Saturday, 3 March 2012

NSWR Water Facilities Part 1 - The Overview

The New South Wales Government Railways commenced service on 26th September 1855 with the opening of the line from Sydney Terminal to Parramatta (Granville). When the line was opened railways, as we know them today, had been in existence for only 30 years and construction methods and practices were still in their infancy, especially when it came to railways outside Europe and America.
The original site of Sydney Terminal was slightly south of the current location with the buffer stops being on the south side of what is now called the Devonshire St. subway, the subway replacing the road due to construction of the current Sydney Terminal. Within the confines of the terminal railway yard were all the facilities required for the successful operation of the fledging railway. These facilities included a stone two story machine shop on the eastern side of the yard. Above the engine room of the machine shop was a water tank capable of holding 20.000 gallons (91,000 litres) of water. Towards the western end of the line between the current day Auburn and Clyde a crossing of Duck River was required This was done on a bridge of two, ten foot (three metre) openings. The contract for this bridge which cost 1,774 pounds also included a weir on the southern or upstream side of the bridge to provide a locomotive water supply. A pump of an unknown type was used to lift the water to a tank (which, probably had a jib) that was built on the Parramatta side of the river. These were the first of two watering facilities that at their greatest extent in the 1950’s existed in over 450 separate locations. This equates to approximately a watering facilities at one in every three locations.
From these rather small beginnings the railways expanded in three distinct construction periods: from 1855 to 1880, 1880 to 1910 and 1910 to approximately 1930 totalling some 6,220 miles (10,010 kilometres) of constructed lines in 1965. By 1930 the railways had fundamentally completed the network and although some construction was performed after this date the railways moved in to the maintenance rather than construction phase. The development of the provision of watering facilities closely follows the same timings and although concentrating on particular items of railway infrastructure shows the continual development that occurred over the 80 or so years from 1855 to 1940.
During the first 50 years of the Railways existence the majority of the trunk lines were completed and in the following 20 years the cross country lines and branches were constructed. Initially water facilities were constructed where the water was available regardless of whether it was in a town or not. This led to infrastructure being constructed in what was in reality the middle of nowhere, the only prerequisite being that it was the location of reliable water. Examples of this are Couridjah, Fish River, Young Tank, Crowther. In later years a number of these locations were disbanded or moved to the nearest town. This is an example that the construction and operation of the railways was built around the economic concerns rather than concern for passenger convenience.
When cheaper means of supply became available the Railways were quick to lower costs and converting to the cheaper means of supply, be it moving the watering facility to another location in the section or converting the supply to the town water service.
Over the years water was hauled around the system in enormous quantities to provide reliable supplies. As an example at Ivanhoe the water was supplied by water carried in water gins from either Menindee or Euabalong West from when the line opened in 1925 until the demise of steam on the Broken Hill line in the 1960’s. In times of drought or due to the failure of a water supply facility the trains themselves ran with additional water carried in water gins attached to the engine.
Until 1974, (when the suspension of services began) the railways were a massive undertaking employing over 100,000 people in all duties. While steam was running a small portion of these people were involved in maintaining the watering facilities around the state. Once the infrastructure was complete it was the responsibility of the loco branch to provide continued water supplies to passing trains if required. They also would advise on any maintenance required. These people were designated as pumpers and may be responsible for maintaining the water levels in as many as three or four tanks at separate locations - As an example the pumper at Glenapp was responsible for the tanks at The Risk, Glenapp and Kaguru.
The official Railways terminology for these people was Loco water supply men and to allow them to carry out their duties they could travel by train between locations. This was detailed in the Local Appendix and was described as such:
Loco Water Supply men may be allowed to travel to Pumping Plants by Goods Trains from watering stations (or nearest station) for the purpose of effecting urgent repairs, or return from nearest station to pumping plant to home station.
The local Station Masters may give authority for the stoppage to be made on written application from the Loco Supply Men, and which documents must be immediately sent to the Local District Traffic Supervisor with report.
Initially a steam engine was used to provide power for the pump and coal had to be carted from the station yard to the pumphouse which may have been over two miles away. In later years an internal combustion motor was used and wherever possible, when it became available, electricity was used.
The steam engine required constant monitoring and would have required the pumper to remain at the pumphouse while in operation. With the arrival of the internal combustion engine the pumpers life became easier as constant monitoring was not required and at times the engine was provided with enough supplies of petrol or diesel so the engine ran out just as the tank was filled. Over a period of time the pumper became very adept at estimating the required running time for the engine. With the arrival of electricity the pump could be controlled remotely from the station thus negating the need for a pumper altogether.

Method of Supply

The general method of providing the water to the steam locomotives was to dam a watercourse, this being done by either a direct dam or an excavated tank beside the watercourse, if the river flow was sufficiently constant a dam was not required and the water was drawn directly from the river. A pump which was within a building called the pumphouse was used to draw the water from the dam, excavated tank or river and via a pipe transferred the water to an overhead tank beside the railway line. The tanks varied in size from 5,000 gallons (22,750 litres) to 80,000 gallons (364,000 litres) depending on the location and loco requirements. If required, the water was ‘softened’ using chemicals before it entered the tank. The water was stored within the tanks until required by a passing locomotive - a water column supplied by pipe from the tank or a jib on the tank was used to assist the loco crews to ‘water’ the locomotive.
This is an extreme high level view of water facilities from water supply to locomotive and there are many variations on this theme.


Over the years the railways managed to have many different types of infrastructure relating to Watering Facilities. These can be grouped in to various types of Tanks, Stands, Columns, Jibs and Pumphouses. Of note there is no correlation between tanks and stands. ie: No particular type of tank was found on a certain type of stand.
The below method of classification is one that I have devised.

Type 1: Buckled plate tank
These tanks take there name from the 5’ x 5’ x 3/16” steel plates, the centre of which is buckled outwards to provide rigidity. The bulge is square and protrudes approximately 3”. Adjoining plates are fastened to a flat bar positioned behind the join (resulting in vertical rows of bolts. Angle is used to join the corners and to brace the top edge of the tank. This type of tank is only one panel high.
Buckled plates (with the bulge upwards) were also used to form the floor of the tank. These were assembled in a similar manner to the sides so that the tank was supported by angle or T sections bolted underneath the joins in the floor plates. Buckled plate tanks could be found on stand made of either timber or steel. On timber stands cast iron shoes supported the tank to prevent it cutting into the supporting beams.

Type 2: Square Cornered Cast Tank
This type is characterised by rows of bolts along the bottom edge and down one side of each corner of the tank. Adjoining panels are bolted together through flanges on the inside edge of each panel. Bolts only pass through panels on corners. Apart from a rounded reinforcing rib cast on the top edge, the outer surface of the panels is flat. Their inner surface had ‘x’ shaped reinforcing

Type 2A: Square Cornered Cast Tank
This type is the same as Type 2 except that the interior of the panels did not have any bracing.

Type 3: Round Cornered Cast Tank, earlier style
These tanks are characterised by the use of curved corner pieces which allow all panels to be bolted together internally. They have a decorative trim on the outer face and have a cast ‘x’ shaped reinforcing on the inner face. This earlier style were built by various private companies and were built up to approximately 1915 although possibly as late a 1922.

Type 4: Round Cornered Cast Tank, later style
These tanks are virtually identical to the Type3 tanks except that all the panels were built by the Per Way Workshops in Newcastle from 1920.       


Type A: Wood
 16 x 12” x 12” piers sunk into brick pits with one level of cross bracing across full width of stand

Type A2:Wood
Similar to Type A except the piers are circular.

Type B: Wood
16 x 12” x 12” piers on timber horizontals with brick foundations. One level of bracing. 8.5” x 5.25” diagonal bracing. Bracing is entirely within verticals. Outside columns are braced only.

Type C: Wood
16 x 12” x 12” piers on concrete foundations. One level of bracing Diagonal bracing is external of piers and secured by long bolt where they cross.

Type D: Wood
Same as Type C but with two levels of bracing.

Type E: Steel
I beam piers. One Level of Bracing. Bracing does not have tension rings.

Type F: Steel
Same as Type E but with two levels of bracing. 

Type G: Steel
I beam pier. One level of Bracing. Bracing has tension rings

Type H: Steel
Same as Type G but with two levels of bracing

Type J: Steel/Concrete
Concrete arch Type structure approx 13’ high with steel structure for remaining height.

Type K: Steel/Concrete
Extended Concrete piers that are over 2’ above ground level

 Type L: Steel
Similar in Construction to Type G except bracing is steel angles rather than steel bars and is not joined where they cross.

Type M: Steel
Same as type L but with two levels of bracing

Type N: Brick
Stand is made from brick columns of varying heights dependant on the situation. Columns may be up to 15’ in height

Type 0: Brick
Stand is made of brick piers with full brick surrounds. One door provides access to the interior of the tank.


Type 1: Water flow controlled from valve at ground level
Type 2: Water flow controlled from ground level or from end of jib via gears. Valve at ground level controlled from outside column.
Type 3: Water flow controlled from end of jib. Valve within column.
Type 4: 12” column used in electrified areas. Jib able to swing below wires.
Type 4: Column with no jib.


Type 1: Water flow controlled by screw valve at ground level.
Type 2: Water flow controlled by wire pull opening valve on end of jib.

Next episode - 1855 to 1892

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