Sugar cane transport

by Robert F. McKillop and John Browning


River highways

Cane railways

Steam locomotive evolution

Diesel locomotive evolution




Sugar cane is one of the bulkiest of crops. Modern harvesting methods require the transport of large quantities of chopped cane to processing facilities within hours of harvesting. Efficient transport of chopped cane is essential to avoid losses of sugar content after harvesting and to maintain a uniform flow of cane through the mills.

Early Australian sugar ventures were based on individual farms with their own small-scale milling ventures. The bulky, low-value crop initially restricted manufacture to small mills to which the cane was transported over muddy roads in German wagons and drays hauled by bullocks or horses. A small amount of rain was sufficient to make the roads impassable and prevent the carting of cane to the mill. This primitive overland transport was only able to bring small volumes of cane to the mill.

An essential factor in the establishment of large central mills able to take supplies of cane from surrounding farms and capable of efficiencies through economies of scale was the improvement of cane transport. Water transport initially provided the means for transporting large quantities of cane to mills. Larger rivers, such as the Clarence, Richmond and Tweed in NSW and the Rewa in Fiji, provided a transport artery for the early CSR (Colonial Sugar Refining Company) central mills. However, it was the development of light railway technology suited to the reliable movement of large volumes of cane over a network of lines from the 1880's which made the modern Queensland sugar industry possible.

River Highways

CSR's first mills on the Clarence River in northern New South Wales were founded on the opportunity to transport cane on the waterways. Steam tugs hauled 40-ton wooden punts from river-side loading areas to the mill. Two tugs, the Chatsworth and Mary Queen, were available to service Southgate mill from 1870 (1). The Darkwater was brought to the Clarence when the Darkwater mill on the Macleay River closed in 1874. An ocean-going steamer, the Keera (158 tons) was introduced in 1873 to carry coal from the Hunter to the northern mills and a steam launch was in use on the Clarence by 1874 (2). Thirty punts were in service by 1875, but were insufficient for the three Clarence mills.

The double-handling of cane onto and off the punts was a significant disadvantage, while navigation difficulties in shallow waters added to the problem. From the outset, E.W. Knox observed:

The creeks on which a large quantity of cane is planted are extremely troublesome for working the punts in. The steamer is only able to go up during a flush or at the top of the high-water spring tides. A small amount of rain is sufficient to make the roads impassable for a time and prevent farmers carting their cane to the mill. However, grumbling will not improve the cane or alter the situation of the mill, so we must only try to make the best out of a bad bargain (3).

To improve transport, a steam launch entered service in 1873 to tow punts into and out of creeks, and to move cutting gangs (4). It was successful and others were soon added to the fleet.

Construction of two iron punts capable of carrying 120-150 tons of cane commenced in 1875, while a new steamer, the Fiona, and a steam launch for Harwood mill on the Clarence River entered service that year (5). With the opening of Condong mill on the Tweed, the steam tug Wollumbee was obtained for that operation. The Iluka, a side-paddle tug built in England, entered service on the Clarence in 1879. A floating dock was brought into service in 1880 to assist with maintenance of the fleet of tugs, steam launches and barges.

On the Richmond River, an assessment of its potential for a central mill in 1878 noted the bends in the river gave a frontage of over 20 miles to the main river on each side before it reaches a point six miles distant from the sea (6). Although cane needed to be towed long distances, the river offered the potential for tugs with a draft of 7 feet of water compared with the shallow boats employed on the Clarence. A new and larger tug, the Kyogle, was obtained for work on the Richmond.

By 1881, there 55 punts on the Clarence, 24 on the Richmond and 18 on the Clarence. Four steam launches assisted the tugs on the Clarence, three on the Richmond and two on the Tweed.

When CSR expanded their operations to Fiji in 1881, they selected a site at Nausori on the Rewa River where the water transport systems developed on the Clarence could be replicated. Small mills had been established on the river from 1875 which received cane punted on the river. The Rewa Plantation Company commenced purchasing cane from farmers in 1875 and transporting it to the Pioneer mill in punts capable of carrying 20-30 tons of cane (7). With the opening of Nausori mill in August 1882, CSR introduced five steam tugs, eight 180-ton lighters and 30 iron cane punts of 60 tons capacity to meet its transport needs. However, the basic inefficiencies and uncertainties inherent in the water transport system remained a significant constraint to the further development of the industry. In order to achieve the potential economies of scale from their improved and larger cental mills, CSR needed to establish a more efficient means of transporting large volumes of cane from dispersed farms for processing.

Cane Railways


The solution to the problem of transporting sugar cane to central mills emerged with the development of light rail technology by the French farmer and engineer, Paul Decauville, and the English firm John Fowler & Company. Decauville had a large estate at Petit Bourg, near Paris, where he grew sugar beet. He purchased Fowler steam ploughs and manufactured Fowler implements under licence after 1867 (8). To harvest his crop, Decauville devised a rail system in late 1875, patented as Decauville's Iron Carrier, consisting of light 400 mm gauge portable track in short lengths which could be carried by two men. The original system was designed to be worked by men or animals, but in 1878 a small four-coupled steam locomotive was constructed by MM Corpet of Bourdon in Paris to operate on 500 mm gauge track.

In 1877, John Fowler & Co. took out a licence to manufacture Decauville's Iron Carrier at Leeds. They made improvements to the system and developed a range of wagons to carry sugar cane. In 1879 John Fowler demonstrated two steam locomotives on their 20 inch gauge light rail track at the Royal Agricultural Society's annual show at Kilburn (9). By 1881, Robert Fowler from the Leeds firm made marketing tours to the Kingdom of Hawaii to promote the firm's equipment to sugar plantations. Eight Hawaii plantations boasted the use of Fowler Plants by 1882.

Fowler recommended 16 in and 18 in. gauge tramways for hand operation, 20 in. gauge for animal power, and 24, 26 and 30 in. gauge for general use, bulky load and locomotive power. They supplied railway lines in sections of 15 ft. long with four sleepers at 3 ft. 9 in. centres for animal power and at 3 ft centres for locomotives. They claimed that six men could take up and relay 250 yards of line 50 yards further on in 20 minutes (10).

Early Australian Operations

George Raff of Morayfield, just north of Brisbane, is believed to be the first to use a locomotive-hauled tramway in a Queensland Sugar plantation. He installed a 3ft gauge line on his property in 1866 and purchased an Aveling & Porter traction engine locomotive for use on it hauling cane to the mill and sugar to the wharf. The plantation was not successful and little more was heard about this experiment. A double-balanced tramway was used at the Maryborough Central mill from 1866, and a number of early mills in this district used similar technology to haul cane from river punts up to the mill on the river bank above.

A second, and probably more significant pioneer in developing conventional railway technology for cane haulage in Australia was John Spiller. He commenced construction of a sugar cane tramway on Pioneer Plantation near Mackay in 1875, Spiller constructed his tramway to the Government 3ft 6in gauge and introduced a locally built locomotive to nearby River Estate in 1879 (11).

In northern New South Wales, CSR reports indicate the use of short tramways to transport cane from farms to the riverside by 1875 (12). These were probably wooden-railed. In May 1878, Decauville wrote to the CSR Company with an offer to sell portable railway via their agent, Audley Coote of Hobart, for use on their proposed operations on the Tweed River (13). Soon overtures were made by farmers off rivers for the construction of tramways. The German Creek farmers near Condong mill were the first to get a response from CSR. A light horse-operated tramway, 2.5 miles (4 km) in length and of 2 ft (610 mm) gauge was planned in 1883, but construction was not undertaken until early 1885. It was most successful and other lines followed at Condong and from farms to river-side loading points at other mills.

By the early 1880s a number of the larger estates in Queensland had built tramways to bring cane to their mills, including Cedars in 1880, Airdmillan, Hambledon and Fairymead in 1882, Bloomfield, Ripple Creek, Palms, Meadowlands and Mourilyan in 1883, and Bloomfield, Pyramid, Pioneer, Seaforth and Kalamia in 1884. Apart from Drysdale's Pioneer mill at Ayr (3ft 6ins), and Pyramid (500mm) these tramways were built to 600 mm or 2 ft (610 mm) gauge, using track supplied by Decauville and John Fowler. Most were worked by horses, but Airdmillan and Mourilyan introduced steam locomotives from the outset.

When the CSR Company established their Homebush and Victoria mills in Queensland, it looked to locomotive-worked 2 ft gauge tramways to make sure sufficient cane was brought in each day to support 24-hour operations. In order to compare the respective products, the Company purchased railway plant and rolling stock from the French firm Decauville and the English manufacturer, John Fowler. The 50 miles of track, six locomotives, 300 cane wagons and two inspection vehicles ordered from Decauville were built to 2ft (610 mm) gauge instead of the standard European 600 mm gauge. Most of this material was allocated to the new Homebush mill, construction of which commenced in July 1881 (14). John Fowler products were employed at Victoria mill. A permanent line, 8 miles (12 km) in length, was laid down from the Herbert River to the mill site in 1882 to carry machinery from the head of the river navigation (15). Goondi mill followed in 1885 and Childers in 1895. These tramway systems were more extensive than those in use at other mills. When the CSR began to crush cane on behalf of surrounding farmers their tramway systems made it possible to haul cane long distances to the mills. The adoption of 2 ft gauge tramways by CSR set the pattern for other mills.

The tramway systems were laid out according to practicable grades, the distribution of good cane lands and the geographical and historical facts which originally determined the location of the mill (16). The portable line system, whereby trucks were located in the fields near the cutting gangs through the laying of portable track, was adopted by Australian mills at an early date.

Although cane tramways were initially constructed by estates, it was the central mill which was to use the technology to the greatest extent, and thereby achieve the efficiency of cane transport to achieve the economies of scale possible from larger mill capacity. The cooperative central mill at North Eton constructed tramways to serve its suppliers from 1895, while Habana, Bingera and Pioneer mills, as well as the CSR Homebush and Victoria mills expanded their tramways to bring in cane from surrounding farms.

Steam Locomotive Evolution

Steam locomotives dominated the Australian sugar fields from 1882 until the 1960s. Initially, the two founders of plantation light railway systems, Decauville in France and John Fowler & Company in England, supplied the locomotives, but soon other manufacturers arrived on the scene.

The most significant builders of steam locomotives for Australian sugar mills are described below. However, the products of other English, European, and North American builders operated in the cane fields, adding to the diversity and character of the railways.

Decauville locomotives

The firm Société Anonyme Decauville located at Petit Bourg, France, was founded to manufacture light railways pioneered by French farmer Paul Decauville to transport crops from the field in 1875. Decauville began designing their own locomotives in 1882, although initially manufacture was contracted out to other builders, notably the Belgian firm Hainault at Couillet. In 1883, CSR ordered three Decauville locomotives for comparative trials with John Fowler locomotives, and three further orders followed. Four initially went to the new mill at Homebush in the Mackay area (with one soon transferred to Goondi mill in the far north) and two were delivered to Fijian mills. They were modified Decauville No. 5 class - distinctive, compact 0-4-0 side tank locomotives weighing 7.5 tons, with wheel diameter decreased from 700 mm to 600 mm. (17) Decauville locomotives were also supplied to Bingera and Knockroe mills (0-6-2T) Invicta mill (0-4-2T), and Mulgrave mill (3 x 0-4-2T).

John Fowler locomotives

Early Fowler Locomotives: The first locomotives built by John Fowler for their light railway systems suffered from their working parts being too near to the ground "and the wear and tear on them would be excessive, because of the dirt and dust which they could not escape." (18) In July 1880, Alfred Greig and William Beadon of the Steam Plough Works filed a patent for an improved steam locomotive with jackshaft drive which placed the working parts, particularly the cylinder and crank, considerably above the driving wheel axle. About eleven of these jackshaft drive locomotives were delivered to sugar plantations in the Hawaiian islands. The first Australian one was a 3ft 6ins gauge example purchased by John Spiller for his River estate in 1881. Airdmillan mill in the Burdekin district imported a 2ft gauge 0-4-2T Fowler Patent locomotive in 1882. In 1882, CSR imported at least two Fowler Patent 2-4-0T locomotives for their new Victoria mill. A 0-4-2T Patent locomotive imported by the Mourilyan Sugar Company in 1883 has been preserved at the Australian Sugar Museum, the only surviving example of its type in the world. In all, about a dozen Patent locomotives were imported for sugar mill use in Queensland, but details of many are extremely sketchy.

Fowler's designs for cane haulage evolved rapidly in the first twelve years the company supplied locomotives to the Australian industry. The company supplied numbers of conventional 0-4-0T, 0-4-0ST and 0-4-2ST locomotives for Queensland and northern New South Wales sugar mills in the early days of steam traction, as well as to Fiji.

0-6-0T Locomotives: In 1893, John Fowler introduced larger 0-6-0T locomotives for canefield use. They had 8 x 12 inch cylinders and weighed 11-13 tons, depending on the size of boiler. They became CSR's standard locomotive: 5 went to Childers mill, 1 to Macknade, 6 to Victoria, and 4 to Hambledon, while 14 went to CSR mills in Fiji. Other mills to operate this type of locomotive were Moreton (2), Isis (2, plus 3 ex-CSR), Farleigh (2), Innisfail Tramway (5) and Mossman (3). Many were fitted with 6-wheel tenders. This design was completely modernised in the 1920s.

0-6-2T Type: From 1907, Fowler began building 0-6-2T locomotives capable of hauling 200 tons. They had 8.5 x 12 inch cylinders and weighed 15 tons. CSR imported 11 of these locomotives for their Fiji mills but only three came to their Australian mills. They also operated at Bingera (2), Pleystowe (2), Farleigh (1), Marian (1), Kalamia (2) and on the Innisfail Tramway (4). A few 0-6-2 tender locomotives were also built.

0-4-2T Type: Many of John Fowler's later products in the canefields were modern 0-4-2T types, introduced into Australia in 1911. No. 22752 of 1938 was the last Fowler steam locomotive in Australia and was actually built by Hudswell Clarke. Twenty-eight Fowler 0-4-2T locomotives operated in Australia as follows: Moreton mill (2), Millaquin (1), Pleystowe (1), Racecourse (1), Plane Creek (2), Tully (5), Mourilyan (4), South Johnstone (4), Mulgrave (1), Babinda (4) and Mossman (3).

Bundaberg Fowler Locomotives

In 1952, the Bundaberg Foundry commenced building steam locomotives to Fowler designs, but fitted with modern features such as roller bearings. Eight were built for sugar mills: seven 0-6-2T and one 0-4-2T. Every one of these locomotives is still in existence.

Hudswell Clarke Locomotives

Hudswell Clarke were to become widely known in Australia and Fiji as the builders of locomotives for 2 ft gauge sugar cane tramways.

Tank locomotive types: The first Hudswell Clarke 2 ft gauge locomotive to come to Australia was an 0-4-2ST (478 of 1896) imported by agents Smellie & Co, Brisbane for the Double Peak Central Sugar Company, a cooperative tramway company which served the North Eton Mill near Mackay. The small 9 ton locomotive was fitted with 8x12 in. cylinders. It became the prototype for Hudswell Clarke's "Kanaka" type of locomotive. In 1914 the CSR imported a locomotive of this type (No.1056) to Fiji for use on the Lautoka wharf line. North Eton went on to purchase three more Hudswell saddle tanks: two 0-6-0STs (496 of 1898 and 942 of 1911) and one 0-4-0ST (853 of 1908).

In 1914, a 2 ft gauge 0-4-2T locomotive (No.1078) was purchased for operation at the Moreton Central Sugar Mill, Nambour. It had 10x15 in cylinders. A similar locomotive (No.1556) was ordered in 1925 by Howard Smith for operation at the Australian Sugar Company's Mourilyan sugar mill in Queensland. It had 9x15 in cylinders.

Two 0-4-2ST locomotives were imported for Pleystowe mill (Nos. 1559 of 1925 and 1622 of 1928). These had 8x12 in cylinders.

The 0-6-0 Type: In 1911 the CSR ordered two 0-6-0T locomotives from Hudswell Clarke (B/No. 932-3 of 1911) for their Victoria and Rarawai mills in Queensland and Fiji respectively. With 9.5x12 in cylinders and a weight of 17 tons 11 cwt the new locos were slightly larger than the John Fowler 0-6-2T locomotives previously in use.

The locomotives were successful and when the CSR Company wanted engines with a larger capacity for the Sigatoka extension of the Lautoka mill system, Fiji, in 1913 a new design was commissioned from Hudswell Clarke to operate the new line. The need for a 38-mile run to Na Savu Savu without refuelling resulted in an 0-6-0 locomotive of almost identical design to No. 932-3, but without sidetanks and fitted with a bogie tender which held 600 gallons of water and 3 tons of coal. The engine weight was 15 tons 6 cwt and that of the tender 8 tons 11 cwt. Tractive effort was 4,904 lbs.

The 0-6-0's were immediately successful and the CSR Company purchased all their steam locomotives from Hudswell Clarke until 1952. Two 0-6-0T locomotives of this type (Nos. 1521-2) were also supplied to the Mulgrave Central Mill at Gordonvale in 1924.

In 1934 an improved and larger version of the 0-6-0 type with 10x12 in. cylinders and a tractive effort of 5,434 lbs was introduced. The engine weighed 18 tons 7 cwt in working order and the tender 8 tons 13 cwt. Two small "light lines" versions of the 0-6-0 type were built for CSR mills: No. 1067 for Homebush mill in 1914 and 1658 for Penang Mill, Fiji in 1935. In addition, a 4-4-0 passenger version (No. 1118 of 1915) was built to haul the "free passenger train" in Fiji. These three locomotives were fitted with 8.5x12 in. cylinders. In all CSR purchased 38 steam locomotives from Hudswell Clarke, the majority of them being of the 0-6-0 type.

Hunslet Engine Company

The Hunslet Engine Company was the only one of the Leeds locomotive builders to survive in its original purpose until recent years. Over the years it acquired the goodwill and plant of its former neighbours and rivals: Kitson & Company, Manning Wardle and Hudswell Clarke.

Hunslet built its first locomotive in 1865 and entered the export business in 1866. The company was established with the intention of building lighter and smaller types of locomotives. Conversion of the pioneer Festiniog Railway in Wales to locomotive traction in 1863 demonstrated the practicality of narrow-gauge railways, and Hunslet took advantage of the opportunities offered by this new market.

Canefield 0-4-2T Locomotive: In 1896, Hunslet built two 0-4-2T locomotives for the Pioneer and Kalamia sugar mills in Queensland. The design was relatively successful and, although Hunslet did not become a dominant force in the Australian sugar industry, 11 locomotives were built to this basic design to 1937, together with one 3ft 6ins gauge engine to the 0-6-0T wheel arrangement for the Inkerman sugar mill. Dimensions: Type 0-4-2T; gauge 2 ft and 3ft 6 in; cylinders 6x12"; coupled wheels 24"; length over couplers 18'6".

War Department 4-6-0T Locomotive: During the First World War, Hunslet built 155 small 4-6-0T locomotives for operation on 60 cm gauge War Department lines in Europe. They were specially designed for the light axle loading of temporary tracks (20lbs per yard) laid behind fighting lines for the transport of munitions and stores.

Fifteen of the War Department locos came to Australia for use on the sugar cane tramways of Queensland, while an additional unit was built in 1925. Seven were purchased by Hunslet from the War Disposals Board, who overhauled them and sold them to the Engineering Supply Company of Australia (ESCA), while two or three were purchased by ESCA direct from the WDB. Five additional locomotives were purchased from the WDB by the Agent General for Queensland. They gave useful service before being withdrawn in the 1950s. Five have been preserved at various sites. Dimensions: 60 cm gauge; 9.5x12 in cylinders; 24" driving wheels; total heating surface 205 sq ft; working pressure 160 lbs; tractive effort 5415 lbs (75% BP); 14 tons weight.

Perry Engineering

The first significant Australian builder of locomotives for the sugar industry was Perry Engineering of Mile End, South Australia. The business was founded in 1902 and received its first order for locomotive boilers in 1912. The Gawler works of James Martin were purchased in 1915 and Perry's became locomotive builders.

Perry Engineering responded by pioneering the manufacture of industrial steam locomotives in Australia, turning out a line of attractive 0-4-0T locos, to the design of LC Leslie, for the Hume Reservoir construction project. Leslie joined Perry's as Chief Engineer in 1925 and was responsible for the design and technical supervision of a wide variety of engineering equipment over the ensuing years. The firm was incorporated as Perry Engineering Company Limited in 1931. The business became more involved in mechanical and structural contracts for mines, the manufacture of cranes and cableways for dam construction. However, the manufacture of industrial locomotives to Leslie's designs continued. Nineteen locomotives for Queensland sugar mills were constructed between 1934 and 1951.

Perry Sugar Tramway Locomotive: From the 1930's, Perry Engineering constructed 2 ft gauge locomotives for Queensland sugar mills. They were based on the original Leslie 0-4-0T design with outside frames and cranked extensions of the coupled axles outside the frames. They were built to 0-6-2T and 0-4-2T design. With locomotive supplies unavailable from overseas during the Second World War, Perry Engineering obtained orders for additional locomotives from Queensland sugar mills. They were fitted with a larger (and longer) boiler, with two sand domes fore and aft of the steam dome, and piston valves. Between 1934 and 1952, thirteen of the 0-6-2T type and six 0-4-2T locomotives were constructed. This group of locomotives has a remarkable history in that only two were scrapped, the remainder being in the hands of preservation groups. Seven are now in operating condition.

Specifications: cylinders 9.5 (later 10) x 14 in, 9.5 x 12 in for 0-4-2T; coupled wheels 28 in; boiler pressure 180 lbs; grate area 7.25 sq ft; tractive effort 6,100 lbs (0-4-2T).

Miscellaneous Steam locomotives

There were many other builders of steam locomotives represented in the sugar mill fleets, with German builders such as Krauss and Orenstein & Koppel supplying a number of locomotives in the period up to 1914. Other builders included Jung and Maffei from Germany, Baldwin and Porter from the USA, Barclay and Dick Kerr from Scotland, and Green, Avonside, and Sharp Stewart from England. Not all were acquired new, for sugar mills were always on the lookout for suitable discarded locomotives from other narrow gauge operations.

Diesel Locomotive Evolution


The transition from steam power to internal combustion engine on the sugar industry railways commenced before their main-line counterparts. Small petrol-engined rail tractors were employed for light duties from the early 1920s and, after 1925, petrol-powered locomotives by Fowler and Hudswell Clarke appeared on mainline operations. The availability of cheap fuel alcohol produced from molasses stimulated interest in petrol-engined locomotives and Fowler supplying the first diesel in 1936. However, displacement of steam locomotives did not occur until the 1950s. From 1951, diesel-mechanical locomotives built by Baguley in the UK, some for the Drewry Car Company, entered service on Australian sugar mill railways. In 1954, the Clyde Engineering Company commenced building diesel-hydraulic locomotives for the sugar industry in Australia, followed by Commonwealth Engineering the next year. Steam was rapidly displaced over the following decade, although several pockets of steam operation remained. The last, Marian Mill in the Mackay district, retained steam operations until 1981.

Motor Rail, Bedford, UK

Simplex Tractors: >From 1920, small 4wPM locomotives, known as tractors, were built by the Motor Rail & Tramcar Co Ltd. in large numbers for light work at Australian and Fijian sugar mills. These were the direct descendants of the design developed for use by the British Army for use on narrow gauge supply railways behind the lines in France during World War I. They were based on a rectangular frame with a transverse petrol engine driving a two-speed gear-box and chain drive to each axle. The engine was rated at 20 hp and most Australian units weighed 4 tons. Many of these survived to be fitted with diesel engines in the 1950s. By the 1930s, the Simplex tractors were fitted with 25 hp diesel engines. By 1947, larger 32 hp units were introduced weighing 5-tons. At least 37 Simplex tractors were used by Australian mills and 24 in Fiji.

122U Model: In 1972, the Motor Rail company introduced a 95 hp 4wDH locomotive weighing 10 tons. Five of these 122U models were supplied to Lautoka mill in Fiji.

Other Light Locomotives

A wide range of small locomotives have been employed at Australian and Fiji mills, including "home-built" units. British designs included Hudson and Hibberd machines, and in more recent times, former underground or construction diesel locomotives have been converted by mills for canefield use.

Caldwell Vale and Purcell 0-4-0PM: the first internal-combustion locomotive, as opposed to motorised trolleys, in use by a sugar mill was the Caldwell Vale machine trialled by Qunaba Mill in Bundaberg in 1912. Several other machines by Caldwell Vale and its successor Purcell were used for cane haulage by sugar mills.

Malcolm Moore 4wPM: In 1943 and 1944, the Melbourne-based engineering firm built 93 4wPM locomotives with Ford V8 engines for the Australian Army. Post-war, more than 20 of these locomotives were obtained by Queensland sugar mills for portable rail delivery and navvy duties. Many were converted to diesel engines and provided lengthy service. Malcolm Moore also supplied a variety of earlier locomotives with Fordson tractor engines as well as a post war 0-4-0DH to Victoria Mill.

Ruston & Hornsby 4wDM: The English manufacturer Ruston & Hornsby built small 4-wheel industrial locomotives in large numbers. Nineteen of these were purchased by Australian sugar mills, mostly second-hand, for shunting and navvy duties. An 82hp 0-4-0DM was purchased by CSR in 1954 but proved to be troublesome and served at a succession of mills.

Com-Eng 0-4-0DH (Type C), & 4wDH (Type GA): Commonwealth Engineering (Qld) designed a lightweight 4wDH (GA and GB Types) and a 0-4-0DH (CA Type) locomotive for light haulage duties on mill tramways. The first was specifically designed to be equivalent to the small 4wPM units built by Malcolm Moore for the Australian Army and much favoured by sugar mills for the haulage of portable tracks and work trains. They were powered by a Perkins 6/340 76 hp engine (GA) or a Rolls Royce C4NFL 104 hp engine.

EM Baldwin 4wDM, 4wDH and 0-4-0DH: The Sydney firm of EM Baldwin became the dominant builder of canefield locomotives in the 1970s. They built seven 0-4-0DH and six 4wDM and DH locomotives for Australian mills and two for Fiji. The locomotives weighed 4-12 tons and were powered by Ford and GM motors. In addition, six 4wDH tunnelling locomotives built by Baldwin were converted for sugar mill use in Australia and Fiji.

First Generation Main-Line Locomotives

John Fowler: In 1926, CSR introduced an 0-6-0PM 70 hp locomotive at their Childers mill. It had a three speed gearbox driving all three axles by a jackshaft and side rods. A similar locomotive was supplied by Hudswell Clarke in 1928. Three further 0-6-0PM locomotives and one 0-4-0PM were built by Fowler between 1929 and 1935 for Australian sugar tramways. Many were later fitted with Gardner and GM diesel engines. In 1935, Isis Mill received a 0-6-0DM and Fowler supplied three more up to 1950 as well as one 4wDM.

Baguley 0-6-0DM: Post-war dieselisation of sugar railways commenced in 1951 with 15 imported diesel-mechanical locomotives supplied by the Drewry Car Company and the Railway, Mine & Plantation Co Ltd, and built by EE Baguley of Burton-on-Trent. The locomotives were powered by Gardner 8LW 150 hp or 6LW 102hp engines driving all three axles by a jackshaft and side rods.

Clyde Engineering DHI-71 0-6-0DH: The first widely-adopted Australian-built canefield diesel locomotives were the 18-ton diesel-hydraulics built by Clyde Engineering from 1954. They were powered by a General Motors 71-series 170 hp 6-cylinder diesel engine driving a GM type-500 torque converter. CSR adopted the model as their standard locomotive in Australia and Fiji. A total of 54 DH-71 locomotives were ordered by Australian mills and 18 went to Fiji.

Commonwealth Engineering 0-6-0DM and 0-6-0 DH: The Australian builder Com-Eng (Queensland) commenced construction of 0-6-0 diesel-mechanical locomotives for Queensland sugar mills in 1955. Their AA-type was of similar design to the RMP locomotives imported from Britain and were fitted with Gardner 8LW 138-150 hp engines and weighed 14-18 tons. Later versions of A-type locomotives were fitted with hydraulic transmissions and powered by Rolls Royce 180 hp, Caterpillar D333 191-205 hp or Cummins 200 hp engines. A total of 60 A-type locomotives operated at Australian sugar mills.

Bundaberg Jenbach 6wDM: In attempting to enter the diesel market, the Bundaberg Foundry tried once again to capitalise on licensing arrangements with a foreign builder. It made an arrangement with Jenbacher Werke of Austria to produce large 6wDM locomotives, and was successful in selling two, a 100hp JW100 and a 220hp JW220, both to North Eton Mill in 1953-4. The design was unsuccessful and the Jenbach engines were soon replaced with Gardners.

Walkers 0-6-0DH: Walkers of Maryborough, for long a builder of steam locomotives for main line railways, also tried the route of collaboration with an overseas manufacturer in its attempt to enter the cane railway diesel market. It produced a 0-6-0DH in 1956 in association with the North British Locomotive Co Ltd which was trialled at a number of sugar mills, without much success. It was eventually purchased for use at the Mourilyan Bulk Sugar shipping terminal and much later was acquired by Mourilyan Sugar Mill. However this venture was not the disaster it might have appeared to be, for it led to the production of an extremely successful design of government railway bogie diesel-hydraulic locomotives of which more later.

Second Generation Main Line Locomotives

Larger and more powerful diesel-hydraulic locomotives were built for the sugar industry from 1959. These retained the basic design of the first-generation locomotives with hydraulic drive to all three axles by a jackshaft and side rods

Com-Eng FA Type 0-6-0DH: In 1959 Commonwealth Engineering stole a march over Clyde with the introduction of their 24-tonne FA-type 0-6-0DH for Plane Creek mill. They were fitted with Rolls Royce C6SFL 233 hp engines. Subsequent versions had Caterpillar D343 277 hp or GM V8 263 hp engines. A total of 14 F-type locomotives operated at Queensland sugar mills.

Clyde HG-3R 0-6-0DH: In 1961 Clyde Engineering designed an improved locomotive for canefield use with engine power increased from 170 to 263 hp. The first examples were used on Farleigh mill's new and taxing north coast line. Designated the HG-3R Model, these locomotives followed a similar pattern to the DH-71 Model, with a weight increase to 18-24 tons. Eighteen HG3R locomotives were supplied to Australian mills and 8 went to Fiji.

EM Baldwin 0-6-0DH Locomotive: In 1963, the engineering firm of EM Baldwin of Castle Hill, Sydney entered the locomotive building business. Initially they rebuilt industrial and construction locomotives for other users. Some of their early efforts for sugar mills incorporated parts from Ruston & Hornsby 100hp tunnelling locomotives from the Snowy Mountains Scheme, including a 12 ton 0-6-0DH for Plane Creek Mill in 1964 and another for Gin Gin Mill in 1967. In 1965 Baldwin constructed the first of two 15 ton 0-6-0DH locomotives for Moreton Mill. Larger 18 and 20-ton locomotives powered by GM 7083-700 series 304 hp engines (Model DH18 and DH20) followed. These were most successful and EM Baldwin was poised to become the dominant player in the Australian sugar industry locomotive market during the 1970s. Seven DH18/20 Model locomotives were supplied to Australian sugar mills and five to Fiji.

Third Generation Main Line Locomotives

The development of a successful bogie diesel-hydraulic locomotive for 610 mm gauge sugar industry railways by EM Baldwin in 1972 brought a significant change to cane transport operations. More powerful locomotives capable of higher speed enabled mills to haul cane over longer distances.

In 1972 EM Baldwin built its first bogie locomotive, a 26-ton unit for Kalamia Mill. It was fitted with a 261-272 kW (349-365 hp) GM Detroit diesel engine driving through a Niigata torque converter to a central reverse box which has cardan drives to each bogie. The locomotive was successful and 32 similar locomotives of 15, 22, 24 & 26 tonnes were built for Australian mills, while two went to Fiji.

From 1975 the bogie locomotive design was developed to 28 and 32-tonne locomotives fitted with 460 hp (343 kW) Caterpillar diesel engines. A total of 19 locos were constructed for Queensland mills.

Com-Eng NA Model B-B DH: Commonwealth Engineering (Qld) tried hard to compete with EM Baldwin with their NA-type bogie locomotive fitted with a Caterpillar D343 277 hp (206 kW) diesel engine. They were able to gain an order for only one unit, which was delivered to Cattle Creek mill in 1977. Clyde also offered a bogie diesel design but failed to obtain a single order.

Fourth Generation Main Line Locomotives

By the late 1980s, first generation diesel locomotives were becoming due for replacement and there was a significant increase in cane deliveries to Queensland mills. A number of manufacturers entered the race to develop larger and more powerful locomotives for sugar railways. However, the availability of second-hand diesel-hydraulic shunting locomotives from state railway systems provided a cheaper option for rebuilding to 610 mm gauge.

Eimco B-B DH Locomotive: Eimco Australia based at Mackay designed a bogie 40-tonne 400 kW diesel locomotive for sugar railways. In 1990, its associate company, Prof Engineering of Harare, Zimbabwe built a prototype locomotive with hydrostatic transmission for the South Johnstone mill. The locomotive was not successful as built and was converted to hydraulic drive by mill staff. Eimco built three diesel-hydraulics for Marian Mill in 1990 and another for Fairymead Mill, which soon found its way to Farleigh.

EM Baldwin / Westfalia DH32C: The firm of EM Baldwin went into receivership in 1985. Its purchasers, Hexham Engineering, were unable to secure any cane railway locomotive orders because of low sugar prices. After acquisition by Westfalia in 1990, the firm sought to re-enter the sugar industry locomotive market with an updated design of B-B DH locomotive. One unit was built for Invicta Mill in 1991 with a large air-conditioned cab and a Caterpillar engine.

Bundaberg Foundry 466 kW B-B DH: Bundaberg Foundry Engineers, under ownership of the Bundaberg Sugar Company, commenced construction of bogie locomotives under license from Hunslet-GMT of the United Kingdom. Two examples were built, for Fairymead and Babinda, both Bundaberg Sugar controlled mills. Unlike all other sugar mill bogie locomotives, the drawgear is attached to the bogies rather than the frames.

Walkers GH 500 B-B DH locomotive: Walkers Engineering of Maryborough built a prototype diesel-hydraulic locomotive for demonstration use on the Queensland Railways in 1966. The 40-tonne locomotive had a 350 kW 6-cylinder Caterpillar engine powering two two-axle bogies via cardan shafts. A further 52 units were ordered by the Queensland Railways in 1968 as their DH-class. QR made a follow-up order for 20 units in 1969. By 1990, these locomotives were being displaced. Walkers rebuilt ex-QR DH locomotives to 610 mm gauge for Isis Mill and Victoria Mill in 1991. They were an outstanding success and in all 36 QR DH-class locomotives have been purchased by sugar mills for conversion. In addition to Walkers, Bundaberg Foundry, Tulk Goninan of Mackay (now A.Goninan) and Isis Mill have undertaken rebuilding with 26 in service by the end of 1999.

Walkers GH 700 B-B DH locomotive: For shunting duties, the State Rail Authority of New South Wales purchased 50 73-class diesel-hydraulic locomotives from Walkers between 1971 and 1973. Built to standard gauge, they were similar in design to the QR DH-class, but were fitted with a Cummins 515 kW engine driving a Voith hydraulic transmission. Five generally similar 3ft 6ins gauge locomotives went to Westrail. The Mackay Sugar Cooperative mills have purchased 14 73-class locomotives for conversion to 610 mm gauge operation, while CSR purchased ten units for their Plane Creek and Invicta Mills, and Proserpine Mill purchased two. CSR's Victoria Mill obtained four of the Western Australian locos. Rebuilding involves regauging, frame shortening, installation of a new GM 12V-92TA or Caterpillar engine and reducing the weight of the units from 50 tonnes to 40 tonnes.(19) Walkers, Bundaberg Foundry and Mackay Sugar have undertaken rebuilding, with a total of 17 in service by the end of 1999.


The improvements in the operating efficiency of sugar industry railways has been greatly enhanced by computer technology which has improved train control and track usage. As locomotive power increased radio controlled brake-vans have been introduced. The radio controlled brake wagons operate at the end of long trains hauled by bogie locomotives. In the 1970s the Sugar Research Institute worked on a Locotrol type device to enable a second locomotive to be worked by remote control and this arrangement has been adopted by a number of mills. A number of mills also operate pairs of locomotives in multiple-unit configuration.

Mossman Mill introduced 10-tonne bogie bins for chopped cane in 1968 but no other mill followed this example. The Sugar Research Institute's studies of rolling stock requirements in 1983-4 resulted in the design of a two-axle wagon with a capacity of 12-20 tonnes of chopped cane. Prototypes of this wagon, fitted with unique "floating" axles, were tested from 1986 but the design was not taken up. Production large bins (10-14 tons) are now being introduced to a number of mills, in both rigid two-axle and bogie configurations.

Further increases in locomotive power with fourth generation diesels has generated further improvements in operating technology. Many mills have adopted bogie brake wagons, some based on based on cut-down ex-QR bogie wagon components (usually HJS type) for use with the Walkers main-line locomotives.

Automated track maintenance equipment has been introduced since the 1970s with examples such as tamping machines, track jacks and sleeper replacement machines in use at many mills.

The use of satellite technology for location fixing is increasingly being adopted by a variety of mills.


  1. CSR, Annual Report of the Refining Company's Sugar Mill at Southgate, Clarence River, for the Crushing Season of 1870 and 1871, National Archives of Business & Labour, Canberra.
  2. CSR, Report on the Operations of Sugar Mills at Southgate and Chatsworth Island during the Crushing Season of 1874, National Archives of Business & Labour, Canberra.
  3. CSR, Report for the NSW Mill for the Season 1870.
  4. CSR Annual Report, 1873.
  5. CSR, Report on the Operations of Sugar Mills on the Clarence River During the Crushing Season of 1875, National Archives of Business & Labour, Canberra.
  6. CSR, Report on the Operations of Sugar Mills on the Clarence River During the Crushing Season of 1878, National Archives of Business & Labour, Canberra.
  7. Dyer, P, "Sugar on the Rewa", Light Railways, No. 77, July 1982, p. 8.
  8. Conde, JC, "Fowler Locomotives in the Kingdom of Hawaii", Narrow Gauge, No. 140, 1993, p. 6.
  9. Ibid., p. 8.
  10. Ibid., p. 17.
  11. Kerr, J, Pioneer Pageant: a history of the Pioneer Shire, Pioneer Shire Council, 1980.
  12. Report on the Operation of CSR Sugar Mills on the Clarence River for the Crushing Season of 1875, National Archives of Business & Labour, Canberra.
  13. CSR files, National Archives of Business & Labour, file --.
  14. Kerr, J, op. cit., pp. 76-7.
  15. CSR Archives, Mills Report for the Season 1882.
  16. Lowndes, AG (ed), South Pacific Enterprise: the Colonial Sugar Refining Co. Ltd., Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1956, p. 135-6.
  17. Dyer, P and Hodge, P, Cane Train: the sugar-cane railways of Fiji, Wellington, NZRLS, 1988, p. 87.
  18. The Engineer, "Portable Railways" 11 July 1879.
  19. Light Railway News, February 1994, p.9. Later units rebuilt with Caterpillar engines