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HEAVY Harry never had a chance to show the world what he was made of.
The colossal steam train was built in 1941 to transport passengers between Melbourne and Adelaide. But at 260 tonnes, the biggest locomotive ever built in Australia was so heavy the railway bridges couldn't support its weight, and with the the war happening there were no funds to strengthen them.
So Heavy Harry, or locomotive H 220, hauled goods along the Albury line for 15 years until it was superseded by diesel power and retired to the Newport railyards where it was built.
It still sits there now, rusting slowly in the sea-salty air, the star exhibit of a run-down railway museum nobody visits.
Today, the site looks almost like a train cemetery, its 40 or so heavily cobwebbed engines and carriages lined up end to end in tight rows on tracks that are slowly sinking into the ground.
The oldest exhibits are wooden passenger trains that were moving people around the suburbs in the 1880s, now draped in canvas tarpaulins to ward off decay. The newest is a Hitachi train carriage that is repeatedly graffitied, the only part of the collection to suffer such disrespect.
''It's almost as if it's a decoy. If we didn't have to keep cleaning it, there'd be a lot more work done around here,'' says Wayne Brown, president of the Victorian division of the Australian Railway Historical Society, and a museum volunteer.
But the society has a plan to restore dignity to the unique store of heritage trains it cares for, which belong to VicTrack, the government-owned railways landlord.
It wants to move them all to a new, larger home in Moorooduc on the other side of Port Phillip Bay. All it needs is several million dollars and the backing of the state government.
VicTrack agrees that the site in Newport is inadequate, and is waiting for the historical society to complete its business case for the proposed move.
''The museum's relocation would involve a very high capital cost, the funds for which are not expected to be available from the transport portfolio,'' a spokesman said.
It would involve transporting Heavy Harry by rail all the way across the city to the Mornington Peninsula, at an estimated speed of less than 10km/h.
In the meantime, work is being done to improve the current site before its planned reopening in time for the museum's 50th anniversary in November.
''This is the story of Victoria, not just the story of Victoria's trains,'' Mr Browne says. ''These trains are responsible for spreading civilisation through this state.''
This article first appeared on www.smh.com.au
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