Wednesday, May 13, 2009

OZ Day 8: Chasing 1871 on the Main West. . .


Today's target: Patrick PortLink #1871, grandly departing Lithgow a few hours late behind a matched set of ex-National Rail DL class. Sweet!
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Saturday, April 18: We were up and on the road a little later (7am) than we'd originally planned (5am). Charlie was up early, and had been in touch with an engineer friend who was taking the Patrick PortLink train #1871 west from Sydney. This was the train we were set up to chase today, normally figured into Bathurst around sunrise en route to Dubbo. Charlie's friend was still in Sydney. . obviously this train was going to be late. The 1871 being a bit late wouldn't be a problem--today, it seems, it would traverse a very scenic stretch of railroad from Lithgow to Bathurst in daylight. We'd been over this piece of railroad the previous Monday when we chased the RTM special from Orange. Daylight rail traffic on the Main West from Lithgow to Orange and on to Dubbo has been scarce in recent years. Previously the route for most transcontinental trains avoiding the more southern route thru Melbourne and Adelaide, the cross country freight services operated by Pacific National now divert at Parkes to join the Main South for the trip into Sydney at Cootamundra. All that's left on the Main West, for the most part, are the Dubbo trains (one a day each way), trains to and from a welded rail plant at Bathurst, and a couple of local schedules. A daily XPT passenger train runs to and from Dubbo; the fabled Indian-Pacific, now more a cruise train than an actualy passenger conveyance, operates just one day a week between Sydney and Perth.
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No deer here: Beware "Skippy" and "the rock with feet). . .
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From Mudgee, we took the Castlereagh Highway through more scenic country. At one point, we were high on a ledge above the Wolgan Valley looking into the Gardens of Stone National Park, an area Charlie said was the world's second-longest deep river canyon (after the Grand Canyon). A rail line from Wallerawang was visible at times in and out of the trees; a couple of coal mines near Cullen Bullen and cement traffic from Kandos generate traffic which goes west over the Blue Mountains to Sydney at Lithgow. At times, the road is narrow, and as always, there are warning signs for Kangaroo and Wombat.


Saturday-only eastbound IP on Farmer's Creek viaducts. . .


. . classic stainless steel consist. . .




and an auto rack on the rear. Can anyone identify those stylish automobiles?

Driving into Lithgow to begin our intercept of #1871, skies were partly cloudy, the onshore flow socking in Sydney threatening to spill out into the Central Highlands. We noted a few gunzels along the right of way coming into Lithgow; we guessed that they were out to photograph the eastbound Indian Pacific, so we set up for a shot of the train crossing the Farmers Creek arched viaduct at Bowenfels on the outskirts of Lithgow. We didn't have to wait too long before Indian Pacific painted NR28 and DL48 still in Australian National paint led the stainless steel streamliner into town, trailed by a single bi-level autorack filled with some pretty fancy looking automobiles.
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Charlie was back in contact with the driver on 1871: they were on their way out of Sydney and were being recrewed east of us. We had time for breakfast at Maccas and setup for a shot off the highway just west of the Farmer Creek bridges. We were joined by respected Australian rail photographer and author Peter Attenborough; he was out chasing 1871 as well.
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For the past few months, the 1871 had been the "photo train" for fans in the Sydney area, as it had begun running with sets of DL class Clyde/EMD's--the first time, really, that the DL class had led trains regularly in New South Wales. A few had been repainted into Pacific National paint, but the majority were running around in ratty versions of the Australian National green and yellow or the National Rail charcoal and marigold paint. These were 710-series powered locomotives delivered in the mid-1980s and featured an odd (from a North American standpoint) shovel nose design on an F45-like carbody. They were a later manifestation of the mansard-carbody locomotives delivered for Commonwealth Railways/Australian National (Western Australia standard-gauge) like the bulldog-nosed CL class and boxcab AL and BL versions. They hadn't been used in the leading position in New South Wales due to lack of Countrylink radios, but PacNat had transferred most of the fleet of XX into NSW and were outfitting them accordingly. They were, one fan put it, the "flavor of the week" for photographers.
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Descending through the Sodwalls horseshoe. This section of the Main West was once double-tracked. . .


And 1871 leaves Bathurst, crossing the ancient MacQuarie River Bridge. . .


Climbing legendary Tumulla Bank. . .


. . and passing the old station at Newbridge. . .

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#1871 showed up around 1100 with a nice National Rail-painted set of DL47/DL49 , and the chase was on. We highballed to Sodwalls next to photograph the train winding around the green hills, and, with Lance expertly handling the twisting, narrow backroads, photographed him in three more locations before reaching Bathurst, where the train set out local cars. We photographed 1871 next tiptoeing at 10kph across the ancient iron bridge over the MacQuarie river, scheduled for eventualy replacement, and headed up into the highlands and photographed him six more times climbing over Tumulla Bank. Charlie's knowledge of the area netted us the best single chase on the trip in terms of photographs.
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We broke off the chase at Blayney and headed towards the Main South line via Cowra, paralleling the mothballed railway between these points through some beautiful country of rolling hills, golden grasses, and large gum trees. The vegetation had become noticably drier, the result of an ongoing drought that hadn't appeared to be effecting the North-West as badly.

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Obligatory backlit semaphore shot at Jerrrawa. . .
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We were en route to Gunning to meet up with several friends who had gotten together for a day of railfanning; we jogged from Cowra southeast to Bowning, where we met up with the Main South. Charlie checked the "magic box", and it appeared an eastbound perway train was right in our area, if not a little ahead of us, behind 8171 for lead unit. We blasted east on the Great Western Highway and north to the tracks at Jerrawa, where the setting sun was bathing everything in a golden glow.
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Apparently, the color light signal replacement program hadn't gotten to Jerrawa, as a half-dozen upper-quadrant semaphores protected the manual crossovers at each end of town. We shot the obligatory "setting sun behind semaphore blade" shots and set up for a killer glinter of the 8171 leading another 81 class an a green X class EMD. We done good.



My Favorite shot of the day (and maybe the trip): eastbound empty sleeper train at Jerrawa. . .

Driving into Gunning on the back road, we spooked up our first herd of "skippies" near Oolong. At arrived at Gunning's station just after sunset, where John Gillies, from Canberra, John Wilson and Andreas Keller, from Wollongong, and Rick Schoenfelder of Newman were all hanging out. We shot the bull with them for a bit before John W., Andreas and Rick headed back to the 'Gong. John Gillies was going to overnight with us and spend the next day gunzeling on the main south. We got our nice rooms at the Gunning Motel and headed over to the Chinese Restaurant for beers and a great dinner, made all the more memorable by the "robo waitress" who was unflappable, unemotional, and uncommunicative in her service. It was a riot!
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Our only Skippy encounter, near Oolong. . .

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