Staff and Semaphore

Early in the morning of Wednesday, June 18, the Miniature Electric Staff (MES) system of safeworking in operation between Kiama and Bomaderry was suspended and replaced with Pilot Staff Working (PSW) to permit the miniature electric staff instruments to be removed, with the system of safeworking to be replaced with Rail Vehicle Detection (RVD). This would be the final step in replacing all MES sections on the Sydney Trains (formerly RailCorp) suburban and intercity network. Continue reading “Staff and Semaphore”


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. Continue reading “2012 Top Ten”

Quality Over Quantity – Part Two

Day Two – July 30th

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… Continue reading “Quality Over Quantity – Part Two”

All Rail Lines Lead to Parkes – Part 2

In what was completely a team decision, and not the forgetting of an alarm set the previous day, we rose and… erm… shone the following morning at 0600. A quick breakfast of cereal purchased at Coles the previous day (don’t assume we’re on some health kick, the only cereals available were Cocoa Pops and Nutri-Grain…) and we were heading down to the sub-terminal to see what interesting things would be happening before we headed back towards Sydney.

Arrival at the grain terminal at approx 0645 yielded very little in the way of interest. Aside from a new rake of grain wagons that had arrived from Enfield the previous night (the second Westons Milling rake), there was not a loco to be seen! It was worth noting the endless procession of loaded grain trucks streaming in and out of the sub-terminal (most of whom managed to neglect to stop at the level crossing at the entrance to the yard) – there’s plenty of grain to be moved at plenty of silos across NSW after a massive year for our farmers.

The first hint of action was at 0700, when a loud whistle blast at another crossing heralded the arrival of 8831N empty Manildra feeder service from Manildra to Parkes behind 48160, X36 and 48108. Interestingly, despite a large number of X Class being based in NSW, X36 is only the only “first series” member of the class to have made it to the state. As the train order for this train obviously only extended to the Yard Limit board at Parkes, we made our way up the line for another shot, before following the train into town.

Shortly after arriving at the Eastern end of Parkes Yard, to see where 8831N was headed for, we noticed a couple of export rakes had arrived from Cootamundra over the course of the morning. One was headed up by two 81 class, while the other, departing for the sub-terminal at 0729 was headed up by G540, 48165, 8169 and 8176. G540 and 48165 had arrived in town the previous evening with the empty Westons rake, and were stabled in Parkes Yard after dropping their wagons off. Given the nature of Train Order safeworking, it must have been easier to attach the two locomotives to the front of the empty export rake and drop them off at the sub-terminal (where the export train was due to load anyway).

Acting on a tip from our mate Tim, we headed south of town on the Newell Highway – the empty Manildra feeder service was headed to Temora to load today! While waiting for 48160 and train, we also recorded the northbound passage of 8144 and 8109 on 9827N empty wheat from Cootamundra, passing our vantage point at 0835. With a 9829N also having departed Cootamundra that morning, that makes four empty rakes to be loaded in Western NSW! The season is indeed booming!

With a new Train Order to Forbes, 48160, X36 and 48108 were seen crossing the Newell Highway as train 8331N at 0920. We followed them as far as Forbes, before reluctantly deciding to head east, and homeward bound. A short diversion to Manildra, to hopefully capture MM01 (which was hiding when we passed through the previous day) coincided with the arrival of 9837N empty flour train from Bomaderry behind 8136, 8106 and 8125. No sooner had the train stopped, then the points were thrown over and the rear wagons were reversed into the flour loading shed. The train was quickly divided, and MM01 swooped in to begin loading the wagons – perfect timing on our part!

With MM01 safe on the memory card, we continued east, with a planned shot at Orange of the Dubbo XPT service adjusted to Sprinhill due to late running (most likely due to the trackwork in Western Sydney). Aside from the XPT, the only freight running on the west was a late running 1865N from Cooks River. Our poor run of luck with this train continued, missing the shot by mere seconds at Raglan. We consoled ourselves in that the same grubby GL Class were leading the train (we didn’t catch the numbers), and that we had not missed the more exotic (and, arguably more interesting) 14 Class locomotives.

Finally, a stop was made at Lithgow to grab a quick shot of the rear of 4204 (stabled in the yard), as well as a quick peek at the “new” carriages that had recently arrived from various sites around the state. From the glances we had, there were a couple of Southern Aurora/Brisbane Limited type cars, what appeared to be an Indian Pacific dining car, as well as a pair of OAH and OAS cars, with the latter two cars in the tuscan and russet livery. One would assume that these cars have been sourced and purchased with the intention of becoming part of the operating fleet of the new tourist train “The Blue Zephyr”, with more air conditioned cars having been repainted into an eye-catching deep blue scheme. With rumours circling that the two ex Patrick PortLink 49 Class (4903 and 4906) are to be painted in a matching scheme, only time will tell what the future holds for this fascinating collection of rolling stock. I have no doubt that a lot of enthusiasts will disagree, but there is a place for air conditioned rolling stock tours, as it discourages people sitting in corridors hanging out windows, video camera in hand and tongue outstretched, and encourages like-minded people sitting in a compartment discussing topics of interest.

For the complete selection of photos taken while out west, you can find them on my Flickr. Further photos taken by Todd Milton can also be viewed on his Flickr.

All Rail Lines Lead to Parkes – Part 1

Regular travelling companion Todd Milton and I decided to pay our first visit to the Parkes area in November, with the hope of seeing something a little different from our usual haunt, the Main South. A regular diet of NR and 81 Class will do that! The checklist of “things to see” included the two shunting units at Manildra, the various Manildra feeder grain services (typically the domain of 48 and X Class locomotives), as well as any branchline grain trains we could lay out hands on. Finally, a shot of The Parkes – Perth SCT service was a must-have.

According to plan, AR02 loaded coal from Airly was the first train to pass our vantage point at 0618 behind G513, C508 and C503. Next to arrive was 1865N freight, bound for Kelso (Bathurst) behind GL107 and GL101. We then hopped onto the highway to move to Sodwalls, for a spectacular dawn lit shot as the train passed around the well-known horseshoe. That is, we would have, if we’d not made the mistake of continuing on to Brewongle, with word that 1865N was stopped at Wallerawang. We assumed we could get a shot of the up Indian Pacific at Brewongle, before moving to Raglan to get the GL’s climbing the steep grade into the station. Imagine our surprise when GL107 snuck up on us (prior to this, I didn’t realise a GL could sneak up on anyone), crossing the up Indian Pacific at the former station site. Still, a fine shot of NR27 was gained on the s-curve at Brewongle, before we moved to Kelso to see the freight shunt into the siding.

With no other trains in the area until the afternoon, we decided to head west to Manildra. We’d been told that an 81/X combo was to depart Parkes Sub-Terminal at lunchtime, bound for Enfield, and we figured upon getting there early to find a decent spot for a shot! Passing through the township of Manildra, we reflected on the fact that the mill is not so much a feature of the town, it appears that the town is a feature of the mill! The huge silos and milling buildings dwarf the surrounding town, and entirely encircle the former station site, which is no longer served by passenger trains. MM01 (formerly 4907, see Part 2) was also seen to be shunting the mill, while MM03 (former BHP Newcastle No. 51) was shutdown on an adjacent siding.

We paused outside of town to record the passing of 8134N Westons Milling wheat service bound for Enfield behind the uninspiring looking 8130 in FreightCorp colours, and a gleaming X48 in pristine Pacific National paint, before continuing on to Parkes to first locate, and check into our motel. We soon found that Parkes is a very confusing town when you first drive in, with highways being renamed in town to street names, and plenty of “no right turn” signs, as well as plenty of occasions where the road we wanted to get to was on the other side of a footpath. Eventually we navigated the town, dumped our bags, and found ourselves baking in the heat at Goobang Junction, waiting for G515 to arrive from Goonumbla.

While waiting for G515, we amused ourselves by watching former WAGR/Great Northern/CFCLA locomotives J103 and J102 shunting the SCT terminal. Painted in full SSR livery, the two J Class at Goobang Junction have an interesting history.

Originally purchased by the Western Australian Government Railways (WAGR) in 1966 from Clyde Engineering for shunting duties (the J Class are almost identical to the first series Y Class purchased by the VR three years earlier). They spent their lives in WA until 1995, when four members of the class (the class leader had been scrapped two years earlier) were sold to Great Northern and transferred to Melbourne.

During their time with Great Northern, the J Class were used on a variety of tasks, including shunting the National Rail Corporation freight terminal, running shunting turns and trip trains, and infrastructure work. When Great Northern folded in 2002, ownership of the class passed to CFCL Australia, who leased the locomotives to Southern Shorthaul Railroad. CFCLA sold the four members of the class in 2009 and 2010 (to SCT and Freightlink respectivly) for use as shunters in NSW and SA.

J103 and J102 can often be seen shunting the SCT freight depot at Goobang Junction. Sadly, the units did not get close enough to the accessible end of the shunting neck for a roster shot, and I was not to keen on tramping through long grass in late spring. I had to be content with shooting them across the field.

G515 did arrive on cue at 1306 with 8242N loaded ore train from Goonumbla to Goulburn (the train runs to Port Kembla, but waits at Goulburn for its turn in the sidings, which are shared by the PN ore train from Blayney).

After a break for lunch, we wandered around the station area. PN have a large depot at Parkes, and it is not uncommon for many trains to exchange crews or even loco’s when passing through. Quite a few locomotives were stabled in the yard, including former ATN Access L251, and a number of 48 class in various liveries, from GrainCorp and PN, to the battle scarred Freightcorp units, showing every day of their impressive age.

As the day began to slowly cool, we staked out the level crossing at Goonumbla to wait for one of the two trains that feed the mill at Manildra with grain from various silos in Western NSW. The first such train was 8832N coming towards Parkes from Narromine behind 4894, 4854 and X50, with X50 being a particularly long way from home! Since the cessation of bulk fuel transport by rail in NSW, most of the X Class have seen themselves redeployed on other bulk working, including grain, flour, cement and sugar traffic, among other loadings.

After following 8832 halfway to Manildra, we decided that any further shots would endanger the possibility of the final shot of the day – a sunset shot of 7GP1 SCT superfreighter to Perth. We set up at Nelungaloo (to the west of Parkes) as the sun slowly slid behind the horizon, entertained by the harvesters busy harvesting a nearby wheat field. 7GP1 shattered the atmosphere when it screamed past at 1935 behind SCT Class locomotives 009 and 005. Up to 1800m in length, the train is a mixture of vans and double-stack container wagons, and the sight and speed of the train needs to be seen to be believed. What a fantastic way to finish! It was worth the massive dust cloud it kicked up that reduced both Todd and I to a sneezing, coughing, sniffling mess for the next few hours until medication (and a nightcap) brought sleep – a very welcome relief!

Fuel by Rail – A Victim of Progress

In January of this year, the final movement of commercial fuel on rail was undertaken without any major fanfare or send off. For decades, fuel has been transported by rail to various locations around the state, to places as diverse and far away as Wagga Wagga, Goulburn, Cooma, Tamworth, Dubbo, Canberra and so on. Indeed, it was often commonplace for a goods train to include in it’s load a number of tank wagons loaded with petrol, diesel fuel, or even more exotic cargo, such as ammonia or bitumen. While the latter freight has since moved to specialised haulage, bulk fuel trains could be seen on the rails of NSW as late as January, 2010. While it would be a mammoth task to document the entire history of the transport of bulk fuel by rail in NSW, this article will instead focus on the final days of the bulk fuel train.

8172 near Cootamundra
8172 is in charge of 3128 empty Bomen Fuel near Cootamundra. 26/9/2009

The end of the fuel trains in NSW came from a decision by Shell Australia to close the rail loading point at Sandown. Located near the end of the short Sandown branch in Sydney’s western suburbs, the rail gantry had been the only place where liquid fuel could be loaded onto railway wagons for some years. Shell Australia informed Pacific National of this decision during 2009, which would result in the loss of four fuel services from the company books, namely a twice weekly service to Canberra, a twice weekly service to Dubbo, a weekly service to West Tamworth and a Caltex/Ampol service to Bomen (located near Wagga Wagga in the Riverina area of Southern NSW). The latter service, despite not being operated by Shell Australia required the rail gantry to load, with fuel being piped from the Caltex Refinery at Kurnell (Botany Bay).

The closure of the rail gantry is largely due to changes in NSW legislation covering dangerous and flammable goods, as well as the cost of maintaining the gantry – these costs combined with the double handling costs of transporting fuel by rail and then road have made the services unviable for Shell Australia. The closure of the gantry would also lead to the use of road haulage to transport fuel to the various fuel points around the state. Previously, fuel for depots such as Cootamundra or Parkes would be placed on any compatible service bound for such a destination. In the case of the former, 1327 Bomen Fuel was the most common train used, while in the case of the latter, the fuel wagons would often be attached to a westbound NY3 SteelLink service at Enfield or Chullora.

Final Bomen
The final Bomen fuel train returns to Sydney behind X51, X50, X52, 48114 (d/a) and 4899 (d/a). 19/12/09

The services to Tamworth and Dubbo succumbed first, with the final Tamworth train departing Sandown on Friday, November 13th 2009 behind X48 and X51 (with 8137 being attached at Newcastle, reportedly due to problems with one or both of the X Class). The final Dubbo service departed less than a week later behind 8140 and 8050 on Tuesday, November 17th 2009. The final Caltex train to Bomen would depart Sandown on Friday, December 17th 2009, hauled by X52, X50 and X51. Interestingly, for the run back to Sydney the three locomotives would be joined by 48114 (d/a) and 4899 (d/a), with the latter unit being one of the GrainCorp allocated 48 class. The last train to succumb to the pending closure of the gantry would be the Canberra fuel service, with the final train hauled by X48 and X50, departing Sandown on the 20th of January, 2010. When the train returned to Sydney the following evening, it would be the end of an era.

Although in their final year, the fuel trains were tasked primarily to the X, 80 and 81 class locomotives, it is interesting to look back a decade to see how different things were. During 1999, locomotives from the 422, 48 and 80 classes were the dominant motive power on the Canberra service, although 8242 assisted 42203 with the northbound oil on Thursday, May 20th 1999 – certainly not a combination seen during 2009! Then again, the combination of EL61, X48 and 8004 on 1825 Dubbo Fuel would have been unheard of back in 1999! One would be considered mad for even suggesting it.

8005 Camelia
8005 and X52 pause at Camelia to await the signal that will allow them to proceed into Clyde Yard with 1225 loaded Canberra Fuel 11/11/2009

As for the future of the locomotives and rolling stock, that is still left to speculation. A cursory glance around the state reveals that the final fuel trains to operate to their respective locations left a number of NTAF wagons at the depots for unloading, and these remain at the depots to this day. The locomotives will continue to see use with Pacific National, with the X Class having been sighted on domestic grain trains, Manildra Group flour services, and even the Tarago garbage train! It will be interesting to see if the X and 80 class will now play second fiddle to 81 class locomotives, or if they will still be allowed to lead trains – certainly the crews of the fuel trains didn’t have much choice in the matter!

With the recent public outcry over the transportation of dangerous goods by road (especially in B-double tanker trucks), the move from rail to road, despite being economical in terms of dollar per km transported, has attracted a large amount of criticism from members of the public. Although the gantry will still close, and the wagons will be stored somewhere, it would be rather naïve to expect that this is the end forever – a return to rail is not impossible, there just needs to be a will, and a way. Time will tell.

For more photos of the final days of rail hauled fuel, click here

Sources: Railway Digest July 1999 and January 2010. Motive Power  67 (Dec 09/Jan 10)

Riding the Bombala Line – Day Three – From Yass to Goulburn (and back)

Yass Junction and Town

Down daylight XPT service to Melbourne arriving into Yass Junction station, passing the old signal box.
Down daylight XPT service to Melbourne arriving into Yass Junction station, passing the old signal box.

The Yass Town Railway is the other railway line near Canberra to have been closed to traffic, originally running from Yass Junction to Yass Town. The day started with a nod to history, with ST33 Daylight Melbourne XPT service arriving into the platform at 11:29. In years gone by, passengers would normally have changed from the Sydney train to a local service along the branchline into Yass proper. In a nod to history, a road coach was waiting to transfer passengers to various towns along the railway line. Passengers from Canberra and Yass were also brought to Yass Junction by coach to allow them to begin their journey by train south to towns and cities such as Junee, Wagga Wagga, Albury and Melbourne.

The remains of the once branch line into town are apparent, with the platform and signal box still in good condition, although the level crossing near the station has been covered over by road resurfacing in the years since the branch was closed to traffic.

There is a substantial grain silo with rail loading facilities adjacent to the station, although the tracks were rusted and the whole facility looked a bit dated and disused. Whether this is the result of the recent drought across New South Wales, or if the silo has been out of use for a while is unclear. Certainly, the sidings around the station and the silo see occasional use – to store track machines when not required by the work being undertaken in the area (Sydney to Melbourne resleepering project).

The impressive, abandoned bridge facilitating the crossing Yass River by the Yass Tramway
The impressive, abandoned bridge facilitating the crossing of Yass River by the Yass Tramway

Following the line into the township of Yass, the line is mostly intact, complete with a large bridge over Yass River. The line along Dutton Street is also more or less intact (although, not in gauge, with some sleepers so rotten there is little left but a handful of splinters!). The line along Dutton Street runs along the centre of the road, right up to the original site of Yass Station, which is now a museum in its own right, with a number of preserved items of rolling stock. It is the line along the roadway which has earned the Yass Branch the name of “Yass Tramway”, despite being operated by standard gauge branch line steam locomotives, and passenger/freight rolling stock over it’s operating years.

When I visited Yass, the museum was closed, a number of items of freight rolling stock are located adjacent to, and easily visible from, the road (albeit, behind an impressive, non-camera friendly chain link fence). Steam locomotive 1307 and diesel shunting unit X203 were also in the yard. It seemed to be an interesting looking museum, looking worthy of a future visit.

8107 and 8177 power through Gunning with a loaded wheat train
8107 and 8177 power through Gunning with a loaded wheat train

Gunning to Goulburn

That same day, while heading back to the freeway from Yass Town, 8107 and 8177 were sighted hauling a loaded rake of NGPF grain hoppers north through Yass Junction, either bound for Port Kembla for export or for the new Allied Flour Mill at Maldon.

Giving chase to Gunning for a photo, they were easy to follow up through the Cullerin Range, although once they got close to Goulburn the crew were able to really open up along the flats – not as fast as it might seem on the locomotive, but when the photographers are contending with a bumpy old road complete with curves and hills, it’s not easy to keep up, even when the train is only doing 80km/h.

Canberra to Goulburn

Following a quick lunch in Goulburn, we returned to Canberra to pick up the afternoon Xplorer service to Sydney (the fuel train often doesn’t run over a long weekend). The first shots of the Xplorer were obtained as the line skirted the border, where the line is crossed by The Kings Highway. Although the train beat us to Bugendore Station, we caught up with the train again at Tarago just south of the station, and again near the original site of Lake Bathurst. After Goulburn, it was no contest, with the train beating us to Towrang at level crossing, and it was time to head back to Canberra.