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!

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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  seven 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

(News to Me) SCT G Class in NSW

G533 on lease to QRNational, seen here at Leightonfield heading 3MB7
G533 on lease to QRNational, seen here at Leightonfield heading 3MB7

With the delivery of their SCT Class nearly compete (only SCT015 is still to be delivered from EDI Cardiff (NSW), which will run into Sydney next week), SCT have found little use for the nine G Class they purchased from Pacific National back in March 2007. This was due to an ACCC requirement that Pacific National to provide a “starter kit” of locomotives to a new competitor on the east-west rail corridor. Combined with leased NR Class units (among others), SCT used the nine G Class to haul it’s services until the delivery of their EDI built SCT Class began this year.

With the delivery of the SCT Class, the G Class (which were all heavily overhauled at EDI Rail’s Newport Workship (Vic), which included inline fuelling, data loggers and digital speedometers, among other upgrades) have been leased on to other operators. This has seen a number of the units into NSW, moving further east than Goobang Junction (Parkes) which until recently, remained one of the only places in NSW to sight them (now, this is an excellent place to see the SCT class at work).

G512 was recently on lease to ARG for use on their Manildra Group trains in NSW
G512 was recently on lease to ARG for use on their Manildra Group trains in NSW

G511, G533 and G535 “Kevin Sheedy Express” have all been leased to QRNational for East Coast services, seeing plenty of use on Melbourne to Brisbane and Melbourne to Sydney trains. G512 has also recently been on lease to ARG, for use on their Manildra services, although ARG’s lease on it expires tomorrow. Other members of the class in SCT colours have been seen on Freightlink trains in NT, ARG trains in WA, and El Zorro grain trains in Victoria/South Australia (the latter two units also seen in the company of other lease units such as C501).

The SCT G Class (save for G511) all have SCT logos on front and side, and look sensational in their vibrant red and white colour scheme, adding a splash of colour to the already colourful lashups of QRN/ARG in recent weeks.