CLUB HISTORY from 1973

The Society was formed in 1973 following an advertisement placed in the Canberra Times in 1972. Some of the original members are still in the Society!  Total membership is over 70 with an increasing number of student and junior members and many seniors.  The ages of members range from about 11 years for the newest juniors to 90 plus!


The first track was about 25 metres of straight 3.5″ gauge elevated track that operated at Malkara Special School Exhibition in 1979. This was developed into a circle of 72 metres run and first operated at the Old Canberra Brickworks in Yarralumla at Easter 1980.  It appeared at the 1980 Malkara Exhibition.  At the same time a ground level 5″/7.25″ dual gauge track was built in the clay pit area of the old Brickworks.

In 1982 a 5″ gauge rail was added to the portable elevated 3.5″ gauge track and it took the form that it now has. It has operated at in excess of 50 events in the Canberra Queanbeyan district since then, appearing in public about 45 times a year.  Two-day events are especially favoured since a lot of effort is required to move and set up the track.  With rides then at $1.00 per head, it was once the Society’s main money earner.

Profits earned from the track went into developing the Society’s facilities at the Kingston Miniature Railway. These were located on a block – formerly a rubbish dump – at Geijera Place Kingston, adjacent to the Australian Railway Historical Society’s museum.


In 1983 CSMEE moved to the Kingston site from the Brickworks where a commercial project to establish a museum had collapsed.

During 1983/84 work to fence and clear the rubbish tip and to level and prepare a track base continued unabated. A tree and shrub-planting program accompanied this.

The rubbish tip site presented many problems, thorny shrubs, old bottles and pieces of metal resulted in a succession of costly punctures to tractor tyres. Most of the tractor work was done by a small Kubota front-end loader owned by a member.  A 2 tonne tipper loaned by another friend of the club supported this. Hundreds of trailer and truckloads of debris were removed and hundreds of tons of fill and ballast were spread.

Hollows were filled by soil excavated and donated from the new Parliament House Construction site. Rock retaining walls and drainage were installed alongside the ARHS Car Shed that was then being built.

GROUND LEVEL 3.5″/5″/~7.2S” GAUGE TRACK 1985

By 1985 the site was ready for track laying. A jig was made and welding commenced in earnest on Australia Day.  During the following 12 months thousands of hours were spent welding, laying & levelling the ground level track.  The track at the former Brickworks site was recovered and reconstructed for the new site.

By Australia Day 1986 the mainline was complete and trains could run continuously on 705 metres of track. Several turnouts were installed and in 1987 the circle at the top end was completed, extending the run to about one kilometre.


1990 saw a new loop installed to help passenger loading and a primitive ramp was provided to move heavy engines from vans and trailers onto the track.


In 1992 it was decided to improve the track and to remove the 3.5″ gauge rails, as turnouts with all three gauges were too difficult to build. The following improvements were completed between 7 January and 28 May 1993 just prior to the inaugural ACT Invitation Run on the 29 – 30 May.

Steaming Bays                          -To service ~ steam up engines

Turntable                                 -To turn engines

Traverser                                  – To enable engines up to 1 tonne to be safely transferred from trailers and vans to track

Passing/Relief Loop                  – In the ARHS museum at the halfway point of the mainline

Improved water reticulation      – For locomotives and grounds maintenance

Power to Site                            – For lighting, signalling and driving tools.  (Previously all work was done using a cantankerous 1940s vintage ex Navy diesel generator owned and restored by a member.)

Signalling                                 – To protect train movements at the top junction

Many more improvements were made during this time for member and visitor amenities. More shrubs and trees were planted, the lawn extended, a barbecue was installed, fencing constructed and a second hand catering van was purchased.


Thousands of dollars worth of assistance has been received in kind from sponsors who are represented on the advertising carried on the club’s passenger cars and in the Club’s journal, The Whistle Blower.  Without the help of these Canberra firms CSMEE would not have the facilities it now has.  Donations included free use of plant and equipment, trucks, excavators, ditch witches, lawn mower repairs, sheds, steel, bricks, electrical fittings & conduits, soil, ballast, sand and gravel.


Wives, girlfiends and daughters of members volunteered to form an auxiliary to manage all food and drink sales on running days. Proceeds go to purchase equipment such as chairs, tables, umbrellas and barbecues for use by party groups.  Ladies sell the tickets and manage party bookings.  They purchased the food van.  The Society could not operate the Miniature Railway without them.


The Inaugural Invitation Run of CSMEE was held over the weekend of 29/30 May 1993. 103 registrants came from NSW, VIC, and SA and brought with them 30 visiting locomotives.  With the CSMEE engines the total present came to 35.

The Railway was officially named by Mr Bill Wood MLA who drove the leading engine of a double header on the official grand parade of trains around the track. The weekend was the culmination of nearly a year of planning and construction.


An Invitation Run has been held during the ACT’s Floriade Festival every year since 1993 (COVID excepting). These events attract visitors and their families from as far away as Queensland.  We had nearly 30 visiting locomotives in 2004 and similarly in 2005 and 2006.


(Australian)      Australian Model Engineering published bi-monthly.  Members of

CSMEE have featured prominently and regularly as authors of articles in

The Australian Model Engineering Magazine that is circulated widely in Australia and overseas. Indeed, four members of the Canberra Society started the magazine in 1988.  It is now produced, edited and printed in Canberra.

(English)          Model Engineer – since 1898 published twice monthly.

‑           Engineering In Miniature published monthly.

‑           Locomotives Large and Small published every three months.

(American)       Live Steam published bi‑monthly.

Modeltech published bi‑monthly.

Some members scale their plans from Railway’s official blueprints/drawings and build very finely detailed accurate models. A tender engine in 5” or 7.25″ gauge takes about 3,000 hours to build.

Engines for 5″ and 7.25″ gauge operate on the ground level track. 7.25″ gauge engines are (almost universally) confined to the ground level track because of their size and weight (2 metres (6ft plus) long and up to 1 tonne.

Smaller steam engines usually have copper boilers while larger engines have welded steel boilers. Boilers are built to standards set by the Australian Miniature Boiler Safety Code Committee.  This is a sub committee of the umbrella body, The Australian Association of Live Steamers (AALS).  The AALS sets standards for operation, interchangeability and safety of miniature railways.


In addition to railway engines some members build and operate steam tractors or traction engines. These engines were used around the world until the 1940s by which time full size construction of these machines had ceased.  Most models owned by CSMEE members are to 1/12, 1/8 or 1/4, scale.  There is a strong traction engine following in the Club.


Some members are interested in building clocks.   These members build and restore particularly fine examples of the clockmakers art and in doing so preserve a centuries old craft that is seldom practiced commercially today.  Many members of this group are also interested in locomotives and traction engines.


Some members specialise in the construction of workshop machinery such as small precision milling machines, grinders and high speed drilling machines. These can then be used for other model engineering activities.


About half a dozen members are very enthusiastic about steam boats (full size). Several excellent examples of their work, the largest being a 26 foot steam launch, can be seen on Lake Burley Griffin and Lake Tuggeranong on special occasions.  They are silent (except for their whistles) and seem to glide along with barely a wisp of steam escaping from their funnels.  Several members have built their own hulls from fibreglass, wood and metal (especially ornamental brass).  They also build their own engines but generally have their boilers (particularly the larger ones) built from steel (under Government boiler codes) by approved welders


The Kingston Miniature Railway is now closed and the Society has moved to a new facility at the southern end of Jerrabomberra Avenue, Symonston. The new track is open to the public on the 2nd and last Sunday of each month except December with other days as advertised. 


Due to the uncertainty of the Kingston Foreshore development and the newly commissioned ACT Railway Plan, the committee decided to approach the ACT Government for a new location and a grant to allow the operation to relocate. In 2008 the Society was given a grant of $250,000 and a new 6 hectare location at Symonston. It was not until 2010 when the lease on Symonston was finalised that CSMEE were able to proceed with the building of the new track. Work progressed steadily until 2017 when a decision was made to close the Kingston site and transfer operations to the Symonston site. The last Public Running Day at Kingston was held on 31st July 2017 and the site closed. Dismantling the site continued until December 2017 when the site was handed back to the ACT Government. All work then transferred to the Symonston site to prepare for our first Public Running Day at the end of February 2018. The Symonston site was named the “Canberra Miniature Railway” (CMR).

CSMEE now runs and maintains two separate gauge ground level tracks and a triple gauge raised track at CMR. The ground level tracks comprise of a 5″ loop of approx. 500m and a 7¼” loop of approx. 750m. The raised track comprising of 5”, 3½” and 2½” gauge tracks with an approximate length of 150m.

Everything you see at the Symonston site was built by the members (all volunteers) of the Society. Try to picture it as an empty paddock and you’ll see the incredible achievements made.

Postscript: The ACT Government discovered asbestos on the old Kingston site so has been prevented from developing it into high density housing (which was the plan) and as at the time of writing (October 2022) is is still sitting idle, abandoned, sad.