This announcement is one of the best ones since Shirley shut down Enfield and kicked out RTM to Thirlmere all those decades ago. Realistically neither Eveleigh nor Broadmeadow offer anything like the maintenance and storage facilities on offer at Chullora in a location which has considerable historical associations. In the 1920s, Chullora was selected as Eveleigh's replacement, not as it turned out, a co-location for maintenance. It is interesting that the current CEO of NSW Rail Heritage was headhunted from Qld's Ipswich facility, a place which we have been green with envy over for decades, and on which this proposal appears to be modelled. What came first, the CEO or this proposal? Only with access to the depths of bureaucratic decision making will we find out; historians please note.
Perhaps we can retain access to some of Broadmeadow for an operation similar to Valley Heights, a lap of gods situation. Eveleigh is more problematic, both on a land use basis and on an operational basis. Network operations there are becoming increasingly congested around there, and we know how heritage operations will fare in this scenario.
Let us take this announcement and run with it: to make sure it becomes a reality. Don't forget there are State and Federal elections coming up soon. Heritage announcements have a nasty habit of conveniently disappearing around elections, especially if a change of government eventuates.
I think the first really important thing to come out of this is the fact that there is so much undercover storage space that can be utilised. Finally having every significant item in the state's collection, as well as items from other operators who may become involved, undercover is one of the biggest advantages of this move. At the moment most items at Broadmeadow as disintegrating in the open, not to mention the lack of storage at Thirlmere which has always been a problem. Leave many of those items outside another 10-20 years and they'll be unrecoverable, as some already are.
Eveleigh does have the advantages of its location and aesthetic but is a more restricted site and as I understand it there are questions over whether the overhead cranes could ever work again due to the condition of the building. Someone correct me if I'm wrong.
I know many of us would love all these sites to be maintained and usable as museums/workshops/storage but that simply isn't possible. Unifying everything under one roof, particularly major boiler and mechanical work as well as operations has so many advantages to it. We all (me included) keep banging on about how skills are being lost and steam preservation is amateurish in terms of the work done in this state, which is very true. While THNSW is definitely succeeding at major overhaul and restoration in-house it is clear other smaller groups are struggling. This proposal, I think, will do something about these issues.
Centralising skills and experience in one place where skilled workers (paid and volunteer) will carry on from one project to the next is the best way forward for all owner/operators. Previous groundbreaking projects such as 3265's or 3801's boilers have all been completed by different people and different organisations. What is the problem with this? The knowledge built up is not transferred on to the next project effectively.
If we take major boiler work, as an example, it is entirely plausible that between THNSW, Lachlan Valley and other operators at least one if not more boilers could be being worked on at Chullora at any one time. This would provide a continuous stream of work and a highly skilled central facility would be the result.
Even if Eveleigh is repurposed for non-rail use a small part of it could be made into a discovery centre. This could feature a small number of exhibits that provide tangible examples of the whole site's history. A small version of "Steam" at Swindon could tell the story of locomotive construction and maintenance as well as providing a sales point/taster for other rail heritage experiences like mainline trains or Thirlmere.