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.


All Rail Lines Lead to Parkes – Part 1

Regular travelling companion Todd Milton and I decided to pay our first visit to the Parkes area in November, with the hope of seeing something a little different from our usual haunt, the Main South. A regular diet of NR and 81 Class will do that! The checklist of “things to see” included the two shunting units at Manildra, the various Manildra feeder grain services (typically the domain of 48 and X Class locomotives), as well as any branchline grain trains we could lay out hands on. Finally, a shot of The Parkes – Perth SCT service was a must-have.

According to plan, AR02 loaded coal from Airly was the first train to pass our vantage point at 0618 behind G513, C508 and C503. Next to arrive was 1865N freight, bound for Kelso (Bathurst) behind GL107 and GL101. We then hopped onto the highway to move to Sodwalls, for a spectacular dawn lit shot as the train passed around the well-known horseshoe. That is, we would have, if we’d not made the mistake of continuing on to Brewongle, with word that 1865N was stopped at Wallerawang. We assumed we could get a shot of the up Indian Pacific at Brewongle, before moving to Raglan to get the GL’s climbing the steep grade into the station. Imagine our surprise when GL107 snuck up on us (prior to this, I didn’t realise a GL could sneak up on anyone), crossing the up Indian Pacific at the former station site. Still, a fine shot of NR27 was gained on the s-curve at Brewongle, before we moved to Kelso to see the freight shunt into the siding.

With no other trains in the area until the afternoon, we decided to head west to Manildra. We’d been told that an 81/X combo was to depart Parkes Sub-Terminal at lunchtime, bound for Enfield, and we figured upon getting there early to find a decent spot for a shot! Passing through the township of Manildra, we reflected on the fact that the mill is not so much a feature of the town, it appears that the town is a feature of the mill! The huge silos and milling buildings dwarf the surrounding town, and entirely encircle the former station site, which is no longer served by passenger trains. MM01 (formerly 4907, see Part 2) was also seen to be shunting the mill, while MM03 (former BHP Newcastle No. 51) was shutdown on an adjacent siding.

We paused outside of town to record the passing of 8134N Westons Milling wheat service bound for Enfield behind the uninspiring looking 8130 in FreightCorp colours, and a gleaming X48 in pristine Pacific National paint, before continuing on to Parkes to first locate, and check into our motel. We soon found that Parkes is a very confusing town when you first drive in, with highways being renamed in town to street names, and plenty of “no right turn” signs, as well as plenty of occasions where the road we wanted to get to was on the other side of a footpath. Eventually we navigated the town, dumped our bags, and found ourselves baking in the heat at Goobang Junction, waiting for G515 to arrive from Goonumbla.

While waiting for G515, we amused ourselves by watching former WAGR/Great Northern/CFCLA locomotives J103 and J102 shunting the SCT terminal. Painted in full SSR livery, the two J Class at Goobang Junction have an interesting history.

Originally purchased by the Western Australian Government Railways (WAGR) in 1966 from Clyde Engineering for shunting duties (the J Class are almost identical to the first series Y Class purchased by the VR three years earlier). They spent their lives in WA until 1995, when four members of the class (the class leader had been scrapped two years earlier) were sold to Great Northern and transferred to Melbourne.

During their time with Great Northern, the J Class were used on a variety of tasks, including shunting the National Rail Corporation freight terminal, running shunting turns and trip trains, and infrastructure work. When Great Northern folded in 2002, ownership of the class passed to CFCL Australia, who leased the locomotives to Southern Shorthaul Railroad. CFCLA sold the four members of the class in 2009 and 2010 (to SCT and Freightlink respectivly) for use as shunters in NSW and SA.

J103 and J102 can often be seen shunting the SCT freight depot at Goobang Junction. Sadly, the units did not get close enough to the accessible end of the shunting neck for a roster shot, and I was not to keen on tramping through long grass in late spring. I had to be content with shooting them across the field.

G515 did arrive on cue at 1306 with 8242N loaded ore train from Goonumbla to Goulburn (the train runs to Port Kembla, but waits at Goulburn for its turn in the sidings, which are shared by the PN ore train from Blayney).

After a break for lunch, we wandered around the station area. PN have a large depot at Parkes, and it is not uncommon for many trains to exchange crews or even loco’s when passing through. Quite a few locomotives were stabled in the yard, including former ATN Access L251, and a number of 48 class in various liveries, from GrainCorp and PN, to the battle scarred Freightcorp units, showing every day of their impressive age.

As the day began to slowly cool, we staked out the level crossing at Goonumbla to wait for one of the two trains that feed the mill at Manildra with grain from various silos in Western NSW. The first such train was 8832N coming towards Parkes from Narromine behind 4894, 4854 and X50, with X50 being a particularly long way from home! Since the cessation of bulk fuel transport by rail in NSW, most of the X Class have seen themselves redeployed on other bulk working, including grain, flour, cement and sugar traffic, among other loadings.

After following 8832 halfway to Manildra, we decided that any further shots would endanger the possibility of the final shot of the day – a sunset shot of 7GP1 SCT superfreighter to Perth. We set up at Nelungaloo (to the west of Parkes) as the sun slowly slid behind the horizon, entertained by the harvesters busy harvesting a nearby wheat field. 7GP1 shattered the atmosphere when it screamed past at 1935 behind SCT Class locomotives 009 and 005. Up to 1800m in length, the train is a mixture of vans and double-stack container wagons, and the sight and speed of the train needs to be seen to be believed. What a fantastic way to finish! It was worth the massive dust cloud it kicked up that reduced both Todd and I to a sneezing, coughing, sniffling mess for the next few hours until medication (and a nightcap) brought sleep – a very welcome relief!

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.

The Numbered Days of The Number 3982

C504 passing through Towrang wrong road with 3982 12/11/08
C504 passing through Towrang wrong road with 3982 12/11/08

Three, Nine, Eight Two could be any random four numbers thrown together. Indeed, when talking about intrastate train numbers, that’s what they appear to be, four random numbers (perhaps chosen for aesthetic reasoning?) put together and attached to a train. In some cases, it’s for a seasonal runner, so the number is not often known and remembered. In other cases (such as is the case with 3982) it is a regularily tabled service, which may or may not be of interest to trackside photographers.

A breakdown of the numbers should help to explain things clearly. The first number is where the train is coming from (3 – Southern/Riverina Region. In this case, Narrandera, along the Griffith Branch from Junee), while the second number is the trains destination (9 – Illawarra Region. In this case, the Manildra Group Mill at Bomaderry). The third number designates that the train is an Australian Railroad Group (ARG) train. The final number is allocated based on how many trains that company has running from those two areas. In this case, the number is 2 to denote an up (going towards Sydney) train*.

C504 screaming around the curve at Werai with 3982 12/11/08
C504 screaming around the curve at Werai with 3982 12/11/08

It then becomes apparent that train 3982 is the ARG loaded flour train from Narrandera to Bomaderry hauled on behalf of The Manildra Group. As reported previously in August, earlier this year, the contract has passed from ARG to Asciano Limited (Pacific National/Patricks Portlink), thus requiring a change of train number from 3982 to 3938 (note the last two numbers have changed based on the change in operator).

Due to the start and end point of the train, this makes 3982 unique when compared to the other Bomaderry Flour services (8982 Manildra to Bomaderry and 5982 Gunnedah to Bomaderry), as it does not travel via Sydney Instead, the train moves north along the Main South to Moss Vale, at which point it turns east and slowly descends The Illawarra Escarpment to Unanderra. At this point, the locos run around the train for the final leg to Bomaderry. This means, for almost the entire trip**, it travels outside of overhead wires (which cause issues to many a trackside photographer)

2201 is in the lead through Berry with 3982 12/11/08
2201 is in the lead through Berry with 3982 12/11/08

As the author is restored on to work on the last day of 3982 operation, it was decided to go out and chase the third last 3982 ever to run. Incidentally, it would prove to be C504’s last daylight run with ARG, having blown a traction motor on the run down to Junee the day prior. C504 had been on lease to ARG to assist with 3106 having been transferred back to Western Australia (with the rest of the ARG-owned 31/L Class in NSW to follow).

Our group proceeded to Goulburn, before doubling back to Towrang, to find our first photospot of the day. Due to trackwork between Goulburn and Marulan (part of the process of upgrading the entire Melbourne to Brisbane route to concrete sleepers), the train ran wrong road through Towrang at 0816 with C504 on point, assisted by 2208 and 2201. Chase was given to Werai (south of Moss Vale) where the train was photographed passing the famous curve at 0912. The train branches off the mainline at Moss Vale and proceeds down the mountain to Unanderra, and was photographed again slowly moving through Ocean View at 1007 (3982 paused in the loop at Robertson to cross an empty Tahmoor Coalie which was climbing the mountain from Inner Harbour).

2201 leading 2208 and C504 with 3982 having reached Bomaderry 12/11/08
2201 leading 2208 and C504 with 3982 having reached Bomaderry 12/11/08

Leaving the train behind to begin our own descent of the mountain to Albion Park, next stop was Berry, to stop and have lunch and wait for the train to catch up. The locomotives must run around their train at Unanderra, before proceeding to the refuge at Bombo to allow the track ahead to clear. After a down Endeavour clears the section at Berry, 3982 may collect the staff to enter the Kiama to Berry section. By the time the train has arrived at Berry, the Endeavour has cleared the next section and pulled into Bomaderry Station, so 3982 continues unimpeded right through to Bomaderry. Sure enough, 2201 lead 2208 and C504 through Berry at 1335, and into Bomaderry just before 1400.

As always, thanks must go to Roy Marshall for his continued assistance tracking down the various ARG Trains and their motive power around NSW. Without Roy’s help, most of the photos taken of ARG trains this year would not have been possible. Thanks also to Greg “42101” Gordon and Anthony “42209” Johnson for their continued company while trackside (and for putting up  with the drugged up bloke in the back seat).

*Despite the trains destination not requiring it to pass through Sydney, it moves towards Sydney for most of it’s trip. That is to say that Bomaderry is closer to Sydney than Narrandera! Of course, during trackwork and maintenence the train is often diverted through the Sydney area.

**Of course, Unanderra to Kiama is under the wires, although there are limited places to photograph the train on this section anyway

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!