The HET W Set restoration project began shortly after F1 was restored to traffic in 2016. Initially the project was advanced because it was thought that having the power-operated doors would be a benefit to running the train in special service, and because it had been the last single deck set to actually run, in 2005, and at the time was considered to be the project 'in least need of major work' to get it back on the track.
How wrong we were!
W3 as a restoration project was something we all very much 'backed into' given the circumstances at the time. In all fairness, if the amount of work actually required to bring W3 back to the tracks had been known when the project started, there’s a chance it would never have happened!
In a deviation from the previous policy of having all cars painted identically, it was decided that W3 should showcase the progression of suburban train liveries from the 1960s to the 1980s, with their respective interior liveries. C3702 was chosen to represent the 1950s Tuscan (or Venetian) red with the chocolate brown, cream and gloss white interior. The Sputnik power cars were unique in having fluorescent lights installed while their interiors were still brown & cream; a hybrid combination not found in any other electric rolling stock. T4801, as the first double deck car, was also painted Tuscan red with the State Coat of Arms logo, with two-tone green interior of the 1960s. T4814 was chosen to represent the 1970s Public Transport Commission era blue and white livery. C3708 was originally intended to also be blue and white, but time constraints meant it was painted Indian red with a two-tone green interior, representing the later era of the W-sets under the State Rail Authority. Small touches like reprinted signage and stickers, plus period advertising posters, also added to their authenticity, ensuring that passengers would really be taking a journey into the past.
For a project of this magnitude, it is best to tackle the hardest tasks first. Blue and White car T4814 was the first car commenced by the painting team, an endeavour which would encompass 18 months work involving sanding back the previous livery, applying the white stripe first, followed by the mandarin blue, of which we obtained a colour sample from our friends at the Sydney Bus Museum. The interiors were also attended to by the painting team, and some essential floor repairs were completed in the midst of the painting process.
As electrical work slowly started during this time and covers were removed for inspection, the horror stories began to mount and we wondered what we had got ourselves into. The deeper we dug, the worse it got. Pretty soon the rhetorical question became all too familiar: “are we going to send this thing out on the track like this?” It began with reports that the train (while in service back in 2005) had suffered a series of mysterious faults and failures, particularly a penchant to “pull the power” at high speeds. It was resolved that this was likely due to a fault which switched C3708 into “Weak field 1” at the same time as C3702 went into “Weak field 2”. It was decided in the second half of 2020 to standardize the set by modifying 3702 to also use only “Weak field 1”.
However, once the actual work got underway, the true condition of W3’s electrical wiring quickly became apparent. Ironically, the “1955 type” Sputnik cars (built in 1958-60 and modified with modern Mitsubishi switchgear in 1985) all still contained the original 1955 style rubber and cotton insulated wiring. C3702s switchgroups had been “rewired” with plastic in 1985, however for some reason C3708 had not – and the condition of the wiring in this car was poor to say the least, with most of the low voltage rubber cables having deteriorated into a cracked and dried out mess that certainly wasn’t going to cut it on the main line today.
While the cables in the switch groups had deteriorated, the cable within the steel conduits themselves (having been well protected) were still in good condition. A scheme was evolved whereby the cables (as they emerged from the conduits) would be sleeved in modern heat shrinkable tubing to ensure the insulation was preserved and suitable for service. A trial was carried out on one of C3702’s switch groups. With the success of that trial's outcome, it was then decided to apply this procedure to the remainder of the trains carriages. In particular, this would mean C3708s groups would need to be completely rewired, as these still contained the rubber in the switch groups themselves which was in very poor condition.
The W3 restoration project then became an ongoing process of finding things wrong, asking “are we going to let this go into traffic like this?” and then finding ways of doing something about it. Rusted floors, faulty windows, EP brakes that didn’t work properly, terrible wiring around auxiliary equipment, stripped bolt threads on electrical contacts, intermittent faults in C3702 which kept tripping breakers, non-operational ventilation fans in the trailer cars, ongoing faults with the doors and even a birds nest discovered in the motors! You name it, every work day there was something completely unexpected that either didn’t work or was broken.
Each year, the project continued bringing in new volunteers with new skills and conviction to get W3 back on track. Towards the end of 2020 after the hiatus that was the first COVID lockdown, an almost impossible amount of work was put into the carriages and paint work in order to get it complete for Sydney Trains, before the half year shut down of the North Eveleigh yard prevented the transfer of the set to Flemington. For context, it was previously mentioned that the endeavor to paint T4814 in its blue and white livery took 18 months. In less than 12 months, the exteriors and interiors of 3 of the cars would be completed. Our volunteers were in the shed nearly every day of the week working around the clock to complete the sanding of the cars’ interiors and exteriors, and the painting itself, right down to applying the finishing touches. The deadline was fast closing in and on the late night of March 27th 2021, the work was completed and W3 was ready to be delivered to Sydney Trains the next day on the 28th. On that day it was loco-hauled out of the Paint Shop by 4708, taken to Sydney Terminal then hauled to Flemington, all witnessed by the volunteers who made it happen!
Whilst the majority of headaches and physical pain in the Redfern shed was done, it was not the end of the story once the set took up residence at Sydney Trains’ Flemington Maintenance Centre. The teams at FMC began to beaver away at the work required to get W3 back on track. This included fitting of electronics packages for data logging, vigilance, train radios and speedometers which had been salvaged from scrapped S-Sets. Enormous hour counts in the workshop by Sydney Trains staff, much of it on “angel time” (i.e. unpaid), has progressively seen the train undergo heavy maintenance of all wheels, bearings, bogies and brake gear. A great deal of time was spent cleaning out rusty air lines, filters, and air valves. Further work was done to rejuvenate the eight electric motors under the train which had sat idle for 15 years.
Because W3 was never really “scoped” for “feasibility” when the project started, we never really knew how long or how much work it would take to get it back on the track. It was always one of those projects that would be ready “when it’s ready”.
Well guess what: It’s nearly ready…. NOW!
During the restoration and the departure of W3 from our workshop, ITV Studios Australia were on scene filming segments for the mini series “Inside Central Station” which aired on SBS. These scenes are contained within episode 10 “W3 restoration & St James tunnels” which can be watched for free below.