Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Grafton: Highways, trains and Maccas


Grafton has long been a favourite stopping place on the Pacific Highway for any family vacation we take in New South Wales. After driving through miles of sugar cane farms and sleepy riverside towns south of Ballina, the city of Grafton stands out like an oasis on the highway, thanks largely to the golden arches of the McDonald's restaurant on the highway. Every time we pass through I promise the kids I'll stop for Macca's, as we call it in Australia, and without fail I always take my camera with me. You see Grafton, (695 km from Sydney), is a major crew change point on the Sydney-Brisbane North Coast Line, and the railway line just happens to pass by high above the McDonald's parking lot.


Taken back in 2005 from the rear of the Grafton South McDonald's car park. In the background is a remaining section of the original North Coast Line timber trestle bridge on display in the park. Doesn't the XPT look a treat in its Countrylink livery?

The railway bridge that passes over the Macca's car park is a recent addition to the South Grafton railway landscape. Originally it was a lengthy timber trestle viaduct that struggled to withstand the flooding that accompanies the approach to the Clarence River. When the line from Sydney first reached South Grafton in 1915, it ended a short distance away at the railway station that you can see from the outside dining area on the second level of McDonald's.

Grafton City Railway Station, (or simply Grafton) looking south towards the bridge over the McDonald's car park, July 2014.

On the other side of the Clarence River, a railway line had already been built in 1905 north from Grafton through the towns of Casino and Lismore and onto Murwillumbah. This line was later extended interstate, north of Casino, to the Queensland capital of Brisbane in 1932. But it wasn't until 1932 that Grafton's famous double-decker bascule bridge was opened and the North Coast Line, as it had become known by then, was finally connected across the Clarence River.


Both South Grafton and Grafton Railway Stations remained in service until 1976, when the original Grafton Railway Station on the north side of the river was closed, and South Grafton Railway Station was renamed as Grafton City Railway Station. The present station building that you see today was built in 1993, (around the same time as the original timber viaduct near McDonald's was replaced).

A 48 class loco shunting the sugar silo at Grafton Railway Station, 2007.

Grafton has three daily passenger train services connecting to Sydney in each direction. The Brisbane XPT, the Casino XPT, and the Grafton XPT which terminates here. Only the Sydney bound Brisbane XPT will pass through Grafton in daylight hours, just before 10 am. Most other trains pass through between five at night, and five in the morning. But just to the north of the station parking lot, you'll find a walking path that leads across the Clarence River Railway Bridge which is another good place to photograph trains as they approach Grafton Station.

Trains on the lower deck, road on the upper deck as a Countrylink XPT crosses the Clarence River, Grafton. 2005. 

Grafton however is also a major rail head for the local sugar industry, and often I've been able to photograph a loco at work pulling a string of covered wagons from the towering sugar silo at the north end of the yard. There is an access road across from McDonald's that affords a great view of locomotives working the sugar silo. But a good telephoto lens will yield the same result from the railway station platform on any good day.

One of my all-time favourite train photos was this one of NSW 48 class locomotive 48165 shot back in April 2005.

With the kids happy to have stopped at Macca's on a long trip, and my wife reminding me that every minute I spend taking photos is a minute longer before we get there, it is time to hit the road once more. But if you're heading north across the Clarence River, there is one more place where you can stop quickly to take a great photograph of the Grafton Bridge.

The fabulous double-decker Grafton Bridge across the Clarence River in Northern NSW. As photographed in July 2014.

Follow the road from the railway station that crosses the river on the upper deck and turn left into Clarence Street just before you get to KFC. Look to the left hand side of Clarence Street for some green open parkland, there are plenty of parking spaces, and pull up to snap a great shot of the double-deck road and rail bridge. Then hop back in the car quickly and continue to your destination before your wife gets cranky.

With three daily return XPT services stopping at Grafton, this is as good a place as any to board the train with a copy of Train Tripping Eastern Australia downloaded onto your tablet or iPad. My self-guided railway adventure over the New South Wales North Coast Line will provide a funny yet informative window seat guide that will make your train journey an experience to remember.


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