It is always a rare occasion when I can catch up with my friend Stephen – he’s a uni student, as well as being an active volunteer in many aspects of his local community (and one not-so-local community, that being the New South Wales Rail Transport Museum at Thirlmere). We typically meet up and spend a day on the Northern Line between Hornsby and Strathfield, looking at the variety of freight trains that typically ply this train on any given day. If you’re looking for a cross section of operators or traffic while in Sydney, the Northern Line offers a little bit of everything, from the interstate freight to domestic wheat and export coal.
We managed to tee up and time and a place to meet on Saturday the 14th of April. Given that Saturday and Sunday can be rather lean days for the short north, we decided to be choosy with what we photographed. The first goal would be to bag a shot of the Centennial Coal owned CEY Class locomotives (which frequently cycle between the coalfields in the west and the coal unloaders at Newcastle), while the second would be to photograph Qube/South Spur Rail Services 1443 freight (Port Botany or Cooks River to Mountain Industries, Kooragang Island). Two trains isn’t asking much… is it?
We would be joined by Fred, a frequent partner in crime who, on this day, found himself in old Sydney town with nothing to do. The three of us met up at Banksia Station (located on the Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra Line for those playing from home), as both SSR coal trains operating to the western coal fields were expected northbound from Port Kembla in quick succession. Banksia Station typically offers a good shot for northbound trains in the early to mid morning, although the sun does come around too far to the north and west by lunchtime to be of much use. The plan would be to grab our shot of the CEY’s there, before relocating to Mascot to photograph the departure of 1443, following it to Cheltenham where we would get a second shot and part company.
I would be shooting with my partner Canon 5D MkII, while Stephen was using his trusty Canon 450D. Fred however, not expecting railway photography to be on the agenda when he left home, came bearing an Apple iPhone (and a coffee, but he didn’t have enough to share, so we left it at that).
As only the most interesting and photogenic trains can get away with doing, the CEY’s kept us waiting at Banksia. This was not a problem, as we found ourselves expecting the southbound Manildra Group flour train to Bomaderry, as well as the potential for a handful of loaded Pacific National coal trains from the western coal fields heading to port to unload. With the station information displays to assist us (they typically display “Special” when a freight train is approaching), we found ourselves enjoying a fine autumn day in good company.
Finally, the late running Manildra flour train blasted through the platform at 1126 behind locomotives 8119, 8173, 8172 and 8005. This was always going to be a tricky shot, as we were shooting straight into the sun, with the train on the same platform we were! I opted for a telephoto shot to try and compress the locos and the station building into a tight frame, while Stephen opted for a more wide-angle shot to better show off the motive power. Fred instead preferred to stand and watch our antics, as he still had his hands occupied with his coffee.
With the whine of EMD’s and the splutter of the ALCo fading into the distance through Rockdale, we settled back down onto a station bench and once again turned our attentions southwards, for the expected CEY Class. Again, the board above our heads switched to “Special”, and we pondered the implications of this. Figuring on a PN coal train, and with less than ideal lighting conditions, we opted to remain in our shady perch and just let this one go through to the keeper.
Imagine our surprise when, instead of the shriek of 82 Class, we instead heard the dull growl of modern General Electric motive power in the form of a late running LS02 export coal train, behind CEY triple (005, 006 and 007 to be precise) from Lidsdale to Port Kembla Inner Harbour. I hurriedly framed a shot using the telephoto lens used from the previous shot, while Stephen instead opted for a portrait style shot instead.
It is at this point that readers are forgiven for taking a quick flick back to this article to see that, on that occasion, the CEY’s managed to show up in the opposite direction that we’d planned for. Trying to get freight trains running in the correct direction to play ball with things like “sunlight” and “planned composition” is apparently like trying herd kittens.
With the window for photos of northbound trains now closed, and with the CEY’s not expected to return northbound for some time, we decided to cut our losses and move on to the other train of the day – 1443. The train typically departs Port Botany after midday (except when loading out of Cooks River, which it was not on this day), so we relocated to the General Holmes Drive level crossing at Mascot for a shot of this train.
Like anything worth photographing, 1443 kept us waiting until nearly 1300 before finally showing up behind RL310 and RL304 (with 869 and 872 dead attached as part of the load). Despite the lack of 44202, RL310 was a fair compromise, being painted in the same eye-catching corporate scheme of yellow and silver. While Stephen and I were content to photograph the “traditional” angle using our telephoto lenses, Fred crossed the line before the crossing went off to use the iPhones small lens to capture a rather unique image not possible with a larger camera – shooting through the chain link fence for a completely different angle!
As per the plan, we relocated to Cheltenham, just missing out on a shot of 6MB4 in the process, although we did manage to see 6BA6 as a consolation prize. Content to practise angles and test the lighting with suburban trains, we waited it out for 1443. As luck would have it, by the time RL310 roared around the bend, the clouds had come across the sun, making a correct exposure just that little more tricky!
While the shot of RL310 was what we came for, another difference in our shots was made clear while photographing suburban trains. For one shot in particular, I opted for quite a wide angle to get some nice purple flowers into the shot (see above), while Fred went for a more straight-forward angle, although with the benefit of the iPhone post-processing trickery. Stephen went for a classic shot at a slightly lower angle (if I recall correctly at the time, it was not born from a dream of a low-angle shot… more of a lack of motivation to stand up when the train arrived).
Despite the complete and utter lack of trains recorded, it did prove an interesting exercise of how three different people, all using different equipment composed and executed our shots. Food for thought perhaps, is that we are always learning from each other – perhaps one of the strongest reasons to engage in this hobby at a social level. You’ll never be bored, at the very least!