GM22 leads four other streamliners through Cowan with M820. This train experienced delays further north, and would continue to be delayed before it could reach Sydney (see below).

On a day in which many people filled The Gabba in Brisbane to watch Day 2 of The Ashes series, passengers and train crew on the Central Coast line (known as “The Short North” to railfans and railwaymen alike) were having a less than exciting day. Problems seemed to come thick and fast disrupting both NSW TrainLink passenger services and freight trains in both directions. Myself and a handful of other enthusiasts gathered at Cowan Station to bear witness to the proceedings.

The troubles began at Wickham early in the morning when a motorist damaged level crossing equipment at Wickham (Newcastle). Train services were suspended in both directions between Broadmeadow and Newcastle and buses were called in to replace (and later to supplement) train services. This then had a flow on delay to freight services heading south from Broadmeadow yard, as they were unable to leave on their paths – forced to wait in the yard for the late running passenger services to pass, to permit the slower freighters to follow. Continue reading “Cowan”


Main North Shutdown 13/9 – 14/9

4703/4498 head up a spoil train at Mt Colah
4703/4498 head up a spoil train at Mt Colah

All railway lines north of Sydney have been completely shutdown this weekend (13/9 and 14/9) so various items of trackwork can be carried out. This is not limited to on-track work either, some of the things noted today (or told about) include the cleaning of windows on Railway Tower at Chatswood, construction/maintenence work on the station building at Lindfield, OHW maintenence at Hornsby, bridge works at Chatswood and Hornsby, involving cranes on the track (among others), work on substations at Waverton and Hawkesbury River, as well as a lot of other little things that are also done.

Cityrail Trackwork Bus Stop Sign
A typical Cityrail Trackwork bus stop sign.

Interestingly, the North Shore, Newcastle/Central Coast and Northern lines are all shut down this weekend, as well as all trains between Scone/Dungog and Newcastle being replaced by buses. This is a complete shutdown, as Northern Countrylink services have also been replaced by roach coaches! The reasoning behind this would extend up and down the line, as a complete shutdown allows for a lot of work to be done in a short amount of time, rather than working in between freights and/or Countrylink services. Continuation of the resleepering program on the short north between Strathfield and Newcastle continues, as Railcorp are intending to have the majority of the network on concrete sleepers by 2010. This will in turn reduce the number of shutdowns required for track maintenence, as well as providing a smoother and more reliable service on all lines.

Obviously trackwork is not going to be popular – today, where people would have been seated on an air conditioned train, a lot of trackwork buses were hot, crowded and uncomfortable, but these shutdowns must be carried out to ensure a safe and reliable network for both passenger and freight transport. Essential maintenence must be done, and better to have it done on a weekend (where possible) rather than during busy peak hours on weekdays!

PN owned 8155 sits at Central Station with a loaded ballast train for Railcorp
Pacific National owned 8155 sits at Central Station with a loaded ballast train for Railcorp

The main advantage of trackwork, for the enthusiast, is to catch unusual sightings of locos working interesting trains, from railsets and sleeper trains to spoil and ballast trains. A number of locos can be seen in unusual places, such as 81 Class on the North Shore, or a T Class on the East Hills Line. Indeed, a number of locomotives only seem to come out for infrastructure work – Southern Shorthaul Railroad is a major contractor for works trains on Railcorp and ARTC trackage, as well as Independant Rail (MZ Class are frequently sighted on the suburban platforms at Central during Operation CBD shutdowns), Pacific National and even 3801ltd.

Indeed, trackwork should be seen less as an inconvenience, and more as an oppertunity for the weekend buff to get out and see some things they might not normally see!

Whats Wrong With OSCAR?

This is in response to Phillip Clarkes editorial in the June 2008 issue of Railway Digest

OSCAR on The Harbour BridgeA comparison between the Intercity V-Set cars and the Outer Suburban H-Set cars is never going to be a fair one. They are very different trainsets, designed for different uses, and comparing one to the other is largely a futile excercise, as both were designed in different times, for different purposes. Really, the only thing the two trainsets have in common is their destinations.

The Commonwealth Engineering built V-Set cars (introduced in the 1970’s) were the first double deck interurban cars to run for the (then) Public Transport Commission (PTC), and were a huge step forward for commuters, as the new double deck cars could carry significantly more passengers, in air conditioned comfort, and without the hassles involved with being a locomotive hauled train versus electric multiple unit. Built to service the long haul passenger destinations along the electrified sections of the State Rail network (present day being Lithgow, Kiama and Newcastle), they were, and still are a huge success.

V-Set at Dora CreekThe interiors of the V-Set cars best demonstrates their intentions. They have plenty of two plus two reversible seating down the car, with toilets located in pairs at the ends of trailer cars. However, all of this space comes at a price – the cars are far longer than any other cars in service on the Cityrail network, which means that a full eight car train is unable to use the underground platforms at Town Hall, Wynyard, as well as those on the Eastern Suburbs Line. This is an important downside, as a number of peak hour trains from South Coast and Central Coast lines use the underground platforms, rather than terminating at Sydney Terminal.

As the cars were built from the 1970’s, it is important to note that they are not especially easy for disabled passengers to use. Unlike all other electric and diesel stock on the Cityrail network, the doors on V-Set cars must be opened manually by the passengers when unlocked by the guard. While the V-Set cars have many toilets, they are little bigger than a closet, and it would be impossible to make them wheelchair friendly. Doors between the vestibules and the passenger saloons are also very narrow, and next to impossible to fit a wheelchair through.

The V-Sets excel at what they were built for, which is for interurban travel to destinations a few hours away from Sydney, such as Newcastle, Fassifern (Lake Macquarie) Katoomba, Lithgow, and other destinations a similar distance away. They were built during a timeV-Set at Adamstown when people would take their family for a weekend or holiday away from the city by train, rather than by family car.

The OSCARs, or Outer Suburban Cars are very different from their V-Set “counterparts”. They are not designed for long haul passenger travel, rather, they are designed to make long distance peak hour commutes more pleasant.

Built by United Goninans from 2006, the OSCARs are essentially a suburban commuter train, with a number of additions to make longer commutes more pleasant for passengers, as well as bringing areas such as Gosford, Kiama and Wyong a wheelchair accessible railway service to the Sydney Metropolitan Area. Advantages of the OSCAR train over a normal suburban train are many. Firstly, like the Millennium train before them, they feature a number of hidden CCTV cameras around the train, which can be viewed at any time by the trains crew (who can them quickly and discreetly radio for police to meet the train at a station if they notice any disruptions on board). This makes the train far safer for passengers and crew alike.

Importantly, the OSCAR trains are also designed with Wheelchair passengers in mind. Where the two intermediate motor cars meet is where the disabled toilet is located, which is adjacent to a section of flip-up seating so that wheelchairs are not parked in the middle of the vestibule. To make the toilet wheelchair accessible takes up a lot of room. For there to be more than one toilet on the train would mean sacrificing a lot of passenger space. This would be a serious issue, as trains from Wollongong and Gosford can get especially crowded as they go straight into the city underground, saving passengers changing at Central to get to busy inner city stations such as Town Hall, Wynyard and Martin Place.

OSCAR at BomboAnother key feature of the OSCAR train is it’s length. By designing a train the same length as the rest of the suburban cars in service, this enables an eight car train to fit wholly on the underground platforms at Wynyard, Town Hall, Central, Redfern, Martin Place, Kings Cross, Edgecliff and Bondi Junction. Prior to the introduction of the OSCAR’s, these services (originating from Springwood, Wyong, Gosford, Port Kembla, Dapto or Kiama) would use the fleet of Outer Suburban Tangaras (G-Sets). Due to their not being enough G-Set Tangaras to operate all of these services, a number would be forced to run with standard suburban (T-Set) Tangaras with no toilets, and no reversible seating at all! With the introduction of 8-Car OSCAR services on the South Coast and Central Coast Lines, this has freed up the G-Sets to fill the remaining, non-OSCAR services as 8-car trains.

With the price of petrol rising higher each week, more and more people are turning to public transport as an option for their daily commute. This is especially highlighted on the trains from Gosford/Wollongong, as suddenly a lot more people are trying to cram onto a train which was designed for fewer people to travel in comfort – not as a mass commuter train. Again, this is an excellent example of the OSCAR living up to it’s design principle. With it’s three plus two seating on each deck of the train, more people are able to sit down on their train trip to work, which can be as long as two hours each way. With more people seated, this means less people standing in the vestibule areas of the train, which again is an increase in passenger comfort. Those that do have to stand will find it far easier on an OSCAR, with plenty of room in the vOSCAR at Adamstownestibule of the train, and plenty of hand holds. Those who have tried to stand on a V-Set interurban will know that there is little, if anything to hold on, and no room to stand that doesn’t block people walking down the isles to get off the train!

The introduction of the OSCAR EMU has allowed the building up of a number of suburban services from six to eight cars (by releasing T-Set Tangaras from interurban runs, this has allowed a number of R-Sets to be made into S-Sets), as well as the building up of a number of V-Set interurban runs from four to six, and six to eight cars. Considering the petrol price crush is affecting commuters in western, northern and southern Sydney as well as those coming from Newcastle/Katoomba, this is most beneficial to them as well as those directly advantaged by the OSCAR trains.

The seating in OSCAR trains has been called “uncomfortable”, when compared to the V-Set seating. Again, this is an unfair comparison, as the V-Set seating has been designed for train trips of over two hours, when passengers really need the comfort the most. The OSCAR seating should ideally be compared to the seating of a normal suburban train. Most people would prefer to sit on an OSCAR between Wyong and Central as opposed to a T-Set Tangara! Especially when you consider an OSCAR has a toilet, when a T-Set Tangara does not! Another under appreciated aspect of the seating on OSCARs, is that the seats have been designed with vandals in mind – a number of unsavory people over the years have found it very entertaining to rip open or dismantle the seats on the V-Set trains. This negates the comfort factor of the seating, as it is very hard to sit down when there is no seat to sit on! The OSCAR seats, are of a much more robust design, with fabric that is hard to tag or tear, and next to impossible to take the seat apart.

V-Set at GosfordComparing a V-Set to an OSCAR is comparing an apple to an orange. If an OSCAR was running for a three plus hour trip between Sydney and Newcastle, or between Sydney and Lithgow, as the V-Sets do, there would be more of a basis for comparison. Both trains are designed to get people to and from the city in as much comfort as possible. The V-Set, for the longer runs over many hours, while the OSCAR for the shorter runs from the outer suburbs.

Authors Note: My next goal is to get some decent photos of the interiors of both trainsets to provide further basis for comparison.

Interesting Movements on the Short North (or: Farewell to Daylight Savings)

PN MG73 at Hawkesbury RiverAmong those of us who are used to photographing trains on The Short North, one knows what a “typical” (ie, surprise free day) will consist of. Allow me to pause, and gather my collection of notebooks that I drag around in my bag to record times, sightings and consists to give you an example. The below sightings are all from 10th of August, 2008. While some regular services (4172 for example) no longer run, there’s a fairly good chance that anyone could make these sightings this week.

Hawkesbury River (10/8/08):

  • 10:23am (PN) NRxx/DL47/NR29 up 5BA6
  • 10:46am (PPL) GL104/GL102 up 4172
  • 11:03am (CLK) down NP23 (Northern Xplorer)
  • 11:20am (IRA) 1427/4468 up 5166
  • 11:31am (QRN) EL57/CLxx/CLF7 down 5MB7
  • 11:58am (PN) NR65/NRxx down 5MB4
  • 12:04pm (PN) 82xx/81xx/82xx/82xx down MG73
  • 12:22pm (PN) NR72/NR70/NR41 up 5BM4
  • 12:30pm (CLK) XP2002/XP2015 down NT35 (Grafton XPT)
  • 12:59pm (PN) 8182/48xx/48xx down

The only movement on there that was a surprise was the PN grain train. Everything else, one could reasonably expect to see on any given Friday. The other exception to the rule was the EL/CLF combination. Normally when one goes to photograph a QRN train, one sees two/three/four CLF/CLP bulldogs lashed up, and occasionally one (would, rarely happens now) two to three EL class locomotives.

So lets look at some of the more interesting movements that occur on the Short North, regularly.

QRNational 4152 at Gosford4152 – QRNational. 4152 runs between Broadmeadow Yard and Yennora Yard on most days, conveying loading from BM7/MB7. 4152 usually features far more interesting rolling stock than most trains, too. Recently, it has been sighted behind CFCLA bulldog units S300 and B76. It has also been photographed behind members of the X Class, 421 Class and 423 Class, to name a few.

1593 – PN Rural and Bulk. 1593 is the evening Tamworth Fuel Train, which, until recently was the sole domain of the X Class (with the occasional 81 class). Now, with members of the long looked down on 80 Class coming back into the fore, this rarely seen train is even more interesting.PN 4124 at Wyong

4124 – PN Rural and Bulk. 4124 conveys sugar and cement loading from Grafton, among other loading. 4124 is often also used for loco transfers from yards such as Broadmeadow to Clyde Yard. 4124, while often simply one or two 81 class hauling cement hoppers, has been photographed with combinations such as 81/48 or 81/X and even 81/81/81/48.

The catch? These trains all run in the late afternoon/early evening, after the evening curfew is over. The best time to catch these trains is during daylight saving hours – when the sun is on your side until after 7pm…

Just thought I’d share something that not everyone would be aware about. I know I have spent many an interesting afternoon at places like Gosford or Cowan with friends, waiting for one of these interesting movements to show up – it only takes one of them to make the trip worthwhile. Often times, you’ll even get bonus trains running early – I photographed quad 81’s at Gosford one afternoon bringing a very early JU74 (coal) south, bound for Inner Harbour. There are only a few days of daylight saving left, so why not make an afternoon of it? As the sun goes down earlier, you’ll need to travel further north to catch such trains in daylight.