We bag our quarry off the overpass. . .
April 12, 2009: Our Aussie vacation was unabashedly a Railfan trip. Okay, make it 75% Railfan, 20% Model Railroading, and 5% tourist. That’s not to say we weren’t immune to oohing and aahing at the traditional tourist sites, but they clearly weren’t our prime objective.
Now, 50-year-old GM bulldog locomotives—THOSE were prime objectives.
So, bright and early on Easter Sunday, while others were celebrating the Resurrection of Lord Jesus Christ, Lance and I were celebrating the continued revival of three 1952-built Clyde-EMD Victorian “B Class” locomotives under the ownership of Chicago Freight Car Leasing of Australia (CFCLA), a purveyor of a large fleet of varied and interesting locomotives hired throughout the country by rail operators.
Railfan grapevine—and believe me, it’s strong and healthy in New South Wales, given the number of professional railroaders who are also rabid Gunzels—had it that CFCLA’s three standard-gauge B’s were working a concrete sleeper train for Rail Corp, the Sydney Metro rail infrastructure administrator, on the near South Coast rail line south of Sutherland, around 30 minutes from our motel in Liverpool.
It didn’t take long to find them in all their streamlined glory at Engedine: B76 in CFCLA paint, B61, in Southern Shorthaul yellow and black, and B65, clad in gaudy red and silver honoring (get this!) model railway manufacturer Auscision, along with CFCLA GL112 (a GE-powered boxcab locomotive built atop the frame of an old 442 Class Alco), waiting for the work crew to cut in a new rail behind their train. Lance and I assumed that once that was done, the train would shove south to Heathcoate a couple of miles, cross over mainlines, and head towards Sydney.
So up atop the Wilson Parade overpass we sat, fueled by breakfast from an adjacent Maccas (MickeyD’s to us Yanks). And we waited. And waited. But we weren’t to be deterred: we’d flown all this way for old locomotives, and these weren’t about to get away. We amused ourselves by the mixed safety messages given by the track workers—high visiblity vests, sure, but the guy with the rail saw blasting out a shower of sparks was wearing shorts!—and after a couple of hours were rewarded when the train moved ever-so-slowly past our location.
We dashed into the rented Mitsubishi and headed to Heathcoate station, where the train shunted (that’s “switched,” American readers) their head end cars through a crossover south of the station, pulling by our impromptu photo line a few times, before parking the train. The crew were whisked away by a van, and that, dear reader, was that.
Flush with success, we negotiated the maze of highways (that was the 6 to the 5 to the 7 to the 4) and headed off towards Victoria Falls to pick up "reknowned rail photographer" Charlie Harris, known for his perfectly lit action shots of Aussie rail subjects who drives “horizontal elevator” commuter trains for CityRail for a living. Charlie would be our tour guide for the next week. We climbed into the Blue Mountains on a twisting four-lane road, choked with Easter Weekend traffic, driving in a out of brief rain squalls. As the highway climbed higher, traffic—especially eastbound—got heavier. We zipped by Charlie’s home (his backyard is the double-tracked mainline across the mountains) and avoided much of the traffic by taking the old highway down into Lithgow, the western end of the electrified interurban passenger district.
Roadsigns to familiar, but yet unknown places. . .
We were bound for Orange, around 190 rail miles west of Sydney, where we’d overnight and be in position to chase a Rail Transportation Museum passenger special back east the next morning behind vintage Alco cab units. We were in no hurry for the rest of the afternoon: the weather was crap, and no trains were out and running on the Main West line we’d be following. Charlie led us on a series of backroads to places I’d only known through his photography: the amazing horseshoe curves at Sodwalls, the preserved NSWGR station site at Tarana (unused anymore, but in immaculate condition), the arched brick overbridge at Brewongle.
Tarana: with the requisite Hotel/Pub on the hill behind. . .
Preserved station at Tarana: you’d never find this in the U.S. . .
The recent rains had made the hills electric green—rare for early fall. The twisted trees and rolling hills accented by a curving railroad paralled at times by a challenging two-lane paved road seemed oddly familiar to me. Tehachapi Pass in California, perhaps? Dick Steinheimer would’ve seemed quite at home here.
Beautiful drop-under light at the brick bridge at Brewongle. .
XPT arrives at Bathurst. . .
. . .and a big crowd waits on the platform.
The sun broke out a couple of times creating a stunning landscape in front of us, but had set by the time we arrived in Bathurst and stopped by the station for the evening arrival of the “high speed” XPT train from Dubbo. A surprizingly heavy holiday passenger load was waiting on the platform for the regional “Country Link” service.
From there, it was on to Orange and a room for the night.
* * *
Call it what you want, I’m calling this latest “health emergency” the swine flu, even though the Centers For Disease Control remind us, it’s more accurate to term it “H1N1.” Whatever.
Let’s don’t demean the swine, eh?
I’m not impressed by this latest “outbreak.” It seems like it’s already fizzling. . .ha, some “pandemic!” As typical, Americans have overreacted—er, erred on the side of caution. My kids’ baseball games have been cancelled for the weekend. Schools in Fort Worth are closed for the next couple of weeks, administrators not wanting blood on their hands should any kids actually get sick and die. . .meanwhile, the kids can spend their little vacation congregating at the mall to spread the virus to each other.
I guess I won’t really believe that it’s Public Health Hazard Number One until one of my neighbors dies from it. Until then, we’ll all be held hostage by politicians and bureaucrats who have to DO SOMETHING because the public is worried.