Two Seasons In One (Diesel) Day

It seems one can never really predict the weather. More accurately, one can predict the weather, but that’s useless if one doesn’t check the prediction before leaving the house. Thanks to my apathetic attitude towards weather forecasts, I managed to both swelter and freeze almost to death, whilst also getting drenched in torrential rain, all within the space of a few hours. Wait on, back it up a bit, what happened…

A co-worker of mine suggested to me that Sunday would be a good day to visit Trainworks at Thirlmere, as the venerable 4001 would be leading the loop line trains between Thirlmere and Buxton, rather than the more commonplace 2705 (that’s right, we specifically chose a day to visit a train museum when there would be NO operational steam engines to be seen). This was the annual Diesel Day, a celebration of vintage diesel motive power, often underappreciated in the world of preservation, as even historic diesel engines lack the crowd drawing power of steam.

As well as 4001 on the loop line trains, CFCL Australia had agreed to supply two “modern diesel locomotives” to be shown to visitors to the museum. As it turned out, these would be two ex-Victorian Railways S Class locomotives of 1957 vintage. I’m sure there are those out there who have done the math, but that makes them older than many of the heritage diesel locomotives in the museum’s collection! Although this might seem silly to the casual observer, it was actually an excellent exhibit in itself, showing a unique side of modern day rail operations – those vintage diesels not yet retired to a museum or cut up for scrap metal are still out there, day after day, doing the job they were designed for. It was also (hopefully) a wakeup call for those enthusiasts who stand trackside and bemoan that the (comparatively) modern locomotives are leading trains, whilst the older diesels are tucked away ‘in the shafts’. I certainly had to duck my head when entering, exiting and moving around the cab of S300! CFCL Australia should be congratulated for their commitment, as they were the only operator to supply any contemporary motive power at all.

In the theme of “diesel day”, our party agreed early on that we should try to get a representation of mainline operations to compliment the events at Thirlmere. Meeting at Strathfield, sightings were already coming in from Goulburn and Moss Vale of the passage of 7MB4, Pacific National’s Melbourne to Brisbane superfreighter, hauled by NR84, NR103 and AN3. To those out there not conversant in “loco speak”, you might be forgiven for thinking that it is a fairly typical PN Intermodal combination (obviously the AN’s are no longer commonplace on intermodal traffic, but there are still a few in the pool at the time of writing). What was particularly interesting was the colour schemes on each of the three locomotives – not only were all three locomotive unique, they were very different, providing a pleasing mix of colours. NR84 is painted for Great Southern Rail’s Southern Spirit train whilst NR103 is painted in a one-off PN livery that would later be superseded by the current “stars” scheme. AN3 is the only member of the class to wear the colours for GSR’s The Ghan, which normally requires AN3 to be locked into operations between Adelaide and Darwin. We originally considered the Picton/Menangle area for a shot, but instead opted for a coffee and snack and shot the train passing Sefton on the freight line at 0935. Interestingly, the two NR’s were twisted at Chullora before the train continued north with NR103 leading.

As interesting as the Pacific National freighter was, with it out of the way it was time to hit the highway and head straight to Couridjah (the intermediate station between Thirlmere and Buxton) to get our first glimpse of 4001 returning to Thirlmere. Amusingly, loop line lighting always favours the 27 Class when it is running tender first (the 27 Class runs tender first from Buxton to Thirlmere). Naturally, we expected that 4001 would be long-end-leading for this leg of the trip, although we were pleasantly surprised to find it running short hood first! Far more photogenic, and when the train passed us at 1110, we managed to get a classic shot that we agreed would satisfy the days requirements.

With ‘the shot’ of 4001 taken for the day, we followed it back to the museum to watch the run around, before returning to Couridjah for the return trip to Buxton. Big mistake, given the perfect lighting for the first shot, it was inevitable that the second shot would be a complete bust! In hindsight, it would have been time better spent at the museum, looking at the various exhibits…

Back at the museum, plenty of people were taking advantage of the shade provided by The Great Train Hall to walk around and look at the exhibits on display, as well as to examine the curious blue, silver and yellow locomotives parked outside. S311 was on display in the Amphitheatre Road, surrounded by entertainment for the children, and a sausage sizzle lunch nearby. S300 meanwhile had been parked adjacent to the museum platform, and was open to people curious to see inside the cab of a working (commercial) diesel locomotive. A driver was also in the cab of the locomotive to show visitors around the workstation of the driver, and to explain the various functional features inside the cab. As well as the two S Class locomotives, there was plenty to see and do inside the museum itself, with the usual highlights of a visit to Thirlmere. D1 (a former AI&S locomotive) had taken centre stage at the roundhouse, with the steam locomotives safety tucked away inside. Recently returned from repairs was 4520, stabled at the rear of the museum (sadly, out of sight) along with 4916. Aside from D1 and 4001, the only really accessible locomotive from the diesel collection was 4803, stabled near S300. This would prove to be the only (minor) tarnish on an excellent visit to the museum, as it would have been good to see a few other diesel locomotives on display on the platform and/or amphitheatre roads.

We cut our museum visit slightly short, intending to make a quick trip back to the mainline to scoop Aurizon’s 3958N loaded Glencore Grain train running north to Sydney (before turning south once again to reach Port Kembla), before returning to finish our look around. As it was, we only spent a few minutes trackside near Bargo River before the brightly coloured combination of LZ3101, LZ3104 and LQ3122 roared through with a lengthy train. With information coming to light that Aurizon are having their wagons modified to permit the train to operate via Robertson, detours like this might soon be a distant memory.

Our trip back to the museum would take us via Buxton and Couridjah again to get a few (final) shots of 4001. Unlike the first few photos, which had been taken in blistering heat and brilliant sunshine, we were now confronted with an intense summer storm cell, bringing thunder and lighting, and a deluge of rain! Looking at the photos, it’s hard to believe they were taken on the same weekend, let alone the same day!

Back at the museum, we were surprised to find S311 and S300 had been fired up, preparing for departure over an hour earlier than originally timetabled! As we stood in the rain taking our final photos of the pair at the museum platform, 4001 made a final appearance as it shunted the loop line cars back into the museum precinct, briefly appearing alongside the two EMD’s as the sun made a concerted effort to punch through the tail of the storm and light the museum once more with brilliant light.

We followed the two S Class down to the station precinct and watched them cross the road past the manually operated gates. The chase to Picton was on, with the vibrant sunlight making the fading storm seem even more fierce in hindsight. Down at Picton itself, the two streamliners were shunted onto the mainline in short order, announcing their departure with a roar and plumes of blue/white smoke.

We made an effort to pursue the pair to Exeter for a final shot before turning back to Sydney, but we ran into a second storm cell at Berrima that severely degraded road conditions. A consolation prize was found in the form of 7BM7 when we shot it racing through the second storm at Mittagong shortly before six pm.

With full memory cards, we once more turned for home, satisfied that we had experienced Diesel Day in all the glory intended.

Photo Gallery – Trainworks Diesel Day, 10.02.2013

Trainworks Website

NSW Rail Transport Museum Website

Heritage Express Website

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