Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Coffs Harbour: fish, chips and trains

Coffs Harbour is a major holiday destination on the north coast of New South Wales, whose railway station first opened in 1915. Situated 608 km north of Sydney on the Sydney-Brisbane North Coast Line, it sees 3 XPT train services daily in each direction as well as a passing parade of interstate freight trains. The interesting observation when visiting Coffs Harbour Railway Station is; that for a city with a population of 45,580 the station only has a single line of railway track standing beside it. That is due to there no longer being any rail generated freight originating from the Coffs Coast district, and as such, the entire railway yard was lifted up some years ago.

The single track section of the North Coast Line that passes through Coffs Harbour Railway Station as seen from rail height at the Marina Drive level crossing, July 2014.

Sometime around 1993 when Countrylink was revitalising key country railway stations across New South Wales, Coffs Harbour received a railway station fitting for one of Australia's favourite family destinations. Today, a year out from the centenary of rail service to Coffs Harbour, the railway station is still attended by staff and even has a signal maintenance depot attached to the railway precinct. But the entire stretch of grassland that is fenced off from Jordan Esplanade, bears nothing of a resemblance to what was once an important loading point for train loads of what Coffs Harbour and nearby towns such as Woolgoolga are famous for. Bananas!

Coffs Harbour Railway Station on the north coast of New South Wales is located on Angus McLeod Place opposite Coffs Harbour Jetty. I shot this photo in July 2014.

Historical photos that I browse on the web show former NSWGR rail tractor X24 shunting louvered vans loaded with bananas in a very crowded Coffs Harbour railway yard. At one point, the rails even extended out onto the breakwater of the harbour itself. Today there are a swathe of trucking companies, based in or around Coffs Harbour that ply their trade up and down the Pacific Highway between Brisbane and Sydney. Somewhere it seems in the rush to embrace the interstate container traffic ahead of loading individual wagon loads of perishables in goods yards up and down the North Coast Line, the railways succeeded in turning away the banana growers of the Coffs Coast region, and truck loads of Coffs Harbour's finest are now sent direct to market by road.

The Sydney bound Brisbane XPT is the only XPT train to pass through Coffs Harbour during daylight hours. The grassed area to the right is all that remains of the once busy Coffs Harbour railway yard, July 2014.

While I'm standing on the platform pondering the real meaning of the word progress, the Marina Drive level crossing bells chime into action. With a short sound of the horn, an XPT service swings into view and quickly pulls up alongside the platform. I shoot a slew of photos while passengers board for their journey south to Sydney, or alight to begin their visit to Coffs Harbour, and watch as the station master loads and unloads all the checked luggage from the baggage car. The train only sits idle for a minute or two as it occupies the single-track section of the North Coast Line, and then with a soft sounding of the horn it quickly accelerates away again. Passengers leave the railway station to waiting cars or to queue for a taxi that will take them to their holiday accommodation and the scene falls silent once more.

The grassed parking area to the left side of Marina Drive when you visit Coffs Jetty Sunday Markets was once part of Coffs Harbour's large railway yard. This view of rusting rails poking through the grass was taken in July 2014.

With nothing nothing more to see at this idyllic railway setting, it was time to head to the nearby marina with my family to visit the Sunday Harbourside Markets that are set up on the jetty foreshore and buy some fish and chips to enjoy for lunch by the sea. I head down Marina Drive, jolt over the railway crossing and pull into the grassed parking area in front of the foreshore. As I step out of the car my feet find something hard beneath the surface. You guessed it, the rusting remains of a railway line now buried beneath the grass and sand. There really is history waiting to be rediscovered wherever you go.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Coramba: Chasing trains and Gladiators

Coramba is a small country town on the north coast of New South Wales that hasn't lost any of its out-of-the-way charm, despite being only 15 km from Coffs Harbour. Situated 628 km from Sydney in the beautiful Orara Valley, Coramba Railway Station was opened in July 1922. Today however, all you will find alongside the Sydney-Brisbane North Coast Line where Coramba Railway Station once stood, is a rather utilitarian concrete signal block building alongside a passing loop and siding. There is no date recorded as to when the railway station was closed, or when it was pulled down for that matter, although nearby Nana Glen Railway Station closed in 1974.

The Coramba Railway Station site in July 2014. In its place is a drab concrete signal relay hut.

What Coramba does provide, is a key passing loop on the North Coast Line for trains heading south on the single-track line through Coffs Harbour, and a siding that is easily accessible for infrastructure work trains. On two separate occasions when travelling along Orara Valley Way, I was fortunate to have photographed these work trains taking refuge in the loop or siding.

A track maintenance vehicle parked in the siding at Coramba Railway Station, 2009.

The easiest place to pull up to photograph trains is beside the rural fire brigade building, just past the railway bridge as you're approaching town from Coffs Harbour. Just be sure not to block access to the volunteer fire services building or the rail access road, and you'll be able to get some great camera angles of trains passing over the railway bridge, or holed up in the loop. A short walk up the access track will get you a great view of the passing loop, siding and the former site of the Coramba Railway Station without needing to trespass on railway property.

Former State Rail Authority of NSW 81 class locomotive 8127 on a Australia Rail Track Corporation concrete sleeper work train waits in the loop for a ballast train to head south on the mainline back in 2007.

The main street in the village of Coramba is located only a short distance from the former railway station and is the best place to stop to grab something to eat if you are spending the afternoon exploring the Orara Valley Way. Hollywood A-lister and Oscar winning local Russell Crowe is known to visit the Coramba Pub when he's at home on his Nana Glen ranch, and if you're heading north out of town, you'll pass the home ground of the Orara Valley Axemen, the rugby league team of which Russell is a fan and sponsor. But for me, it's always been about the trains. So with no sign of the Gladiator in town, it was back behind the wheel of the family car to chase the ballast train south towards Coffs Harbour.

Chasing a work train along the Orara Valley Way south of Coramba in 2007 resulted in this photo of a badly vandalised 81 class Pacific National locomotive. What a mess!

I overtook the train halfway between Coramba and Karangi. As the road parralels the railway line for some while, it was easy to find a safe place to pull to the side of the road and jump out of the car with the camera. I aimed the lens for a photo of another 81 class loco freshly painted in the colours of its new owner Pacific National, and as soon as I pressed the button on the camera sighed in disappointment. Some vandals had spray painted the entire side of the locomotive with graffiti. C'mon, the locomotive? I mean seriously? If someone had done this to a jumbo jet at an airport it would be considered an act of terrorism. So why isn't the same respect afforded to a locomotive that operates on part of our national railway network? Maybe when someone is caught spray painting graffiti on trains they could be tied to a pole for the day wearing only a pair of goggles and a speedo while the community take turns spray painting on them. I'm sure they'd never do it again. Or better still, maybe we could put them in an arena with the Gladiator. I think we'd know who'd come off second best!

Nana Glen: Orara Valley train watching

Nana Glen is a small, out-of-the-way town nestled in the Orara Valley on the north coast of New South Wales. Located 639 km from Sydney, Nana Glen's railway station first opened in 1922, seven years after the North Coast Line had already reached Grafton. Today the railway station no longer exists. It was closed in 1974, exactly 40 years before my visit in July of 2014. All that remains at the former station site is a small signal relay box for a passing loop located half a kilometre to the north. While trains no longer stop in this picturesque country town, one person who has stopped in town, long enough to call the place his home, is Oscar winning actor Russell Crowe.

This Sydney bound Brisbane XPT is approaching the former site of Nana Glen Railway Station, located on the left side of the mainline where the low lying trees are. I shot this photo in July 2014.

Now if you're looking for the place where Nana Glen Railway Station once stood, you'll firstly have to be travelling on the Orara Valley Way between Grafton and Coffs Harbour. Turn into Grafton Street and follow it for about a kilometre out of town until you get to the T-junction at Morrows Road, the dusty, gravel road to the former railway station site is on your right immediately after you cross the bridge spanning the railway line.

The Morrows Road railway bridge opposite the Nana Glen Sportsgrounds, looking south towards the road overpass in the distance, July 2014.

Now before you go bumpety-bumping your family hatchback down the rocky 4WD railway access road that takes you to the former station site, swing down Morrows Road and take a look at the railway bridge near the Nana Glen Sportsground. The location for the passing loop on this single track stretch of mainline is located immediately north of the bridge, and aside from the cluster of trees growing along the creek below, makes for a great photo opportunity.

A south bound Brisbane XPT approaching the railway bridge opposite Nana Glen Sportsground, July 2014.

For a much better photo opportunity however, park your car at the former station access road entrance beside the railway overpass for an unobstructed view of trains approaching from the north and south. You'll have plenty of time to snap some photos of trains as they approach the railway overpass before hurrying to the other side of the road to snap some more as the train trails away into the distance. If you really want to check-out the former railway station site, walk the 400 metres down the access road and save yourself the price of a wheel alignment on your car!

The trailing end of the Sydney bound Brisbane XPT racing through Nana Glen, NSW makes for a clearer shot than when it was approaching on the other side of the railway overpass. There's no bright headlight to mess up my camera settings.

The Orara Valley Way from Coffs Harbour to Glenreagh makes for an interesting half-day drive when combined with a side-trip to the towns of Lowanna and Ulong on the former Dorrigo branch line. Despite the cafe I'd circled on the map as a must-do on our drive through Nana Glen being closed at the time of our visit, it was still a great opportunity to photograph trains. As for the whereabouts of Russell Crowe's Nana Glen property? After all the generosity that the Hollywood superstar has displayed towards his local community, I decided to take a leaf out of the locals book and simply give the guy his space. Let the trains be the star of this story, he's well and truly deserved it.