Steam lovers: the volunteers that keep the Hotham Valley railway moving

Every Saturday at 3am when everybody is still asleep, Hotham Valley Railway operators start their working routine in the heart of Dwellingup.

From cleaning the picturesque carriages, to oiling the steam engines and heating up the locomotives, the operators work tirelessly to get the railway line ready for the first steam train trip at 10.30am. 

As soon as visitors arrive at 10am the locomotive is puffing, the dining carriage is ready and the kiosk’s sweet treats sit on the shelf waiting for the train to dive into Dwellingup’s breathtaking jarrah forests.

But there’s something which makes the Hotham Valley Railway even more special than its steam trains.

“We are all volunteers, everybody you see on a train are all volunteers,” railway vice-president Brett Mohen said.

And they have been for the last 43 years.

The Hotham Valley Railway was born in 1974 as an idea by a small group of train enthusiasts who wanted to preserve the steam locomotives on the Pinjarra-Dwellingup railway line when the world was moving towards diesel engines.

After purchasing a bunch of Mountain type W class locomotives and spending countless hours restoring the tracks, trains and depot buildings, the first steam train returned to the Hotham Valley in September 1976.

Ever since, the Hotham Valley Railway volunteers have donated their time to preserve and expand the railway, getting hold of unique historical carriages such as an 1884 club car and a 1919 dining carriage.

“It’s so many man hours to put a train together, it’s a huge effort,” Mr Mohan said.

“Every cent that a passenger spends on our trains, whether on a ticket or in the cafe car on chocolates or drinks, goes straight back into running the train.

“Into maintenance, into restoration, it’s a lot of costs involved with good maintenance.”

Steam girl: Hotham Valley Railway volunteers start working at 3am every weekend to keep the railway in motion. Photo: Marta Pascual Juanola.

Steam girl: Hotham Valley Railway volunteers start working at 3am every weekend to keep the railway in motion. Photo: Marta Pascual Juanola.

However, on top of their daily tasks to put the business in motion, they also train railway lovers who would like to become steam train drivers.

In order to get closer to establishing a permanent training centre near the station, the team are currently working on restoring the old Dwellingup Station master’s house.

“We do all the training in house, so we can take a person who may not know too much about trains and we can teach them everything they need to know over a period of time to be in charge of a large locomotive taking passengers out into the jarrah forest,” Mr Mohan said.

“To have something here, so close to the practical side as well as the theory together that will be fantastic.”

Mr Mohan said the railway had big long-term plans, including giving up part of the track network towards the Dwellingup Trail Hub project and locking down some funding to build a maintenance yard and workshop.

However, he said the Hotham Valley Railway family was always in need for more committed volunteers to take over both maintenance and retail jobs since they are otherwise forced to pay contractors.

“We’ve got people who looks after the accounts, we’ve got office staff that answer the phone, we’ve got people who come down and do a great job doing all these little jobs that need doing after a weekend running, there’s lots and lots of jobs,” he said.

“And we welcome new members with open arms.”

For more information about the Hotham Valley Railway and how to volunteer go to hothamvalleyrailway.com.au or call  (08) 6278 1114.