Author Topic: 24 Miles of New 2-Foot Gauge! Isis Central Sugar Mill railway expansion  (Read 401 times)

Bill Reidy

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Following publication of the November/December 2020 WW&F Newsletter, which reported the donation of a two-foot gauge tamper by Wilmar Sugar Co. of Australia, Ltd., Loring M. Lawrence wrote to share the news of the Isis Central Sugar Mill's 24-mile expansion of its two-foot gauge network.  Unfortunately, we couldn't fit Loring's story in the WW&F Newsletter, so we share it here.  Thanks, Loring.

24 Miles of New 2-Foot Gauge!
by Loring M. Lawrence

Imagine!  The WW&F being extended by 24 miles with 60-pound rail and stone ballast at a cost of slightly over 12 1/2 million!  Not so fast, however--this new 2-foot gauge is not in Maine and not in the USA, but rather, it's in Australia!  To be more precise, it's located in northeastern Australia in the state of Queensland, a major producer of sugar cane.  It is though, an interesting tie-in, considering the WW&F's newly acquired tamper which recently arrived from a Queensland sugar cane line.

At the present time Queensland counts twenty cane processing mills that utilize 2-foot (610mm) gauge railways to reach the cane plantations, the exception being one mill using 3' 6" (1067mm) gauge which is the universal gauge of the state-owned Queensland Rail.  Within the last few decades, some inefficient mills have closed, the cane being diverted over the 2-foot gauge for processing at other nearby mills.

In contrast to cane plantations in other nations where the narrow gauge railways are being replaced by truck haulage (Fiji in particular), the Isis Central Sugar Mill, located near Cordalba (about 200 miles north of Brisbane), is expanding its existing 102-mile 2-foot gauge system by building 24 miles of new line to tap the cane fields in the Wallaville area.  Annually, some 441,000 tons of cut cane are hauled by truck to the Isis mill, equating to 27,000 heavy truck movements.  After examining the cost of trucks versus rail haulage, the Isis management in 2018 decided to extend their 2-foot gauge which will save over $1.1 million annually in shipping costs.  Supporting the cost of the new railway, the Australian federal government has supplied $1.85 million and the state government another $1.85 million derived from bank loans.  Additional federal grants are expected.

Construction began in November 2019 and at the time of this writing is expected to be completed by the end of 2020.  Eighteen miles of the line are built on an abandoned Queensland Rail (QR) branch that closed in 1955.  Beyond that portion, the route traverses hilly country requiring cuts and fills as well as five concrete bridges.  The 60 pound per yard rail (90 pound at a major road crossing) is secondhand from QR.  Isis mill has a very capable rail maintenance department which manufactures, on site, concrete sleepers at the rate of 300 per day.  Ballast is now obtained from a quarry alongside the new line.  Near the quarry a short branch will reach cane fields in the Booyal area.

Isis mill employs eight diesel locomotives of which six are rebuilt QR shunters built by Walkers (of Queensland) in 1968-69 and converted (with reduced weight) to 2-foot gauge.  Two locomotives were built by E. M. Baldwin of New South Wales (no relation to Baldwin of the USA), who specializes in cane railway locomotives.  All of the above are B-B diesel-hydraulics.  One of the Baldwins, 1977-built number 10, is working ballast trains on the new line.  Trains hauling cut cane can exceed one-half mile in length, comprising Isis mill's overall fleet of 1,964 cage-like "bin" cars.

The last car on a cane train is a radio-controlled brake wagon, necessary as the bin cars themselves have no brakes and there is no train line.  In a few locations (excluding the Isis railway) the 2-foot gauge rails cross the QR mainline on diamond crossings.

(Figures relating to tonnages, distances, monetary costs and imperial measurements are expressed in American equivalents.)
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