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”

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Setbacks and Catchpoints – Part One

This may be the beginning of a series of articles about when things just don’t go to plan when out chasing trains. I hope that it helps those of you out there who think you have had a bad day trackside to put it into perspective!

Most South Coast services are provided by OSCARs
Most South Coast services are provided by OSCARs

With the alarm going off at 0330, it was almost too much to bear. The only thing that dragged me out of a warm bed and outside into a cold winter’s morning was the photographic possibilities that the next two days would provide. Embarking on a journey down the NSW South Coast to Bomaderry/Nowra, to follow Manildra/ARG train 9182, export containers to Port Botany from Nowra to Kiama. Unusually, today this train would be headed up by KL81 (ex NSWGR 49 Class), T387, T385 and GM10, rather than the normal black/orange motive power in the form of ARGs 22 (422) and 31 (L) Class locomotives.

Out of the house and into a cab, off to Chatswood to join the first train of the day at 0442 (this train runs to the city then out to Springwood to form a peak hour service Springwood – Wynyard/North Sydney). All too soon, it was back out of the nice, warm, EMU and onto the nearly deserted concourse at Central. It would not be hard selecting my platform, as the only trains present were the 0538 Dapto, the 0547 Newcastle and the 0532 Katoomba services. Selecting my seat in the second car of the train (which, incidentally was an OSCAR), I noted that the toilet was out of order. This was of no consequence for me, as no sooner had the train departed, then I was back asleep, lulled there by the gentle rocking of the train.

Waking up at Unanderra, I stretched and looked around at the Kembla Grange area as we finally pulled into Dapto. After a quick walk to stretch my legs, and a quick poke around a station I’d not been to as a passenger for a number of years (not since the break of electrification there, at any rate!), it was soon time to meet my friend in the parking lot.

After a quick U-turn, we were off to Dunmore, where we paused to watch 9132 PN Stone train for Boral emerge from their siding…

8150/8132 prepare to leave Dunmore Quarry with 9132 loaded stone
8150/8132 prepare to leave Dunmore Quarry with 9132 loaded stone

….only to watch them reverse back in, to the chagrin of the motorists waiting to cross the level crossing at the throat of the short branch to the quarry. Lead by 8150 and 8132, the train made a sharp impression on the clear day. As photogenic as the two locos were, soon it was time to head south to Bomaderry, for a feed and the train of the day.

Having finished off some baked goods at the local Bakery, we were trackside at the level crossing where the branch to the Manildra Mill joins the line up to Wollongong and Sydney. Sure enough, KL81 pulled up next to the level crossing, and a crew member popped out to activate the crossing. As they were running a little late, he ran over to set the road for the train. The chase was on!

Well, not really. Fortunately, a mate in RMC (the brain of the Railcorp network) told us that the train had actually lost its path and would have to remain behind until 2000 that night! Such is the problem with the very delicate section of line between Unanderra and Bomaderry – If a train misses its path, it can be very hard to fit it in later in amongst all of the other passenger workings, where, only minutes earlier, there was no freighter scheduled!

Normally the train is scheduled to leave Bomaderry at 1046, but this doesn’t get the train into the metro area until close to 1500. As the peak hour curfew starts then, trying to set up the correct path would have placed it into the metro area right on peak hour, not a popular decision for a controller to make!

Empty mill wheat 1337 races south through Werai Curve, bound for Hillston
Empty mill wheat 1337 races south through Werai Curve, bound for Hillston

Refusing to let this slight setback hold us back, we resolved to relocate to the Main South, to hopefully catch southbound 4BM7 running behind 5NY3, and possibly 4BM4 as well. After a drive up the mountain to Robertson, and on to Moss Vale (to the sounds of The Living End – White Noise), we positioned ourselves at Werai, a famous horseshoe curve located between Moss Vale and Exeter. We were not disappointed, as within minutes of arriving, 8160/4894 were photographed belting around the bend from Moss Vale with empty 1337 grain to Hillston. Back in the car, and back on the road, we were neck and neck with it most of the way south. Pulling off at a photospot just north of Goulburn, we waited for about thirty minutes before realising that it must have screamed through only moments before we arrived! Turns out that 4BM7 and 4BM4 missed curfew too, and were kept in Sydney!

On days like this, it’s worth reflecting on the good time spent with mates, and the actual thrill of the chase – it’s not always about how many photos you’ve brought home, moreso about the laughs you share when you realise that, despite your best efforts, the day has gotten away from you and it’s time to go home, perhaps to work the next day, or perhaps just running errands and household chores. You can always count on the fact that it makes for a great story to tell the next time you’re out and about trackside, during a break in traffic, or on a long journey to the next photospot!

(News to Me) Asciano Wins Manildra Contract From ARG

ARG Hauled Manildra Trains - Soon to be limited to memories and photographs?

Australian Railroad Group (ARG), a division of QRNational (QRN) has been operating trains on behalf of The Manildra Group since 2003. Manildra supplied their own rolling stock in the form of MBAX (ex WAGR WBAX vans) louvre vans, MQRF container flats (although ARG/Manildra hired more container flats from CFCLA) as well as MHGH and MHGX hoppers, although ARG were contracted to haul the trains. The contract itself involves the haulage of bulk flour to/from Manildra’s mills at Gunnedah (North-West NSW), Manildra (Central-Western NSW), Narrandera (South-West NSW) and Bomaderry (South Coast NSW), as well as export containers between the various mills and Port Botany.

Recent news has emerged that ARG have lost the contract to Pacific National/Patricks Portlink owner Asciano Limited. Interestingly, it seems that the contract will be handled by the Patricks Portlink business division, rather than (as originally thought), Pacific National Rural and Bulk. It is unknown at this stage if Rural and Bulk will provide motive power (currently, Patricks Portlink use a lot of hired motive power from CFCLA) and/or container wagons.

An ARG Crewman moves to set the road for 9182 while KL81 lurks in the background (click on the image for a larger view)
An ARG Crewman moves to set the road for 9182 while KL81 lurks in the background (click on the image for a larger view)

While the changeover doesn’t occur until November 23rd, enthusiasts should be getting out line side to capture images that will soon fade, possibly forever, of (ex-NSWGR 422 Class) 22 Class and (ex WAGR L Class) 31 Class hauling bulk flour to and from the various mills around the state. The good news is, if Patricks Portlink does indeed use motive power hired from CFCLA (as it currently does on its Narrabri and Dubbo/Blayney services, as well as some of its metropolitan workings), we could see vintage motive power in the form of 44, 422 (FL/HL Class), 442, 49 (KL Class) and even 45 Class at the head of bulk flour and/or container trains.

Manildra MHGX Hopper at Bombaderry
Manildra MHGX Hopper at Bombaderry

Recently, there have been quite a few examples of ARG using leased motive power to assist its own fleet. CFCLA T Class, SCT G Class, CFCLA KL (49) Class and even SSR/CFCLA GM10 have been seen on flour and container workings. Certainly this is an excellent excuse for any able railway photographer to get out in these last few months of ARG hauled Manildra trains!

Does this mean the withdrawal of ARG from NSW? Certainly not! The word is that ARG are looking for new contracts to haul so hopefully we shall continue to see the 422 class soldering on into the twenty first century (albeit under a new number and colour scheme…)

The photo above, of KL81 at the Nowra branch is an example of the dynamic motive power changes on ARG trains recently. KL81 lead two T Class and GM10 into Sydney on 9182 export containers. However, due to problems with Manildras container crane, this train was unable to finish loading and lost it’s path into Sydney, leaving Bomaderry at 2000, instead of at 1046.