The Sydney Great Train Weekend

The Sydney Great Train Weekend is held on the Queens Birthday long weekend. The New South Wales Rail Transport Museum (NSWRTM) bring a number of heritage exhibits from Thirlmere to Sydney’s Central Station, where they are put on display for the general public to enjoy. The Powerhouse Museum provides steam locomotive 3265 for the display, which spends the weekend in light steam alongside the platform for people to climb into the cab and see a real, live steam locomotive. In a similar vein, 4001 and 4490 are at the other end of the platform, to allow people to examine the first mainline diesel locomotive in NSW. As well as the heritage items, RailCorp provides a CountryLink Xplorer and XPT set for people to inspect. As has been mentioned in previous years, this is an excellent opportunity to show people the new Waratah train, although this opportunity has never been capitalised on.

Not content with static displays alone, The NSWRTM also provides a steam train ride through the suburbs, with 3642 and 3526. The train runs between Central and Clyde over the course of the weekend, delighting young and old alike with a short, but pleasurable steam experience. Continue reading “The Sydney Great Train Weekend”

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To Kiama And Back… With A Twist

The plan could not have been any more simple – a day trip to Kiama, to be back in Sydney in time for dinner. I should really go back and read some of the other accounts on this website to prove to myself that these sorts of things never work out as planned!

I met the guys at Erskineville, where we would take on coffee and make for Kiama via one of two ways – either via the Main South Line to Moss Vale before hooking east to Albion Park, or via the coast road and Wollongong. Our decision was to be influenced by two different trains, both coming north at (supposedly) the same time. One was the QRNational Melbourne to Sydney (Yennora) freight, in the form of 6MS9. This train is known for showcasing some of the more “vintage” QRNational locomotives, including the CLF, CLP and G Classes, although members of the 421, X and 422 classes are no strangers either. On the other hand, three of the brand new Centennial Coal CEY Class were to depart Port Kembla at roughly the same time, bound for Lithgow. The smart answer, would be to stay in Sydney and shoot them both – although this is the smart play, it would force us to miss a shot of a Sydney Electric Train Society (SETS) special charter train at Bombo, which was deemed “unacceptable”.

With mumblings of “CLP’s are the most overrated loco since Thomas the Tank Engine” and “It only counts if it’s a yellow one”, we set our sights on Scarborough, the lure of modern (and hopefully still clean) diesels winning out over the possibility of vintage bulldog power. The view from Scarborough is arguably one of the best “railway locations” on the coast, while the Main South is fairly unremarkable around Sydney’s southern fringes.

Shortly after arriving at Scarborough, with cameras, tripods and eyes pointed to the south (where the line was bathed in glorious sunshine), our first sighting would be from the north – 8245 and 8217 slowly grinding through the station with a push-pull coal train from the nearby Metropolitan Colliery (Helensburgh) at 0908. With a northbound “all stations” service to Sydney departing at 0912, and another passenger service not due for approximately an hour, we once again turned our eyes south for a planned “rush” of coal traffic. Sure enough, at 0920, 8235 appeared into view with three classmates assisting on an empty Pacific National coal train to Lidsdale. We began to be concerned when we realised that the road was not set into the single-line section to Coalcliff. We became slightly more worried when we heard a horn at the nearby level crossing – our suspicions were confirmed when CEY004 came into view through the trees, southbound at a rapid pace. It was a quick couple of shots, but we all managed to quickly shoot the Pacific National train approaching the platform before a hurried dash and composure saw us photograph the two trains crossing in the platform. Despite the planned target heading in the wrong direction (against the light), we were all more or less happy with our shots, so we decided to head towards Wollongong to evaluate our next move.

The sight of the SSR coal train in the down refuge at Thirroul prompted a slight detour via the station – with the train sidelined, this dashed any hopes of a speedy turnaround back towards Lithgow. While the lads photographed the locomotives standing in the refuge, information came through from a man “on the ground” that 6MB4, a loaded wheat train and 6MS9 were forming an orderly queue outside Bundanoon to await a path into Moss Vale (due to ARTC trackwork, single line working was in use between Moss Vale and Bundanoon on the down main line). It was at this point that the “short detour into Thirroul” became a “long detour to Picton”, as we were informed that the freighters would await the passage of the southbound Xplorer to Canberra and XPT to Melbourne.

As we approached Picton, there still had not been any movement from Bundanoon, so we chanced a rush down the freeway to Moss Vale (with the curve at Werai being the planned destination). As we scooted through Berrima and Moss Vale, 6MB4 skipped past, obviously keen to make up for lost time. Not wanting to take any chances, we parked opposite the station at Moss Vale to look at our options. We set up at the country end of Moss Vale Platform One, and checked the signals – the signs were good for the loaded wheatie to make a beeline for our position. Until the signals changed, and the train instead arrived into the down yard for a crew change…

Determined not to make the same mistake again, we relocated to the footbridge at the Sydney end of the station for the passing of 6MS9. Eventually, LDP001 came into view hauling a dead attached, CFCLA owned and SCT liveried G512 (bringing back recent memories of when SCT-owned G Class were hired to QRNational) and a whopping ten or so wagons.

With the clock now against us, we jumped on the road again with plans to follow the wheat train (hauled by an 81/C combination) to Robertson, although weekend traffic and clear signals thwarted our efforts. Instead, we continued to Bombo for a planned shot of the SETS tour train, which we missed! With over an hour to kill until the SETS train returned, allowing us ample time to attack a local cafe in Kiama to secure a meal of burgers, fish and chips.

We returned to the northern end of Bombo by 1400 to allow us plenty of time to line up our shots. Given that we were travelling in two cars, we assumed that the other car would be heading for the spot we originally planned to shoot the train, so the location of the spot was described as “Northern Bombo”. Regrettably, our companion was already at the correct photo-spot, and this direction sent him to “Albion Park Rail” (which shall henceforth be referred to as “North Bombo” to avoid further confusion). Sure enough, the SETS tour (comprising of CityRail Chopper set C8) passed by our location at 1413.

While our companion lined up a shot at Albion Park and prepared to give chase to Port Kembla, the “lead car” (which at this point was the “chase car”) found its way to nearby Minnamurra, where the other lads engaged in a spot of wading – sometimes it pays to go to extremes for “that shot”. The train we were planning to photograph was 8938N loaded Manildra Group flour from Manildra to Bomaderry. Given the length of the train, control was understandably wary about letting it loose on a single line section, so we soaked up the sun while the various CityRail passenger trains went about their business. With the southbound train safely at Kiama Station (and thus, out of the way), the line was clear and the scene set for the freighter to proceed. While three 81 Class locomotives is the norm for this train, in times of additional loading, often an X or 80 class will be added to assist with the load. As the train approached, a loud, steady “bark” could be heard, causing one of the waterlogged photographers to remark “there might be an X on the train”. As the locos got closer to our position, the bark degenerated into a loud grumble, prompting the comment “if there is, it’s not in a good way”. We were, of course hearing the distinctive chatter of the Commonwealth Engineering built 80 Class that was mixing it up with the three 81 class (the order was 8183, 8005, 8152 and 8159 for those playing at home).

After extracting the intrepid photographers from the mangroves, we were ready to continue on our merry way… until information was received via text message of the QRNational grain train departing Inner Harbour, bound for Goulburn to stable. We were once again torn… Should we head north to find the New South Wales Rail Transport Museum steam special that was headed for Sydney behind preserved steam locomotive 3526? Or should we instead ascend the mountain in search of some brilliantly coloured vintage NSW and Western Australian diesels. While it wasn’t exactly Sophie’s Choice, it did give a moment’s pause… before the diesels inevitably won out…

This was how we found ourselves climbing the very same mountain road we descended only a couple of hours beforehand. We arrived at Raneleigh House (Robertson) with plenty of time to wait before the deafening roar of WAGR L Class locomotives could be heard, eventually coming in to view as DC2206, LZ3103 and LQ3122. With time increasingly becoming an issue, we resolved to jump “down the road” to Werai for a final shot, before heading back to Sydney.

It was only when we arrived at Werai that we remembered the trackwork – sure enough, the first train to pass through the section after our arrival was another empty wheat train hauled by double 81 class locomotives, followed twenty minutes later by our QRNational wheatie. With memory cards fit to burst, it was time to turn around and head back for Sydney. While we had not notched up a lot of sightings, we felt we had captured some of the best that both the highlands and the coast had to offer, with the SETS tour an easy highlight, simply on location alone (and that’s before one considers that the “C” sets have not visited the Illawarra since initial testing, and will likely not visit it again before their eventual retirement).

Looking Forward

I racked my brains on what to put in an “end of year” article this week. Was it worth discussing the different companies that have gained and lost contracts over the year? Perhaps a homage to some of the greatest lash-ups of the year? Even something as simple as a year in review, discussing what has happened in the industry. Perhaps that is still to come. Rather, it is a time to look forward, to what the new year will bring.

July 2012 will see the start of the exceptionally unpopular Carbon Tax. This tax should have the effect of rewarding energy efficient, environmentally friendly transport options for freight across the country. With exemptions for heavy road vehicles until 2014/15, and an overall exemption from petrol in the scheme, rail will experience increased costs while their main competition (road transport) will not. With expected increases in the cost of the electricity production used by suburban electric trains, this will have the effect of increased ticket prices, pushing people away from public transport and back into their polluting motor vehicles. With new plans proposed for the introduction of B-triples on the state’s major highways, and combined with a price on carbon, it is expected that rail will suffer. The main advantage that rail has, is that a lot of the freight currently moved by rail is bulk coal or mineral freight, which is simply uneconomical to move in large quantities by truck.

Continuing neglect to grain branch line infrastructure will have the direct effect of forcing more grain into trucks for farmers to get their crops to port. GrainCorp have recently been given approval to increase the limit of grain that can be delivered to Port Kembla Inner Harbour by truck from 200,000 tonnes per annum to 500,000 tonnes. This has raised questions by local residents on noise issues, as well as the effect the extra truck movements will have on the roads in the area. Companies wishing to move grain by rail are hampered by dated and dilapidated infrastructure, as well as a shortage of appropriate rolling stock. GrainCorp currently contracts Pacific National to haul their trains to port, with Grainflow (formerly AWB Limited) contracting their haulage to El Zorro. Additionally, Glencore Grain currently has a contract with QRNational to move grain to port, with plans for a second rake to assist in the future.

John Holland are poised to take control of the operation and maintenance of the NSW Country Regional Network from January 2012. The contract passed from ARTC to John Holland earlier this year, with ARTC to retain control of the defined Interstate Rail Network, as well as the NSW Hunter Valley network. The network control centre will be located in Broadmeadow.

Further new motive power is on the way, a few hints of this have been seen in late 2011. From the tried and tested GT46C-ACe model currently produced by Downer Rail and the Cv43aci and C44aci models being produced by UGL Limited to new models from China and the USA, there is plenty to be on the lookout for in 2011.

Centennial Coal, continuing the recent trend of coal companies purchasing their own locomotives and rolling stock, have ordered ┬áseven C44aci “CEY Class” locomotives from UGL Limited, due to be delivered from mid December 2011 into early 2012. These locomotives will be painted in a green and yellow variation on the Southern Shorthaul Railroad scheme, as it is SSR who are contracted to haul coal from a number of Centennials Northern and Western mines, specifically Newstan (with additional coal trucked in from Awaba), Clarence, Airly, Charbon and Springvale (loaded at Lidsdale). Given that SSR currently use a mixture of owned and leased motive power on these services, this will free up locomotives to be better utilised in other aspects of the business, especially the older locomotives not suited to mainline coal haulage, such as the B, S and GM classes.

CFCL Australia also have a contract for new rolling stock with UGL Limited, with an order for six C44aci units under construction at the time of writing. These units are destined for use in Hunter Valley coal operations, allowing CFCL Australia to enter what should prove to be a very lucrative market.

While QRNational have received their order for their 5020 class, QRNational plans to modernise their coal fleet on the North Coast with the introduction of two regauged 2800 class. Up until recently, the motive power used on the Duralie to Stratford coal shuttle has been a 6000 Class on one end of the train, with locomotives on the other end of the train alternating between 2204 (formerly allocated to ARG) and various members of the 421 and 423 class. Since the start of December, 2204 has been forwarded to Melbourne, with 6011 the only 6000 class remaining in coal duties. 2819 had originally been trialled by QRNational on standard gauge interstate intermodal duties, however this locomotive was reclassified PA2819, and returned to narrow gauge work in Western Australia with ARG.

Qube have accepted the first two deliveries of their new “1100 Class” from NREC – 1101 and 1103 have recently begun trials between Sydney and Newcastle. It is expected that these new locomotives will continue to reduce demand for leased motive power from CFCLA and Engenco, with a total of 8 expected.

SCT are expecting delivery of their new “Pandaroo” locomotives from Ziyang, China. These units are destined for SCT’s new ore contract in South Australia, and are designated the CSR Class (likely named after the manufacturer). SCT’s locomotive fleet is currently stretched very thin, with SCT014 out for repairs with accident damage. A number of locomotives have been leased from Engenco, with C501 expected to go on hire to SCT from SRHC in early 2011 to assist with banking trains through the Adelaide Hills.

In addition to being the recipient of seven new locomotives from UGL Limited for use on their coal contract with Centennial, SSR have indicated an expansion of their business into the locomotive hire market. Plans have emerged relating to the construction of the BRM Class, a new build 3000hp locomotive similar to the XR and VL Class locomotives owned by PN and CFCLA respectively. These locomotives will be constructed at SSR’s Bendigo Railway Workshops.

Finally, while not “new” motive power as such, Pacific National seems set to introduce some variety to their export grain trains (typically operated by pairs of 81 class, occasionally assisted by members of the BL, G, X, 48 or L Classes), with news that the DL, BL and C Class locomotives currently allocated to PN’s Southern Coal division are to be reallocated to grain haulage. Two C Class are already in Moss Vale and Cootamundra for crew training purposes, with additional 82 class expected to be displaced from Hunter Valley operations to replace them on Southern Coal.

1103 at Cowan