The plan could not have been any more simple – a day trip to Kiama, to be back in Sydney in time for dinner. I should really go back and read some of the other accounts on this website to prove to myself that these sorts of things never work out as planned!
I met the guys at Erskineville, where we would take on coffee and make for Kiama via one of two ways – either via the Main South Line to Moss Vale before hooking east to Albion Park, or via the coast road and Wollongong. Our decision was to be influenced by two different trains, both coming north at (supposedly) the same time. One was the QRNational Melbourne to Sydney (Yennora) freight, in the form of 6MS9. This train is known for showcasing some of the more “vintage” QRNational locomotives, including the CLF, CLP and G Classes, although members of the 421, X and 422 classes are no strangers either. On the other hand, three of the brand new Centennial Coal CEY Class were to depart Port Kembla at roughly the same time, bound for Lithgow. The smart answer, would be to stay in Sydney and shoot them both – although this is the smart play, it would force us to miss a shot of a Sydney Electric Train Society (SETS) special charter train at Bombo, which was deemed “unacceptable”.
With mumblings of “CLP’s are the most overrated loco since Thomas the Tank Engine” and “It only counts if it’s a yellow one”, we set our sights on Scarborough, the lure of modern (and hopefully still clean) diesels winning out over the possibility of vintage bulldog power. The view from Scarborough is arguably one of the best “railway locations” on the coast, while the Main South is fairly unremarkable around Sydney’s southern fringes.
Shortly after arriving at Scarborough, with cameras, tripods and eyes pointed to the south (where the line was bathed in glorious sunshine), our first sighting would be from the north – 8245 and 8217 slowly grinding through the station with a push-pull coal train from the nearby Metropolitan Colliery (Helensburgh) at 0908. With a northbound “all stations” service to Sydney departing at 0912, and another passenger service not due for approximately an hour, we once again turned our eyes south for a planned “rush” of coal traffic. Sure enough, at 0920, 8235 appeared into view with three classmates assisting on an empty Pacific National coal train to Lidsdale. We began to be concerned when we realised that the road was not set into the single-line section to Coalcliff. We became slightly more worried when we heard a horn at the nearby level crossing – our suspicions were confirmed when CEY004 came into view through the trees, southbound at a rapid pace. It was a quick couple of shots, but we all managed to quickly shoot the Pacific National train approaching the platform before a hurried dash and composure saw us photograph the two trains crossing in the platform. Despite the planned target heading in the wrong direction (against the light), we were all more or less happy with our shots, so we decided to head towards Wollongong to evaluate our next move.
The sight of the SSR coal train in the down refuge at Thirroul prompted a slight detour via the station – with the train sidelined, this dashed any hopes of a speedy turnaround back towards Lithgow. While the lads photographed the locomotives standing in the refuge, information came through from a man “on the ground” that 6MB4, a loaded wheat train and 6MS9 were forming an orderly queue outside Bundanoon to await a path into Moss Vale (due to ARTC trackwork, single line working was in use between Moss Vale and Bundanoon on the down main line). It was at this point that the “short detour into Thirroul” became a “long detour to Picton”, as we were informed that the freighters would await the passage of the southbound Xplorer to Canberra and XPT to Melbourne.
As we approached Picton, there still had not been any movement from Bundanoon, so we chanced a rush down the freeway to Moss Vale (with the curve at Werai being the planned destination). As we scooted through Berrima and Moss Vale, 6MB4 skipped past, obviously keen to make up for lost time. Not wanting to take any chances, we parked opposite the station at Moss Vale to look at our options. We set up at the country end of Moss Vale Platform One, and checked the signals – the signs were good for the loaded wheatie to make a beeline for our position. Until the signals changed, and the train instead arrived into the down yard for a crew change…
Determined not to make the same mistake again, we relocated to the footbridge at the Sydney end of the station for the passing of 6MS9. Eventually, LDP001 came into view hauling a dead attached, CFCLA owned and SCT liveried G512 (bringing back recent memories of when SCT-owned G Class were hired to QRNational) and a whopping ten or so wagons.
With the clock now against us, we jumped on the road again with plans to follow the wheat train (hauled by an 81/C combination) to Robertson, although weekend traffic and clear signals thwarted our efforts. Instead, we continued to Bombo for a planned shot of the SETS tour train, which we missed! With over an hour to kill until the SETS train returned, allowing us ample time to attack a local cafe in Kiama to secure a meal of burgers, fish and chips.
We returned to the northern end of Bombo by 1400 to allow us plenty of time to line up our shots. Given that we were travelling in two cars, we assumed that the other car would be heading for the spot we originally planned to shoot the train, so the location of the spot was described as “Northern Bombo”. Regrettably, our companion was already at the correct photo-spot, and this direction sent him to “Albion Park Rail” (which shall henceforth be referred to as “North Bombo” to avoid further confusion). Sure enough, the SETS tour (comprising of CityRail Chopper set C8) passed by our location at 1413.
While our companion lined up a shot at Albion Park and prepared to give chase to Port Kembla, the “lead car” (which at this point was the “chase car”) found its way to nearby Minnamurra, where the other lads engaged in a spot of wading – sometimes it pays to go to extremes for “that shot”. The train we were planning to photograph was 8938N loaded Manildra Group flour from Manildra to Bomaderry. Given the length of the train, control was understandably wary about letting it loose on a single line section, so we soaked up the sun while the various CityRail passenger trains went about their business. With the southbound train safely at Kiama Station (and thus, out of the way), the line was clear and the scene set for the freighter to proceed. While three 81 Class locomotives is the norm for this train, in times of additional loading, often an X or 80 class will be added to assist with the load. As the train approached, a loud, steady “bark” could be heard, causing one of the waterlogged photographers to remark “there might be an X on the train”. As the locos got closer to our position, the bark degenerated into a loud grumble, prompting the comment “if there is, it’s not in a good way”. We were, of course hearing the distinctive chatter of the Commonwealth Engineering built 80 Class that was mixing it up with the three 81 class (the order was 8183, 8005, 8152 and 8159 for those playing at home).
After extracting the intrepid photographers from the mangroves, we were ready to continue on our merry way… until information was received via text message of the QRNational grain train departing Inner Harbour, bound for Goulburn to stable. We were once again torn… Should we head north to find the New South Wales Rail Transport Museum steam special that was headed for Sydney behind preserved steam locomotive 3526? Or should we instead ascend the mountain in search of some brilliantly coloured vintage NSW and Western Australian diesels. While it wasn’t exactly Sophie’s Choice, it did give a moment’s pause… before the diesels inevitably won out…
This was how we found ourselves climbing the very same mountain road we descended only a couple of hours beforehand. We arrived at Raneleigh House (Robertson) with plenty of time to wait before the deafening roar of WAGR L Class locomotives could be heard, eventually coming in to view as DC2206, LZ3103 and LQ3122. With time increasingly becoming an issue, we resolved to jump “down the road” to Werai for a final shot, before heading back to Sydney.
It was only when we arrived at Werai that we remembered the trackwork – sure enough, the first train to pass through the section after our arrival was another empty wheat train hauled by double 81 class locomotives, followed twenty minutes later by our QRNational wheatie. With memory cards fit to burst, it was time to turn around and head back for Sydney. While we had not notched up a lot of sightings, we felt we had captured some of the best that both the highlands and the coast had to offer, with the SETS tour an easy highlight, simply on location alone (and that’s before one considers that the “C” sets have not visited the Illawarra since initial testing, and will likely not visit it again before their eventual retirement).