Monday, 14 July 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.

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!

Although the XPT simply whizzes by Coramba these days, you can still gain a real appreciation for the history of the railway line that passes through the Orara Valley in my book Train Tripping Eastern Australia. My window seat guide to the train journey between Brisbane and Sydney with a stopover in Coffs Harbour, will give you some laughs and provide a wonderful insight into one of Australia's most overlooked railway journeys.

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