The Great South Pacific Express was recently transported from Australia to Peru where, after a spruce up, it will begin service as the Andean Explorer, a luxurious tourist train. By MARY SEARLE BELL.
ONE OF GLOBAL TRANSPORT’S recent projects involved taking a high-spec sleeper train from Brisbane, Australia to Matarani on the southern coast of Peru. The load comprised 15 sleeper cars, two dining cars, an observation car, a lounge car and a power van, as well as several containers of fixtures, furniture, tableware and more.
The luxury Queensland Rail train had been sold to PeruRail, a 50:50 partnership between Peruvian investors and Belmond, the company behind the Venice Simplon Orient Express. It will be operated by Belmond and will take tourists on two-to-three day trips up to Lake Titicaca, a large deep lake in the Andes on the border of Peru and Bolivia and the highest navigable lake in the world.
According to the PeruRail website, the Belmond Andean Explorer will begin operating in May 2017 and will take passengers to some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world: “From Cusco, the ancient capital of the Inca Empire – traversing the highest plains of the Andes – to the reflective beauty of Lake Titicaca. Take the opportunity to explore the vast Colca Canyon then continue towards the city centre of Arequipa, a UNESCO World Heritage site.”
The two elegant dining cars will serve “fresh, colourful and seasonal dishes using locally-sourced ingredients”; the observation car has an open air deck, while the lounge car will have a baby grand piano.
Before being sold to PeruRail, the railcars had several years’ service for Queensland Rail as the Great South Pacific Express, running between Kuranda near Cairns and Sydney. This service operated from 1999 to 2003.
The 21 cars of the Great South Pacific Express were built at Queensland Rail’s workshops in Townsville. Following four years of losses, the luxury tourist train ceased operation and was put into storage at North Ipswich Railway workshops.
In 2006 the train was destined for Italy but rather than having the Italian buyers come to Australia to look at the train, it was decided it would be easier to ship a single carriage to Italy for inspection. Richard Hyde of Global Transport was called in to do this move, which he duly did. However, while the carriage was in the shop in Italy, the shop went into receivership.
“Queensland Rail lost the carriage and a set of lifting frames,” says Richard.
The remaining 20 carriages then sat gathering dust until November 2015, when a team masterminded by Richard Hyde descended on the railway workshop and began preparing the train for its journey to Peru.
The first task was to thoroughly check the carriages, including whether the bogies were still secured to the carriages and could be lifted onto the transporters without any damage.
Interestingly, the railcars were on standard gauge bogies but the tracks at the destination port in Peru were narrow gauge. Richard offered to carry out a bogie swap from standard gauge to narrow but the client insisted on keeping the carriages on standard gauge bogies.
The first leg of the journey was to take the cars to Lytton, near the port in Brisbane, where they were fumigated for creepy crawlies and the like.
“One of the terms of sale was ‘no snakes or spiders or anything of the like to leave Australia’,” Richard told Contractor.
However, he says they would have fumigated the train before leaving Australia regardless of the contract stipulations, saying that it was easier to do that than finding a spider on the ship during the journey and then having to fumigate the entire vessel before berthing in Peru.
The fumigation process took about two weeks – the carriages were put under covers in pairs and a bug bomb deployed. The carriages then sat for 24 hours while the poison did its job.
Global Transport had designed four new lifting frames for this job. The existing Queensland Rail lifting frames were not available so a new, less complex set of frames was built.
“Any damage in transit would be difficult to repair,” says Richard. His solution was to construct mechanical frames which were more robust and easier to repair on the fly.
The design of the lifting frames also had to take into account that the space to stow the carriages on board the ship was very tight.
He says there was also the issue of the lifting position of the carriages: “There were only two pins at four positions under the carriages. The lifting beams could not be walked down the outside of the carriage to pick up the pin positions, so each lifting beam had a pivoting elbow that allowed the bottom leg to roll back so the main beam could clear the outside of the carriage when being lowered into position.”
The train was shipped under deck and rested on special stands so the weight of the carriages wasn’t on the bogies – “it was important that the bogies did not hammer [vibrate] during the ocean voyage”.
Along with shipping the 20 cars and 22 narrow gauge bogeys, there were also a number of containers holding the opulent fixtures and fittings of the train. This included a baby grand piano, crystal chandeliers and crockery.
Once the ship arrived at the port in Matarani in Peru the train was unloaded onto the berth. The carriages were then picked up with a second set of lifting frames, utilising the local harbour mobile crane, and positioned away from the ship so discharge could continue. The bogies were then swapped to narrow gauge before the carriages left the port.
The head of Peru Logistics made the comment when he arrived at the port that PeruRail should have taken up Global Transport’s offer to swap the bogies in Australia as it would have saved them a lot of money.
This job wasn’t particularly challenging for the Global Transport team but Richard says it did involve a lot of technical detail.
“It was very political,” he says. “We were dealing with two government organisations which made things a bit tricky at times.”
However, the company has had experience in transporting luxury trains before. In 1991 it shipped from New Zealand to Singapore 25 cars of what was once the Silver Star (a luxury passenger train which ran between Auckland and Wellington).
There, the Silver Star was refurbished and went into service as the Eastern and Oriental Express, a 5-star cruise train service between Singapore and Bangkok.