The plan was a sound one. Set up at Rookwood (Weeroona Rd, Strathfield), and get a nice, evenly lit photo of 42202, which remains in the Northern Rivers Railroad scheme, despite being in QRNational service. All going to plan, 42202 would lead 2152 QRNational Glenlee to Yennora freight, as it had done the day prior. Following this shot, a relocation to Mascot would be made to allow for a shot of RailCorp Mechanised Track Inspection Vehicle ML-039 over the Alexandria Canal, near Cooks River Yard. As this unit will one day be retired, it is always worth getting a shot of it; especially in places it is not often seen.
We arrived at Rookwood at 0845, and with plenty of time before 2152, we spent our time recording the other freight movements along the stretch of track that links Chullora Junction with Flemington Goods Junctions – the former being the busiest junction on the Metropolitan Goods Lines, with most freight trains, be they interstate superfreighters or short container trip trains, passing through Chullora Junction at some point on their journey.
The first train to pass Rookwood would be just after 9am. Solo 44208 headed up T285 P&O Botany to Yennora container trip – 44208 having been recently repainted by Bradken Rail at Braemar, a “touch up” of the CFCLA colour scheme. While it would not appear that a full repaint was done, the CFCLA livery has been reapplied over the previously grey patch along one side of the loco, where 44208 had previously sustained accident damage.
Roughly half an hour later, the familiar blue and white livery of LDP001 and LDP003 could be seen navigating the northern fork of Chullora Junction, hauling 4MB7 QRNational freight to Brisbane. Twenty minutes later, triple 81 class rolled through with 8938 Manildra Group flour service to Bomaderry, having come into Sydney from Manildra overnight. They would cross 4MB4 at Chullora Junction, the latter train headed up by NR13 and NR60. NR60 was only recently repainted into the Pacific National “Stars” livery, from the previous National Rail “SteelLink” blue/grey scheme.
Curiously, at this point, we had not seen T280, which is one of the regular trains to operate between Yennora and Botany (the opposite working to T285, above). Normally T280 and T285 cross anywhere between Auburn and Campsie. T280 especially is on a very tight path, as it leaves Yennora just after the “freight curfew” ends, to run to Botany before returning to Yennora before the afternoon “freight curfew” comes into effect. If the train is late into Botany, it is often late out, which throws loading and crew rosters way out, as the train will often be left sitting at Enfield to wait for the afternoon peak hour to subside.
Following close behind 8938 was ML-039, the RailCorp mechanised track inspection vehicle. ML-039 ran down to Chullora Junction, before moving out along the north fork of the junction, and then returning back to the goods lines. This movement would cause 4BM7 to come to a stop at the signal near the Weeroona Rd overbridge to await the line ahead to clear.
Once ML-039 had departed for Botany, X53 and 42202 then appeared around the northern fork of Chullora Junction with 2152 Glenlee to Yennora container freight. Sadly, by the time the locos were in view, 4BM7 had moved up to the signal protecting the junction, and the shadows from the containers on the train were blocking the “ideal shot”. Not to mention the fact that 42202 was hiding behind a bright yellow X Class! As we are not ones to be discouraged, we set about getting a shot of X53 and the 422 with their (short) train. Sure enough, as soon as they cleared the junction, 4BM7 was given the road to proceed onto the goods line to Sefton and on to Glenlee where they would shunt loading for Sydney, and wait for loading for Melbourne to arrive from Yennora (42202 and X53 would return to Glenlee with 1253, the Sydney to Melbourne loading for 4BM7, and then return to Yennora as 2154).
With the shot of 42202 a write off for today (a shot of the yellow X was an acceptable compromise), it was time to relocate to Mascot, to a spot overlooking the Alexandria Canal, near Cooks River Yard. The plan was to get a nice shot of ML-039 returning from Botany, possibly reflected in the (un)clean waters of the canal. When we arrived, any hopes of a reflection shot were firmly dashed, as the breeze was up – ensuring that the water was as unhelpful as possible. Never mind!
Shortly after we arrived, GL107 wandered past light engine, towards Botany on the main, followed by 4497 and 4703 push-pull with T250 Minto MIST to Botany container trip train (also on the main). Soon thereafter, a rake of containers was propelled back over the canal by 1443, this train running on the refuge. GL107 was waiting at the Botany end of the refuge, to shunt loading bound for MIST at Minto. While GL107 and 1443 were shunting their wagons (the loading not bound for Minto would later run to Botany behind GL107, while 1443 would head back to Cooks River), ML-039 snuck past on the main, with the shot more or less blocked by the containers on the near track! Again, forced to make do, we did get a shot. Of course, it was not the one we planned on!
Determined to catch the rest of the traffic out of Botany, we moved to Gelco, located at the throat of the main Botany Yard complex. It was here that we recorded 4703 and 4497 running light to Mascot siding to pick up their train (T251 to Minto). Behind the light engines was T281 P&O Botany to Yennora container trip, behind 44209 and 4477. As the train was stopped at a signal, one of the crew members came over for a word, mentioning that the train had never made it out of Botany that morning (normally, the train that forms T280 in the morning runs out from Botany before the morning peak hour starts). As the train was late departing, they never made it to Yennora, hence why we did not see them at Rookwood that morning!
After the characteristically ALCo departure of 44209 and 4477, DL44 and 4892 headed up Patricks PortLink T171 from Botany to Sandown. They were followed in turn by 8049 and RL306 with 1443 South Spur Rail Services Botany to Walsh Point container freight. With P&O set to purchase SSRS from Coote Industrial in the immediate future, it remains to be seen if the existing Greentrains (a division of Coote Industrial) locomotives will continue to lead these trains, or if alternate (CFCLA) motive power will take over.
So, even with all of the setbacks, it was still a great day trackside, and some interesting movements were seen. With the aforementioned sale of SSRS, and the pending closure of Seatons at Sandown (and the resulting cessation of Patricks PortLink services from Botany), these sightings may be little more than a memory before the end of the year.
Finally, thanks to Chris Walters for his company on the day, and his assistance in compiling the train numbers for this article.