Why I like big trains…

For a while now I’ve been trying to remember when it was that I first became interested in big locos, no matter what events or experiences I thought of I kept coming back to a trip I feel very fortunate to have made back in 2004.

Whilst in my final year at Plymouth University a group of 26 of us went on a field trip to Sabah (Malaysian Borneo).  For part of this time we were working in the rainforest, a fantastic experience, looking at how deforestation was impacting the rivers.  The rest of the trip was spent studying how colonial towns and cities had developed, and how they were being managed now.  For this we stayed in Kota Kinabalu, in the North West corner of Borneo.

I was very fortunate that we spent some time in KK as, at the time, I got to see some spectacular steam in action! During 2011 The North Borneo Railway has finished a restoration relaying all the track and improving it’s service trains.  At the time I visited there was an air of decrepitude, of a line that had been in operation for decades getting by with the equipment it had available – it felt very much like how it must have done at the end of the Irish narrow gauge systems, only considerably hotter!

I got to see the last wood burning steam loco in regular service on passenger trains, a Vulcan 2-6-2 tender loco built in 1954.  It was slightly grubby at our time of visit, something I’d never seen before.  Living in the UK, visiting preserved lines and not being old enough to remember mainline steam, I’d never seen a really dirty, well used looking loco before – it was great!

Since our visit the line shut, it required a lot of maintenance and modernisation for Sabah   State Railways to continue to operate their service trains.  I also heard that part of it washed away due to landslides and heavy rainfall.  Obviously having enjoyed myself so much when I visited it was a little saddening to hear this as, for a while once things had been dismantled, it didn’t look like they were going to have the money to reinstate them. Thankfully things have been progressed and this year services have been reinstated, there are new service trains being operated by a fleet of new DMUs, the Vulcan seems to have been given a lick of paint, and now has a new turntable at the far end of the line too.

The video below sums up the history of the NBR quite succinctly, from it’s opening through the tough times the area faced during World War 2, the time I visited, closure, and how it has been revamped and reopened.

Our was the first time I’d seen such a powerful narrow gauge loco, and I think that has stuck with me ever since, and fired (pun not intended) my liking for larger prototypes.  And I don’t think I’ll ever experience that feeling of a line operating a tired service on a shoestring again, it was such an atmospheric thing to see, I’m certainly grateful I got the opportunity!

The field trip was more special than just seeing true working steam as also on the field trip was the girl who is now my wife!  We both hope to return one day soon!

For more information on the North Borneo Railway visit this site.

As this is likely my last post before Christmas I’d like to wish all of you reading this a happy Christmas! Expect plenty more modelling updates in early 2012 as I have to get Isle Ornsay a little more presentable for Narrow Gauge South in April.

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