Friday, 8 July 2016

Muswellbrook: Chasing those 5am coalies


Let me paint the picture for you. Its 5 a.m. on a chilly May morning, and about the same degrees Celsius maybe a little less. I'm standing on the platform at Muswellbrook Railway Station, about 126 km north-west of Newcastle, Australia. Having woken at a little past 3 a.m., I had the great idea to leave early for our drive back to Queensland, in the hope of taking some train photos on the long drive home via the New England Highway. Let me tell you that at this point I was having second thoughts. The wind was so cold that I was having a hard time holding the camera still as my arms were shaking that badly, and at that moment a coal train decides to appear.

It was 5 degrees before this coal train rushed past me at Muswellbrook in May 2016.

The Hunter Valley is famous for two things; its wine and its coal. Having spent the best part of the past 3 days sampling the old Vino, I now had my opportunity to shoot some photos of its massive coalies. These coal trains can be up to 96 wagons long, with each wagon carrying anything up to 120 tonnes of coal to the ports at Newcastle. As such, it takes a lot of horsepower to keep these trains moving, and the 3 x TT class Pacific National locos that I photographed as they rushed through Muswellbrook Station at 60 kph are each 4,490 horsepower. The problem with a train that big and travelling that fast is; that it causes a mighty cold rush of wind as it rumbles by!

Muswellbrook Railway Station in Australia's Hunter Valley, shot in sepia tone in May 2016.

With my wife running back to the warmth of our car, I was left alone on the platform to try out some of the settings on my new camera she had bought me for my birthday. The beauty of photographing a passing coal train is that being so long, there is plenty of time to stop and make adjustments to your camera to get a shot such as this....

Just another coal train passing by on its way to Newcastle, May 2016.

....before walking to the other end of the platform to photograph the same train from the other direction. Muswellbrook is a grand old station. First opening in 1869 on the Main North Line out of Sydney, it makes for a great backdrop to shoot a modern behemoth such as this. You can only wonder if this is the size of train that John Whitton, the Father of the New South Wales Railways, would have envisioned, if back in 1869 he had looked this far into the future. Oh well, at least his original 1869 brick station building still stands as a testament to the railway's history beside the two-story addition that dominates Muswellbrook Railway Station today.

So with my ears still ringing, partly from the scream of the coal train as it passed by, and partly from the cold, I hurried back to where my wife was waiting in the car with the engine running and the air-conditioning set on 24 degrees. By chasing Hunter Valley coalies at 5 am, I am at least satisfied that I had taken the shot I was looking for in my book 30 Years Chasing Trains. In case you are wondering, it is one of the four photos above. Which one? You'll just have to buy the book and see. So with the car pulling away from Muswellbrook Station, I had another destination I needed to make by sunrise, and that was the famous Ardglen Bank on the Liverpool Range. But as usual, that's a story for another day.


preview this book now exclusively through


See also; Carrington: rails to Newcastle's dockside

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