Quality Over Quantity – Part Two

Day Two – July 30th

Thanks to a friendly SSR driver, we had learned that B61 would be departing Parkes Yard pre-dawn with a southbound loaded railset (loaded at Bathurst the day prior). Sure enough, when we arrived on a very cold Parkes Station a little after 0500, we found B61 idling away at the head of its train. Their departure would be delayed by L270, 48157 and 48152 (those locomotives sound familiar?) shunting grain wagons within Parkes Yard.

We were more than happy to snap plenty of photos of both L270 and B61. As L270 was shunting, it was almost impossible to get a “normal” shot of the locomotive in the rather pleasing station and yard lighting. In fact, it was only as we were getting in the car to go for a coffee that Todd remarked “oh look, it’s parked next to B61”. I grunted something in reply, conveying the message that the “stupid thing” would likely end up moving as soon as I set up the tripod again. When he went on to mention that the crew had climbed out and walked off, he finished the statement to a dust-cloud outline, as I was already back on the platform setting up. Shot taken, I returned to the car with a rather bemused expression on my face. The first success of the day and the sun wasn’t even up yet! All of the “real” photographers would likely still be in the warmth of their beds – everyone knows that if you can’t get a 3/4 sunny shot, it’s not worth leaving the house for!

Perhaps this success made us over confident. While ordering our coffees, we heard the distinctive sound of a veteran EMD loading up as B61 blasted her way out of town. Convinced that we would easily catch up to the train on the Newell Highway, we collected our drinks and headed south to Daroobalgie (just outside of Forbes). It was there that we set up camp, planning to follow the railset south until it either stopped to cross a northbound train, or started to dump rails. As the sun rose, the shot just got better and better… Continue reading “Quality Over Quantity – Part Two”

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October 2010 News

Waratah “A1” Begins Testing on The CityRail Network

After delivery on the 28th of July, the first 8-car Waratah Train or “A Set” commenced its testing on the CityRail network in August. A historic test occurred on the night of August 13th, when A1 made a trip between Camelia and Carlingford under its own power. This test seemed unusual to some, as the Waratah trains will not be used on the Carlingford Line in revenue service. The testing was done on the Carlingford Line due to the isolation of the line (thus making it easy to close for testing), and because of the steep gradient of the line providing a good test for some of the other steep grades in Sydney.  This marked the end of the testing period with the PPTV (Pre Production Trial Vehicle), which will be returned to Cardiff at a future date. The motor cars from the PPTV will be used in one of the future Waratah trains, while the driver trailer units will be used as spares to replace damaged rolling stock in the event of an accident or derailment.

The main criticism of the Waratah train to date is it’s late introduction, although this is due in part to the extensive testing and quality control being imposed on the train before it is accepted into service. The seamless introduction of the OSCar trains to the network was due to the rigorous testing program imposed on them before they were accepted into passenger service.

The 78 8-car Waratah trains are being supplied by Reliance Rail, a consortium of Downer EDI Limited, AMP Capital Investors, Royal Bank of Scotland and International Public Partnerships Limited. The trains will be maintained by Downer EDI, on a 30-year contract to Reliance Rail. As reported in the July news, these trains will be leased by RailCorp and used for CityRail services. This is a dramatic shift in the previous method of rolling stock acquisition, where RailCorp would purchase the rolling stock outright from a manufacturer.

The first 8-car set is due to enter service by December 2010, with at least four sets expected to be in service by March, 2011.

Endeavour/Xplorer Refurbishment Program Complete

EA2504 is the lead car on SP31, Sydney to Canberra passenger.

The Xplorer railcars were introduced in 1993, as part of a project to re-introduce a daylight service to North Western NSW, as well as to allow the removal of the older, locomotive hauled passenger trains from the regional rail network. The Endeavour railcars were a follow on from the Xplorer design, albeit being modified to better suit commuters rather than booked seat passengers. The first Endeavour railcar would enter service in 1994.

Although minor changes had been made to the fleet of both the Xplorer and Endeavour cars over their operating lives, no major overhaul had yet been performed. By May 2005, a number of changes had been made to the CityRail and CountryLink networks since the cars entered service. The most notable was the introduction of the new CountryLink colour scheme on the refurbished XPT locomotives and cars, as well as the introduction of the Hunter Railcars for use in the Newcastle and Hunter Valley region. By the end of 2006, a number of companies had been shortlisted to tender for the refurbishment of both the Xplorer and Endeavour railcars. The contract would eventually be given to Bombardier Transportation Australia in January 2008.

The first railcars to undergo the refurbishment process would be TE2804 and LE2864, transferred to Bombardiers workshops at Dandenong (Melbourne, Victoria) on the 4th of March, 2008. Initially, the railcars were hauled down by an 81 class locomotive, although later transfers were often made under their own power. Once the cars to be refurbished had arrived at Dynon Freight Yard, the railcars were lifted from their bogies and placed onto broad gauge transfer bogies for the final leg of the journey. Due to the setup of the points at Dandenong, all transfers were run in push-pull configuration by Pacific National locomotives and crews, using surplus log and cement wagons to provide braking power for the railcars. The railcars then repeated the same process in reverse when they were to be returned to Sydney.

LE2858 is seen between log wagons at Springvale Victoria, on transfer back to Dynon where it will be put onto it's bogies and run back to Sydney with TE2808 and EA2508.

The final transfer run would run from Dandenong to Dynon on Monday the 23rd of August, 2010, comprising cars TE2808, LE2858 and EA2508. These three cars marked the end of the refurbishment process, with all of the Xplorer and Endeavour cars now back in service at the time of writing.

Something that often goes unreported in today’s media is when something is delivered on time – RailCorp pledged to have all of these railcars back in service by October 2010, under their 2010 Customer Charter, and they achieved this with over a month to spare.

2010 CityRail Timetable – 10.10.10

The 2010 CityRail Timetable is set to begin on the 10th of October, 2010, bringing with it a number of service improvements to Illawarra and South Coast Line commuters who felt they “missed out” in the 2009 Timetable.

The completion of the Cronulla Duplication is the main trigger for the new timetable, allowing an increase in services between Cronulla and Bondi Junction during morning and afternoon peak hours, as well as during the off-peak times and on weekends.

Another major change is that most weekend South Coast Line services will now terminate and commence from Bondi Junction, rather than Sydney Terminal. This will have the added bonus of “isolating” the Illawarra and South Coast Lines from the rest of the network, ensuring that any problems elsewhere in the network will not flow on to disrupt Illawarra and South Coast services.

Finally, South Coast Line services previously performed by Endeavours will be replaced by electric trains where possible, with the Endeavours to be restricted to running between Bomaderry and Kiama (with the exception of positioning moves to/from Wollongong Yard, and empty car runs to/from Port Kembla to decant). Under the current timetable, a number of morning services between Kiama and Wollongong are provided by Endeavour sets running to/from Bomaderry. These services would normally connect with an electric train at Dapto, Unanderra or Wollongong, although now these services will terminate at Kiama, connecting with either a Sydney or Thirroul bound train at Kiama.

V65 at Otford with a Sydney bound passenger train. With the new CityRail timetable, all weekend services on the South Coast will operate to/from Bondi Junction, pushing the V-Sets to Monday to Friday operation only... Is this the beginning of the end for these veteran trains?

Finally, one other change is the increase in services on the South Line (Campbelltown via Granville) on a weekend from two trains per hour to four.

QRNational Sale

The sale of QRNational (the largest public float since Telstra was sold) is set to proceed, with pre-registration open for interested parties to receive a pre-allocated offer of shares.  Advertising has saturated both television and print media, with statements as “Australia’s largest coal hauler” being used to generate interest. However, this tactic might indeed scare off potential investors who are fearful of the company’s dependence on export coal for income. With global coal demand tipped to peak by 2020, it is questionable if QRNational can continue being a major player should the demand for coal from nations such as China be reduced. While QRNational has been making steady inroads in intermodal transport, it is still competing with companies such as SCT and Pacific National, especially on the lucrative east-west corridor.

SSR Newstan Coal Contract

Further to the report in the July News, Southern Shorthaul Railroad have continued to make their presence felt  in the business of coal transport, cementing their contract with Centennial Coal for transport of export coal from Newstan Colliery to Kooragang Island (Newcastle) and Inner Harbour (Port Kembla). To increase reliability and efficiency of the service, SSR has supplemented their two G Class locomotives (G513 and G514) on the train by obtaining G511 on long-term lease from CFCLA (which was recently painted into SSR colours at Bradkens Braemar Workshop prior to closing – see below). Following a period where G511 was used to allow G513 and G514 to return to EDI at Cardiff for maintenance, G511 replaced the two B Class (B61 and B65) on the train during August. For a short time the train ran as triple G Class, although in recent days C503 (also on lease from CFCLA) has been seen on the train.

Watch this space!

Freightliner in NSW

A number of new XRN Class locomotives have broken cover, undergoing trials in the Hunter Valley for X-Rail. X-Rail is a joint venture between Xstrata and Freightliner to provide additional export capacity for Xstrata mines. This is in addition to the current services already run for Xstrata by Pacific National. Three XRN Class are currently in service, XRN001 to XRN003. The X-Rail colour scheme is yellow, blue and grey.

In addition, the first GL Class in Freightliner livery has been sighted in Adelaide, awaiting transfer back to NSW to work North Western export container services. GL111 is on long term lease from CFCLA, and has been repainted into the Freightliner corporate scheme accordingly.

Bradken Closes Braemar Workshop

Bradken Rail closed their Braemar Workshop in mid July of this year, with at least 50 employees out of work. The Braemar plan has been notable for a number of repaints for CFCLA and SSR, as well as having done the refurbishment on the ex-DSB MZ III Class for Independent Rail. Bradken had just completed a major project providing coal hoppers for Pacific Nationals Hunter Valley and Queensland operations, with parts of the wagons imported from China and assembled locally. Management has placed the blame squarely on increased competition from overseas companies, notably rolling stock manufacturers in China.

Authors Note: I’m aware that the October news is rather light on interesting photos, however it has been a busy couple of months. Please watch this space!

September 2009 News

SCT G Class Repainting

With news of the sale of the 9 former SCT G Class locomotives to other operators (see Trackside, August 2009), G513 and G514 (now owned by Southern Shorthaul Railroad) entered the paint shops at Lithgow during September for repainting, emerging during October, and being sighted on numerous works trains in the Sydney area.

3265 Returned to Service

3265 Redfern
3265 passing Redfern with the first public steam shuttle. 20/9/09.

Preserved steam locomotive 3265, which first entered service in 1902, was overhauled and rebuilt by the Powerhouse Museum between 1998 and 2009, and formally re-entered service on September 20, 2009, celebrated by a day of steam shuttles between Central and Bankstown Stations. The day’s festivities began at Central, with 3265 arriving to be greeted by a large crowd of ex-railway men and women, volunteers, dignitaries and photographers present to record the historic occasion. After a short ceremony and morning tea, 3265 ran her first steam shuttle for the day to Bankstown via Sydenham and returning via Regents Park. The first shuttle was reserved for those who had helped make her return to service possible, passengers consisting of VIPs and their invited guests. The second and third shuttles, also running to Bankstown via Sydenham and returning via Regents Park, was open to members of the public who had snapped up tickets.

Since her return to service, 3265 has been used on a 3801ltd Cockatoo Run special to Moss Vale via Wollongong, as well as a private charter to and from Hurstville, with at least two more tours planned for 2009, including a triple headed steam trip up the Blue Mountains in November, and a private charter in early December. The Powerhouse Museum plans to operate up to six tours a year with 3265, usually in conjunction with another heritage operator.

Freightliner to Enter Hunter Valley Coal Market

In a joint venture with Xstrata, a Swiss mining company, Freightliner will enter the lucrative Hunter Valley coal haulage market, using locomotives and rolling stock provided by Xstrata. Xstrata is planning to purchase three 90-wagon rakes and nine locomotives with an eye to commencing operations by 2011. Bradken will be building the wagons, with the locomotives provided by United Goninans. While the trains will be owned by Xstrata, Freightliner will operate the trains under the name of “X-Rail”.

Pacific National will still continue to haul up to 30 million tonnes of export coal for Xstrata.

Currently Pacific National handle all of Xstratas export coal as part of a decade long contract signed in July 2009. The deal accounts for 30 million tonnes of coal per annum, although with additional mines planned to open in the next couple of years, additional capacity would be required, which will be covered by X-Rail trains, hauling the additional 10 million tonnes of coal each year. Speculation as to who would haul the additional 10 million tonnes has now been laid to rest, as originally the additional freight was up for haulage by either Pacific National or QRNational, the two existing operators in the Hunter Valley.

If the venture is successful, it may lead to X-Rail hauling more of Xstrata coal as more mines open and existing mines increase capacity in the future.

Xplorer Services to Canberra

With the cessation of the fuel service to Canberra looming, one could be forgiven for thinking that the future of the line is in doubt. When the Premier visited Queanbeyan on September 18, 2009, he was not announcing the removal of the CountryLink Xplorer service to Canberra, rather, an increase in services – an additional eight services a week between Sydney and Canberra (four in each direction).

The increased number of trains is actually due to a reduction in patronage, put down to the confusing timetable and irregular service level. Now, with a regular service frequency, and a consistent timetable, it is hoped that patronage will rise again. The increased number of services is thanks to a more efficient use of the Xplorer fleet, as during the current timetable, it is not uncommon for one set to arrive into Canberra at midday from Sydney, and be stabled in the siding until the following morning service back to Sydney.

Xplorer at Bungendore
The up midday Xplorer service from Canberra passes an ARHS Heritage train in the yard at Bungendore. Under the new timetable, this will become a daily service in each direction to and from Sydney.

The existing timetable is shown below

Canberra Dep Sydney Arr Days of Operation
6:43am 11:02am Daily*
11:52am** 4:10pm*** Mon/Wed/Fri/Sun
5:03pm 9:23pm Tue/Thur/Sat
Sydney Dep Canberra Arr Days of Operation
6:58am 11:17am Daily*
12:05pm 4:25pm Tue/Thur/Sat/Sun
6:11pm 10:29pm Mon/Wed/Fri/Sun
* Except Sunday
**(Sunday only) departs 3 minutes later
*** (Sunday only) arrives 15 minutes later due to connecting with the up Riverina Xplorer service at Goulburn

From December 6, the new timetable will be introduced

Ex Sydney Ex Canberra
Morning Service Daily Daily
Midday Service Daily Daily
Evening Service Sun/Mon/Wed/Fri Sun/Mon/Wed/Fri

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.

Riding The Bombala Line – Day One

To Canberra by Rail

Countrylink seat numbers in an unrefurbished Xplorer Car. Odd numbers are windows, even numbers are isle seats.
Countrylink seat numbers in an unrefurbished Xplorer Car. Odd numbers are windows, even numbers are isle seats.

On a Sunday, the first service from Sydney to Canberra departs Sydney Terminal at 12:10 (Monday to Saturday an early morning service runs which departs Sydney Terminal at 06:37). It was this service that I booked on, to depart Sydney for Canberra on Sunday January 25th, and when I arrived at Sydney Terminal at 11:50, the train was ready and waiting for me. I quickly found my first class window seat in Car A (the leading car and buffet car of the train) and on a quick inspection of the carriage, I noticed that it was fairly well loaded, as was to be expected of a long weekend, especially one towards the end of the summer school holidays. Another observation, typical of first class Countrylink travel, was that I was the youngest person in the carriage! My suspicion of a well populated service was confirmed when a message came over the PA requesting passengers to maximise luggage space in the overhead luggage racks, as the service was booked almost to capacity, and space would be at a premium. Although the service was almost fully booked, I somehow managed to have a vacant seat next to me the entire way into Canberra.

Today, the Xplorer service would be provided by 2506/2513/2526. Although the lead car (Car A) had yet to go through the current overhaul program being undertaken by Bombardier Transportation Australia at their Dandenong (Victoria) plant, it has still had the new seat covers on all of the seats, while the centre car had already been through the overhaul process.

Settling back into my seat, we departed Sydney Terminal a minute early at 12:09, and made the short dash to Strathfield, arriving two minutes ahead of the table at 12:20. At Strathfield, a large number of passengers joined the train (seemingly as many as boarded the train at Central), leaving Car A close to capacity, with only a few seats spare. After departing Strathfield at 12:22, the buffet car opened, and lunch was offered. Today, lunch was a choice between battered fish and chips, or a vegetarian curry with rice. Opting for the fish, at $9, I received a small blue card confirming my reservation. When lunch was ready, all I had to do was present the card at the buffet, and pay for my food. This method was to ensure that no food was heated unnecessarily.

Branching off the main suburban line at Lidcombe, we proceeded to the busy Sefton Junction, where the train slowed. Suspecting that we were tabled behind a spark and were in for a slow run to Liverpool, I was surprised to see QRNationals 7BM7 intermodal service waiting for us to pass in the yard at Leightonfield, especially with the all QRN liveried combo of G516/CLP11/CLP13! With the freight out of the way, it was a short run along to Campbelltown, where we arrived right on time at 12:56. Only a handful of passengers joined the train at Campbelltown, which was fortunate as most of the seats were full!

The meal reservation card - exchange this at the buffet for a hot meal
The meal reservation card - exchange this at the buffet for a hot meal

Passing through Picton, I was surprised to see a train on the loop line, and it turned out to be CPH18, in the custody of the New South Wales Rail Transport Museum, waiting for us to pass before they could enter the station. Shortly afterwards, lunch was called at about 13:23, just as the train was passing through Tahmoor. Naturally, everyone moved to the buffet at once, and for a short (but entertaining) moment, the corridor through the train was jammed up with people eager to collect their lunch. It goes without saying that the more sensible passengers waited in their seats for the crowd to die down a bit before moving off to collect their own lunch – let me say this, moving through a moving train is one thing, but doing it with a hot meal in one hand is a whole different undertaking entirely!

The food, while not spectacular, it was not the worst meal I have ever had. Although, if the best thing a passenger can say about the food is that it is not as bad as expected, it can’t say too much for the quality of the food! The service however, remained unequalled, which was an exercise in speed and efficiency. It never ceases to amaze me how the staff can work in that narrow buffet, especially when the crowd descends for lunch! Certainly, we were a world away from the dining car on the Spirit of Progress that I was on last November! Once everyone had finished lunch, an attendant came around with a rubbish bag to clear everything away  – certainly no washing up on this train!

Northbound Canberra Xplorer service outside Bowral
Northbound Canberra Xplorer service outside Bowral

After lunch, the train arrived into Mittagong at 13:49 (again, two minutes ahead of table), although no first class passengers would join or leave the train here, a couple of passengers would alight at Bowral, where the train would arrive at 13:54, ahead of the tabled time of 13:56. This does beg the question, why stop at these stations at all, especially when these stations are on the Cityrail map, and serviced by trains from Campbelltown. Bowral and Mittagong, unlike locations in The Blue Mountains, Central Coast or Illawarra, are not served by many direct trains to/from Sydney Terminal. This would mean that passengers would only have one or two direct services to choose from, or would have to get a suburban train to Campbelltown and change trains. With luggage (and possibly a family!) in tow, this does not seem an attractive option. Besides, each stop only adds a couple of minutes to the journey time, and makes a better use of the service. This seems the reasoning for the stop at Bundanoon also, although this stop is far better patronised, as there are very few services to Bundanoon at all! Certainly if a tourist to Sydney and travelling to the Southern Highlands, a passenger would be better off booking onto the Xplorer than trying to navigate the average Cityrail service.

It would be a clear run through Burradoo to Moss Vale, where the train arrived at 1401. While stopped at Moss Vale, a few passengers both joined and left the train. Once Moss Vale was the junction for the rail link to the Illawarra – a CPH Railmotor would make the trip from Moss Vale to Wollongong via Robertson. Now however, the service to/from Wollongong is a Road Coach, and only freight (and tourist trains) travel the escarpment on the spectacular stretch of line. Passengers now must board a road coach at either Wollongong or Dapto to make the climb to Moss Vale to travel to either Canberra or Melbourne with Countrylink. After Moss Vale, the train would sweep around the dramatic curves through Werai (located between Moss Vale and Exeter) – this was a first for myself, as I’ve photographed many trains at this location, but never noticed it from the window of a train – last time, I was blissfully asleep, as I was on my way home from Albury on the overnight XPT.

Canberra Xplorer at Moss Vale Station
Canberra Xplorer at Moss Vale Station

After Moss Vale there is very little traffic to hold the Xplorer back, so it would prove to be a quick run to Bundanoon (14:14) and on to Goulburn. Having chased trains on the Moss Vale to Goulburn section of the line many times – from the road, doing the limit (usually 100km/h), the trains seem to just outpace you, although from the train it seemed quite a leisurely pace rolling through the curves on the line – especially after Marulan, where the train can really get up to speed. Although no passengers joined or left the train at Bundanoon, quite a few passengers were waiting the Sydney bound train which we crossed just south of the platform. The northbound train was a combination of the Canberra Xplorer and the Riverina Xplorer (which runs to Griffith via Junee on a Saturday to return on the Sunday).

The scenery between Bundanoon and Marulan is quite different from that before it. While the train is still passing through farmland, it becomes the exception rather than the rule, giving way to thick forest with the paddocks almost separated like islands in a sea of trees. The ride quality also suffered slightly south of Bundanoon (although nothing like the ride along the Bombala Line), with plenty of evidence trackside of ARTC’s continued investment in concrete resleepering along this section of track.

Goulburn was the first major stop for the train, arriving at 14:51, maintaining the two minute lead on the timetable. A number of passengers alighted from Car A, although the car remained over half full for departure, despite nobody joining first class at Goulburn. The once-busy yard held the usual collection of infrastructure wagons and decrepit NTAF fuel tankers. Although a number of sidings and buildings remain in the yard, very few remain in use. The most important section of the yard – Goulburn Railway Workshops, now a division of United Goninans was busy producing more NDVF spoil wagons and bins for Railcorp.

Easing through Joppa Junction at 15:01, marked the departure from the Main South Line, and began our run along the Bombala Branch (now known as the Canberra Branch, as the line beyond Queanbeyan has fallen into disuse). With our departure from the Main South, we were now into electric staff working territory, which explained the extended stops at Goulburn (to collect the staff), Tarago, Bungendore and Queanbeyan. The train guard will have to conduct safeworking duties at each stop for the run into Canberra.

The change in ride quality was dramatic, as noted by many other passengers on the train with comments like “gee, the railway line south of Goulburn needs a little work!”. Going from a double track mainline of concrete sleepers to a branch line with steel and wooden sleepers meant that, although we were still moving at speed, the train rocked around a lot more. The difference in upkeep can be attributed to the traffic on the line – a handful of passenger trains each way a day, a thrice weekly oil train (to Canberra), and a daily garbage service (to Crisps Creek siding, south of Tarago).

Canberra Xplorer racing into Tarago Station along the Bombala Line.
Canberra Xplorer racing into Tarago Station along the Bombala Line.

Another change notable from the train was the change in scenery. While most of the farmland on the run down from Sydney was cattle grazing land, the landscape south of Goulburn was dominated by sheep. Sheep not as used to noisy trains as the cattle living alongside the Main South – many a small stampede was started as the train raced past.

Following the track from Joppa Junction (and indeed, all the way down to Cooma) are the remains of the once extensive telegraph wire system. Over years of disuse, most of the wires have snapped and corroded, and lie dangling from their poles (or missing altogether). Just another example of the things left behind by technology.

No passengers alighted or departed the train at Tarago (where we arrived at 15:18, now three minutes ahead of table), although a long stop was made to allow safeworking duties to be undertaken. The yard at Tarago remains, although has long fallen out of use. The remains of what might have been a loco or goods shed can be seen between the tracks in the yard, although the semaphore signals have long since been replaced by colour light signals.

A short distance south of Tarago, Crisps Creek is a pair of sidings complete with concrete apron and two container cranes – certainly an unusual site in the middle of nowhere. Unlike the other six days a week, when a train is in the siding and container cranes are loading and unloading containers from the train, the site was bare, the cranes in their sheds, and the siding empty. Garbage from Sydney is loaded onto a PN operated train in special containers, and railed to the siding, so the rubbish may be dumped in a closed open-cut mine south of Tarago. The normal roster for the run is two 81 Class units with a 48 Class inbetween them, although on at least one occasion, an 80 class has been used to substitute for an unavaliable 48 Class. The train normally arrives at the siding at 0617, and departs in the afternoon at 1625, although it does not run on a Sunday.

A level crossing on a driveway, located south of Queanbeyan on the now-closed section of the Bombala Line.
A level crossing on a driveway, located south of Queanbeyan on the now-closed section of the Bombala Line.

After a light doze, I awoke to find the train pulling into Bungendore Station at 15:44 (now five minutes ahead of the timetable!). The station is the complete opposite to Tarago. Where Tarago is showing it’s neglect, Bungendore is vibrant and well looked after. Where Tarago is desolate, Bungendore is busy (well, as busy as a small station for a small town can be). The station building was set up as a pottery/arts and crafts shop, showing off some local talent, and plenty of people were around the station, either to visit the shop, or to meet people alighting from the train.

Shortly after departing Bungendore at 15:49, the buffet closed for service. Having been open since Strathfield, it was time for the crew to begin cleaning up before the train arrived into Canberra Station. Shortly after Bungendore (branching off just shy of the 299km post) is Bungendore Junction, where the Captains Flat line once branched off. The track still remained in 2007, although on the run past, it looked either removed or just very overgrown (the latter far more likely). Indeed, at this time of year there are often bales of hay stored along the line! Between Bungendore and Queanbeyan, the line passes through the Molonglo Gorge, which entails three tunnels – Brooks Bank Tunnel (302km from the buffers at Sydney Terminal P1), Pine Range No1 Tunnel (314km from Sydney) and Pine Range No2 Tunnel (316km from Sydney). The section of track between No2 Tunnel and Queanbeyan showing some of the most spectacular scenery on the line, with a sharp drop to the right of the train down into the gorge.

A number of passengers would alight the train at Queanbeyan, where we arrived at 16:12 (now seven minutes up) leaving Car A half full for the final run into Canberra. It is here that the line changes from the Bombala Line, which once continued south to Cooma and on to Bombala, to the Canberra Line, a short branch constructed in 1921 (originally to Civic, although later truncated to Kingston in 1923 following a bridge washaway). The train finally arrived at Canberra Station at 16:23, a full six minutes ahead of the timetable.

After meeting my friend (and local Canberra resident) Todd Milton, it was a quick run to Dickson to drop off my luggage before we headed southwest to begin scouting some of the remaining features of the Bombala Line, as it skirts the ACT south of Queanbeyan.

Hume – Finding The 332km Post

The 332km post on the Bombala Line is located opposite the gravel apron (background) once used to load Freight Australia log trains.
The 332km post on the Bombala Line is located opposite the gravel apron (background) once used to load Freight Australia log trains.

The first stop on our pre-dinner walk was a driveway/level crossing located out the back of Hume, near the 331km post. From there we walked down the line to the timber loading point, where logs were once loaded onto a Freight Australia train. When Pacific National took over Freight Australia, the service ceased. Despite no logs being loaded onto a train for a few years now, the loading area was still in good condition, located at the 332km post. No concrete or cement here, just a small clearing with a gravel apron, and no siding was provided, it would appear trains were loaded on the mainline – although at this time, there was no traffic on the section save for the occasional tourist train to Michelago. After taking our photos and walking back to the car, we drove to the 329km post, just up the line.

From the 329km post, we again walked down the line. Starting at a small bridge over a road 1.8m in the air, we walked along the line as it cut through a small hill and right up to the 330km post. At the 330km post was a safeworking hut, and B-Frame. The frame served a small siding that branched off into the back of Hume (an Industrial suburb on the south-west fringe of Canberra). Interestingly, as the railway line skirts the border of the ACT and NSW, this was the second section of the line into Canberra from NSW. Further investigation of the site would be reserved for the day following, as the sun was dipping low behind the horizon, and it was dinner time. So, a short walk back along the line to the car, with something to look forward to the following day.

References:

Time of The Passenger Train (Second Division) by R.G. Preston

History of Railways in Canberra – ARHS ACT Website

NSWrail.net

Thanks to Todd Milton for his company and guidance over the weekend – without him, none of this would be possible.