It is an unfortunate side effect of shiftwork that rostering is… erratic at best, brain damningly brutal at worst. One such advantage to shiftwork is that mid-week days off are often the norm, which is why I found myself booking flights from Sydney to Melbourne on the Saturday night just passed. Accommodation was also booked at this time, for the Docklands Travelodge Hotel (only a five minute walk from Southern Cross Station). It is worth noting that this last minute trip was brought on by musings from fellow photographer and enthusiast Fred Sawyer* a number of weeks ago that he had never visited Melbourne to “see what all the fuss was about”**. Given that our schedules lined up, it was time to take the opportunity, as last minute as it may seem to the more “normal” workers out there (you know who you are).
The plan was to try and cram as much sightseeing and railfanning into two days as possible. Thanks to a pre-dawn start on Monday, we were able to secure a 2pm departure from Sydney, with a return flight of 3pm from Melbourne the following Wednesday. We figured that, with daylight savings, this would give us an effective two days to spend cramming as much as possible into the daylight hours.
With a (thankfully) uneventful flight from Sydney out of the way, we quickly collected our luggage and transferred to the Melbourne Skybus, an excellent (and cost effective) service to get from Melbourne Airport to Southern Cross Station. It was only after walking to our hotel did we realise that we’d swapped the cool, wet Sydney weather for a scorching hot Melbourne day! It would have easily been 30 degrees in the shade, with a nice dry Northerly wind ensuring that there was no respite from the heat. We*** quickly changed in the hotel room to more “weather appropriate” clothing, and headed down to Southern Cross to find our train. We boarded the 5:10pm service to Seymour, arriving at a just-as-hot-if-not-hotter-than-the-CBD-and-the-surface-of-the-sun-combined Donnybrook. Needless to say, we went straight from the station to the local watering hole, if for no other reason than to get out of the sun!
It is worth noting here that no visit to the Victorian North-East mainline is complete without a visit to the Donnybrook Hotel. This atmospheric hotel has all of the charm of any local country pub, although the food on offer far surpasses any pub-grub that I had experienced up until this point (this seems to be a trend in Victoria, I have fond memories of a roast in one of the Seymour pubs…). Plenty of time was taken enjoying the food and a “pot” of beer (Schooner. Sss-koo-ner. No? Drat.), before it was time to make the most of the setting sun. The punishing, shade “only on the railway line” setting sun.
The first sighting was made at 6:55pm when N453 screamed past with the down Albury passenger service (the only V/Line train on the standard gauge). Shortly thereafter, XP2012 and XP2009 raced through with a late running southbound XPT service. That’s right, we came from Sydney to Melbourne, caught a train to regional Victoria, and photographed… a NSW train. The irony was certainly not lost on us (or on our credit cards, still aching from the pain of last-minute-flights).
We did not have long to wait before sighting our first broad gauge train, with N472 making light work of a down Shepparton passenger service, followed by a couple of local passenger trains operated by Sprinter railcars. Getting close to 8pm we saw our first freight train, with LDP006 and LDP004 leading a lengthy 2BM7 superfreighter northbound. Once again, here was a train typically photographed in the morning in Sydney, being photographed at sunset in Victoria! Our visit was soon to pay off though, with 8:30pm yielding the throaty roar of A Class locomotives in dynamic brake when A78 lead P20 and A81 through Donnybrook with the up Tocumwal freight. Now THAT is what we came to experience! The evening was rounded off with another couple of Sprinter railcars, an up Albury passenger train and the down overnight XPT to Sydney. With the sun set, it was time to board the (second last) train back to Melbourne to retire for the night!
*If we’re going to allocate blame, I suppose I could blame myself for extolling the virtues of photographing loco-hauled passenger trains, something more or less unheard of in NSW in the present day and age.
**He pictured laneway cafes, and a contemporary modern cafe culture. He was not disappointed.
***I was dumb enough to wear jeans, proudly stating at the time “It’ll cool down”. It didn’t.