Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Oz, Day 5(a): Maitland, The Ted, Dissapointment in the Hunter Valley. . .


Westbound coalie with 90 and 82 class from Pitnacree Road bridge. . .

Wednesday, April 15: Finally, a day that dawned clear-blue! We scarfed down a free Continental breakfast in the "kitchen" area upstairs in the Belmont (toast and jelly, with orange juice; we avoided the complimentary Vegemite spread) and Lance painstakingly packed the hire car for the next leg of our trip. We all had so goddamn much stuff that in order for it to fit, everything had to be loaded in a particular order. I wasn't much help--my big suitcase was weighing around 60 lbs or more, loaded down as it was with books from the ARHS bookstore at Sydney Central.

The morning was spent atop the Pitnacree Road overbridge at East Maitland--a "hack" location, per Charlie--that is perhaps the most popular place to photograph trains in the Lower Hunter Valley. Morning light on trains in both directions is good here owing to the sweeping curve on the four-track main (up and down main tracks for both freight and passenger). If you've seen shots from East Maitland, chances they were from here. The holes ripped in the chain-link fencing to accomodate camera attests to that.


Paul chats it up with Ted Rose, as much a fixture on the Pitnacree Road bridge as the holes in the chain-link for photography and the NSFW grafitti. .


Ted keeps track of every train seen in a series of notebooks. . .

We were there before 0700, but we weren't the first: Ausloco and HunterRail yahoo list Iron Man Ted Rose was already up and at it, keeping track of each and every train movement under the bridge--the train numbers, their loco consists, the time they passed. Nothing got by Ted, and he was constantly trading sightings and information with others via his Cell Phone. We've got a few "train spotters" in this traditional vein in the DFW area (see: Richard Whitenight), but in NSW, such devoted followers to a single location aren't rare. We each took turns chatting with Ted so the others could take in the stillness of the morning. But it was Paul who really "took one for the team." Good on ya, Mate!


Two Hunter Valley interurban servies meet in front of us. . .

Outside of the Sydney metro district, Newcastle-Maitland is one of the busiest stretches of railway in the country. Between 0700 and 0900, we saw ten freight trains and probably a dozen passenger trains, mostly two-car CityRail local services between Newcastle and Maitland using "Hunter Valley Cars" in the 2500, 2700 and 2800 series. Some of the trains continue as far as Scone and Dungog. There's also CountryLink Sydney-Moree/Armidale Endeavours and several XPT's up the North Coast towards Brisbane daily, but we left before seeing any of these. Most of the freight traffic we saw were coal trains with a mix of the usual Pacific National 82, 90 and new (but getting dirty) 92 class, with a few ex-Victorian G class tossed in as well. QRNational coal was headed by a pair of 5000-class GE's. We saw three Brisbane PN freights as well, NR's on the lead (oh joy!) and with a green AN in the middle of the consist. The best, of course, was a loaded Pelton train, its arrival announced well in advanced by its whistling-shithouse collection of a PL and three 48s.



Two 5000-class C40 GE's on QR National coal empties. . .


A pair of new 92 Class PacNational GE's bracket two ex-Victorian G class EMD's (still on old Freight Australia green paint). . .


One of three PacNat North Coast freight seen in a row, all led by NR class. This one had an AN-class EMD still in Australian National paint in the middle. . .


Less than a year old, but already grungy, PacNat 92 class on a coal empty. . .

Sounding great: Pelton loads behind the 4 alcos we'd photographed the day before. . .
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We moved to High Street for a bit, photographing the XPT, some local passenger services and a westbound grain train with a 81 Class, then retired to the nearby Maccas where free wifi was available. Rumor had it that the northbound QRNational MB7 train that afternoon would be lead by a CLF/P class bulldog, so while we waited for some sort of confirmation that it might lead out of Broadmeadow, we had a delicious lunch. As it turned out, the CLF/P wouldn't lead, so we elected to press northward up the Hunter Valley in time to get to the mountain grade at Ardglen by the end of the day: four "up bound" (that's towards-Sydney in NSW rail-speak) trains were coming out of Werris Creek, and we should be able to intercept some of them. The light wouldn't be good on the nose for them, Charlie noted, but we should be able to find a place to photograph them anyway. And we needed to start heading that way regardless.


At High Street station, Maitland: Down XPT bound for the North Coast zips by without stopping. . .


Two 81 Class 3000hp EMD's on a loaded export grain train. . .
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We blasted north, detouring for a brief visit to the Hunter Valley Railway Trust in Branxton, the group responsible for the clapped-out and grafitti-covered fleet of 44 class Alco cabs leased to Independent Rail. HVRT is a well-hidden collection of tons of old rail equipment rusting away in the woods outside of town. Charlie and Paul shared "glory days" stories of the fluted-side commuter coaches they once drove moldering away there; Lance and I photographed 44 class 4472/4488 repainted in some wild silver/yellow scheme, as well as 73-class diesel-hydraulic shunting engine 7350, one of 50 of the class built in 1970 by Walkers. There wasn't much going on--a couple of young guys in their 20's hanging out on an old passenger car turned into a shop office, a dog lounging about, and inside the workshop, a South Maitland Railways tank engine and a Victorian Railways 4-6-2 slowly being returned to service. The amount of stuff there to restore was mind-boggling; it was clear they didn't have the resources to do so. We left convinced that many Heritage sites like this would do best to scrap most of the stuff they have to raise money to restore a few key pieces. You can't keep everything.
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At HVRT Branxton: 44 and 73 class (and their dog) slumber the afternoon away. . .
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We stopped briefly in Musswellbrook, junction with the Ulan coal line, so Lance could photograph the depot and switching tower, then headed towards Ardglen. Coming into Murrurundi (try pronouncing THAT), we encountered a southbound domestic grain train, with cool power--two 80 class and a 48 class on a short train of Freight Australia grain hoppers. We whipped the car around and got a nice "Motive Power vertical cover shot" off the overpass south of Murulla. We knew a second train was right behind him; as we approached the top of the Ardglen grade, we noted a coal train descending from the tunnel. We knew there was at least one more coming, so we blew off the coalie for the third train, which was meeting the banker engines at Ardglen loop--an El Zorro grain train led by an SCT-painted G class, and three CFCLA leasers, a T, EL, and VL classes. We tried to get into a spot short of Murrurundi for it but didn't get there in time; we got back on the highway and headed to Murulla loop, where the tracks swung around enough to get light on the nose, but afternoon shadows already crept into the cutting there and the shot sucked. We chased the swiftly-moving train back almost to Parkville and set up for one more shot, which also was no bueno. Our collective silence in the auto the rest of the way back across the mountains said it all: we blew that one!



80 Class on grainer at Murulla: a nice surprise!


Shadows in the cut ruined this view of an El Zorro grain train with leased power led by SCT G class EMD at Murulla. . .


Sunset at Kankool loop. . .

The evening had one more cruel twist in store. We got a room for the night in the only hotel in Quirindi that still had rooms (apparently workers had snagged all the rest of them) and headed to the RSL club (Returned Service League, sorta like the VFW or American Legion, but with nice restaurants and bars and often lots of slot machines) for dinner. Afterwards, while leaving the RSL, Lance looked across the street as a train approached for a cross in the siding. "Are those four portholes?" Surely not! But he was right--it was another upbound El Zorro grain train, led by, of all things, CFCLA S-class bulldog S300! That was a bit of a disappointment as well, but hopefully, a trip into Werris Creek for night photographs would make up for it. . . .


Four portholes outside the RSL? Oh no! Oh yes--CFCLA S300 at Quirindi.