Thanks to a friendly SSR driver, we had learned that B61 would be departing Parkes Yard pre-dawn with a southbound loaded railset (loaded at Bathurst the day prior). Sure enough, when we arrived on a very cold Parkes Station a little after 0500, we found B61 idling away at the head of its train. Their departure would be delayed by L270, 48157 and 48152 (those locomotives sound familiar?) shunting grain wagons within Parkes Yard.
We were more than happy to snap plenty of photos of both L270 and B61. As L270 was shunting, it was almost impossible to get a “normal” shot of the locomotive in the rather pleasing station and yard lighting. In fact, it was only as we were getting in the car to go for a coffee that Todd remarked “oh look, it’s parked next to B61”. I grunted something in reply, conveying the message that the “stupid thing” would likely end up moving as soon as I set up the tripod again. When he went on to mention that the crew had climbed out and walked off, he finished the statement to a dust-cloud outline, as I was already back on the platform setting up. Shot taken, I returned to the car with a rather bemused expression on my face. The first success of the day and the sun wasn’t even up yet! All of the “real” photographers would likely still be in the warmth of their beds – everyone knows that if you can’t get a 3/4 sunny shot, it’s not worth leaving the house for!
Perhaps this success made us over confident. While ordering our coffees, we heard the distinctive sound of a veteran EMD loading up as B61 blasted her way out of town. Convinced that we would easily catch up to the train on the Newell Highway, we collected our drinks and headed south to Daroobalgie (just outside of Forbes). It was there that we set up camp, planning to follow the railset south until it either stopped to cross a northbound train, or started to dump rails. As the sun rose, the shot just got better and better…
…until a northbound PN grain train destroyed any illusion that we were ahead of B61! Last time we tried this chase, we watched a pair of 48’s and an X pick up their grain train and move to the junction. We then waited, and waited… and waited before they finally got their train order and moved off along the mainline. It seems that this time, B61 was just too quick for us! Being realistic, we then followed the grain train north into Parkes (not a total bust, both the 81 Class hauling the train were painted in the attractive PN blue and yellow colours).
After pausing in Parkes to suss out the arrivals from the night before (G537 and C507 on another empty export rake), we moved back to Goonumbla to see if the ballast train was ready to depart. RL307 and S311 were indeed fired up, and the crew were conducting their train inspection and brake tests. Satisfied that this train would be on the cards for later (but having no idea where they were going beyond Goobang Junction), we instead headed westwards to Bogan Gate to see the (intact) station building there.
While at Bogan Gate, we recorded the passage of 3YN2 loaded SteelLink service from Whyalla to Newcastle. Due to the weight of this train, it previously operated via Cootamundra West, shunting at Goobang Junction and Chullora en route to Newcastle. A recent timetable change has seen this service go via the more direct route, through Lithgow and over the Blue Mountains. Motive power at Bogan Gate was a pair of National Rail liveried units, NR’s 104 and 7. This in itself is becoming a less common sight, an all National Rail liveried consist (something that cannot come to an end fast enough, the PN liveried units carry so much more weight in photographs). As well as the usual steel billets and I-beams, a number of empty ROQF and ROHF ore wagons were on the rear of the consist.
We followed the steel train to Goobang Junction and watched it go into the yard. Once the final wagon had entered the yard, we were able to see a familiar sight – S311 and RL309 were now pointed west with their train, departing shortly after 3YN2’s arrival. We were later told that the train was headed for Condobolin to drop ballast, before returning to Broken Hill. As we left our position at the “country end” of the yard, we noticed 48157 and 48152 (them again!) had attached to the rear of YN2 and were dragging the ore wagons off the train and shunting them into an adjacent road.
At the “Sydney end” of the yard, there was also shunting occurring. The two NR’s had detached from their train and moved up the yard to collect AN9 (which itself had been detached from 4SP7 when it passed through to shunt the FCL siding). Clearly, a bit of extra grunt would be required to get this train over the Blue Mountains!
Mindful of the time, we knew we had to leave town “an hour ago” to ensure a shot of the PN ore train leaving Blayney later that afternoon. Still, a quick stop was made at Parkes Station to catch G537 shunting grain hoppers in the yard to form a train for the sub-terminal. Given that PN’s latest “pet project” is the repainting of G Class into the PN colour scheme for use on Victorian grain traffic, we figured that the opportunity to photograph a G Class in Freight Australia colours (and logos too, no less) is better taken than ignored.
As we passed through Manildra on our return leg, I got an e-mail from a bloke in Bathurst advising us that 9837N Manildra empties had passed through and were on their way. Mindful that we were already behind time, we did the sensible thing and just kept driving…
…well, not really. Instead, we diverted to Molong for a shot of 8154, X46 and 8159 rolling in to town.
Heading back through Orange, we decided to try for Blayney anyway, on the off chance that the ore train might have left late. The line is quite steeply graded leaving Blayney, and we figured that if we were behind, we could catch up. As it turned out, we couldn’t, and we ended up arriving into Bathurst empty handed. However, we were overjoyed to see that SSR’s T363, T381 and GM10 were partnered with LVR’s 4204 in the rail loading siding with no less than three full railsets. A couple of e-mails revealed that they would be following the Dubbo XPT to Lithgow to stable.
With no trains due through town for an hour, we contented ourselves with a coffee and a quick look around the collection of stored Victorian and NSW wagons at the country end of the yard, before relocating to Perthville for a shot of the Dubbo Xplorer…?*
We returned to Bathurst Station for a planned dusk shot of the railset, although we were surprised to find out that 3YN2 had caught up to us, stopping alongside the platform for a crew change. With the formalities completed, the two NR’s and the AN roared to life, lifting their heavy consist out of the station to charge at Raglan Bank. Shortly after their departure, the railset pushed back onto the mainline and departed, although any attempts at a shot were thwarted by a green signal, the train powering through for their own assault on the impressive grade to Raglan.
On our return to Sydney (via Lithgow for dinner), we made one final stop at Tarana, to shoot the cross between 4SA8 Indian Pacific and 3YN2. With the final two shots in the bag, we headed for home.
* CountryLink have taken advantage of major ARTC trackwork on the Liverpool Ranges to replace some Dubbo XPT services with Xplorer sets, to allow for maintenance, and some rare downtime for the well used XPT fleet.
With thanks to Jamie Fisher, Glenn Farrell, Tim Grey, Todd Milton and Davo “The Colonel” Phillips for their assistance in compiling this article.