From the RHRS President, Ian Wallace:
As the year 2016 draws to a close, I thought it would be appropriate to review the last year and to reflect on what we have achieved and what may lie ahead in 2017.
I have circulated a draft of this report to several members of our RHRS management committee for their comment and contribution, so the final report is now appreciably longer - but it is now more thorough and I hope you will value this.
At around the same time last year (2015), I recall that we were somewhat apprehensive about the year ahead, 2016, as there were many uncertainties surrounding our sphere of activity. Notwithstanding those uncertainties, we were pleased that RHRS had received a Transport Heritage NSW grant of $10,000 to conduct a concrete cancer repair project - to remediate the damage caused during more than 80 years of exposure to the elements in Robertson of our heritage-listed concrete station buildings. As we moved into 2016, we wondered whether this amount of money would be sufficient to remediate the damage to all of our buildings affected by the concrete cancer or whether we would use the grant money selectively on the most affected parts only.
Concrete cancer repair project
Early in 2016, we were able to add to the $10,000 grant money, with line manager ARTC offering to fund part of the concrete cancer repairs to our three main heritage-listed station buildings, making a sum exceeding $20,000 available for that work. That was very welcome and it followed a process in which we sought quotes to undertake all the required work from local concrete contractor Peter Chesterfield Concrete and Paving Services, based in Moss Vale. Subsequently, that firm was contracted to undertake the remedial work, which commenced with wet abrasive blasting of the affected parts of the buildings. This exposed the steel reinforcing, the rusting of which caused the expansion and cracking in the concrete - the so-called “concrete cancer”. Immediately following this exposure of the clean steel reinforcement, the contractors sprayed the treated areas with a chemical sealant which preserves and protects the concrete structure beneath. The treated parts of the buildings were then allowed to rust for a period of time, so that a rust-converter could be applied to the steel reinforcement to make it inert.
What followed next was the accidental and most unfortunate death of our principal contractor, Peter Chesterfield, who was killed in an industrial accident at his Moss Vale yard. That delayed and complicated the project slightly but did no harm as Peter’s son Scott Chesterfield took over the project management and employed experienced renderers to complete the work on budget. The renderers completed their work during early December, except for the remediation of the capital atop the right-hand column of the station destination sign. That rather meticulous work will be undertaken in the contractor’s workshop and affixed by the contractor early in 2017.
It is proposed to document the work undertaken, including technical details and with before and after photographs, and to make it available to Transport Heritage NSW and the Royal Australian Historical Society, NSW - a requirement of the initial grant.
RHRS is very appreciative of the initial grant and the top-up grant by ARTC, without which funding the project could not have been undertaken. RHRS maintenance manager Neil Harvey deserves a great deal of credit and our thanks for his organization and persistence in overseeing this work. Well done Neil.
Representations to NSW Government politicians concerning the continued operation of ‘The Cockatoo Run’ heritage tourist train.
The year 2016 ended with several representations being made to relevant NSW politicians, expressing our extreme concern - as a destination - at the eviction notice served by Transport for NSW on heritage train operator 3801 Limited to vacate the Large Erecting Shop (LES) at Eveleigh by 31 January 2017. The LES has been 3801 Limited’s operating base for several decades, and it is from there that ‘The Cockatoo Run’ train to Robertson and Moss Vale and return is housed, maintained and prepared.
RHRS was asked for assistance and support in 3801 Limited’s need to maintain a suitable occupancy of the LES so that ‘The Cockatoo Run’ can continue to operate and bring hundreds of passengers - tourists - to Robertson and the Southern Highlands each year. Consequently, President Ian Wallace sent suitably worded letters to the NSW Minister for Transport Andrew Constance MP and to the Minister for Tourism Stuart Ayres MP, as well as to local member Pru Goward. Pru has been very supportive, even participating in a ride on ‘The Cockatoo Run’ train from Robertson to Moss Vale on Sunday, 4 December 2016 along with several other dignitaries to celebrate 30 years of 3801 Limited’s operation of the ‘Cockatoo Run’ a “Good news story”.
It remains to be seen how effective these and other related representations will turn out in 2017. It is a very important matter to our station - as much is at stake, particularly our tradition over many years of meeting regular heritage passenger trains. It is also a most significant revenue-earner for our finances.
RHRS grounds and gardens
During 2016, our picturesque and highly regarded grounds and gardens have continued to be regularly tended by detainees on weekend detention from the NSW Department of Corrective Services - who do the mowing, whipper-snipping and other manual tasks - as well as by a small number of RHRS volunteers, who do gardening work including pruning, weeding, and fertilizing. Despite efforts to date to recruit more garden volunteers, the number of volunteer gardeners remains small and barely able to attend to all the garden maintenance required. Foreseeing such a situation early in 2016, David and Helen Tranter organized and participated in a series of monthly working-bees to demonstrate to several other volunteers the skills they have acquired over the years in maintaining the grounds and gardens.
At the last garden working-bee on Saturday, 10 December, long-term garden manager David Tranter advised me that he will continue in his role of tending the waratah plantations, the Fettlers Shed garden and other roles he undertakes for the next month or so but, early in 2017, he will have to cease such activities. I am sure we all admire David’s outstanding contribution over many years to establish and maintain the waratah and native plant gardens which surround our station, and we understand and respect his decision to no longer have an active role in the garden maintenance. Thank you David for the wonderful contribution you and Helen have made with our grounds and gardens. Be assured that we will always value the ongoing advice you may be able to offer us in taking over the duties you undertook so capably.
David’s notice brought into sharp focus the inescapable fact that we at RHRS now face a challenge, if not a struggle, to effectively maintain the grounds and gardens in the future. In the short term, Sandra and I will look after the maintenance of those aspects David managed, and we have some ideas for the future, which I will outline at our next management committee meeting early in February 2017. These are aimed at increasing the number of our garden volunteers. This is a major challenge for the future, as is maintaining the grounds and gardens through a predicted hot and dry summer.
Safety management is valued highly at RHRS and was strengthened further during 2016. Neil Harvey, RHRS Safety Officer, prepared the RHRS Safety Manual and did an excellent presentation at the May 2016 management committee meeting. The RHRS Safety Management Plan is based upon the Canadian Transport System safety plan which is also used by 3801 Limited.
A hard copy of the RHRS Manual has been mounted in a yellow file box to the wall of the office in the Fettler's Shed Gallery - in prominent view - for the management committee and other volunteers to access as required. In addition to a standard agenda item for all RHRS management committee meetings, the Safety Management Plan needs to be reviewed by February each year and updated as required.
During train visits, RHRS volunteers can give advice on safety matters but if the public ignores this that is all we can do. Safety management on the station platform and surrounds is rightfully the responsibility of the accredited train operator.
The original, heritage-listed structures of RHRS date back to 1932 and, understandably, these structures are aging and require ongoing maintenance. These are really matters for consideration with the line manager, namely, ARTC and consultation takes place from time to time. The concrete cancer repairs have been covered previously in this report, but the prompt painting of these structures is required during 2017 for their protection and to improve the appearance of our National Trust heritage-listed railway station. ARTC is aware of this need.
Probably the most important maintenance issue we currently have is finding a way to finance the re-roofing of the Fettlers Shed, at an expected cost of around $18,000. Strictly speaking, RHRS should not have to reach into its own finances (which at present do not amount to $18,000) but the chances of getting ARTC to repair its roof do not appear to be great, particularly as we favour their spending money on proper painting of the station buildings. In 2017 we shall continue to explore opportunities to obtain grants for part or all of the cost to replace the Fettlers Shed roof.
In the meantime, we are grateful for the ongoing work Neil Harvey does in attending to site repairs and maintenance, thus improving the amenity and operating efficiency of our facilities. Thank you Neil; it is much appreciated.
Midway through 2016, we purchased a flat-screen TV monitor, which has had some use in presenting “slideshow displays” and screening movies. This device has the potential to facilitate presentations and perhaps assist in increasing hire of the gallery. We shall explore this option further in 2017, as well as repainting the interior of the gallery.
Purchase of BBQ and catering for heritage train passengers
During 2016 we purchased a six-burner hotplate BBQ, which was used successfully in providing BBQ lunches to over 100 people, most of whom were passengers on an ARHS/RMS tour provided by three CPH rail motors, which stopped at Robertson station for lunch while en route to Port Kembla on Saturday, 19 November 2016. We received appreciation from tour operator ARHS(NSW), as well as good income from this activity, which has potential for further fund-raising, either at heritage train visits or at our regular fund-raisers, namely the Classic Car Day in April and the Spring Event/Dog Walk in October. These opportunities will be examined in detail early in 2017 by the RHRS management committee.
2016 Classic Car Day
The ‘Classic Car Day’ in 2016 proved once again that, given good promotion and good weather, the event will attract many owners of motor vehicles of all kinds to simply meet and display their vehicles on the railway common. While talking to many such car owners on the day, I learned that this event is valued by these owners to simply relax and enjoy the experience, chatting to fellow owners and interested visitors. We note that most vehicle owners are happy to vacate the site early in the afternoon so that they can return home in daylight hours. I believe that this is a most worthwhile event to continue, and that we should look at ways in which RHRS can make it an even better.
2016 Spring event, including Floral Art Exhibition and ‘Dog-walk’
In 2016, we avoided calling this event ‘The Railway Spring Fair’ as this year there was a dearth of stalls and, strictly speaking, it was probably not a true fair. Nonetheless, it was an important fund-raising event for RHRS. It was promoted by various names, including mentioning the word ‘waratah’, as the sale of waratah flowers over recent years has proven to be a good money-earner. Once again, the sale of cut waratah flowers picked from the Tranter property stood out as a major source of revenue, but other activities were also good earners and worth continuing in the future. These included the ‘Dog walk’ and the sale of sausage sandwiches to the dog-walkers and others.
We are indebted to the Berrima District Vintage Farm Machinery group and the Southern Highlands Model Engineers group who, each year, work hard to assist RHRS in making the annual RHRS Spring event interesting and worthwhile. Unfortunately, there are many other Spring events occurring around this time, so we have to do what we can to make our event different and likely to attract increased patronage.
As in previous years, the Floral Art Exhibition in the gallery attracted attention and was successful. Anne Wilson and her team of volunteers deserve considerable credit for this.
Fettlers Heritage Art Prize
The Fettlers Heritage Art Prize starts around show-time (March) each year and continues for several weeks. It draws considerable interest, particularly from local artists, and showcases the Fettlers Shed as a functioning gallery. The Fettlers Shed is gradually becoming a more useful resource with access from the kitchen to the outside covered area with its better protection from the elements and work by Neil Harvey to improve the visual amenity with gravel paths, painting, plants, etc. It is still a ‘project in progress’ but, altogether, it is a nicer and more convenient way to entertain and cater for events. We need to work to attract a variety of users on either a casual or permanent basis. This, too, will be investigated further in 2017 by the RHRS management committee.
Membership & recruitment
While member recruitment is a very important objective - and we really do need more active members - gaining traction in recruitment is difficult and further attention to this is needed. It will form an important part of our efforts during 2017.
Join RHRS Friends
A pleasing development over the last couple of years has been the regular “getting together” of a small group of men, all keen on railway modeling. Led by Ron Middleton and Neil Harvey, this group meets on Friday afternoons for afternoon-tea while fabricating interesting model layouts for exhibition at RHRS events or for raffle prizes. Late in 2016, members of this group also took the initiative to complete the assembly of the Villiers quadricycle which RHRS purchased “in bits” several years ago. The group has reported that, with the assistance of members from the Vintage Farm Machinery group, the quad project is almost complete and it is ready for painting in 2017.
Anyone interested in modeling and/or restoration is invited to join this group.
Publicity and promotion
This is a necessary part of organizing events for fund-raising but it can be very time-consuming and is not generally embraced willingly or “sought after” by our volunteers. Over the last couple of years since the “retirement” by Neil and Marion Harvey from the publicity role, these duties have been handled by the RHRS management committee on an ‘as-needs’ basis.
During the year, Secretary Rona Goold worked on improving the RHRS website (robertsonrailway.org.au) This is an ongoing project when time permits. The increased use of photographs, relevant railway information and articles will form an important part of this ‘continuous improvement’ as the RHRS management committee increasingly appreciates the key role websites and social media such as Facebook have in modern communication. The monthly E-Bulletin is important for advising members of upcoming events.
Combined Christmas lunch
Once again, the combined RHRS/3801 Limited Christmas lunch held in the Robertson Anglican church’s CEC on Sunday, 4 December 2016 went well, attracting just over 100 participants. Most of these came from 3801 Limited and travelled to Robertson on the ‘Cockatoo Run’, hauled by beautifully restored and privately-owned heritage diesel-electric locomotive 42101. The 2016 lunch was a “morale booster” for the volunteers of 3801 Limited, which we were glad to organize for them. It was a successful and enjoyable day. Speeches were made by 3801 Limited chair Ms Sharyn Gregory and several members of her team, while a slide-show by myself on ‘The Cockatoo Run’, which is celebrating 30 years of operation, was presented. Special thanks go to our small team of volunteers who made this worthwhile event possible.
Handover of station management
Some time ago, Helen Tranter announced that she would step down from her former role of managing the railway station including train visits. This is a role she occupied for many years. We value and appreciate the outstanding work Helen did in this role. Early in 2016, after ensuring several of our volunteers were adequately briefed in the preparation for and administration of heritage train visits, Helen stepped down from that role. Train visits continue to be managed by Steve Carey, Neil Harvey and myself, often working as a team. This role also includes the purchase of merchandise for sale at the station. It is proposed that this arrangement will continue during 2017 for whatever train visits we receive.
Train visits in 2016
While the year 2016 started with some uncertainty surrounding what, if any, visits from heritage passenger trains we would receive at Robertson, we actually received a good number of train visits, several of which were unexpected. To our surprise and pleasure, Lachlan Valley Railway (LVR) provided us with three visits from steam locomotive 5917 during 2016. The latter two of these were marketed as ‘Southern Highlands Picnic Train’ and drew good passenger numbers. LVR has indicated its intention to run such trains again in 2017 - if possible. Station sales at most of our train visits were good, with all sorts of merchandise being sold. Popular sale items in 2016 were our ’80 Years booklet’ and miscellaneous photographs, the most popular being photos of the locomotive hauling the train of that day.
Despite 3801 Limited experiencing substantial financial problems and contrary to initial feared outcomes, there continued to be regular visits by 3801 Limited’s ‘Cockatoo Run’ during the last year - about 20 visits during the year or, roughly, two each month. Passenger numbers were generally 100 or more in each train, with regular numbers booking the Illawarra Fly option. All train visits in 2016 worked well.
Depending on the success or otherwise that tour operator 3801 Limited has in maintaining its Eveleigh base, we may continue to receive good passenger numbers and we can plan to stock more merchandise for sale. Early in 2016, we cut back on spending money on some merchandise as we were uncertain about the future of train visits.
Future train visits
Although some “tentative” bookings for 2017 have been made beyond the “approved” ‘Cockatoo Run’ train on Sunday, 29 January 2017, uncertainty still persists, although there is a great willingness by the tour operator to schedule heritage train visits in 2017. We shall have to wait and see what happens.
Looking at the issues surrounding several NSW heritage train operators, the likelihood of receiving train visits from operators other than 3801 Limited remains uncertain. At a recent meeting with Transport Heritage NSW, it was learned that a steam train visit from that organization is very unlikely - in the short term at least. The same situation applies to the two Powerhouse Museum locomotives 3265 and 3830, both of which are undergoing significant maintenance. With Lachlan Valley Railway having placed their two steam locomotives 3237 and 5917 under maintenance over the hot and dry summer months, little or no likelihood of these locomotives visiting Robertson in the short term seems possible. The ARHS (ACT) group, recently placed into voluntary liquidation, may possibly be able to recover sufficiently to operate tours again, but that is purely speculative. The chance of Garratt locomotive 6029 bringing passengers to Robertson appears fanciful - but stranger things have happened!
Something to look forward to is the expected return into operational service of THNSW steam locomotive 3526 later in 2017 and the much awaited return to service of iconic steam locomotive 3801 in 2018 - if all goes to plan. Whether THNSW chooses to bring a tour train to Robertson in the future is a big unknown at this stage. I have let their senior management team know that RHRS is a wonderful destination and that we would certainly value at least one visit per year from a THNSW steam-hauled train.
Last, but certainly not least, I will make a few comments on our finances. Put simply, our finances are quite healthy at present, but some additional remarks are necessary. In the past, RHRS has depended very much on grants to fund capital projects and works, such as our Fettlers Shed annexe and other substantial improvements. These grants are much appreciated and have enabled us to do things which, otherwise, we may not have been able to fund. Our various other sources of income including station sales, loop train rides, donations, kiosk sales and gallery hire have helped us along the way and contribute significantly to our overall income. However, they cannot fund major works, such as re-roofing the Fettlers Shed. We will continue to pursue all potential sources of income in 2017.
Our Treasurer Anne Wilson will soon advise us of our end-of-year financial situation, which will show that we did quite well in 2016. I take this opportunity to thank Anne for her major contribution in managing our RHRS finances, and for involving the Wilson family in publicity through pamphlets and posters, as well as contributing to the setting-up and dismantling of our major events when required. Their contribution is greatly valued and appreciated.
Christmas and New Year wishes
As the year 2016 closes I would like to thank our management committee for their much-valued support and contribution during the year. I believe it has been a good year for RHRS, with much being accomplished. That said, there are many challenges to keep us on our toes during 2017.
If anyone wishes to discuss any matter raised above with me I would be glad to do so, either in person or by contact as below.
My very best wishes for Christmas and the New Year are extended to all our members, and may you have a safe and healthy time over the holiday period and throughout 2017.
Hon President, RHRS
Mobile: 0412 696 381