2012 Top Ten

Last year, when I complied and submitted my top ten photos for the year, they all felt somehow right, like each one had earned its place in the list. Everything felt natural, as if “yes, these are the top ten photographs for 2011”. This year couldn’t have been harder. I’m not going to get ahead of myself and say that I had “too many” good photos to choose between them. I’m not conceited. That being said, I’m not going to play the “I can’t find one good photo, let alone ten” card either, because I know I got plenty of good shots this year.

The problem is the curse of knowing too much. That XPT shot at Donnybrook, look at the colours there! That’s a shoe in. A closer look reveals that it’s crooked. The headlight shot from the final ZZR train of the year? Looks like I’ve cut the top of the signal box off slightly. Too much blur here, not enough there. I managed to find something wrong with almost every shot that I suggested – that’s not to say that they are necessarily “bad” shots. Just that I know how they could be better, because I pressed the shutter.

I could go on and on about shots that could be better, but that’s not the point of the exercise. The point is to highlight my favourite ten photos from the year, and provide a bit of back-story to each shot. The year in review will be summed up in a separate blog post.GM


Shot #1 – “Iconic Nose” 05.02

I must admit, I’ve always been a fan of the Australian National green and gold livery. Perhaps it was because, growing up, I would occasionally see photos of their trains. Perhaps it was the simple effectiveness of their colour scheme. Perhaps it was that it sat well on almost any locomotive shape they applied it to. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of wanting what I cannot have – because I got into the hobby in 2007, most “pristine” examples of the Australian National scheme have long fallen by the wayside.  Repainting by National Rail, G&WA and Pacific National (among others) has seen the majority of the former AN fleet repainted into modern schemes, whilst the surviving examples often look so tatty and weathered that they are but a shadow of their former selves.

This brings us to GM19. Owned by RailPower (a small locomotive hire company – they also own S312), GM19 is under restoration in the roundhouse at Goulburn. Whilst visiting the roundhouse museum, I spent more than a small amount of time photographing GM19, which is (aside from a handful of surface rust) more or less completely in Australian National livery. The confined space made it hard to get a proper “roster” shot, although there was no denying the power of the iconic “bulldog” nose, with or without the rest of the loco body.

A design long since fallen by the wayside, as functionality replaces aesthetics, complete with the logo and colour scheme of a fallen flag operator. History which will never be repeated.


Shot #2 – “Forlorn” 09.04

The first two photographs in this series are of seemingly worn out locomotives, resigned to spending their final days in unenviable circumstances – cast aside to silently rust. Of course, there is more to this story that meets the eye (perhaps a picture needs to tell more than a thousand words?). Obviously GM19 in the photo above has a future. The same cannot be said for the subject of this next shot, 8006.

8006, alongside four classmates, sit outside the main locomotive depot at Werris Creek. Days have turned into weeks into months into years, exposed to all kinds of weather extremes (as well as the occasional vandal or sticky fingered enthusiast). The five are owned by Greentrains (although Greentrains is not their first owner outside of Government service, and likely will not be their last), and were purchased with an eye to being returned to service. As with a lot of such projects, money talks, and it is often more viable to simply buy new locomotives rather than squeeze what little life remains from these tired old derelicts.

During 2012, I made multiple trips to Werris Creek to photograph the rail activity of the North West. One constant during each visit was that the five stored 80 Class locomotives had not so much moved an inch. This may change in the future though, with Greentrains putting a number of locomotives up for sale to scrap dealers. It is understood that various heritage groups have been inspecting the locomotives on offer with an eye to preservation of at least one member of the class.


Shot #3 – “8154 Passing Bowenfels” 30.05

I’ve always made a habit of getting my favourite shots long after the planned shots have come and gone. Of the day in question, we had planned to shoot G513 leading two 48’s and two more G Class west to Clarence with an empty SSR/Centennial Coal train. We succeeded in this, and stuck around in the Lithgow area to photograph three CEY Class locomotives taking a similar train to Charbon. Although we missed their initial departure from Lithgow, we chased the CEY Class to Wallerawang, finding them stopped at the down home signal at the end of the double-track mainline. Moving to the bridge near the junction with the Mudgee Line, we noticed the road set for an up train – given the time of day, this could only be 8934N loaded ore train from Blayney.

Imagine our surprise when we heard the distinctive GE whistle of a C44aci departing Wallerawang – as it so happened, train control changed their minds and allowed the departure of CB05 instead. Given the pleasing lighting, we were content to photograph the three CEY’s passing our location. We reasoned that if the road was not reset for the up after the passing of the empty coal train, we would pull up stumps and head back to Sydney.

Mere minutes after the clearance of the signal for the up direction, 8154 howled around the curve into the yard with 8148 and AN5 towing a lengthy train. A brake application was made for a temporary speed restriction on the points near the station, and that was all the motivation we needed to try for a second shot.

As we pulled into the car park at the former Bowenfels Station, the lights and bells at the nearby level crossing were already exclaiming the approaching rail traffic. With precious little time to check settings, it was a case of “point and click” as the three locos thundered through, aiming to get as much momentum as possible to assault the grades of The Ten Tunnels.


Shot #4 – “3642 at Redfern” 11.06

The June long weekend is always a good weekend for enthusiasts in the Sydney area, as it is known as “The Great Train Weekend”, with Heritage Express providing short return services behind steam for young and old alike. There is also typically another steam locomotive at Sydney Terminal in light steam, to allow people to get up close to a real, working locomotive. As well as this static display, a number of heritage carriages are on display for interested parties to walk through (at no cost), including Southern Aurora dining, sleeping and lounge cars. At the country (far) end of this consist is typically one or two heritage diesel locomotives – often forgotten by visitors in favour of the hissing machine at the other end of the platform, although their contribution of the railways of NSW no less significant.

“The Great Train Weekend” of 2012 would feature The Powerhouse Museums own 3265 on display, as well as The NSW Rail Transport Museums 4490 and 4001. 3642 and 3526 would provide a push-pull shuttle between Central and Clyde for passengers, at a small fee. Having worked on the Saturday, and riding on the train on the Sunday, Monday the 11th of June was set aside as a day to get out trackside to see the steam shuttles passing by.

After the first shot, I was more than happy to call it a day. Right on time, 3642 thundered under the concourse at Redfern Station during light rain that attempted to put a damper on  the weekend. As I was (originally) planning a more wide-angle shot, the zoomed in shot above was taken as the point that I began tracking the train through the viewfinder. I don’t know what happened to the “planned” shot afterward, as I was done and dusted with the first frame shot that day!


Shot #5 – “Tangara at Redfern” 11.06

Having shot 3642 only a few moments before, I moved to the concourse at Redfern to await my days companion. Given the frequency to his home station, Matt had instead opted for a slightly later start for the day, foregoing one shot of the steam train for a few precious moments of sleep. As I was walking across from platform one, I noticed a Tangara pulling in to platform three.

I must confess at this point, that I had seen photos taken through “rain soaked glass” from various friends and fellow photographers, and I thought “what a good effect!”. To protect my camera from the rain, I had tucked it back into my bag, although it was a simple matter to remove the iPhone from my pocket and take the photo using the Hipstamatic app (“John S” and “BlackKeys SuperGrain” filters, for those playing at home). Two trains into the day, I was cleaning up!

Authors Note: For a while during the culling process, the “Top Ten of 2012” was nearly “The Top Six of June 11th, with a couple of others thrown in for good measure”. It was a very productive day, one that renews the faith in this hobby after a series of unlucky days in a row.


Shot #6 – “C503 at Lidsdale” 16.06

Saturday, June 16th was to be the second last day of operations at the Lithgow Zig Zag Railway. Undeterred by the freezing, gloomy and wet weather that the Sydney basin had been experiencing for the past week (see above…), a visit to the Blue Mountains was planned to get a few final shots. Of course, it didn’t help that there would be plenty of mainline activity to allure and tease the visiting railfans…

Of particular interest was LS07 SSR/Centennial Coal train, which was timetabled to arrive into Lithgow shortly after lunch behind C503, G513, G511 and G514 (which is “the norm” for this rake). As G513 was due to minor work to be done at Lithgow, it was to be replaced by 4910 and 4917 at Lithgow, for the run to the mine (and back to Newcastle).

It would be right on sunset when we met C503 and train at Lidsdale. With the already marginal light fading, and the rain showing no sign of easing, the only thing that kept us rooted to the ground next to that railway line was pure bloody-mindedness. It was that same bloody-mindedness that saw us stand around in the rain to watch the train shunt into the loading area (Lidsdale doesn’t have a balloon loop, instead there is a triangle to turn the entire train).

Considering that the 49’s did not complete their planned cycle on the coal train, instead being removed at Lithgow on the loaded journey, you tell me… Was it worth it? I’m inclined to think…



Shot #7 – “On the Joyville Express” 28.06

On June 28th, heritage steam locomotive 2705 operated three shuttles between Sydney Central and Sydenham Station. Whilst it was unusual for 2705 to be seen on the mainline (this locomotive is typically used at Thirlmere for loop line services to Buxton), what was more unusual was that the locomotive and cars were coloured a vibrant purple colour – The Joyville Express had arrived!

The Joyville Express was an extra-ordinary promotion conducted by Cadbury to film a TV advertisement – the premise being that a magical steam train would sweep into a station (Central, Redfern and Sydenham) and an army of Joyville workers would spill forth, distributing bars and bars of Cadbury Dairy Milk to unsuspecting commuters. As soon as it had appeared, the steam train would whistle, and vanish off into the distance to leave people wondering – what had happened?!?

I was one of the lucky few to receive a “chocolate ticket” in the mail (thankfully it also came with a paper ticket to prevent accidental consumption) to ride on the train, on the condition that I be prepared to carry as much chocolate as my arms could hold! I dutifully accepted, and was lucky enough to ride on this magical train from Central to Sydenham and back.

The photo seen above was shot after the locomotive had run around at Meeks Rd triangle (located between the XPT Depot and the Bankstown Line), prior to departing for Central. Whilst there were countless enthusiasts out and about on the day to record this unique event, there were only a few actually on board, and this shot will always remain as a memory of that day, and the fun that was had.


Shot #8 – “NR104 Approaching Bathurst” 25.07

As with the above comments about the planned shot falling by the wayside in deference to an unplanned shot, the same often holds true when different trains show up, often at the most inopportune times!

The middle of winter in Bathurst is not the warmest of places to be, especially not after the sun has gone to bed. It would take something special to keep people trackside (and not inside a pub next to a roaring fireplace) in such conditions. Thankfully for us, something special was lurking in Bathurst Yard on this occasion, a railset from Bathurst to Lithgow behind two T Class and a pair of GM Class.

Given that Todd and I had started this trip by photographing B61 arriving into Bathurst with an empty railset from Parkes, it seemed only fitting that we end it on such a note. Of course, the universe had other ideas!

Todd and I first shot 3YN2 at Bogan Gate at 1115 that morning. We had been staying in Parkes overnight, and were both interested to visit this former station (although the platform and buildings remain, it is no longer used to serve passenger trains). After shooting NR104 and NR7, we followed the train back to Goobang Junction, where they would shunt, add AN9 (detached from SP7 that morning) before departing for Sydney. We didn’t stick around in Parkes for their departure, instead moving ahead to Molong to shoot an empty Manildra Group flour train, and then on to Bathurst for the railset.

We had been more or less aware that 3YN2 had been following our progress east, given that they were tabled to follow the up Dubbo XPT service (on this day provided by an Xplorer set). After arriving into Bathurst, we noted that both departure signals at the eastern end of the station were at stop, figuring this to be a good sign, leaving plenty of time for a coffee and light snack.

Waiting on the station with a steadily decreasing light (and temperature) level, our hearts were somewhat warmed by the sound of nearby shunting EMD’s. After a short while, a nondescript car pulled up alongside the platform, and two crew members moved to the platform. With the signal at the Sydney end of platform one now showing green, we figured that this new crew would be taking over from the “shunt crew” on the railset for the run to Lithgow.

We forgot about 3YN2.

Sure enough, in the dying light of the day, NR104, NR7 and AN9 dutifully rolled to a stop alongside the platform. Photos were taken, crewmembers exchanged, and the heavy steel train was off again, quickly building up speed to tackle Raglan bank. By the time the railset had pushed back onto the mainline, the road had once again cleared, and the shot was well and truly lost in darkness.

To be fair, we did get a shot of the railset. It’s WAAAY over there in the background, see? No, I didn’t think so.

We ended up chasing 3YN2 to Lithgow instead. Mad? I like to think we’re “dedicated”.


Shot #9 – “S303 Races Towards Camperdown” 09.10

During October, the end of my annual leave, I was lucky enough to visit some Victorian friends who I don’t see nearly as much as I would like to. As part of the visit, we spent a night near Warrnambool, chasing the Warrnambool Freight. During October, El Zorro (the operator of the service) were using a pair of hired VR Blue & Gold heritage locomotives, in the form of S303 and T357.

This shot was taken from atop a large pile of ballast outside Camperdown. At Camperdown, the freight train will be put into the loop to wait for a V/Line passenger train from Melbourne.

A few days after this shot was taken, B76 (hired from Metro Trains Melbourne, who are leasing the locomotive from CFCL Australia) replaced S303. As B76 wears a (somewhat uninspiring) hybrid Metro/CFCL Australia colour scheme, it was somewhat less interesting than the blue and gold glory of S303.


Shot #10 – “Old Rivals With New Toys” 02.12

Whilst initially, The NSW State Rail Authority (FreightRail, later FreightCorp) had the Hunter Valley coal market cornered, this would all change when FreightCorp was sold to Toll and Patrick to form Pacific National. Soon, Queensland Rail (operating as “Interail” and later as “QRNational”) were keen to get their piece of the action, followed more recently by Freightliner, Qube and SSR.

In the race to get contracts, both QRNational (now “Aurizon”) and Pacific National are involved in a seemingly never ending race to purchase or lease new locomotives and rolling stock for coal operations. During 2012, Pacific National continued to receive new hoppers from China, as well as accept more newly built “TT Class” locomotives from Downer Rail. Pacific National also leased six brand new “CF Class” locomotives from CFCL Australia. Likewise, QRNational/Aurizon accepted delivery of their new “5020 Class” to compliment their existing 5000 Class locomotives. QRNational/Aurizon also continue to take delivery of new wagons from UGL Limited.

The above shot, taken on a morning spent trackside at Tarro, shows the two great rivals passing one another. The Pacific National coal train fading away into the distance is hauled by leased “CF Class”, while the train approaching is an Aurizon train hauled by a 5020 Class and a 5000 Class. With Freightliner, Qube and SSR now involved in coal haulage, perhaps 2012 will be the last year in which one could readily identify “two major players” in Hunter Valley Coal.


3 thoughts on “2012 Top Ten

  1. Thank you for sharing your 10 best shots and the background stories for them. My personal favourite is the shot #3, simply for the reason being a motion shot.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this and looking at what you deemed you best work of 2012. I personally like shot #6, because the headlight reveals the rain which adds another element to the shot.

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