Friday, August 8, 2014

Nambucca Heads: great looking railway station!

Nambucca Heads is one of those perfect Mid North Coast New South Wales getaways, located 565 kms from Sydney's Central Railway Station, and easily accessible by train courtesy of six daily XPT services. But it's railway station really has to be seen to be believed.

Built in 1945, Nambucca Heads Railway Station sits nestled in a pocket of State Forrest on the edge of town on the NSW Mid North Coast. I photographed this building in 2007.

Opened in 1923, 8 years after the North Coast Line had already passed through town on its way north to the then terminus of South Grafton, the original railway station sadly burned down and was replaced with the station building you see today. Built in 1945, it was constructed in a style different to any previous railway stations that had been built for the New South Wales Government Railways. The distinct interwar style became known as 'stripped functionalist', and today the railway station building maintains its line-side position on the edge of town completely surrounded by the spectacular bush land of the Nambucca State Forrest.

A piece of the past in the present. Older style railway station signs such as this one still adorn the platform at Nambucca Heads Railway Station.

I first visited Nambucca Heads as a young child in the late 1970's. A two week family camping trip to a caravan park near the mouth of the Nambucca River was in those days a big deal. You loaded up the family station wagon with enough equipment to last throughout the school holidays, and made the 500 km drive north from Gosford in about ten and a half hours. Those were the days when the train stopped at every station, including those that are now sadly ghosts of the past, and still arrived in around the same time as navigating the winding two lane goat track of road they called the Pacific Highway. Fast forward to 2014, and the train leaving Central Station in the heart of Sydney gets you to Nambucca Heads Railway Station in a little over 8 hours, that's 7 hours time if you're comparing the trip from Gosford.

The NSW XPT in the classic Countrylink livery it wore throughout the 1990's and early 2000's. I shot this photo at Nambucca Heads Railway Station in 2007.

The 1945 Nambucca Heads Railway Station has changed little over the years apart from its fresh coat of paint. Although Nambucca Heads Railway Station today consists of only a passing loop on the single track North Coast Line, the general area of the railway station still maintains its charm thanks to its location in a pocket of the Nambucca State Forrest. Passengers on the train won't realise when they look out the window of their carriage, that the station also once boasted a water tower (removed in 1984), a five tonne gantry crane, de-ashing plant, fettler's cottage, tool shed and a station masters residence. When the railway station was closed in 1989, it re-opened as a Countrylink stop for the XPT train service between Sydney and Brisbane. Today the town of 6,137 can still catch a train to Sydney, and the residents should be proud that they still have their railway station. For its a damn fine looking railway station at that!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Raleigh: great wine, no trains!

I'm going to share with you one of my wife's favourite railway adventures, and it involves no trains! Because after finding the former location of Raleigh Railway Station south of Sawtell on the New South Wales North Coast Line, that is exactly what I saw. No trains!

Raleigh Railway Station, NSW Australia as I photographed it in July 2014. I'm sure this looks different to Raleigh in North Carolina.

Raleigh Railway Station once stood 586 km from Sydney as the train rolls. Although it is located directly on the Sydney-Brisbane North Coast Line and sees a passing parade of interstate freight trains and six daily XPT services, passenger trains haven't stopped in this town of only 259 in a long, long time. Built in 1915 and demolished in 1990, you'll find no remaining trace of Raleigh Railway Station today. All that stands on the former platform side of the track is a drab concrete block signal relay box marked 586-490.

Raleigh Railway Station south of Coffs Harbour, NSW 2014, showing the signals for the passing loop and siding.

A passing loop and overhead signal bridge are signs of some regular train activity, and a siding does still remain in the former railway yard that was used as recently as 2006 to manufacture concrete for use on the Pacific Highway upgrade, but in 2014 Raleigh is nothing more than a passing loop for trains to cross on this single track stretch of mainline between Sydney and Brisbane. So what do you do when you've already used up your one photo opportunity on the only daylight XPT to slip through this slice of the New South Wales Mid-North Coast on a day of train watching, umm, I mean sightseeing? You take your wife to that little winery you found marked on the map that convinced her to come along for the day in the first place. The Raleigh Winery.

What happens when you bring girls along on a railway adventure, you stop at wineries such as this one. Raleigh Winery, NSW.

I suppose as far as railway adventures goes, this one did unearth another hidden gem. You drive right past Raleigh Winery when searching for the site of the former railway station, so its impossible to escape the attention of your wife if she's sitting in the passenger seat beside you. I was already prepared that waiting to photograph a train passing through Raleigh was out of the question, and why would you when you could be sitting beside the Bellinger River with a cheese platter while sipping a glass of rose` instead.

Chambourcin grape vines at Raleigh Winery, NSW.

After sampling a range of their famous brandy-creme`s and learning that their secret to growing grapes in such a moist and humid environment was by planting Chambourcin grapes at the vineyard along the banks of the Bellinger River, we settle back on their spacious timber deck with a cheese platter, a bottle of rose` and some warm winter sunshine for the next hour or two. Except for me, I'm once more the designated driver as it was my railway adventure. So with one ear on the conversation, and one ear listening out for a horn blast from the railway line only 800 metres or so away, I had to admit I didn't hear a single train pass through for the entire time we were there. Giving the girls their wine time seemed like a good call after-all. Oh well, I may not have seen any trains, but I guess I'll have a bottle of their Chambourcin Rose` to take back home with me to Queensland. It will be perfect the next time I have a barbeque, and a reminder of my railway adventure to Raleigh.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Sawtell: The Railway Poster Town

Sawtell, as far as railway stations go, is nothing to look at. A bland, tiny strip of raised concrete platform with a small, modern waiting shed that could easily be mistaken for a bus stop, butted up against the North Coast Line, 600 km from Sydney. What Sawtell does have that makes this Mid-North Coast town a magnet for railway photographers, is nearby Boambee Creek.

I shot this pic of the trailing end of a Sydney-bound XPT crossing Boambee Creek as it enters Sawtell, NSW, from the top of Boambee Head lookout in July 2014.

Situated only 10 km south of Coffs Harbour, Sawtell is a seaside town that boasts sun and surf all year round. Sawtell is also regarded as one of New South Wales' most desirable locations to live. However, the real reason this town of a little over 3,000 is regarded as the 'poster town' by railway photographers, lies at the mouth of Boambee Creek. The railway bridge to the north of town has been the backdrop for many brochures, posters and video advertising since the days of the New South Wales Railways. It is one of the few places on the North Coast Line where passengers actually get to see the Pacific Ocean in all its glory from the comfort of their seat.

My $2 photo, taken from Boambee Creek Reserve looking in the direction of the ocean. I shot this photo in April 2007.

Most photographs that you would likely have seen used by Countrylink at this location were taken from west side of the railway bridge, looking back towards Boambee Head with the Pacific Ocean as its backdrop. However, there are three things to consider before heading to Boambee Creek with your camera. One, the frequency of trains on the North Coast Line during daylight hours can be few and far between. Two, unless you're good at climbing trees you won't be able to get the height necessary to match the photos used in past railway posters. They must have used a cherry-picker to shoot the ocean over the height of the train and railway bridge. And three, be aware that there is a $2 visitor charge for vehicles accessing Boambee Creek Reserve. Its a steep descent down the narrow road and there is nowhere to turn around once you reach the automated boom-gate half-way down. It was pure luck that one of my kids had a $2 coin on them or I would have been asking the car behind me to reverse all the way back up the hill. If you're a bit budget savvy like me, my suggestion is to take the free option and drive up to Boambee Head lookout. There is a well paved path that follows the headland and only a short distance from the car park you will find a large red star painted on the concrete. If you stand here and face north, you'll easily pick out the railway line through the scrub, and with a good telephoto lens be able to get and extra photo of a south bound train before it crosses the bridge.

Sawtell Railway Station, as photographed in April 2007.

But back to the railway station. It's not much to photograph, but after hours of trawling the net to compare this with the original railway station that opened in 1925, I couldn't find any old photos of Sawtell Railway Station. Perhaps it too, was an unnoticeable building tucked away in the back streets of town that nobody thought was worthy of photographing. So what if one day in the future, passenger trains stop calling at this seaside hamlet? I hardly think that Sawtell Railway Station, as it stands today, would be worthy of heritage listing. I suppose then it too would disappear from our railway landscape forever, and the only proof that we'd have that it was there to begin with, would be photographs like the one above.

It pays to keep one eye in the rear view mirror. I shot this freight only seconds after pulling out of the Sawtell Railway Station car park in April 2007. The raised concrete platform is visible beside the train.

I'd only just hopped back in the car and driven out of the parking lot, when I took one last look at the railway station in the rear view mirror, and saw a train approaching. Bringing the car to a skidding halt on the grass beside the road, I dived out with my camera and photographed a freight train as it roared north through Sawtell. Looking back, that photo too is now history. An orange an charcoal NR class locomotive still wearing the colours of National Rail, shortly before disappearing beneath a fresh coat of blue and yellow for new owners Pacific National. Someday our grandchildren may even refer to this as a vintage train. I suppose that's what railway history is all about. It's like any train, its coming, its coming, its here, its gone.

See also; Raleigh: great wine, no trains!