Tuesday, 15 July 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.

Three NR class locos still in National Rail colours crossing Coffs Creek back in 2005.

Opposite the Dolphin Marine Magic park on Orlando Street you'll find a steel deck girder bridge that crosses Coffs Harbour Creek. Back in 2005 while on a family vacation, my kids played sandcastles for 2 hours while I waited to photograph some trains with the ocean in the background, such as the Sydney bound XPT above, and this trio of NR locomotives with the lead unit painted in an aboriginal livery. But if you haven't the patience to pull off something like this, then Coffs Harbour's train station is just down the road opposite the jetty foreshore reserve, and is still worth taking a look at.

Coffs Harbour Railway Station as photographed from the Marina Drive level crossing, 2014.

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. However, sometime around 1991 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 is famous for. Bananas!

Coffs Harbour Railway Station is found at Angus McLeod Place, photo 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 up Brisbane XPT is the only passenger train to pass through Coffs Harbour in daylight hours, 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.

For the best way to appreciate train travel to and from Coffs Harbour, simply grab a copy of my Train Tripping Eastern Australia before boarding the train. My window seat guide to the train journey between Brisbane and Sydney, along with a stopover in Coffs Harbour will provide some laughs and turn your train trip into a real adventure.

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