Staff shelter as huge blaze ravages railway museum

By Geoff Courtney

STAFF sheltered for their lives as a devastating bush fire caused more than $1 million damage and wrecked decades of work at the volunteer-run Richmond Vale Railway Museum in Australia’s New South Wales.

The blaze on September 13 destroyed three stainless-steel carriages, rolling stock including 10 restored coal hoppers and a number of unrestored wagons, as well as 1½ miles of track.

Fire survivor: Great Central Railway Class 8K No. 23 in 1967 on the J & A Brown Richmond Vale colliery line in New South Wales, Australia, where it worked for nearly 50 years until withdrawal in 1973. The former ROD 2-8-0 has been cosmetically restored at its Richmond Vale Railway Museum home, and survived a fire at the site on September 13 which resulted in the loss of much of the museum’s preserved rolling stock. RICHMOND VALE RAILWAY MUSEUM COLLECTION

The museum, in the Hunter Valley region of New South Wales near the city of Cessnock and home to a UK-built 2-8-0, was ravaged by an inferno which roared through the site and is believed to have been started by a dumped car that was set alight.

One female member of staff was trapped inside the main building by the bushfire, which caused damage estimated at more than $1m (£600,000), but it passed either side of her and she escaped unharmed.

Peter Meddows, the museum’s chairman, said after her escape: “She said she didn’t think about it at the time, but it bothers her now more than it did then.”

Of the fire, he said: “There was nothing we could do. The wind picked up, the ashes blew into an unburnt area, and it just went. That was that. It’s heartbreaking. Some of the hoppers took 500 to 1000 hours to restore and now they’ve just gone, they’re just piles of ash.

“We spent 38 years struggling to keep it all together, but things were looking up, finally we were starting to move ahead. Now we’ve got to start all over again. We are all pretty dejected but we’re determined to keep going.”

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