Adaptive Reuse: Train Becomes Bunkhouse (Photos)

train painting crew photo

Photo Credit: The Crossing Land Education Trust

"One of the few times I thought I was in over my head," is how Dean Turner, Project Director of The Crossing Land Education Trust described the epic that was getting a dilapidated train carriage relocated from a rural paddock about 450 km(280 miles) away onto his bush block, so it could be transformed into a bunkhouse for teenagers visiting for environmental education programs. (Many more pictures below).

Adaptive reuse in architecture is where a building or structure is given fresh life by converting it to serve a new function. A classic example being old industrial warehouse spaces morphing into modern loft apartments. But turning a decrepit train into youth accommodation is a creative challenge of a higher magnitude.The Crossing is an outdoor education centre on Australia's south east coast, providing action outdoor pursuits mixed with a string emphasis on projects that "develop young people's capacity to live more sustainably." The bush location beside a river embodies these principles via permaculture gardens, solar power, solar hot water rainwater collection, greywater recycling, reuse of secondhand materials, habitat restoration, and so much more.

But before the outdoor centre could get up and running, it needed accommodation for up to 24 participants. Other Australian outdoor centres with a similar environmental ethos, had previously constructed their bunkrooms from discarded city buses or made log cabins from 3,000 salvaged railway sleepers (ties), so in some ways a train was the inevitable next step.

train loading photo

Loading the train, with a log-lifter and a tow truck.
Photo Credit: The Crossing Land Education Trust

The train carriage was unearthed in a field a whole state away. It was bought for $500 AUD, the cost of which was covered by the first donation (anonymously) that The Crossing Land Education Trust ever received. To get the train the 450 km (280 miles) to its new home was the most expensive part ($3,000) of the operation, but was made somewhat easier when the son of the founder of the Asia Pacific's largest privately owned supply chain company (Linfox) gave the Trust a cost rate driver and truck to move it.

Wonderful generosity, but the train was still sitting out in the paddock. Dean Turner describes the exercise of transferring it to a truck:

"We used a log lifter and a big tow truck at the Heyfield end - you're supposed to use two big cranes. But we were doing a lot with little so we had the hydraulics of the log lifter from the local mill on one side lifting in jerks while the winch on the other side was rising steadily - it made it all a bit exciting - and the log lifter only had an inch or so of the forks on the metal RSJ [rolled steel joist, a.k.a. I-beam] frame of the carriage underneath!!"

After carefully navigating the hundreds of kilometres to its final resting place, the train (aboard the truck) was driven dirt roads that had been kindly graded freshly by the local municipality. Not that the adventure was over just yet.

train unloading photo

Unloading the train.
Photo Credit: The Crossing Land Education Trust

The Crossing's Project Director, Dean Turner, describes what happened after they borrowed an excavator from a local quarry to lift off one end at a time onto a makeshift log cabin type arrangement that they made with a bit of axe work.

"Later on when we had time to make proper concrete foundations we borrowed some 20 tonne house jacks and lifted the carraige up a bit to take out the logs - I dont know what made me do it but I took a few steps back - it's an outdoor educator habit I have developed over the years to make me look at the bigger picture - to actually step back helps you to mentally step back too and open up your awareness to notice safety, interactions and communication, think into design, etc."

Dean continues,

"Anyway, lucky I did, for at that moment I suddenly noticed the whole thing was slowly leaning - by the time I yelled to drop the jacks the train carriage had moved a foot or two and almost off the side of the footings. We could have lost the whole thing down the hill. After all the work to get it there."

Once securely in situ, the grunt work of making the carriage clean, comfortable and habitable began. Once more Dean Turner explains,

"We had heaps of help from young people doing it up. The local Lions club helped with a roof frame, one of the members donated a redgum [tree] that had died on his property and we went over with the help of a local Board member who had a mobile sawmill to cut all the verandah timber. Local Probus club members made the bunks for us and another supporter made curtains. In fact that was funny, she was over 800 km [500 miles] away, but she matched the curtain colour from a spot of paint on a young person's shoes."

train inside before fixed photo

The mess that needed to be cleaned out.

train roof frame photo

Framing for the roof and verandah.

train roof iron photo

The corrugated roof going on.

train bunks photo

The finished bunkhouse.

2010 train west side photo

A westside view of the finished building wrapped around the train.
Photo Credits: The Crossing Land Education Trust

Not that this was the first example of adaptive reuse at The Crossing Land Education Trust. When Dean and his wife, Annette moved to the bush block to begin establishing the camp they drove on their old school bus and parked it on a hillside overlooking the river. And promptly proceeded to build living areas, kitchens and such like around and over the bus, which continued service as their bedroom and the centre's office.

The Crossing bus bedroom photo

Bus as bedroom. Photo credit: Warren McLaren / inov8

Many moons ago, this writer once spent a weekend at The Crossing installing a greywater treatment system fashioned in typical Dean Turner verve from a plethora of old baths he rescued from somewhere, and set up so gravity trickled the water down a hill from bath to bath.

The Crossing greywater system photo

Baths as greywater filter system. Photo credit: Warren McLaren / inov8

Reuse is obviously in the DNA of this innovative outdoor education centre. When we asked Dean Turner what had made a train suitable as youth accommodation, his succinct reply was "imagination."

The Crossing Land Education Trust
More Architectural Adaptive Reuse
Adaptive Reuse: Turning a Pumping Station into a Monster Home
Sleep Snugly Behind 13 Foot Thick Walls In Converted Martello Tower
Water Tower Converted into Residence.
Converting Sewage Treatment Plants Into Playgrounds
Gorgeous LEED Platinum Townhouses Completed in Decommissioned Military Base

Adaptive Reuse: Train Becomes Bunkhouse (Photos)
"One of the few times I thought I was in over my head," is how Dean Turner, Project Director of The Crossing Land Education Trust described the epic that was getting a dilapidated train carriage relocated

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