Where’s the Coal gone?

With one of my sources* telling me that South Spur Rail Services (henceforth known as SSRS) were going to be running their first official train out to Pelton and back, along the South Maitland Railway (SMR), I thought I would be clever and jump up to The Hunter Valley and get some photos of one of the first operations of said train. Two T Class in CFCLA colours would be hauling containerised coal up the SMR, a nice addition to the regular service hauled by Pacific Nationals 48/PL Class locomotives.

Lucky for my, my friend Anthony (better known as 42209, perhaps?) was able to come along. I caught the morning Casino XPT up to Maitland, with a ticket in my hand for a return to Sydney that night on the Brisbane XPT. That gave me nine hours (about 7.5 hours of sunlight) to photograph, and still be in bed before midnight.

For those of you unfamiliar with Hunter Valley coal operations, one usually chooses a spot where the lighting is good, and you can see a coal train go past every ten minutes or so (at worst, you see something every thirty minutes or so). Those of you familiar with Hunter Valley operations may then find the following sighting list a bit of a surprise.

Maitland (10:15am until 11:30am):

  • 10:45am (PN) PL3/48xx7/48129/PL7 down mt coal
  • 11:03am (PN) 9022/9032/9014 down mt coal

East Maitland (11:50am until 12:45pm):


At this stage, Anthony had arrived from Sydney (he was originally going to get the train, so we could have a couple of beers at the pub right by the side of the rails at East Maitland**, but drove instead). We were eagerly awaiting the arrival of 3MB7, which we had been told by another enthusiast*** would have G516/G534 on the front. Apparently the train had arrived into Broadmeadow on time with G516/X/G534, but that they were taking the X off for a return to Sydney (either on the next days 4BM7, on on 4152 to Yennora that night), so the train would be continuing through to Acacia Ridge with the two G’s up front. Suited us fine. Of course, that was until we were standing in the parking lot at the pub, and we heard a deep throaty rumbling noise. Of course, we stood there and watched 3MB7 roar by behind G516 and G534. No doubt about it, we jumped into the car and after getting lost in Maitland, we soon found ourselves headed along the open road at good speed, miles ahead of the train (except for one moment when we found ourselves behind a farmer on his tractor who was going all of 20km/h).

Anthony and I arrived at Paterson to see a northbound Hunter set crossing NT36 (Sydney bound XPT from Grafton). As the XPT would have the road right to Maitland, we knew it would probably cross 3MB7 somewhere south of us, and we would have plenty of time to find a good photospot. There are a number of good photospots, all within walking distance of the station (the station itself, a footbridge to the south, a level crossing and a railway bridge to the north). Sure enough, at 2:21pm, G516 and G534 raced around the S bend to the south of the station and pounded through on their way north. Fantastic.

G516 leads G534 north with QRNationals 3MB7

Having checked our photos (seems we both got at least two good shots of the train as it came through), we decided to move around the town and see if there were any good photos. Just past the station towards Dungog, the railway line crosses a steel truss bridge, with great photo opportunities from legal locations (just take a look at the cover of March 2008 Railway Digest – that’s the view we had from the level crossing). While standing at the level crossing, the boom gates started to go down. Anthony was trapped on the other side of the road (the way the fence was set out, the only way he could get back to my side of the road was by crossing the tracks, then crossing the road, then crossing the tracks again), so he was running around like a headless chicken without his camera. I hesitated about crossing the road because there were cars coming (that is, until I realised that the cars were going to stop for the level crossing anyway). So, I strolled across the road, and we both craned our necks trying to see what would be coming over the bridge, going south… At the last minute, I turned to Anthony and said “hey, it could be 3MB4…” and was cut off by the sound of an NR horn. We both spun around and (blindly, as we had NO time to prepare anything) snapped NR32 roaring around the corner with NR21 in tow. After a quick laugh, we waited for the boom gates to go back up and we crossed the road back to where Anthony had parked. Cue a bit more sitting around talking rubbish (we “sighted” a number of empty cans of Bundy and Cola, and XXXX Gold, leading us to believe that a bunch of Cane Toad gunzels had been this way prior to us), before we decided to make tracks back to Maitland.

Upon arriving at Maitland, we initially struggled to find more coal trains (at the time, it seemed that The Hunter Valley had run out of coal, but things eventually picked up as the sun slid down the sky).

Maitland (3:45pm to 7:30pm):

Gunzel Bridge, Maitland

  • 3:45pm (PN) 8210/8215/8214 down mt coal
  • 3:55pm (PN) 8255/8242/8168/8227 down mt coal
  • 4:00pm (QRN) 5009/5008 down mt coal
  • 4:22pm (PN) NR19/NR117 down 2AB6 intermodal (NCL)
  • 4:23pm (PN) 8233/8250/8224/8212 down mt coal****
  • 4:51pm (PN) 9009/9012/9024 up coal
  • 5:06pm (PN) 8160/48xxx/48154/48113 down grain and canola oil tankers (MNL)
  • 5:06pm (PN) PL3/48xx7/48129/PL7 up coal
  • 5:15pm (PN) 8225/8136 up coal
  • 5:21pm (PN) NRxx/NR77 up steel
  • 5:29pm (PN) 8244/8181/8252/8217 down mt coal
  • 5:32pm (PN)9013/9033/9006 up coal
  • 5:52pm (QRN) 5004/5005 up coal
  • 6:24pm (PN)8226/8142 down mt coal
  • 6:39pm (PN) 8243/8183 down mt coal
  • 7:01pm (QRN) 5011/5006 down mt coal
  • 7:10pm (Countrylink) NT31 down Brisbane XPT
  • 7:10pm (QRN) 42306/42301 up light engine

    The Sydney-bound Brisbane XPT was running about 30 minutes behind, which got worse at Broadmeadow with police officers escorting a man off the train, however we had a good run back to Sydney and only arrived about 20 minutes late into Hornsby. At this point I detrained and changed to a suburban service for the run into Chatswood, where I got a taxi and was home by 11pm. Considering I left the house at 5:30am that morning, it was quite a big day, but worth every second.

    Thanks to Anthony for keeping me company and driving me around (also for the beer ;). Also, thanks to Brad for the heads up on the SSRS train (I’m sorry I couldn’t bring back a photo to share). Thanks to Countrylink for a very pleasant trip both ways. I would recommend anyone looking for a day trip to The Hunter Valley to travel via Countrylink, as it’s so much faster than going via Cityrail, and it’s quite comfortable. Just book your tickets a day in advance, and you’re sweet!



    * With many thanks to Brad for the heads up

    ** A great pub it was, too, right by the side of the rails, very nice interior, a great selection of reasonably priced pub food (perhaps a little steeper than one would expect, but it was less a pub and more a cafe/restaurant atmosphere) which tasted fantastic (the chips especially)

    ***This same chap also informed me that the SSRS train had already been through towards Port Waratah, so we’d missed it. Ahh well, there is always next time!

    **** This train was held at a red signal for almost thirty minutes to allow the 4:05pm Newcastle to Scone train to overtake.


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