For a few days last week I had been visiting some friends in Perth, West Australia. Given the location of this city one could be forgiven to think that it would be a boring little burg. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is a bustling, thriving, huge metropolis driven by the mining boom in Western Australia. Just describing the geography of the city does not do it any justice: one has to see it! Ocean beaches, lakes and the river give it an incredible outdoorsy type feel. Think San Diego, sort of!
Being an "anorak", I am delighted to be able tell my readers that Perth also has a considerable rail system. It is not unlike the S-Bahn systems in Germany. Totally electrifyed at 25000 Volt AC catenary, it encompasses about 175 route kilometers or roughly 109 miles. Braking energy is fed back into the overhead. There are two classes of vehicles: "A" and "B" class. Both are run in articulated three carriage units, but can be used in multiple. The latest "B" class trains were built by Bombardier and started entering service in 2007. Top design speed is 140 km/h or 87 miles per hour. Track gauge is "Cape" gauge at 3 feet and six inches.
The vehicles are built to the latest standard of comfort and passenger information. Two scrolling LED indicators are in every carriage. Stations are announced automatically and are very audible and very clear (Anybody from the Washington Metro reading this?). Seating is two - aisle- two configuration.
The ride is very smooth, even at the top service speed of 130 km/h (80 mph) down to Mandurah. The carriages are also superbly insulated due to the summer heat in Perth and incredibly quiet inside at speed.
Fare collection is done by proximity card akin to the London "Oyster" card or the Washington, DC Metro "Smartrip" card. Gates are automatic and gate direction can be reversed.
The whole system is very clean and has a nice, modern feel to it. Lots of glass and aluminum were used in the construction of the stations. Even the few underground stations are well lit, not like the dingy atmosphere one gets on the Washington Metro. I did not see any graffiti at all.
The system is well patronized and TransPerth finds itself once again in the enviable position of having to order more trains to be able to cope with the growing demand. More extension to the network are already being planned.
My aforementioned friends also arranged a trip to the Hotham Valley Railway, just a bit south of Perth. This is an old logging line turned into a heritage railway. On the day of my visit the railway was using a "W" class steam locomotive for the excursion. These were built in the UK by Beyer Peacock in Manchester, UK. The first unit was placed into service in Australia in 1951. Sixty of the class were ordered. For more technical details of the class click here. As far as steam locomotives is concerned this things are "youngsters".
The ride takes about 45 minutes to the Isandra siding were the engine is run around the train for the trip back to Dwellingup. The line is quite steep in places with the engine having to give it's all to make it.
Interesting enough the three coaches comprising the train were built in South Africa by Union Carriage in 1961. Like the steam locomotives they are not particularly old either.
The coaches, even though they were built in South Africa, have a decidedly continental European look and feel to them. I find that interesting since South Africa was part of the British Empire, so I would have thought they'd look a bit more "British".
Here is a short video of an "A" class TransPerth train and the ride on the Hotham Valley Railway.