Early success: quad 48s bring a grain train into Narrabri. . .
Friday, April 17: Another clear morning leaving the motel in Narrabri. Supposed to be a number of trains between here and Moree: a PacNational grain shuttle at Edgeroi; an El Zorro at Bellata; another PacNat coming back from Moree; still one more loading at Moree. . .so shouldn't want for trains this morning.
We're just short of Edgeroi when we round a curve on the highway and are surprised by a southbound haulin' ass--four 48 class and a rake of NGTY wagons. He's smokin' and quite a sight! We wheel around and photograph him off the overbridge on the north side of Narrabri, and head into town to watch him depart the station after exchanging the staff. He sits for a while doing the safeworking, giving us all a chance to get out pruning shears and snip, snip, snip the weeds and grass which have encroached the right of way.
I'm in all my snippin' glory trimmin' the bush at Narrabri (photo by Lance Lassen). . .
. . .the grain train departs Narrabri in smoky Alco glory. . .
He departs in a moderate-Vesuvius of Alco smoke, sounding good. The crew says they're only going a few miles south of Narrabri Jct. to be relieved by a new crew that'll take the train into Werris Creek.
We've got a few more trains up north still to play with, so we head back north. First train: PacNat at Edgeroi, a ho-hum pair of 81 Class. We aren't going to waste too much time on something this mundane. Up at Bellata, a bit better: the El Zorro train loading a new string of blue Australian Wheat Board wagons with a nicely matched set of EL's. We stick around there for a bit, getting a few shots, and realize that the southbound Explorer passenger should be along shortly. Charlie hooks up the "magic box" for data and I call Joe at ARTC for a rundown: there's a northbound out of Werris headed for Moree with interesting power, a pair of 80 Class and a 48 Class, likely the same units we saw on the 15th. We decide to follow the Explorer back to Narrabri, intercept the northbound with the 80 Class, follow it back towards Moree, and then come back to Narrabri for some "infrastructure shots" for my modeling of the area.
Four leased CFCLA EL class on the El Zorro at Bellata. . .
SAFEWORKING: Staff and Ticket
We chase the Explorer back to Edgeroi, where it stops for safeworking. To the Yanks in the audience, safeworking describes the procedures and rules in place for authorizing movement on trackage without CTC--in this case, Staff and Ticket.
When only one train movement is expected on a segment of track, the train crew will carry the staff with them from staff box to staff box. Each staff is unique, both in shape of the "head" of the staff, and in the color of the staff (at least in the name of the color engraved on the staff, since they're mostly so old the paint has worn off). What happens when you have more than one train running in the same direction? Then the last train holds the staff, and prior movements operate using the ticket, a written authority. Before either taking the staff or getting the ticket, the crew will contact the controller for their movement authority. When the train arrives at the next safeworking section, they will contact the controller, mark their authority "fulfilled" and place the form in the staff box, and continue into the next section with either the staff or a new paper ticket.
The Edgeroi-Narrabri staff: specific to shape (round) and color (red, though the color is worn off), it allows access into the box containing authority tickets. . .
The staff rests below the ticket box. . .
Driver Heywood engages in "safeworking" at the Edgeroi staff box. . .
and talking to the controller, marks his ticket from Bellata to Edgeroi "fulfilled" and copies a new ticket from Edgeroi to Narrabri. . .
Countrylink driver D. Heywood was only too kind to allow this U.S. dispatcher to observe how it all worked in the staff hut at Edgeroi. The schedule allows 3 minutes for his train to do this procedure, but it was over 5 minutes before the controller answered the phone. After 9 minutes, the Explorer was back on the move--and move he did. We paced him at around 130kph--80mph--on what we'd consider to be a secondary mainline in the states, without signals, running strictly with a piece of paper in his hand.
Explorer beat us to Narrabri, but we watched Heywood give up his paper ticket and get a new authority to proceed south. Staff and Ticket safeworking is becoming a thing of the past in New South Wales. CTC has extended now almost to Boggabri, and will eventually reach Narrabri. Elsewhere in the state, much of the former staff territory has converted to Train Order working.
Explorer, a smooth ride at 80mph north of Narrabri. . .
In the staff hut at Narrabri, Heywood get his Authority to proceed beyond Narrabri. . .
We shot a surprise northbound IRA train behind the usual pair of Helgas north of Baan Baa, a nice composition cutting through the brush. Then we headed down to set up for the northbound PacNat train going by the elevator at Baan Baa.
Even a Coupe de Ville could drive in here. . .
Two 80 class and a 48 class lead the northbound past the silos. . .
We got the shot of the northbound grain train, "yellow nosed" 80 class up front, and jumped into the car. We moved around 30 feet before BOOM! Down went the front-end of the car, right into a mud hole. A deep one.
We were frame deep up front, and even having a 4 X 4 SUV, the bald tires on the rental car weren't much for traction. We scavenged ballast, scraps of ties and such and attempted to magically levitate the car to no avail. I finally flagged down a passing landscape contractor with a suitable 4 X 4 (amazing how in the Aussie bush how few folks drive burly Texas-style pickup trucks!), and after 40 minutes, were were extricated. The northbound was long-gone.
Nice composition: 81 class leads 3 "pups" through "The Gap" bound for Werris Creek off the Binnaway line. . .
We reached Mudgee around 6pm and ordered a Pizza, eating it from a table outside the shop in Mudgee's very busy small-down business district. No WalMart or Target here: it's a vibrant little town, and it seemed like the whole populace was out and about. No wonder: it was just another holiday weekend in NSW (what's with that? Three holiday weekends in a row--Easter, a school holiday, and Anzac day). Paul and Charlie figured that with the holiday it'd be a good idea to call ahead to Bathurst to get a room. Good call on their part: the place was fully booked, even the pubs. Same thing in Blayney. The idea was to get down to the Main West in time to chase the Patrick 1871 train to Dubbo west in the morning. Staying in Mudgee now looked to be perhaps our best option, and the last room in town--actually, a three-bedroom rental house--was found for rent a block away. It was $160 a night, but split four ways was very reasonable and quite comfortable. We set the alarms for 5am so we could get down to Bathurst by seven.