Western New South Wales is always an oddity (at least in terms of rail activity, I make no prejudice against those who call the area home) when compared to the other parts of the state. When compared to the oft-photographed lines of the Hunter Valley and Main South, Western NSW seems almost “Victorian” in terms of train frequency (in short, there are trains around, but they have no intention of showing up at the same place until at least six hours has passed since the last train). Certainly the scenery in parts of the Western Line (especially in the Lithgow to Blayney section) could rival that of the scenic North Coast Line, traffic is far less likely to show up during daylight, if at all! Thus, any trip to Western NSW will often involve covering a lot of ground in pursuit of the movements that are being made, especially as the motive power used will often differ from the other mainlines of the state.
As such, many visits to the region will often ensure a photographer will end up with a smaller set of images, however if all has gone to plan, each photo should almost stand alone as a unique shot, without having to rely on any other shots in the set. By comparison, photos from other regions will often feature the same train multiple times, or the same location for a number of different trains. Granted, it takes a degree of skill and patience to whittle down a set with very few sightings, as the temptation will be there to “make the most” of the trains one did see – instead, it is better to keep things concise, and keep the interest level high. This is all well and good in theory, and I’ll let my readers be the judge of how successful I was in this endeavour!
Day One – July 29th
As with the previous visit to the region, I would be joined by my regular travelling companion, Todd. He had driven up from his home in Canberra the day before to stay in Leura overnight, and it is there I met him on the morning of Tuesday, July 29th. We jumped straight onto the highway and headed for Bathurst, acting on a tip that B61 would be bringing an empty railset in to Bathurst from Parkes. We would not be disappointed, with the familiar “bulldog” nose rounding the curve into the yard shortly after our arrival. We watched the veteran nose her way into the siding, before moving down to the station to inspect steam locomotive 5112 (on static display outside the station building). As we admired the restoration effort that had gone into the display, we noticed a very young enthusiast and his father doing the very same thing while waiting for the Dubbo XPT service. We quickly pointed out that there was a “live” freight train shunting in the yard, and showed them to the platform. It truly is a rare moment in a rail enthusiasts life to be lost for words, but this is exactly how the little fella found himself standing on the platform with his father as B61 chugged past. We bid the father and son team farewell, and headed towards Blayney for a planned shot of the XPT (but not before getting lost, needlessly going through the centre of town – thanks once again to “legendary navigation skills” on the part of yours truly). Pausing to chat to the locomotive crew of B61 while they waited for their taxi, they mentioned that XPT had been and gone (possibly while we were lost), so the chase was on!
We did get ahead of the XPT at Blayney, however the planned shot at Millthorpe was missed by the narrowest of margins. Resigned to the fact that we were most certainly not going to catch it across the plains to Orange and beyond, we poked around the restored station building before continuing on to Manildra, where we would have far more luck!
Our arrival at Manildra could not have been better timed. Last time we passed through the town, we noted that an “observation platform” of sorts had been erected to allow visiting enthusiasts to watch the local shunt locomotives bustle about with the flour hoppers. When we last observed such activity, MM01 (previously 4907) was in action shunting the mill, with MM03 (a former BHP Newcastle GE L80T unit) sitting shutdown nearby. On this visit, we were delighted to find the opposite was true! MM03 was busy dragging loaded flour hoppers out of the mill, while MM01 enjoyed a snooze in the sun.
When we arrived at Parkes, we set about having lunch and securing a hotel room for the evening. With the pressing issues of “food and shelter” dealt with, we headed north to Goonumbla where we found RL309 and S311 loading an ARTC ballast train. As this put the locomotives onto the mainline when barely a third of their train had been loaded, we surmised that no more traffic would be forthcoming on this line for the next few hours. We grabbed some shots (especially of RL309, as this unit has been captive to ARTC ballast work since it was commissioned), and headed back to Parkes for a look around.
Parkes Yard contained an interesting variety of locomotives, however they were all busy doing nothing! We counted at least four 48 Class, X52, 4503 and even a C Class (C504), all shut down on the loco sidings. The yard itself was well populated with grain wagons, a good sign! Parkes Loco revealed a bit more variety, with three ex-Silverton 48 Class locomotives, J103, 442s1, RL301 and 602 (itself only recently overhauled and repainted into the “Greentrains” colour scheme) all in and around the roundhouse area. The nearby yard at Goobang Junction held NR105, as well as GL110 and 869 on the loaded ore train from Goonumbla waiting for their path south to Cootamundra West.
The local constabulary were clearly not used to railway enthusiasts, as a police car pulled over to enquire as to our actions. When they found out that we were visiting enthusiasts, they politely enquired “what, people do that? They actually take photos of trains?”. Convinced that our story was too unbelievable to be a ruse, they thanked us for our time, apologised for the interruption and moved on. It was certainly a refreshing change from typical encounters in Sydney, in which people (station staff, security guards, etc) are quick to assume that you’re up to no good before asking even a single question!
We journeyed out west to Nelungaloo silo for a shot of the up Silver City Xplorer (a weekly return service operated by CountryLink between Sydney and Broken Hill). As the lighting would be well and truly against us (the train was running a couple of hours late due to speed restrictions caused by poor track condition), we both opted for a more “artistic” shot using the (disconnected) silo as the inspiration for the shot. We both took a different approach, I used the silo to dominate the scene, with the Xplorer streaking into frame. Todd instead chose to frame the train with the unloading shed, and with a good exposure, managed to get quite a unique shot! While our approach was different, the goal was the same – demonstrate that this was indeed Western NSW. Thanks to the speed restrictions, we were easily able to outpace the Xplorer to Parkes Loco, where a second shot was obtained.
While we mulled around outside the loco depot, we also managed to snap SCT012 shunting from the workshop area to the fuel point. We (correctly) assumed that the locomotive was being prepared for an evening departure from the nearby SCT depot at Goobang Junction.
Acting on a tip that a loaded grain train was Parkes-bound from the Narromine area, we headed north to find it. We eventually found 48152, 48157 and L270 stopped at Peak Hill as the sun slowly slid behind the horizon. For almost an hour we observed this train standing on the mainline, snapping shot after shot with our tripods, experimenting with exposures and composition. Sadly, most of the shots didn’t come out as planned, but that’s what rail photography is, especially at night – trial and error, and hope that you learned something from the last experience!
With thanks to Jamie Fisher, Glenn Farrell, Tim Grey, Todd Milton and Davo “The Colonel” Phillips for their assistance in compiling this article.
Look out for “Part Two”!