Below are a few scenes from a recent visit to Pothana Lane in the NSW Hunter Valley (near Branxton).
Over the course of three days recently, I managed to record two very different push-pull workings. One, a heritage steam locomotive and diesel pairing on a tour of the Sydney metropolitan area, the other, a test of some of the most modern horsepower in the state! Both trains had one thing in common, they covered some pretty hilly terrain!
I’m quite willing to admit that I get into a comfort zone when enjoying my hobby. Despite the interesting trains that are found in the far west and north-west of the state, it is always all too easy to settle on a trip to the south, where the trains are plentiful, the locations are well known, and the motels are tried and tested. Still, after getting a taste of the scenery the north-west of the state had to offer in June of last year, I’ve always been hankering for another crack at this rather unique area.
I would be given this opportunity when Chris, a mate of mine, suggested an evening photo shoot in either the Cullerin or Liverpool ranges. Despite the former being significantly closer to Sydney than the latter, we settled on the Liverpool Range just because we’d never done it in anything approaching darkness.
As I was working morning shift (0344 sign on) on the day that Chris was driving up, I arranged to catch the CountryLink Grafton XPT service to Maitland, where we would meet up and head for the north-west. Invitations were also extended to Simon and Fred to make the trip to see what we could find. With barely a scrap of local knowledge amongst the four of us, it would truly be a case of the blind leading the blind!
While on the train up to Maitland, a number of freight and passenger trains were passed in a blur, the most interesting of which was when we overtook BL30 and BL27 on an empty ore train at Waratah, and later when we overtook a pair of 5020 class on an empty QRNational coal train near Maitland. Meeting Chris on the platform just as the rain started, I was greeted with “what have you done, you’ve brought the rain up from Sydney I suppose?”. I also made contact with Simon, to find that he was making his way up from the Woy Woy area where he had spent the morning looking for freight traffic.
Arranging a rough meeting in the Singleton area, we set off in pursuit of the 5020 class, which followed the Xplorer out of the station. Our cause was not helped by a stop at Rutherford McDonalds for a late lunch. We beat the 5020’s to the bridge at Minimbah by the skin of our teeth, and then settled in to wait for the ore train that would no doubt not be far behind. We were not disappointed, with BL30 and BL27 rounding the curve at 1517. Given that all of our focus was on the ore train, we didn’t notice the pair of 82’s (and the pair of G Class remaining in Hunter Coal service) climbing the grade behind us. It was only when we turned to get a shot of the BL’s snaking their way down the hill that we noticed the coal train. Thankfully there was an absence of traffic on the Golden Highway at that point in time, so it was an easy task to cross the road and photograph this unexpected bonus train.
Despite the difficulties of chasing a train through Singleton, we decided to try and find a spot for the BL Class overlooking Lake Liddell, and the nearby power stations. We succeeded in locating a suitable location, although I managed to fudge the shot up, so that location has been added to a list of locations that we will revisit in the future. When we tried to leave the location to head into Muswellbrook, we noticed what looked like a loaded coal train preparing to depart Antiene for port, so we quickly turned around and raced up to what looked to be an excellent hillside view over the line (missing triple TT Class on the down with an empty coal train in the process). We waited, and waited. Finally, triple WH Class locomotives on a loaded Gunnedah Basin coal train snaked their way into view. At this point, happy with what we had, and ever wary of the expected rail traffic in the Werris Creek area versus the slowly retreating sun, we moved on.
Due to the delay in the Lake Liddell area (and my inexcusable inability to give cohesive directions to Simon on how to get to Ardglen over the phone), we ended up playing catch up to Simon, finally meeting him at the motel in Murrurundi. After dumping our bags in the motel room, we set off towards Werris Creek with a slight detour into Willow Tree to photograph triple TT Class departing with a loaded coal train. Willow Tree is where the bank engines are attached for the run up to Ardglen, and on this occasion they were all 82 Class (25, 44 and 20).
Arriving into Werris Creek, it was plain to see that the yard was well filled with various trains. At least two grain rakes were parked in the yard, as well as 8201 standing at the head of a loaded coal train from the nearby Werris Creek mine (the loader for which is located on the original Werris Creek – Gap alignment). We spent a brief moment recording the five Engenco owned 80 Class stored at the Sydney end of the yard, before our eyes spied movement to the north of town – 1437 and 1434 wheeling around the curve into the platform with 5166N container freight from Narrabri. We quickly forgot the stored 80 class and raced out of town to get a shot of them shortly after sunset. Arriving back into town, we saw 8205 and 8237 attach to 8201 for the run to Newcastle. Due to the dead-end line out to the coal loader, trains must be worked in push-pull configuration. While watching the 82 Class rejoin the front of their train, we noticed BL26 being turned on the turntable in the background.
We stuck around at Werris Creek, as there were at least two trains following the IRA freight, a loaded coal train from the Gunnedah area and a loaded P&O Trans Australia containerised grain train (being operated for Mountain Industries at Kooragang). While waiting on the platform for the coal train, the three 82 Class departed for Newcastle, only to be replaced by another three 82 Class from Gunnedah a little before 9pm. Shortly after the arrival of the coal train, we noticed a bright light approaching the Outer Home signal – this would prove to be 5414N loaded containerised grain. At this point, we could have been forgiven for giving up!
Eventually, the southbound coal train departed and we assumed that 5414 would move into the yard, although we were right about that, it wouldn’t happen for another thirty minutes. In the meantime, an empty grain arrived from Newcastle behind 8137 and 48163. The train was a curious mix of ex Freight Australia VHAF hoppers mixed in with the more traditional NGPF and NGXH types. A number of former Freight Australia hoppers previously stored on the Ararat Line in Victoria are being reactivated and sent to NSW to assist in the movement of grain across the state.
Finally, a little after 10pm, RL306 and 1101 moved into the platform at the station for a crew change. Despite the more modern 1100 class facing forward, it was relegated to trailing unit status, so we settled for photographing the RL which was well lit by the station and yard lighting. After a few minutes on the platform, the signal changed and they were off, the pair screaming out of the station with their load of all-new SQDY wagons with new 20ft covered containers.
So distracted were we by the P&OTA freight, we had missed the departure of BL26 and an 81 Class on a grain train ahead of them. Due to the PN train requiring banking up the grade into Ardglen, the P&O train overtook the PN grain around Willow Tree, and we arrived into Ardglen to listen to the pair clambering up the grades. At this point, the wind had picked up, and so it was all but impossible to use tripods to get the headlight shot, so we were content to watch and listen. With their departure, it was finally time to get back to the motel and go to bed. Finally turning in at midnight, having been up for twenty two and a half hours felt good, but it was all worth it. Especially as tomorrow was another day!