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”


Quality Over Quantity – Part One

Western New South Wales is always an oddity (at least in terms of rail activity, I make no prejudice against those who call the area home) when compared to the other parts of the state. When compared to the oft-photographed lines of the Hunter Valley and Main South, Western NSW seems almost “Victorian” in terms of train frequency (in short, there are trains around, but they have no intention of showing up at the same place until at least six hours has passed since the last train). Certainly the scenery in parts of the Western Line (especially in the Lithgow to Blayney section) could rival that of the scenic North Coast Line, traffic is far less likely to show up during daylight, if at all! Thus, any trip to Western NSW will often involve covering  a lot of ground in pursuit of the movements that are being made, especially as the motive power used will often differ from the other mainlines of the state.

As such, many visits to the region will often ensure a photographer will end up with a smaller set of images, however if all has gone to plan, each photo should almost stand alone as a unique shot, without having to rely on any other shots in the set. By comparison, photos from other regions will often feature the same train multiple times, or the same location for a number of different trains. Granted, it takes a degree of skill and patience to whittle down a set with very few sightings, as the temptation will be there to “make the most” of the trains one did see – instead, it is better to keep things concise, and keep the interest level high. This is all well and good in theory, and I’ll let my readers be the judge of how successful I was in this endeavour! Continue reading “Quality Over Quantity – Part One”

Hunter Valley High Rollers

Editors Note: I’m putting this up early for two reasons – firsty, I might not have a chance to update closer to the weekend, and secondly, this is to the benefit (hopefully) of those attending Steamfest. Not much good if it goes up the day before!

It is of course, that time of year again! Of course, I do not refer to Christmas, although it may as well be for those who will make the annual pilgrimage to Maitland for this year’s Hunter Valley Steamfest.

Of course, any self respecting railfan (I’m sure they exist somewhere) will know all about the various steam-related activities going on in “The Valley” over the weekend (although, if you don’t, take a quick look here), although for infrequent visitors, it might be difficult to pick out some of the other companies that operate in the Hunter Valley. Here’s  a brief rundown on some of the companies and their locomotives that should play a part in any plans to attend festivities.

Continue reading “Hunter Valley High Rollers”

Part One – An Afternoon at Donnybrook


It is an unfortunate side effect of shiftwork that rostering is… erratic at best, brain damningly brutal at worst. One such advantage to shiftwork is that mid-week days off are often the norm, which is why I found myself booking flights from Sydney to Melbourne on the Saturday night just passed. Accommodation was also booked at this time, for the Docklands Travelodge Hotel  (only a five minute walk from Southern Cross Station). It is worth noting that this last minute trip was brought on by musings from fellow photographer and enthusiast Fred Sawyer* a number of weeks ago that he had never visited Melbourne to “see what all the fuss was about”**. Given that our schedules lined up, it was time to take the opportunity, as last minute as it may seem to the more “normal” workers out there (you know who you are).

The plan was to try and cram as much sightseeing and railfanning into two days as possible.  Thanks to a pre-dawn start on Monday, we were able to secure a 2pm departure from Sydney, with a return flight of 3pm from Melbourne the following Wednesday. We figured that, with daylight savings, this would give us an effective two days to spend cramming as much as possible into the daylight hours.

With a (thankfully) uneventful flight from Sydney out of the way, we quickly collected our luggage and transferred to the Melbourne Skybus, an excellent (and cost effective) service to get from Melbourne Airport to Southern Cross Station. It was only after walking to our hotel did we realise that we’d swapped the cool, wet Sydney weather for a scorching hot Melbourne day! It would have easily been 30 degrees in the shade, with a nice dry Northerly wind ensuring that there was no respite from the heat. We*** quickly changed in the hotel room to more “weather appropriate” clothing, and headed down to Southern Cross to find our train. We boarded the 5:10pm service to Seymour, arriving at a just-as-hot-if-not-hotter-than-the-CBD-and-the-surface-of-the-sun-combined Donnybrook. Needless to say, we went straight from the station to the local watering hole, if for no other reason than to get out of the sun!

It is worth noting here that no visit to the Victorian North-East mainline is complete without a visit to the Donnybrook Hotel. This atmospheric hotel has all of the charm of any local country pub, although the food on offer far surpasses any pub-grub that I had experienced up until this point (this seems to be a trend in Victoria, I have fond memories of a roast in one of the Seymour pubs…). Plenty of time was taken enjoying the food and a “pot” of beer (Schooner. Sss-koo-ner. No? Drat.), before it was time to make the most of the setting sun. The punishing, shade “only on the railway line” setting sun.

The first sighting was made at 6:55pm when N453 screamed past with the down Albury passenger service (the only V/Line train on the standard gauge). Shortly thereafter, XP2012 and XP2009 raced through with a late running southbound XPT service. That’s right, we came from Sydney to Melbourne, caught a train to regional Victoria, and photographed… a NSW train. The irony was certainly not lost on us (or on our credit cards, still aching from the pain of last-minute-flights).

We did not have long to wait before sighting our first broad gauge train, with N472 making light work of a down Shepparton passenger service, followed by a couple of local passenger trains operated by Sprinter railcars. Getting close to 8pm we saw our first freight train, with LDP006 and LDP004 leading a lengthy 2BM7 superfreighter northbound. Once again, here was a train typically photographed in the morning in Sydney, being photographed at sunset in Victoria! Our visit was soon to pay off though, with 8:30pm yielding the throaty roar of A Class locomotives in dynamic brake when A78 lead P20 and A81 through Donnybrook with the up Tocumwal freight. Now THAT is what we came to experience! The evening was rounded off with another couple of Sprinter railcars, an up Albury passenger train and the down overnight XPT to Sydney. With the sun set, it was time to board the (second last) train back to Melbourne to retire for the night!

*If we’re going to allocate blame, I suppose I could blame myself for extolling the virtues of photographing loco-hauled passenger trains, something more or less unheard of in NSW in the present day and age.

**He pictured laneway cafes, and a contemporary modern cafe culture. He was not disappointed.

***I was dumb enough to wear jeans, proudly stating at the time “It’ll cool down”. It didn’t.

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.

September 2009 News

SCT G Class Repainting

With news of the sale of the 9 former SCT G Class locomotives to other operators (see Trackside, August 2009), G513 and G514 (now owned by Southern Shorthaul Railroad) entered the paint shops at Lithgow during September for repainting, emerging during October, and being sighted on numerous works trains in the Sydney area.

3265 Returned to Service

3265 Redfern
3265 passing Redfern with the first public steam shuttle. 20/9/09.

Preserved steam locomotive 3265, which first entered service in 1902, was overhauled and rebuilt by the Powerhouse Museum between 1998 and 2009, and formally re-entered service on September 20, 2009, celebrated by a day of steam shuttles between Central and Bankstown Stations. The day’s festivities began at Central, with 3265 arriving to be greeted by a large crowd of ex-railway men and women, volunteers, dignitaries and photographers present to record the historic occasion. After a short ceremony and morning tea, 3265 ran her first steam shuttle for the day to Bankstown via Sydenham and returning via Regents Park. The first shuttle was reserved for those who had helped make her return to service possible, passengers consisting of VIPs and their invited guests. The second and third shuttles, also running to Bankstown via Sydenham and returning via Regents Park, was open to members of the public who had snapped up tickets.

Since her return to service, 3265 has been used on a 3801ltd Cockatoo Run special to Moss Vale via Wollongong, as well as a private charter to and from Hurstville, with at least two more tours planned for 2009, including a triple headed steam trip up the Blue Mountains in November, and a private charter in early December. The Powerhouse Museum plans to operate up to six tours a year with 3265, usually in conjunction with another heritage operator.

Freightliner to Enter Hunter Valley Coal Market

In a joint venture with Xstrata, a Swiss mining company, Freightliner will enter the lucrative Hunter Valley coal haulage market, using locomotives and rolling stock provided by Xstrata. Xstrata is planning to purchase three 90-wagon rakes and nine locomotives with an eye to commencing operations by 2011. Bradken will be building the wagons, with the locomotives provided by United Goninans. While the trains will be owned by Xstrata, Freightliner will operate the trains under the name of “X-Rail”.

Pacific National will still continue to haul up to 30 million tonnes of export coal for Xstrata.

Currently Pacific National handle all of Xstratas export coal as part of a decade long contract signed in July 2009. The deal accounts for 30 million tonnes of coal per annum, although with additional mines planned to open in the next couple of years, additional capacity would be required, which will be covered by X-Rail trains, hauling the additional 10 million tonnes of coal each year. Speculation as to who would haul the additional 10 million tonnes has now been laid to rest, as originally the additional freight was up for haulage by either Pacific National or QRNational, the two existing operators in the Hunter Valley.

If the venture is successful, it may lead to X-Rail hauling more of Xstrata coal as more mines open and existing mines increase capacity in the future.

Xplorer Services to Canberra

With the cessation of the fuel service to Canberra looming, one could be forgiven for thinking that the future of the line is in doubt. When the Premier visited Queanbeyan on September 18, 2009, he was not announcing the removal of the CountryLink Xplorer service to Canberra, rather, an increase in services – an additional eight services a week between Sydney and Canberra (four in each direction).

The increased number of trains is actually due to a reduction in patronage, put down to the confusing timetable and irregular service level. Now, with a regular service frequency, and a consistent timetable, it is hoped that patronage will rise again. The increased number of services is thanks to a more efficient use of the Xplorer fleet, as during the current timetable, it is not uncommon for one set to arrive into Canberra at midday from Sydney, and be stabled in the siding until the following morning service back to Sydney.

Xplorer at Bungendore
The up midday Xplorer service from Canberra passes an ARHS Heritage train in the yard at Bungendore. Under the new timetable, this will become a daily service in each direction to and from Sydney.

The existing timetable is shown below

Canberra Dep Sydney Arr Days of Operation
6:43am 11:02am Daily*
11:52am** 4:10pm*** Mon/Wed/Fri/Sun
5:03pm 9:23pm Tue/Thur/Sat
Sydney Dep Canberra Arr Days of Operation
6:58am 11:17am Daily*
12:05pm 4:25pm Tue/Thur/Sat/Sun
6:11pm 10:29pm Mon/Wed/Fri/Sun
* Except Sunday
**(Sunday only) departs 3 minutes later
*** (Sunday only) arrives 15 minutes later due to connecting with the up Riverina Xplorer service at Goulburn

From December 6, the new timetable will be introduced

Ex Sydney Ex Canberra
Morning Service Daily Daily
Midday Service Daily Daily
Evening Service Sun/Mon/Wed/Fri Sun/Mon/Wed/Fri

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.