History of Canberra Railway Museum


The story of Canberra Railway Museum begins in 1975 with the arrival of Beyer-Garratt locomotive 6029, which had been purchased for display at the National Museum of Australia. However, upon arriving in Canberra, it was decided the loco was no good to the museum, and so after discussions with Bruce MacDonald, it was sold to the fledgling railway museum for the grand total of $1!

After a lot of negotiation, the museum set up shop in the old goods shed, and began restoring 6029 and acquiring various other carriages and locomotives. But it would all need to be stored somewhere. Commonwealth Railways were approached and a lease was struck for an oddly-shaped patch of land wedged between their sprawling new goods yard, and a private rail depot. The first building to arrive was the main visitors’ centre, donated from the construction site at the National Gallery and arriving in 1982.

Sidings were laid progressively throughout the site, and the carriage shed was erected to protect restoration projects.

6029 and 3102 were the mainstay motive power, with the Garratt making history in 1980 as the first of its kind to travel interstate, visiting Melbourne on an excursion. Unfortunately, boiler wear forced it into retirement in 1981. 3102 was taken out of service in 1987, but 3016 was restored instead.


In 1984, Canberra Railway Museum proposed to restore locomotive 1210, which had been plinthed for over 20 years, to working order in time for the Australian Bicentenary. The plan was approved and funded, and the locomotive emerged from the workshops in 1988. 1210 then travelled down to Melbourne in the company of locomotive 3112, and took part in the celebrations.

In 1989, 1210 took part in a special train to Cooma, commemorating the last passenger train over the line before its closure. It double-headed the train with locomotive 5910.

Following the closure of the Bombala line, Canberra Railway Museum leased the route from Queanbeyan to Michelago, and opened the Michelago Tourist Railway. Running its first trains in 1993, due to the deteriorating bridges the railway progressively cut back, until the last trains ran as far as Royalla in 2007. Storm damage to a bridge entailed costly repairs, and the museum chose to abandon the venture in 2011, instead focusing on heritage trains over the main line to Bungendore.


After decades of outside storage, being allowed to rust and decay, restoration efforts on 6029 began in 2008. The fortunate discovery of a spare 60-class boiler at a sawmill meant that the project would be feasible, and the mighty machine was returned to working order in 2014.

The restoration generated significant buzz. 6029 is the largest operational steam locomotive in the Southern Hemisphere, and proved to be a major drawcard for the museum- not just to customers, but to the media and politicians. The ICE radio, a vital piece of communications equipment, was paid for by government support, and in return the locomotive would be named the ‘City of Canberra’. It was relaunched into service by Shane Rattenbury MLA, and Bruce MacDonald, the man who had saved it all those years ago.

6029 became a major star in the Canberra region and beyond, making its first public run to the Thirlmere Festival of Steam in 2015. However, things were not to last…


In late 2016, Canberra Railway Museum was caught up in the financial collapse of ESPEE Railroad Services. A commercial arm established to subsidise the expenses of running the heritage trains, it accumulated significant debts. The museum was forced into liquidation, and many of its assets were sold to pay off the debt. This included 3102, unrestored locomotive 3013, and Beyer-Garratt 6029.

Between 2016 and 2019, the museum and its assets were restructured into two new organisations: ACT Heritage Rail Holdings, and Capital Region Heritage Rail. Volunteers spent months tirelessly renovating the museum site and exhibits, which had been left largely unattended since the liquidation and were suffering from corrosion and vandalism. Fortunately, 3016, 1210, the CPH railmotors and the museum’s operational carriage fleet had endured the liquidation, and were stored securely away from the museum site.

The museum reopened to the public in October 2019. Since reopening, work has concentrated on returning heritage trains to the ACT region, starting with the CPH railmotors.

Special thanks to Stephen Buck

History of the Canberra Branch


The history of the Canberra branch actually predates the formation of the city by several years. The progressive opening of the Bombala railway line saw trains reaching Bungendore in 1885, Queanbeyan in 1887, and Cooma in 1889. The route taken by the railway was not favoured by the surveyors, who recommended that a railway to Cooma would be better off branching from the Main South Line at Gunning, as opposed to Goulburn. However, lobbying and pressure from powerful locals saw to it that the railway followed the course it does today. As a result, it was forced to contend with the treacherous Molonglo Gorge. Though today the gorge is the scenic highlight of any train trip from Canberra, bringing the railway through here took 2 years of digging and blasting, the construction of 3 tunnels, 139 cuttings, and several bridges. Sixteen men were killed in this section alone.

The railway would eventually be extended to Bombala in 1921, and a branch from Bungendore to Captains Flat was opened in 1940, though it only lasted until 1960. The line from Cooma to Bombala was closed in 1986, and the line from Queanbeyan to Cooma closed in 1989.


Canberra was officially incorporated in 1913, to a plan by famed architect Walter Burley Griffin, and his wife Marion. Learning his craft in Chicago, one of the largest rail hubs in the USA, Griffin recognised the importance of railways to a city, and so included them as a pivotal part of his initial plan.

According to Griffin’s plan, the railway would have slewed south after leaving Queanbeyan, before curving northwards to pass through the prestigious suburbs of Riverbourne, Lakebourne and Eastlake (approximately Symonston, Narrabundah and Kingston today), before arriving in the city via an imposing causeway over the artificial lakes, and entering a grand terminus in the city centre. There would also have been provisions to extend the railway to Yass, creating a loop with the Main South Line.

For the city’s construction, a temporary branch line was built from Queanbeyan to Kingston, for the transportation of building materials, workers, and fuel for the brand new power station. A rudimentary station building was erected to provide basic amenities.

On May 25, 1914, locomotive 120- once the pride of the New South Wales Railways, now little more than a humble goods engine- became the first revenue-earning train to arrive at the National Capital, hauling a train of coal and construction materials.

Griffin’s relationship with the Government was quite tense from the onset, and the outbreak of the First World War forced him to cut more and more from his original plan. His artificial lakes and the aforementioned suburbs were all scrapped, and his grand line to Civic never eventuated. Instead, the railway remained where it was, with more sidings and loco servicing facilities installed. By this time, Griffin has already returned to the US, and he cut ties with the project in 1920 on bad terms. The Federal Capital Advisory Committee oversaw the remaining construction.


The Yarralumla Brickworks was opened in 1913, to supply bricks for the new city. At first, materials were transported by traction engines, but with the commencement of the new Parliament building (now known as Old Parliament House) in 1923, a faster mode of transportation was needed. A 3’6” narrow gauge railway was built from the brickworks to the Kingston power house, via the Parliament construction site. It was operated by two former WAGR S class tank engines, named ‘Princess’ and ‘Duchess’. In 1926, the railway was extended across the Molonglo River into Civic, to aid in the construction of the Sydney and Melbourne Buildings. A third locomotive was bought to handle the increased traffic, this time a Hudswell, Clarke saddle tank that previously operated for the Wallaroo Mining Co.

With the opening of Parliament House in 1927, the railway was considered an eyesore and ripped up. The locomotives were all sold on and eventually scrapped.

Perhaps the biggest embarrassment in Canberra’s rail history, the Civic Branch was opened as a construction line from Kingston to Civic in 1921. It was Griffin’s final concession over his line to the city, which he had advocated for strongly despite the cuts to his plan. Lightly and cheaply built, it closely followed his original route, but was single track and had a light wooden trestle over the river instead of a grand causeway. The route of Jerrabomberra Creek was realigned to avoid building a second bridge, but this was ultimately the railway’s undoing…

In 1922, less than 18 months since its opening, record flooding in the area utterly destroyed the bridge over the Molonglo River. Rerouting the Jerrabomberra Creek, as well as the bridge’s poor construction (the supports were set oblique to the river’s flow, acting as nets for any debris in the river), caused the floodwaters to wipe out all the central supports, and wash away much of the embankments either side. There was much debate as to whether the railway should be rebuilt or not. In 1925, another flood washed through and destroyed whatever was left of the bridge, and the line was abandoned for good. With it went any hope of a station in Civic, or an extension to Yass. The tracks around Civic (now Garema Place) were realigned and regauged for use by the brickworks tramway when it came to Civic in 1926, and were removed with its closure. The last of the Civic branch wasn’t demolished until around 1940.


Canberra’s railway station was opened to the public in 1927, with the opening of Parliament House. A brand new station building, architecturally reminiscent of the Hotel Canberra, was built just down the platform from the original 1914 building. This too, however, was considered ‘temporary’, and in later years was criticised for its basic nature. The railway continued to live out a fairly quiet existence, though it did enjoy its fair share of named expresses, such as the Federal City Express and Cooma Mail.

In 1962, upon withdrawal, locomotive 1210 was presented to the people of Canberra, and mounted on static display outside the station where she had made history some 48 years earlier.

In 1966, the station and corresponding rail yards were all extensively rebuilt. The original buildings were both knocked down and replaced with the building that stands to the present day- in true Canberra fashion, being considered a ‘stop-gap’ solution while a better station site was determined!

With the rise of diesel power, Canberra became a stop on the Canberra-Monaro Express, as well as the airconditioned Canberra Express. The closure of the line from Queanbeyan to Bombala in the 1980s saw a significant cutback to rail services into Canberra, and this section has also been threatened with closure multiple times in the ensuing years. The high-speed XPT trains were used on the Canberra branch from 1983 until the mid-1990s, but today passenger services are handled by the Xplorer units.

Special thanks to Garry Reynolds