Top Ten of 2011

Thanks to inspiration from a number of friends who make this an annual tradition, I’ve taken a good long look back at my photos from the year to try and nut out a top ten list for 2011. At first it was quite easy, but by the end of the year, I’d found 23 photos that I felt could make the cut. I’ve culled the list down, and present – this year’s top ten.

As I’m a bit of a lazy sod, preferring to actually get out trackside with the camera (and then retire to a hotel for a beverage or two in good company, rather than hunch over an LCD screen to sift through photos), a lot of photos from the year have not yet been uploaded to Flickr. Perhaps you might disagree that these are the best photos I’ve taken in 2011? Comments are appreciated, and I would go so far as to suggest that creating a “top ten” list is an important one for all railway photographers. A form of self critique, in a way  – what have I achieved this year? What can I improve on? What makes this shot more important than that one?

Indicator Boards at Leightonfield – March 18th.

The old roller type indicator boards are slowly becoming an endangered species on the CityRail network. With dwindling staff numbers at stations, and an ever expanding need to provide customers with up to the minute information on easy to read and easy to access computer screens, there just isn’t a place for these old indicator boards… except perhaps in a museum! I recall arriving at the station at the same time as NY3 steel freight, without time to line up a “standard” shot, I instead went for the shot with the indicator boards. Needless to say, it didn’t work out, and so, with a bit more time to spare, I tried again with a passing suburban train from the city. Aside from cutting off a tiny bit at the bottom of the board, I feel it worked quite well.

Dusk in The Cullerins – April 30th.

Thanks to a tip off from a friend up in Newcastle, we’d found out that 8134 loaded grain train was expected to arrive into Sydney behind X45, 48122 and X48. The downside was, due to the slow running speed of this train, it was to follow the evening XPT into Sydney, arriving a long time after dark. Our party had spent the day around the Goulburn area, photographing various Pacific National and El Zorro trains. With the afternoon XPT sighted climbing through the Cullerins in the brilliant late afternoon sun, we moved to the station at Gunning to make the most of the remaining dusk light. When we saw 8134 for the first time, it was following another loaded grain train (behind a pair of 81 Class). We got our first shot at Gunning, before moving on in chase – we were racing the remaining light as much as the train! With the train in front combined with the steep grades, it was no issue getting ahead of the train and over to the other side of the hill, but by then the sun was merely an afterthought. Regardless, this shot turned out to be my favourite from the day!

A Depot Scene – May 8th.

A generous invitation from Les Coulton to join him in Ballarat for the Ballarat Heritage Weekend shuttles saw a quick decision to fly down to Victoria to accept. Steamrail Victoria took D3 639 and their carriages to Ballarat to join with local resident Y112 to run a number of shuttles between Ballarat and Sulky. As well as being involved in riding on and photographing the train, the invitation extended to staying in the sleeping car at the Ballarat depot! This allowed for plenty of memorable moments, one of which was watching the locos being prepared for service in the morning. As a nod to the passengers, as well as the lineside photographers who came out to support the train, both locomotives were turned on the Ballarat turntable on the Saturday afternoon, to allow the locomotives to run in reverse order for Sundays shuttles. This photograph was taken shortly before Y112 left the depot to attach to the cars at Ballarat Station.

ML-039 Passing St Leonards – July 3rd.

St Leonards Station is quite an impressive structure – when originally built, it was a pair of unremarkable side platforms to serve a North Shore suburb. Between 1989 to 2000, the station was relocated to a temporary location on the city side of the Pacific Highway overpass, to allow a complete redevelopment of the current station site. As part of the development, the air above the station was handed over to developers to build apartments, and the new station was built with allowance for four tracks, for future enhancement to the St Leonards to Chatswood corridor as part of a proposed second Sydney Harbour crossing. Fast forward to 2011, and platforms one and four remain unused, with the status quo very much maintained. This shot was taken on an opportunistic whim – I had heard that mechanised track inspection vehicle was going to be running over the North Shore line on that day (hardly an unusual occurrence), including a visit to check all of the sidings at Lavender Bay, as well as inspection of the middle tunnel roads at North Sydney, and Lindfield turnback. I’d wanted to shoot a train at St Leonards using the station as a backdrop for a while, and this presented a rather unique oppertunity. With news surfacing that the NSW Government are looking to buy two new mechanised inspection vehicles in 2012, the future of ML-039 is far from safe, I felt this was quite appropriate.

Staff Exchange – July 17th.

During July, I entertained Crisfitz from Railpage, a former driver and train controller from Western Australia. I (and a couple of the usual suspects) showed him some of the more interesting locations and photospots that the area immediatly around Sydney has to offer. One of the activities on Cris’ list was to go for a ride on the Zig Zag Railway, at Lithgow. After first photographing the train paralleling Bells Line of Road, we then raced down to Bottom Points Station to purchase our tickets and board the train. We took great, childlike delight in riding the train up the Zig Zag, pausing for photos of 1049 (as well as the railmotor that was also running on the day) at Top Points during the runaround, as well as more photos at Clarence (and Top Points again on the return journey). Despite all of the atmospheric shots obtained with the DSLR, I felt this was probably one of my favourites of the day. Taken on the iPhone 4 using the Hipstamatic app, I was able to capture the staff exchange at Top Points signal box without the risk of losing my head (or, indeed, headbutting the poor signaller).

G535 at Milvale – August 21st.

The backstory to this photo is staggering – if every picture tells a thousand words, then perhaps I need to find a thousand words to describe how the picture came about! Long time enthusiast and companion Todd had been encouraging me to head south to Junee with him to show him some of the spots, and (hopefully) get some photos of trains away from the mainlines. Imagine our surprise to find out that, due to trackwork on the Unanderra to Moss Vale line, most of the grain trains that regularly ply the states southern regions were parked up with no work to do! The trains we were interested in (the QRNational rake for Glencore Grain and the two El Zorro rakes for Grainflow/Cargills) were all stabled – El Zorro had one rake at Junee, and the other at a siding near Stockinbingal, while QRNational were quite safely parked in Goulburn. On the final day of our (rather quiet) weekend, we noticed movement beginning for the lines re-opening on Monday. QRNational were sighted loading their train at Red Bend (south of Forbes), while El Zorro were preparing to depart Junee at the same time. We found ourselves overlooking an impressive Canola field at Weedalion, the perfect shot set up for the approaching QRNational train. That was, until the train was refuged at Bribbaree! Rather than wait around for it to appear, we instead headed south to Milvale to wait for the Parkes-bound El Zorro train. Having got our shots of G535, EL60, 4816 and 4836 approaching the yard, we prepared to give chase to Bribbaree to get QRNational departing, before heading to Goulburn to spend the night. We didn’t  count on the El Zorro train going into the refuge at Milvale! With the sun rapidly fading, we resigned ourselves to waiting at the country end of the loop at Milvale to see what would eventuate. A loaded PN wheat train from Parkes sub-terminal, bound for the Allied Mills facility at Maldon raced through behind a pair of 81 Class, before it was time for El Zorro to depart. With the last of the light only minutes away from vanishing altogether, it was only luck that produced the photograph seen above!

T6 Approaching Scarborough – 28th of September.

There was once a time when Tangara trains were quite common on the line from Sydney to Wollongong (and beyond). Due to a shortage of V-Set intercity trains, quite a few peak and off-peak runs were rostered for 4 or 8 car G-Set “outer suburban” Tangara trains (of course, seasoned commuters would know that with set availability at Motdale, it was not uncommon for many runs to use T Set suburban trains instead). With the introduction of the OSCar carriages in 2006, their first deployment was to the South Coast Line to free up the Tangara carriages for suburban duties. Fast forward to 2011, and the 3 car L-Set trains that once provided local services in the Wollongong suburban area are gone, replaced by 4 car Tangara trains. Most (if not all) of the services to and from Sydney are operated by OSCar trains (with one run still operated by a V-Set, at least until early 2012). The G-Set “outer suburban” experiment has ended, with all G-Sets having  been refurbished by RailCorp to remove the toilets and make them into suburban commuter trains. The above photograph was taken in moderate rain at Scarborough, only a few days before the 2011 CityRail timetable was introduced.

Guard – October 30th

Every year Heritage Express (the operating arm of the New South Wales Rail Transport Museum, now better known as Trainworks) operates a tour from Sydney to Melbourne and return using their Southern Aurora carriage set for the Melbourne Cup. In 2011 the train was run by 4490 and 4520, and while having lunch in the city, the decision was made to pop down to Sydney Terminal to say G’day to some friends who were amongst the crew. The guard of the first leg of the journey was Ben (seen above in full NSWGR uniform), and I managed to cajole him into standing still for thirty seconds while preparing his train for departure. This is another photograph taken on the iPhone 4, using the Hipstamatic App.

Night Eagle – September 17th.

Chris and I were returning to Sydney after a day spent on the Main South between Moss Vale and Goulburn, looking for shots of the QRNational/Glencore Grain train. Despite getting a large number of shots of this very photogenic train, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to shoot NR18 southbound on a diverted 6BM4. NR18 had arrived into Sydney earlier that morning on the Indian Pacific from Adelaide, and was placed on the front of BM4 to assist the train to Melbourne. Normally BM4 does not stop in Sydney, although on this day it did pause in Enfield to add NR18 to the front. We photographed it well after sunset at Loftus behind NR18, NR25 (painted in the previous Indian Pacific livery), NR73 (painted in the original PN NR colour scheme) and NR76 (retaining it’s original National Rail colours). We suspect this was the first time that the new and old Indian Pacific liveried NR Class were used on the same train. At the time of writing, it is not known if any more NR Class will be treated to the new Indian Pacific scheme.

7GP1 Passing Nelungaloo Silo – November 5th.

During early November, Todd and I headed west to Parkes, to look for photos of the Manildra feeder services. Although we succeeded in our endeavours, we couldn’t pass up a shot for the departure of 7GP1 SCT superfreighter from Parkes to Perth. The departure of the train was slightly delayed beyond the expected departure time, and as such, we photographed SCT009 and SCT005 passing the disused silo at Nelungaloo at 1935, kicking up a great deal of dust and grass seed that rendered us incapacitated for the remainder of the evening!

Advertisements

(News to Me) South Coast Woes

It would seem that commuters from The South Coast Line, which stretches from Sydney Central south to Bomaderry, serving the major centres of Wollongong, Albion Park and Kiama (among many others) simply keep getting a raw deal. Or at least, this is what the commuters on the line would have people believe.

A V-Set heads south towards Wollongong over The Como Bridge
A V-Set heads south towards Wollongong over The Como Bridge

ABC News recently reported on the withdrawl of some OSCAR (Outer Suburban Car) trains from pool which South Coast Line services are drawn. Most intercity and interurban trains are drawn from the same sector, be they the venerable V-Set trains (which are all maintained at Flemmington Maintenence Centre, in inner west Sydney) through to the brand new OSCAR trains (which are all maintained at Eveleigh maintenence centre at Redfern in the inner city). The only exception is the G-Set Outer Suburban Tangaras, which (until recently) have only seen very limited service on The South Coast Line, ever since the rollout en-masse of the OSCAR trains.

Some OSCAR trains are being withdrawn from South Coast service in 2009 to be used on the new Epping to Chatswood Rail Link (ECRL), due to the steep grades and loud noise levels inside the tunnels (which are of a magnitude not seen in Sydney before). Those OSCAR trains being taken out of South Coast service are being replaced by the oldest trains in the fleet, the V-Set Intercity trains (see photo). To listen to the media and the commuters, it would sound like the brand new trains are being taken away from the line to be used elsewhere, and clapped out old rolling stock is being used to replace them. Certainly, that is not far from the truth.

Kiama bound OSCAR at Unanderra. Soon to be back to a V-Set roster perhaps?
Sydney bound OSCAR at Unanderra. Soon to be back to a V-Set roster perhaps?

Regular Trackside readers would remember this article, published July 3rd. The article was in response to a critique made by Railway Digest contributor Phillip Clarke of the OSCAR trains. Among the issues Phillip had with the trains were (first and foremost) the increased capacity of the OSCAR trains at the expense of passenger comfort (especially on longer journeys) , and the reduction of toilet facilites on the OSCAR trains when compared to the V-Set trains they were replacing. Phillip was not alone in these views, which were shared by a number of regular South Coast Commuters, a number of whom completely ignored the benefits of the OSCAR trains (higher capacity, increased saftey and security for passengers, disability accessable toilet facilities and so forth), and instead lamented the withdrawl of the V-Set trains. Indeed, it would seem that some commuters conveniently ignored the fact that hundreds of millions of dollars had been spent to ensure that their line was given a completely new set of rolling stock before any other lines in Sydney – it would be a number of months after the introduction of the OSCAR before the new trains would be seen working services to Gosford/Wyong, commuters on The Northern Line would instead have to make do with Outer Suburban Tangara trains.

Now it seems, the reverse is true. The commuters and media lament the loss of the brand new OSCAR trains, complaining that they are being taken away to be given to another line, and are instead being lumped with clapped out old silver trains. Yet, it was the very features of these trains that they were lamenting the loss of when the OSCAR trains first came online! V-Sets (as mentioned in the previous article on this website) feature two by two reversable seating, air conditioning, no shortage of bathrooms (an equivialant amount of one per carriage on the train, instead of the one for every four cars on the OSCAR trains).

Northbound OSCAR crossing The Princes Highway at Unanderra
Northbound OSCAR crossing The Princes Highway at Unanderra

The South Coast Line is not returning to the condition it was in before the introduction of the OSCAR trains, when a shortage of V-Set intercity stock and G-Set Outer Suburban Tangaras meant that  South Coast Line trains (especially peak hour services) were being made up of T-Set Tangara (suburban) trains, with their commuter seating and no toilet facilities at all.

Finally, where are these V-Sets coming from? It is well known in Sydney that the V-Set (a very popular train with commuters from The Blue Mountains, South Coast, Ilawarra, Central Coast and Newcastle) is in short supply, so they must be withdrawn from one line to be used on another. It would seem that Central Coast Line services to Gosford and Wyong, traditionally served by four or six car V-Set trains are being replaced by OSCAR trains. Next we will be hearing about how hard the Central Coast Commuters have it. Never mind that the last new suburban train was the Millenium train, introduced from 2000, which only runs on the south west. Never mind that commuters from Penrith, Blacktown and Richmond areas are still being forced onto already overcrowded, non-airconditioned trains.

Source: ABC News “South Coas’t OSCAR carriages to be replaced” 23/12/08

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.

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.