CaneSIG: Frequently Asked Questions


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Above: A selection of sugar cane railway images from Cuba, Egypt, Fiji, Java, Hawaii, and Queensland. These and other images can be found in the Image Collection.

Frequently Asked Questions

CaneSIG is a free resource for modellers of the world's sugar cane railways. Please contact the Coordinator if you have resources that you would like to share.

Materials have been provided by modellers and enthusiasts for the personal use of other modellers only. Please do not abuse this privilege; contact the copyright holders for any other use.

Scratchbuilt cane loco

Site/content copyright © A C Lynn Zelmer or as marked.

CaneSIG is one of the rail heritage and modelling sites hosted by

What is CaneSIG?

The purpose of this on-line special interest group is to preserve, develop and exchange information for the modelling of sugar cane railways worldwide.

CaneSIG affiliates with other organisations (eg NMRA and Australasian Region) with broader modelling or historical purposes as appropriate, but membership in the SIG itself remains open to any individual who supports the objectives of assisting cane railway modellers.

The SIG publishes the results of its work on a non-commercial web site ( and in other publications as appropriate. The SIG also exchanges prototype and modelling information to build an international community of interest.

Who provides CaneSIG materials?

CaneSIG materials have been provided by cane tramway modellers and enthusiasts. You are encouraged to contact the CaneSIG coordinator (lynn @ to contribute materials which you believe complement the materials on the site.

How do I "join" CaneSIG?

CaneSIG is a virtual special interest group with two faces. The first face is this web site, managed by the CaneSIG coordinator in Australia. You don't need to join anything to participate in the public face of the SIG.

CaneSIG's second face is the group of modellers and enthusiasts who provide resources and other support to the SIG. There aren't any financial costs to participating in this face of the SIG, but only individuals who make a significant contribution to the SIG are considered to be 'members'. Likewise, there aren't any practical benefits to being 'members' beyond the knowledge that you are assisting fellow modellers and that you may be called on for advice on your particular specialty.

How do I submit materials?

A real range of materials over the years have been accepted over the years... but I do have some preferences.

I submitted some materials... When will they be posted?

An image requires between 15 and 30 minutes to prepare it for posting on the web site... scanning, manipulating, adding the copyright notice, indexing and uploading (image file and database revisions). As well, some projects have to take priority because the originals must be returned, etc., and I do like to do some modelling occasionally. The short answer, then, is "as soon as possible". In the meantime, please be patient.

Why haven't you answered my e-mail query?

I receive between 20 and 50 e-mail messages each day, thus use filtering and an anti-spam program to sort/manage my e-mail. I automatically delete messages without subject lines and and any that appear to be spam... either because of strange characters or misspelling in the subject line or too high a 'spam count'. I also tend to ignore messages that appear to be 'harvesting' valid e-mail addresses by asking questions like "Tell me everything about xxxxx xxxxx", where xxxxx xxxxx is the 'title' of a web page.

Try sending another query with a simple, plain English subject line and ensure that your message does not contain lines of asterisks or dashes, links to advertising sites, etc.

What limitations are there on the use of CaneSIG materials?

CaneSIG materials have been provided for the personal use of modellers only. Unless otherwise stated on the materials themselves, any duplication of the materials, inclusion of the materials in other publications or use of the materials for any commercial purposes, etc., must be agreed with the copyright holders in advance of use.

What do you mean by a virtual organisation?

CaneSIG has been developed by modellers and enthusiasts to get modellers interested in modelling cane tramways. However, we aren't interested in maintaining an organisation with dues, membership lists, etc. The virtual SIG only exists as a partnership between the informal support group and the users of the web site.

Where can I find other materials on specific cane railways, etc.?

Your local library and the Internet are good starting places once you've exhausted the resources on this web site and the off-site links on the home page. Resources in national, state and regional libraries, museums and archives are often accessible through the Internet. A selected list of books from my personal library provides some suggested titles.

Where can I find a photograph of xxxxxx?

The Image Collection has over 11,000 images, many of which relate to the sugar industry. Search suggestions can be found at the bottom of the left hand (navigation) column.

All images are copyrighted and are provided for non-commercial use only. Please contact the photographers for any other use.

What is the difference between a railway and a tramway?

The differences are political and legal. In Queensland, and likely other parts of Australia, railways require an Act of Parliament. Tramways, on the other hand, operate under local authorities (Shires), cane mills, manufacturing plants, etc.

When the government was expanding the railway network, every little town wanted to be connected. If the government did not agree to a branch line to these places, the Shire Council could elect to construct a tramway themselves. Such a line provided access to otherwise isolated townships in the days before roads (or when roads were frequently impassable in wet weather).

In Victoria a number of Shires sought approval to build tramways, then delegated their authority to private companies to build and operate them.

Why is there so much information on Queensland on this site?

First, I live in Queensland and have ready access to a number of modellers and railfans whose main interest is Queensland cane railways. Second, there is more information on Queensland cane railways than for those in any other part of the world, thus there are more modellers of Queensland's cane railways -- and those modellers are scattered across the globe.

What is Narrow Gauge?

While parochially we would all describe the railways near our home as 'normal', the worldwide railway industry designates 4' 8 1/2" (1435mm) as 'standard' gauge. Railways with gauges wider than this are known as 'broad' gauge, while railways with smaller gauges are 'narrow gauge'.

The decision to choose one gauge over another was typically based on engineering and political factors... in other words, the relative cost of engineering works and the biases of the engineers involved.

Resource railways, particularly in lightly populated or physically demanding areas are often built as narrow gauge to save costs (3' 6" in Australia's hinterlands, 3' gauge in North American Rocky Mountains). Industrial, mining, and plantation railways will often have even narrower gauges (eg 2' cane railways in Australia and Fiji) to save costs and improve accessibility (eg tight corners).

Why Model Narrow Gauge?

Narrow gauge railway modelling appears to be the fastest growing segment of the model railway market, particularly since the introduction of Bachmann's On30 models and various larger scale models.

Laurie Green MMR, one of Australia's more prominent modellers of North American narrow gauge, suggests that there are several reasons why modellers are so attracted to modelling narrow gauge railways**.

  • Narrow gauge is ideally suited to "steep mountainous country crossing deep gorges on high bridges and serving small and isolated communities".
  • Narrow gauge trains tended to be shorter and easier to model. "At the very minimum a narrow gauge modeller can, with one locomotive and half a dozen cars, build a small railroad and even operate it prototypically."
  • Modellers who work within these confines can "concentrate on each model, finishing it to a very high degree of detail".

While this certainly describes most North American and European narrow gauge systems, it doesn't explain the attraction of the Queensland railways (both mainline and sugar cane) and similar systems which have fairly large rail networks and unit trains containing hundreds of almost identical wagons.

My own explanation is that narrow gauge modellers are attracted the unique nature of each narrow gauge railway. We like what some commentators describe as their funky or idiosyncratic nature. In Queensland, for example, even mill tramways owned by the same company can be quite different as equipment is modified through maintenance or accidents.

However, this attraction isn't unique to narrow gauge railways, and narrow gauge modellers should also consult materials on short and branch line railways, whatever their gauge.

      Lynn Zelmer

  ** Green, Laurie (1996). "Why model narrow gauge railroads?" in Narrow Gauge Down Under, 1:2, p 19.

What gauge/scale?

Basically, personal choice... and your ability/desire for scratchbuilding.

Cane railways are generally narrow gauge, almost exclusively 2' (610 mm) in Queensland. Most cane modellers appear to be very pragmatic and use either 9mm or 16.5 mm gauge for HOn30/009 or On30/0-16.5 respectively. Variations occur with the modelling scale: 3.5 mm (Aussies) or 4mm (mostly Europeans) to the foot for the 9mm track and 1/4" or 7mm on the 16.5 mm track.

Until recently there were more kits and ready-to-run models in 3.5/4 mm scale but this is changing with the increasing popularity of On30. Increasingly overseas modellers work in the larger scale.

Eyesight is one factor... I built a fair number of models (locos and rolling stock) in HOn30 but found the equipment very small to work with and too many of the materials appear oversize.

Another factor relates to viewing size... the HOn30 museum models/dioramas that I've built seem to be too small for visitors to really appreciate.

The solution, for me, is to gradually convert to On30. I'm not a purist... I'll use 1/4" or 7mm models as available... although not necessarily together in the same train/scene... I've also acquired some 16mm scale (32mm track gauge) equipment and will likely do some large scale scratchbuilding.

Of course the downside is that I'll need to provide a lot more detail but there are downsides to everything... so I'll continue to work in HO as well, depending upon need/motivation.

There is a longer discussion of this topic in one of the Handbook articles (pdf file).

Does CaneSIG have connections with other groups?

Individuals currently involved with CaneSIG have membership in a number of other organisations including the National Model Railroad Association (NMRA), the Australian Model Railway Association (AMRA), Light Railway Research Society of Australia (LRRSA), Australian Railway Historical Society (ARHS) the Australian Narrow Gauge Railway Museum Society (ANGRMS) and the Australian Sugar Cane Railway (ASCR, Bundaberg).

CaneSIG members are also frequent contributors to Narrow Gauge DownUnder, Australia's quarterly narrow gauge modelling journal.

As appropriate, CaneSIG will link to other web sites and may seek affiliation with such organisations. However, CaneSIG does not represent or speak for those organisations and they do not represent or speak for CaneSIG.

Does CaneSIG sell any materials?

No. Limited copying of paper-based resource materials for personal research may be possible, depending upon the availability of the coordinator's time. There will be a charge for both materials and labour. Inquire via e-mail for procedures, costs and restrictions.

We will also provide advice on obtaining materials from commercial publishers, historical groups, etc., as appropriate. The coordinator would welcome your suggestions.

Scratchbuilt cane loco

Copyright © A C Lynn Zelmer or the contributor as appropriate. Last updated: 16 June 2021 [lz]; e-mail: Lynn @