If anyone had told me that laziness would be a catalyst for success, I wouldn’t have believed them. When I had made plans the day before to meet Fred in his home “town” of Woy Woy for lunch, I also planned to arrive early, to get a shot of the Centennial Coal/SSR “Unit 80” coal train. Due to a reduced stockpile at Newstan (where the train normally loads) the train was instead running between the NCIG (Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group) terminal on Kooragang Island and Centennial’s various western mining operations.
When I awoke the following morning, the thought of replacing a warm bed for a bitterly cold (and possibly wet) experience was not a welcome one – rationalising that LDP Class were not worth getting cold or wet (or both) for, I rolled over and went back to sleep. When I later arose, munching on peanut butter toast and idly flicking through received text messages on the phone, I stumbled upon one from Fred, suggesting we push our meeting time forward. A quick phone conversation revealed that his morning plans had fallen through, and he suggested going out for some photos of the SSR coal train climbing the Blue Mountains.
When I met Fred at Turramurra, the train was already ahead of us, but we had the advantage of not having to go south to Flemington before heading north-west towards Penrith. With spies reporting a crew change at Flemington Markets, we realised we had plenty of time up our sleeves, and headed for Wentworth Falls for lunch (within view of the railway line, to prevent any surprises). Wary of roadwork on the Great Western Highway between Hazelbrook and Wentworth Falls, we decided to find a shot on the Lithgow side of Wentworth Falls. We scouted a couple of potential shots at Leura, but abandoned them, reasoning that the shadows would pose a problem as the afternoon wore on. With Leura behind us, we crawled through Katoomba. A brief stop at Medlow Bath offered no view of the train with the sun on the correct side, free of shadows. Finally, a shot was settled on at Blackheath at around about 1400, and it was there we waited.
…and waited. A couple of passenger trains drifted past, and as the nearby signal went from red to yellow, we reasoned “surely, they’re following that train”. Finally, the whine of EMD’s could be heard approaching in the distance. Surely, this would be it! The sun was… behind the cloud. Nevertheless, a shot was a shot, and it was too late to change our minds now.
Imagine our surprise when, at 1506, 8214 led 8245, 8181 and 8236 around the bends with an empty coal train. While it was, indeed a rake of empty wagons bound for Clarence Colliery, it certainly was not the train we were expecting! As it turned out, the SSR train had stopped in the refuge at Katoomba to allow the PN train to enter the mine first. Undeterred, we resolved to continue to wait for the SSR train, which we reasoned could not be too far behind. That is, until the sun came back out to reveal a new shadow created by the now-lowered sun. Back on the road, then!
Wary that we were running out of photo spots between us and Newnes Junction, we pulled into Mt Victoria to see if a view from the bridge at the Sydney end of the station could still be used this late in the day. As it turned out, it could not, with shadows once again being a major problem. As we drove away from the bridge, a headlight winked into view in the distance – time was running out!
Fortunately, along the Darling Causeway, which is the road linking The Great Western Highway at Mt Victoria with Bells Line of Road, there are a number of locations where the road parallels the railway line, resulting in plenty of opportunities for photographs. No sooner were we out of the car when the distant whine turned into a roar. They were upon us! G513 was leading 48s33, 48s35, G511 and G514 (the two 48 Class were standing in for C503).
As we had about an hour of daylight left, we were faced with two options – head back towards Sydney to find the outbound Indian Pacific, or take our chances with trains passing through the Lithgow/Wallerawang area, and return to Sydney via Bells Line of Road. Given that most of the shots along the Great Western Highway would be shadowed out, and remembering the pain of the roadwork, it was an easy decision to point the car towards Lithgow.
Thankfully, luck was with us yet again – sitting in the yard all ready to go was three CEY Class locomotives on a rake of Centennial Coal hoppers. There are a couple of great late afternoon shots between Lithgow and Wallerawang, and so we resolved to investigate them. As it turned out, they were great late afternoon shots, until it became too late in the afternoon, at which point the shadows from the nearby hills covered the line…
After yet another delay (caused by a more roadwork, this time on the Castlereagh Highway), we found ourselves in Wallerawang. As we had no way of knowing if we were ahead of the train or not, we decided to check the signals – the road was set for something to come into Wallerawang from the west, off the mainline. Figuring that we must have missed the CEY’s, we decided that any train was better than no train, and we set up on the overpass at the junction (the idea that the road had been set in advance for the XPT… not due for a few hours yet did cross our minds, but we banished such thoughts very quickly).
In-between chuckles at the irony of the “Building Better Railways” sign on the derelict signal box, and discussion about what the mystery “bonus train” might be, we noticed a low growl carrying on the still dusk air. As it turned out, the three CEY’s had settled into a stop at Wallerawang Station, and were now departing. A quick look at the points indicated that they were now pointed onto the branch line, prompting a mad scramble to the other side of the bridge- (thankfully the unusually heavy traffic that had been passing since our arrival (seriously, this *is* a small town, right?) had eased up briefly. Mumblings of “I’ve got the wrong lens on” and “Who put those ugly power lines there” (mostly… okay, all mine) were drowned out as the three locos rolled underneath, powering up in true GE-style into the sunset at 1637.
With few precious moments of sunlight left, we watched the points like hawks – thankfully, within moments of the trains passing, the points whirred into life, once again pointed to the main line. Reasoning that we had plenty of time to get back to Sydney, we decided to wait to see what (if anything) would transpire. Fred suggested that it might be worth following the CEY’s for another shot in the inspirational dusk lighting, to which I replied – “let’s just wait and see what happ… here comes a train”. 8154, 8148 and AN5 (all wearing the PN livery) came racing around the corner and onto the junction with 8934N loaded ore from Blayney at 1644.
Back into the car, to see if we could squeeze one final shot out of the afternoon at Bowenfels – as it turned out, we could! With the sun now well and truly gone to bed for the day, it was time to pack the camera gear up and head for home.
Our successful afternoon was quickly deflated – quite literally! The right hand front tyre had picked up a nail along our travels (my comments of “hey, free nail” were not greeted with the enthusiasm I had expected, so I didn’t dare ask if I could keep it), and it was deflating almost before our eyes. We detoured into a service station outside Lithgow, and quickly set about changing the tyre over with the spare from the boot.
After jacking up the car and unscrewing all of the nuts holding the tyre in place, we assumed it would be a simple matter of removing the flat tyre and replacing it with the spare… That is, until the bugger wouldn’t budge. Thankfully our friends on Facebook were quick to offer helpful suggestions – the best being to dismantle the car around the stuck tyre, and then assemble it around the new tyre. As it turned out, the flat tyre simply needed offerings to appease it. Offerings including some WD40, a good belting from the tyre iron, and a single drop of human blood (which resulted in the purchase of band-aids, a torch and some chocolate bars from inside the servo shop). With the flat tyre now suitably appeased, it slid off the car easily and was quickly replaced with the spare.
Finally, it was time to bid Lithgow a fond farewell, and head for home. Until next time, of course.