Into 2000 with Australia Southern...

SA Rail and Powerail
Before it collapsed completely, a seperate body had been set up within the AN operation to assume responsibility for providing locomotives and crews for the operating of both freight and passenger trains, and to perform maintenance on locomotives; this unit was located at the Dry Creek Motive Power Centre and named "Powerail".

The organisation that administered the freight services within South Australia had been named "SA Rail".

These two, apart from the passenger services, were just about all that was left of Australian National as most of the workshops staff at Islington had been removed or retrenched. This, then, was what the succesful tenderer for what was left after the passenger services were sold would inherit.

Freight Services and Infrastructure
This article was started on the first anniversary of the day that Australia Southern Railroad started operating, and to date there appears to be some exuberance amongst the much smaller number gainfully employed; at least they have jobs. One has to take one's hat off to the three emissaries from Genessee and Wyoming in the US - a "short-line" railroad speciallist company, who have taken a tremendous gamble on their ability to turn around a badly declined almost non-business into a profitable operation. There is little doubt that while their American know-how is valuable, a two day long line haul at notch eight is a far cry from a thirty mile short line. One has to assume that there have been learning curves on both sides. GWI owns and operates 11 different railroads in America, and performs switching and maintenance duties across the continent.

At the time of privatisation, the winning consortium was led by GWI and supported by Clyde Engineering who now operate the workshops at Port Augusta and the Motive Power Depot at Dry Creek on behalf of the consortium, performing maintenance as required on not just the local fleet but also some of National Rail Corporation's as well. Transfield, a steel fabrication and erection speciallist company (and a division of Broken Hill Propietary Company) is the partner responsible for the maintenance of all infrastructure throughout South Australia), all of which (apart from the trunk route which is ARTC owned) is owned by the consortium. That is to say, the land is leased from the State government, but all improvements upon it were purchased from the Commonwealth government.

On the day they took over, a Saturday, the new owners walked into premises that had been set up for a larger operation, and much had to be done quickly to rationalise their new modus operandi. Fortunately a few days had been made available where those employees who would be hired were able to be selected in advance, ensuring a minimum of disruption to customers, but considerable heart-ache to those who waited to hear if they were to get a job or not. Many, of course didn't, in similar ways to the privatisation of the passenger business - in fact in any privatisation operation.

One of the difficulties encountered by the ASR executives from the outset, as an experienced trio from an EMD powered empire of 12 railroad organisations in the USA, must have been the unbelievable unreliability of the motive power they inherited from the purchase.

What was not required by the new passenger service provider (ASR) and the interstate freight carrier (NRC) was then left "up for grabs", and several interested parties made offers, based on each's perceived future profitability, and how long they thought it was likely to take, and whether or not they believed that the patronage could be "grown" economically. An interesting fact about the location of the Islington workshops is that under the original deed to the railways by the Crown about a hundred and fifty years ago, the land has to stay in Crown ownership, and the site may only be used for railway related purposes, meaning that freehold title is unable to be granted to any "natural" person - or body corporate - this does not, of course, exclude leasehold management of those assets.

Another point to be made is that under the original transfer to the Commonwealth of the South Australian railways, the actual land upon which tracks, employees' homes, station buildings etc remained the property of the Crown, vested in the government of South Australia. The purchase price paid by the Commonwealth to the State was therefore purely for the improvements. Consequently, at the time of privatisation, the succesful bidder could only purchase and own the improvements left - Australian National had already ripped up many miles of track it could not viably operate, and demolished infrastructure. The actual land still belongs to the public of South Australia.

The succesful bidder would be required to administer the "improved" areas concerned and would have ongoing access to all the remaining facilities which could in turn be further improved and/or sub-leased, and this has seen the emergence of what could be described (in comparison with the original activities there) as the development of a number of lucrative "cottage industries" in the railway maintenance and refurbishment industry, an area of considerable potential as those who have started to develop these areas have already found out. For how long these industries renmain profitable remains to be seen; in the interim, jobs have been created, redundant employees have been able to work in their trades again, anfd investors of capital have seen some return for their outlay.

Australia Southern Railroad
Genessee and Wyoming Australia Pty Ltd

Chuck Chabot (Senior VP NY/PA), Paul Zalec (Operations Manager NY/PA), and Tony Mogytych (Marketing, Oregon) headed the team from GWI. All three are respected in the industry in their country of origin, and were considered by the GWI board as being the most likely to succeed in an extremely difficult situation. As Senior VP (and Chief Executive) of the five seperate railroads owned by GWI in the NY/PA region, Mr Chabot brought a range of expertise that stands him in good stead. Paul Zalek's operational experience has been in a group of railroads that runs hook-and-pull and line-haul of every conceivable type of freight over whatever varied terrain the right-of-way was built upon, all using EMD built motive power. Tony Mogytych's friendly and persuasive communications are well placed with the support of the others in the team, and together they have started to develop the three areas targetted in GWI's 1996 Annual Report, namely "A strategy for growth", "Building our regional businesses", and "staying close to the customer" very well, with new some business previously lost by AN and even by SAR before that being recovered.

Illustrations from GWI annual reports

Remanufactured EMDs now rebuilt
It would appear that ASR have very satisfactorily established themselves so far, and with Clyde at their Port Augusta workshops rebuilding and renovating an unreliable engine at a time for their Adelaide operations partner, the fleet is steadily assuming greater and greater reliability, which will allow customer confidence to increase in the "new kid on the block". CLP11, CLP13, CLP14 and ALF18 have already been outshopped in the Australian version of the GWI corporate livery after an overhaiul more far-reaching than the regular major examinations would need. CLP8 is next in line to follow in the refit programme.

Earlier locomotives
20-year old double cab Goodwin-Alco 700 classes are also still in service, as are quite a few GMs, though mainly the final series which have dynamic braking and a slightly higher horsepower rating (1800 as opposed to 1750). Of the 930 class of Alco, there is only one left, in the strange dark blue "Explorer" livery. However there are over twenty 830s and their lowered short-nose AN modification, the DA class. There are also half a dozen CK-class (ex Victorian T-class) which are currently used mainly on the Penrice limestone contract. A very elderly 500-class English Electric shunter (built by the SAR at Islington in 1964) still shunts the now very small Mile End goods yard.

After consolidation
A year and a half down the track, having established themselves as a credible operator who was not about to go out of business, with relibility improving day-by-day, the time came to seek additional contracts. Starting in the second half of 1998, ASR commenced bidding for a number of rail contracts around Australia - in other states as well as in South Australia - and are hopeful of increasing their market share.

They have picked up hook-and-pull work with the privatised track access authority (ARTC) in both South Australia and Victoria, and with a mining company on the Western Australian side of the Trans-Australia line.

The Leigh Creek Coal Haulage saga
A scenario - unbelievable outside of Australia, except in third-world countries - emerged when just before Christmas 1998, it was announced in the South Australian media that the hook and pull contract to haul coal from the South Australian government owned electricity undertaking's mines at Leigh Creek to their power station at Port Augusta had gone elsewhere - not to either ASR or Silverton Transport Industries, and not to National Rail, but to the New South Wales government owned Freightcorp, who in addition to bidding just half the current tonne-kilometre rate, had no presence in South Australia and therefore would need to either establish itself in an inhospitable location, or sub-contract its entire operation.

What was not publicised, though, and required some "digging" to discover, was that the two-waggon rotary tippler (or "dumper") built by Strachan and Henshaw in 1984, and for which a large number of gondolas with rotating coupling had been constructed, was to be done away with as a result of this contract. Informed sources have said that because Freightcorp did not own such coal carrying wagons, and had just lost a lucrative contract in their own state (NSW), they intended to use their bottom dump hoppers in preference to incurring costs in either purchasing the existing waggons or constructing their own.

This has cost the South Australian taxpayers a considerable amount in conversion costs at the coal unloading facilities at Northern Power Station, costs which (of course) are not included anywhere in the contract figures.

This author was employed in the design phase of this facility by T O'Connors in 1984-1985, and actually wrote the operating instructions for the entire coal handling plant. A short article was written for the railways interest group magazine called 'Catchpoint' in 1984, and it has been retyped as a web page with a few remarks bringing it up to date. Interestingly, the person responsible for the original commissioning of this system was Mr. Eddie Sain, the same Mr. Sain who had great difficulties during 1998 and early 1999 in obtaining any sort of co-operation by the South Australian Government in the establishing of an all-weather boat harbour for a high-speed ferry between Glenelg and Kangaroo Island.

Questions have been asked about the level of subsidy that the New South Wales taxpayers were contributing to the contract, but naturally no answers were forthcoming. Governments have been bleating about the need to introduce "level playing fields" in the commercial arena, and this appears at face value to be anything but.

ASR had operated the service from when it took over the last bit of AN operations (8th November 1997) at a rate lower than that which AN had been charging, looking towards the time when tenders would be called, so one will need to closely watch the progress of the Freightcorp contract. !999 will be an interesting year.

An interesting bit of news filtered out of Freightcorp's empire in April 1999. The 81-class locomotives they brought over to South Australia to operate this coal haulage run were discovered to be too expensive in fuel costs. The new hi-tech fuel-efficient locomotives they would like to use are (apparently) unable to be moved out of New South Wales because of leasing maintenace requirements having to be performed a thousand miles away. One has to wonder if Freightcorp will now apply for (and perhaps get?) a re-evaluation of their contract with the South Australian government.

Illustration ASR livery

A S R's first year
It should be noted that GWI (Australia) / ASR's operation is completely different from their USA experience in short-line operation. Both the line-haul and hook and pull is over very much longer distances here, from Adelaide to West Kalgoorlie perhaps being the most challenging in terms of crew rostering and fuel provision over a two-day journey in a countryside totally devoid of any living person, in temperatures that would test the endurance of any machinery.

A disappointment for ASR would have to have been the discovery of just how poor was the reliability and availability of engines whose name carry a reputation for reliability all over the rest of the world, and the flat denial to them of access to unused more modern motive power which had been "reserved" by their biggest competitor (National Rail Corporation) at the time of the "fire sale" - although NRC appeared to have no intention of either using the engines themselves, nor allowing others to hire them because major overhauls were apparently due on them.

However, at the first day of 1999, Clyde (the EMD licensee) had already refurbished four of the remanufactured 3000hp locomotives to both their and ASR's satisfaction, and had started on the expensive chore of doing the same to another, allowing three CLPs to head westwards for a "showing the flag" trip to Perth in January 1999; and one cannot help wishing that such a process had not been necessary.

The up side for this, though, is the fact that had the M-K rebuilds been more reliable, the price paid for their portion of AN by Genessee and Wyoming would undoubtedly have been far greater, and there would not have been any ongoing employment for a number of Port Augusta ex employees in the rebuild programme. With five rebuilt properly, one does not need to be a mathematician to discover that twenty more still require extensive overhauls, which should provide ongoing work for say another six or seven years. Much can happen in the way of new business in that length of time. It should be explained that a great proportion of the Port Augusta community economy is related to the railway workshops, and with AN's final collapse, a very high proportion of the population of this "gateway" city are now on social security. At least some have been re-hired, and additional train controllers employed by ASR have been taken from amongst those laid off at Port Augusta a couple of years ago when ARTC (then Track Access) streamlined their operation and consolidated all their controllers in Adelaide.

EMD reliability is a legend - everyone knows that as long as you do the maker's services on time, a GM goes for ever; take, for example, the Norwegian State Railways (NSB) class Di3 engine, almost identical with the Victorian B-class (and nearly as old), and the Di3 have been scheduled to be retired twice in the past, in favour of more modern units, but they have not because of failure of the modern sophisticated machinery to meet specification - both with the 3000 horsepower Di6 and the Di8 classes. The Di3 were commissioned in the early 1950s.

Illustrations of NSB Di3s, DSB MYs

Transfield
This company, originally a division of Broken Hill Proprietary Company, has of recent years become involved in the maintenance as well as construction of projects involving steel products. Their responsibility in the consortium is the track and infrastructure maintenance. They were also providing maintenance for the interstate main lines, contracted to "Track Access" division of AN, but they failed to win the contract when tenders were called during 1998, this job also going to a partly privatised government body in New South Wales.

ASR Motive Power roster
Locomotives currently operational include...

Standard & Broad Gauge 700 class 701, 703, 704, 705, 706 (originally 700)
DA class 1, 2, 5,
830 class 833, 841, 843, 846, 859
GM class 32, 34, 37, 38, 40, 42, 43, 44, 45, 47
CLF class 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
CLP class 8 (currently being refurbished), 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 , 15, 16, 17
ALF class 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25
600 class 602, 603, 607 (originally 600)
CK class 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Units italicised and bold are painted in the ASR/GWI orange with twin black bands livery. Narrow Gauge DA class no 1 is in GWI livery on the Eyre peninsular.

Illustrations

Clyde Motive Power
I must admit to defeat in my attempts to speak with anyone at Clyde in Adelaide, in gathering information for this article. One has to wonder why, when in the days they built the BLs I was cordially received with my enquiries, even being telephoned by them so that I could be at Mile End in time for the arrival of the first BL delivered as they knew of my interest in photographing it for posterity.

Perhaps it should be pointed out that the isolated 3ft-6ins gauge system on the Eyre Peninsular, for years being purely freight haulage, principally grain and gypsum, was not directly affected by what was going on on wider gauge tracks. Business is still being "grown" there by the now privatised operator.

The release of the CLP class of locomotive from passenger service by that privatised operator opting for NRC to provide their hook-and-pull service made it feasible for ASR to provide on-train power for refrigerated freight container traffic, something which in this writer's opinion AN should have forseen and provided as a matter of course in the CLF locomotives. Another shortcoming of the head-end power system as originally installed was that it was only accessible if an equipped locomotive were directly coupled to the vehicles to be serviced, making it impossible for another class of locomotive to be marshalled between the CLP and the rest of the consist.

Summing it all up, it would seem that much of the reliance ASR had to place initially on first-generation Clyde-built A7's and A12C's from the 1950s and 1960s - the GM class - has paid off by their customers demonstrating loyalty and patience - and it is starting to show results by improved business resulting from the higher reliability of the completely overhauled 3300 horsepower units back in service. In the mean time, bids have been entered in the competition to buy parts or the whole of the Victorian privatised network as V/Line freight comes unglued. We shall have to wait to see the end result, as although the winner of the major portion has been announced, there will be spin-offs to other operators; for a start, the SCT contract on the Melbourne-Adelaide corridor could well be the subject of renegotiation.

Email contact with A.S.R.'s Tony Mogytych can be made from here; Email to C.E.O Chuck Chabot can also be sent from here,

Updated 28th May 1999