Role of train gang was a crucial one

Life wasn’t easy for rail crews on the Wodonga to Cudgewa line, or the gangers who maintained the lines and bridges.

Wal Riley, a former railwayman stationed at Wodonga, has many tales to tell of his experiences.

One was about a goods train coming out of Old Tallangatta and around a curve on a long bridge. Around the curve coming towards the train came a trolley with 4 gangers on it. Somehow a line check hadn’t been made to see if it was clear. The train had no hope of stopping before a collision and the gangers realised it. They jumped off the trolley and got clear of the line before the train cleaned up the trolley.

On the trains would be a crew of driver, fireman, guard and a stockman who travelled with the cattle for the stock agent.

On one trip a railway truck loaded with cattle got derailed at night and went down into the Koetong Creek. The crew thought the couplings had come undone and joined up the wagons still on the line. They didn’t notice one was missing until they were walking back to the engine when they heard cattle bawling down in the creek!

Wal says seepage often caused trains to slow down. This time seepage must have moved the sleepers which moved the rail and caused the engine to topple. He says the gangs made all the difference on the condition of the track. The train crews might drive the train but the gangers were important to their safety. Usually the gangers had 4 or 3-wheeled trolleys.

Their job was not only to maintain the track but to help in derailments which were fairly common.

Cudgewa was the terminus for material going to the Snowy Mountains project and the up trains carried material and equipment to be used there – turbines, were usually carried on special trains – but ordinary freight trains carried cement, girders and so on. The down train back to Wodonga carried cattle, parcels, groceries and wood for pulping at the paper mills.

He said there were two maintenance gangs and one yard gang of about 15 men at Wodonga; one gang of about five men at Barnawartha, one gang of four or five at Bandiana, and between Bandiana and Cudgewa about seven gangs: at Huon, Tallangatta, Bullioh, Koetong, Shelley, Betoomba and Cudgewa with about four men in each gang.