Tuesday, April 14: A couple of our objectives for the trip were within striking distance of Maitland: the Pelton coal trains which used PL and 48 Class Alcos running on the former South Maitland Railway; and the QRNational Duralie coal shuttles, operating on the North Coast line about an hour north of us.
One of our spies told us that an empty had been called out of Port Waratah at 3am for loading. . .it being the Tuesday after a long holiday, we assumed there was already one out there, ready to go with the start of the work week. Our first stop was SMR’s East Greta Junction signal box, at the junction between the SMR and the ARTC’s Hunter Valley mainline (Australian Rail Track Corporation is the entity that adminsters the Government-owned rail infrastructure).
SMR, surprisingly, is still an independent railway, one of the few in the country. However, trains over it are operated by Pacific National. SMR was once the vital mainline for much of the area’s coal hauling, back before many of the mines played out and the heavy mining moved up the Hunter Valley. Portions of SMR were double-tracked, and numerous branches left its mainline for dozens of collieries in the area. SMR is perhaps most famous, though, for its late use of steam locomotives—1985, the last in Australia.
SMR’s East Greta Junction signal box: a holdover from the steam-era.
Manually-operated crossing booms!
And old-school manual lower-quadrant interlocking signals!
It doesn’t look like much has changed since then on the SMR. The railroad still operates using a staff-and-ticket system; the interlocking at East Greta is still protected by armstrong points and ancient lower-quadrant semaphores; puzzle switches in the yard; and manually-lowered boom-type crossing gates. This kind of stuff you don’t see in the U.S. anymore. And much of this kind of old infrastructure of the steam era is still found along its right-of-way: water tanks, signal boxes, brick-edged station platforms.
The towerman confirmed our suspicions: there were two trains at the mine, one ready to go shortly. We beat-heat towards Pelton, around 20 miles away, most of the miles not along the tracks. We left Cessnock just as the 38-car first train was starting up the grade out of the mine, and we reversed direction to wait for him at the old signal box at Neath. The chase wouldn’t be difficult, as he was limited to 30kph (20mph).
Charlie kept his eyes to the skies, where the sun threatened to come out. . .the cameras stayed in the car, though. . .
The clouds were trying to break up; the sun was touch-and-go; Charlie would walk around, squint up through the clouds from time to time, and keep his cameras in the car. Finally, the train arrived, pushing a sun-break with it. . .the locos barely on the edge of the clouds as they passed the box. The power was four 48 class Alcos, the leading unit one of the seven butt-ugly PL-class “Port Link” chop nosed units which lead these trains most of the time.
This first train literally pushed a break in the clouds along. . .
as it passed the old signal box at Neath. . .
and beside the old water tank at Weston. . .
skirting a paddock at the old location of Greta. . .
We shot the train at several easily-accessible locations on the way back to East Greta Junction, where after dropping off the paper ticket, the driver opened up on the throttle of ugly-as-sin PL5 and let the smoke fly!
Chopped nose or not, the PL5 still smokes like an old Alco!
The morning’s second Pelton train returns the staff to the towerman at East Greta Junction. . .
The second train departed on the arrival of the first at East Greta, so we doubled back and eventually found him getting a relief crew at Weston; we shot him going through Greta and passing the staff back to the towerman at East Greta, PL2 leading two un-chopped 48 Class.
Standard power, a pair of 82 Class, led northbound empty for Craven near Wirragulla.
UP THE NORTH COAST TO DURALIE
Just then, a northbound coal empty headed through the junction with the North Coast main at Telarah behind a pair of 82 Class—standard power. This train was en-route to Gloucester Coal’s Stratford reload at Craven, around 50 miles north of Maitland. Coal at this mine was mixed with coal brought up from another mine at Duralie (DOUGH-rally) for washing and blending. The shuttle between Duralie and Craven was on the “must shoot” list: the train ran push-pull with a mix of ex-Queensland narrow-gauge 423 class and ex-NSWGR 421 class bulldogs. Lately, it’d been running with 2 423’s on one end and a 423/421 pair on the other. We figured we’d have a one-in-four chance of getting a good shot of a bulldog leading, one way or the other.
Beautiful countryside near Wards River. . .
We chased the empty north, shooting it in a couple of locations. The road was twisty, turny, under construction in places, and not all-together fast nor direct. The scenery was spectacular, however, a mix of Western Oregon and the Northern California wine country.
What’s for lunch at Stroud Road? Beats the hell out of me!
We stopped at a quaint little take-away place in Stroud Road for lunch; a bewildering array of sandwich choices was offered, most of which I hadn’t a clue: Spider sandwich? Devon sandwich? Plutos-Chickos-Spring? No worries mate; I invoked Yank tourist take-away rule number one: I’ll take the sausage roll! But the lunchtime crowd was so big the single employee couldn’t keep up with the demand. We didn’t want to lose our Duralie, which was to follow the empty north out of the the mine, so we bagged on the fresh-cooked and bought a bag of chicken-flavored potato chips and a coke instead.
The Duralie, working push-pull: 2 423’s up front. . . .
However, we were undeterred at getting a pan shot of the bulldog. . .
The rain came and went, and our Duralie train left the mine, two 423’s up front and the 421/423 set on the rear, the bulldog, alas, buried. We followed him to Craven, getting a nice break in the rain and clouds for a “storm light” shot, and waited for our empty to load out and depart. It was getting late; we had plans for the evening in Newcastle and had to start getting back.
Duralie load in storm-light at Craven: finally, some sunlight!
Lance and I dropped Paul and Charlie off at the Hotel, and we set off for the ARTC Broadmeadow Control Centre to meet Gary Nicolle and Joe Costello for a tour of how Aussies dispatch trains. But that’s the next installment.