620 2 car set taking the train out.
  gordon_s1942 Chief Commissioner

Location: Central Tablelands of NSW
I recall riding the Silver City Comet from Broken Hill to Parkes in 1972. What ever its lack of hill climbing power was it certainly was very capable of a good speed on the level track. Timing the mile posts gave a consistent 80 Mph (130Km/h). I commented on this to a staff member on the train and his reply was that if we were running late we could wind up to over 90 Mph (145 Km/h)!Very Happy Someone once said that The Silver City Comet was the prototype for the XPT.
L1150
I believe the Comet was the first Airconditioned Train but seeing it started sometime in the 1930's and the XPT's in the 70's, I think other trains may have contributed knowledge gained over that 40 year gap to culminate in its design too.
  7334 Chief Commissioner

Location: In the workshop wondering why I started 7334 in the first place
I recall riding the Silver City Comet from Broken Hill to Parkes in 1972. What ever its lack of hill climbing power was it certainly was very capable of a good speed on the level track. Timing the mile posts gave a consistent 80 Mph (130Km/h). I commented on this to a staff member on the train and his reply was that if we were running late we could wind up to over 90 Mph (145 Km/h)!Very Happy Someone once said that The Silver City Comet was the prototype for the XPT.
L1150
Whoever the "someone" was, they were mistaken.The Silver City comet was not the prototype for the XPTs.  There were 40 odd years between them.

The XPT was a derivative of the British High speed Train (HST), the prototype of which was introduced around 1972.

How this came about is discussed on pages 90 and 91 of the book Rail motors and XPTs.

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