As most of my vast (not!) readership knows I am traveling around Australia making a nuisance of myself with some friends living there. Two of said friends live in Broken Hill, New South Wales. This town of about 25000 people is really in the middle of nowhere, being over 650 miles from Sydney and over 350 miles from Adelaide, and owes it's existance to mining. It has a desert climate and therefore sees very little rainfall. During my stay the weather was absolutely lovely: brilliant blue sky and about 65 or so degrees Fahrenheit during the day. Perfect weather for me, not so much for my hosts: they were freezing!
For a town this isolated and small the cultural life is surprising. There are quite a number of clubs, museums, organizations and events to keep residents busy. The movie industry also has discovered the place: think "Mad Max" and "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert".
To my great surprise Broken Hill also has a railway museum. It is located in the old train station that was used by the Silverton Tramway Company for many years. This company has a fascinating history which can be read here.
The museum is not vast, but it certainly has managed to preserve the flavor of the times with the pieces it does have. Sadly my knowledge of Australian railway technology is severly limited. I just know that in the early days a lot of the locomotives, rolling stock and railway physical plant was closely modeled after the British railways. A lot of the motive power and coaches were built in the UK, like this narrow gauge "W" class steam engine.
However I was really fascinated with the "Silver City Comet"! Apparently this was the first ever air conditioned diesel powered train in the whole of the British Empire. It was built and purchased to connect Broken Hill with Sydney. In many other ways this train also broke technological grounds. It had, for the times, cutting edge diesel engine technology, control systems and was apparently very comfortable. Of course I was not able to ride it, but just walking through the carriages made me wonder why current DMUs are so badly designed.
In later years the original diesel engines were replaced by two General Motors diesels. So far I have not been able to ascertain why the engines were changed out.
Since even now it takes over 12 hours to travel from Broken Hill to Sydney by train, it is not surprising that the Silver City Comet sported a dining room.
The Silver City Comet apparently was very popular with travelers and continued in service from 1937 to 1989. As is unfortunately so often the case it was killed off by a government that was at once clueless and had no future vision. The public whom the train served wanted it badly, but it did not fit into the particular vision of the future that the government at that time had. The mantra was more roads, more cars, more buses! The public be damned! Nowadays of course we are back to the future. Train service between Broken Hill and Sydney has been restored, albeit only once a week. Just as in the past it has proven very popular and there are plans afoot to increase the service frequency. One can only hope.