For reasons unknown, the end of the wires at Kiama seems to be the end of an enthusiasts interest in the line. This is not unexpected, as most enthusiasts operate on the mentality that they should see the most trains possible in any one day. With one regular working in daylight, with an extra daylight train on Tuesdays and Thursdays, it is not hard to see why enthusiasts would prefer to populate the section between Wollongong/Port Kembla and Sydney.
However, this little photographed section of line is, in this authors opinion, one of the most interesting sections of line in the state, for a number of reasons. Firstly, the safeworking system between Kiama and Nowra is the rarely seen Electric Staff system.
Electric Staff – Kiama to Nowra
Upon arrival at Kiama, any train wishing to continue down the branch line to Nowra may not proceed without authority to do so. While on the rest of the Cityrail network, this is up to the signal ahead of the train, south of Kiama, a train may not enter the section unless it is carrying the necessary staff (they are numbered, to prevent accidents) to do so. The Electric Staff System is a modern version of the old Staff and Ticket system.
When a train arrives at Kiama, the station staff will remove a metal staff from the instrument at the station, and give this to the train crew. If the train does not have to stop at the station, the crew will slow the train down through the station, and hook their arm through a hoop, with the staff attached. When in possession of the staff, the train may then proceed to the next safeworking point, at Berry.
At Berry, the southbound train will again slow, and pass the Kiama – Berry staff out the window to a station attendant, before picking up the staff for the Berry – Nowra section from another attendant (please note that in the case of unattended stations using this system, a train must stop and the crew operate the instrument themselves).
This system is very uncommon, and is the only example of it’s kind in the Railcorp network. The Australian Rail Track Corporation Ltd (ARTC) network has a number of these systems remaining, but they are slowly vanishing in the name of progress – as interesting as it is from an enthusiasts perspective, it is far, far more economical to replace this system with signals.
Another advantage of this often forgotten branch line is the many level crossings along the line, especially between Berry and Nowra. While level crossings often allow for a “ground level” photo, they are also worth incorporating into the photo in their own right. A number of good locations on this line also allow the photos to be framed with the mountains in the background! This alone should be more desirable than yet another photo of just a train with no interesting backdrop!
Not surprisingly, a lack of electric traction means a lack of electric wiring, and thus, a lack of stanchions to interfere with “that shot”. Often an enthusiast has envisaged “that shot” from a location, only to find a honking great pole in the way! There are no obstacles of this kind south of Kiama, which, combined with the breathtaking scenery, means that all sorts of compositional options become available – that is to say, there should be no excuse for having nothing but three quarter angle shots!
Australian Railroad Group
The Australian Railroad Group (ARG), itself a division of QLD Government owned Queensland Rail (QR) operates a daily train on behalf of the Manildra Group. Manildra operate a number of mills around Australia, and currently ARG hold a contract to haul flour to their mill at Nowra (from other mills at Manildra, Gunnedah, and Narrandera). ARG also hold a contract to transport export containers to and from Port Botany, in Sydney, from (among their other mills) Nowra. During daylight hours, one can expect to photograph a loaded flour train going to the Manildra complex at Nowra, and on a Tuesday or a Thursday morning, to photograph a container train from the same complex, bound for Port Botany.
ARG operate two classes of locomotive on these services, as well as occasionally leasing rolling stock from other operators in times of great demand. Locomotives have previously been leased from 3801ltd as well as locomotives leased from Chicago Freight Car Leasing Australia (CFCLA).
The southbound flour train is often seen behind members of the 31 class (ex WAGR L Class locomotives), or the 22 class (ex NSWGR/SRA 422 Class locomotives), in a distinctive orange livery. Until recently, an ex South Australian 830 class locomotive (in the form of 852) was often seen on these trains. L265, still wearing the colours of Northern Rivers Railroad, with an orange ARG logo can also often be seen on these trains.
Cityrail operate a number of return services between Kiama and Nowra, as well as a couple of services between Nowra and Wollongong (in the morning peak hour). Despite these services being run by Endeavours, these are again unique oppertunities for photographers to capture these rail cars in a unique service. Normally photographed working alongside long export coal trains in The Hunter Valley, or between Intermodal trains on The Main South, it is not often that these often overlooked DMU’s are seen working on such a rural, scenic branch line. So even a normally mundane train becomes interesting when combined with rural level crossings and spectacular south coast/farmland scenery!
The branch line from Unanderra to Nowra is a very interesting slice of the Cityrail network, yet it is very rarely photographed – the section between Kiama and Nowra even more often overlooked. This is a shame, as it has a number of unique advantages that one would be hard pressed to find elsewhere in the state, especially located so close to Sydney. I certainly plan to visit the area a few more times to get some more photos and generally enjoy such a unique safeworking system.
Finally, I would like to thank a friend of mine for his assistance in providing a lot of information about operations and safeworking on this unique stretch of track. Thanks for the help Mat!