STATE government efforts to roll out more Sprinter railcars into regional Victoria are nothing new, as research by history buff Bruce Payne shows.
A hundred years ago on May 13, 1912, the Victorian Railways started using the futuristic-looking McKeen motor railcar on the Warrnambool-Koroit-Penshurst-Hamilton line.
It was the first self-propelled internal combustion vehicle to run on the state rail system.
Earlier that year the railways bought two of the vehicles directly from the McKeen Motor Car Company of Nebraska, USA.
One of them was driven from Melbourne to Warrnambool on May 9 and given a test run on the Penshurst-Hamilton line the following day.
It started regular service on May 13 to provide a “speeded-up” passenger service on the cross-country line between Warrnambool and Hamilton from Mondays to Saturdays, leaving at 8.25am to arrive in Hamilton at 11am, then to make the return trip.
The other railcar was used on the Ballarat to Maryborough line. They lasted only three years because of mechanical problems and were replaced by regular trains.
The engines and mechanical drives were unreliable or cantankerous, Mr Payne discovered.
“However, the theory behind the cars, whereby an internal combustion engine is utilised to power a railcar/railmotor which is able to operate at high speeds, has certainly been demonstrated worldwide over the years,” he said.
“In early September 1915 a reduced passenger service was provided between Hamilton and Warrnambool which utilised mixed trains (passenger/goods on the one train). During 1925 a small AEC 45-horsepower railmotor started running on this route until it was withdrawn on July 15, 1935, when the whole passenger service was withdrawn from the Koroit-Penshurst-Hamilton section.”
This left only a steam-hauled goods train service until diesel-electric locomotives took over in the 1960s and the line was discontinued west of Warrnambool on September 12, 1977.
Mr Payne, of Pascoe Vale, is keen to know the last date when the McKeen vehicle ran in the south-west.
According to a report in The Standard on May 11, 1912, the railcar was an impressive vehicle, with its all-steel structure sitting on two four-wheel bogies. The exterior was painted maroon, with gold striping.
The six-cylinder 200-horsepower (150kW) petrol engine sat on the leading bogie, independent of the car body, to reduce vibration. It weighed 34 tonnes. Inside the car was beautifully finished with inlaid Cuban mahogany.
“The design was well ahead of its time, with clean exterior lines and nautically-inspired porthole windows. It featured an aerodynamic wedge-shaped front end and a semi-circular rear end,” Mr Payne said.
“Lighting was powered by a commercial acetylene system using a compressed gas tank under the rear of the car.”
Mr Payne can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org