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Puffing Billy Railway set to debut restored locomotive

Puffing Billy Railway set to debut restored locomotive
December 5, 2019

Coinciding with Victorian tourist attraction Puffing Billy’s 119th birthday, the fully restored cab, NG/G16 129 will become operational on 18th December.

The realisation of the 23-year-old project sees the brand-new enlarged cab with its original wheels and cylinders, silver boiler bands, gleaming polished copper piping and complete with windows, doors and seats, readily haul 16 full length carriages full of smiling passengers.

The South African Class NG/G16 129 Garratt locomotive now restored to its former glory will roll from Belgrave station after 23 years of fundraising and restoration works.

Built by Beyer Peacock & Co of Manchester, England, in 1951 for the South African Railways, the NG/G16 was a class of steam locomotive used to deliver agricultural and mineral products across the hilly terrain and tight curves of South Africa’s rural railways.

Its purchase in 1996 for the Puffing Billy fleet was spearheaded by two men – Peter Ralph and Alan Gardner – with a dogged determination to obtain a highly regarded Garratt locomotive; one that would support the sole surviving Victorian Railways Garratt, G42, which was being restored at the time.

The locomotive arrived in Belgrave where it was exhibited for the benefit of fundraising contributors and photographers, before being disassembled. There it stayed for 15 years while fundraising and donations continued to build for the estimated $2.4 million restoration.

It wasn’t until 2005 that a feasibility study was requested and Puffing Billy’s NG/G project engineering team, John Brady, Harry Hibgame and Russell Hicks, were tasked with conducting this study and later plan the never-before-done re-gauging of a two foot gauge Garratt locomotive to two foot six inches and its complete restoration. 

John Brady, who led the feasibility study, says that although it has taken some two decades to get to this moment, he is proud to see it on the track noting “It’s been a long time coming, but I am enormously proud of what has been achieved. It is so important that these locos are kept as they are, which is why it was crucial to get this right the first time. My sincere thanks go to the volunteers, workshop crew, Puffing Billy Preservation Society and the Emerald Tourist Railway Board, but most importantly Peter and Alan, for which this restoration project would not have been possible without.”

Hibgame added “The patience and perseverance of those involved cannot be forgotten. To see it sitting away for so many years while we all lobbied for funds to support its restoration can now be celebrated in full as it makes its big debut on the Puffing Billy Railway.”

Hicks also commented “I wasn’t sure if 129 would be completely restored and returned to service, so this locomotive symbolises our lifelong passion for the railway and our united commitment to see something through from start to finish, despite the odds.”

NG/G16 129 will be spotlighted in a special unveiling moment at Belgrave Station on 18th December at 12.30pm, with all cherished volunteers, workshop crew, contributors and the public invited along to witness its first public appearance in 23 years and give thanks for their generosity.

Image top: Puffing Billy NGG16 climbing towards Fielder with a 16 car train on the final day of testing; Image centre of Puffing Billy NGG16 in the Belgrave Yard and image above NGG16 passing over Monbulk Trestle Bridge: Credit Dave O'Brien

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