Sunday, 7 August 2016

Ardglen: Chasing Chilcotts Creek Bankers

We train enthusiasts can be a weird mob at times. Our ears prick up at the sound of a train horn and the sight of a passing train can captivate grown men like a child walking past the TV when an episode of Sesame Street has just come on. Fortunately for me, its one of those things that my wife has learned to live with. However, when it came to driving back home to Queensland along the New England Highway, the sight of a coal train crawling its way up the Liverpool Range near the tiny village of Ardglen had my wife both amused and shocked by my antics behind the wheel. Like a trained Highway Patrol Officer, I soon had the car pulled to the side of the road from our traveling speed of 100 kph, before swinging it round in the opposite direction and setting off in pursuit of the southbound coal train.

Urging my wife to quickly get the camera ready for me to shoot some pics as soon as I stopped the car, she cheekily took this white-knuckled photo of me behind the wheel. That was okay, at this point I was still on the blacktop. Overtaking the train proved easy. With something like 86 hoppers each loaded with up to 120 tonnes of coal bound for Newcastle, the two Aurizon 5000/5020 class locos at the head of the train were lucky to be traveling any more than 30 kph. At the turn off for Ardglen however, the blacktop soon ended as I left the New England Highway behind and followed a narrow gravel road towards a level crossing I had spotted at the top of a hill. Bouncing over the crossing, there was just enough time for me to skid the car to a halt, and armed with my camera, hurry to position myself line side before that familiar level crossing chime swung into action.

With Ardglen Quarry in the distance, this long train trails off to the right of picture, taken May 2016.

Ardglen Bank is considered one of the Holy Grail train watching sites in New South Wales. Having left in the early hours of the morning for our trip along the New England Highway, Ardglen was one of the locations I had circled on the map in the hope of photographing some trains. But as you'll see from this series of photographs, timing our arrival for shortly after sunrise presented the problem of long shadows falling across my lens at just the wrong moment. With two locos on the head of a long train that can be seen snaking around the valley in the distance, and with Ardglen Quarry lit by the morning sun in the left of the picture, this should have been the perfect photo. Ten minutes later and it probably would have been.

Believe it or not, but this level crossing is in Ardglen's Main Street. Taken May 2016.

The fact that the two lead locomotives were looking rather grubby didn't aid my cause. It was hard to see where the shadows ended and the grime began.

Ardglen Station once stood alongside the rails on the right. This photo taken 2016.

Passing slowly uphill through the former site of Ardglen Station, the two massive 4,400 horsepower locos are almost dwarfed by the 120 tonne QHCH hoppers. Standing track side these trains not only look big and sound big, but without the need to exaggerate, you can actually feel the slight earth tremor as they pass you by.

'Oh What a Feeling', big long Aurizon coal train. That's me goofing around in May 2016.

These Hunter Valley coal trains are so long, that there was plenty of time for me to pass the camera to Denise and goof around while re-creating the Toyota 'Oh What A Feeling' add.

These manned banker engines were working hard on the rear of the train climbing Ardglen in May 2016.

Finally, on the end were another two 5020 class locos, two Aurizon locomotives that are positioned at nearby Chilcotts Creek to act as banker units to help shove the heavy train up and over the summit of the Liverpool Range.

The sun had only just crept above the Liverpool Range when I shot this train at Ardglen in May 2016

Just around the corner to the right in this photo, the line passes through Ardglen Tunnel at a location that is marked as Naughton's Gap on your road map. However, when the rear banker units reach the brick signal hut near the end of the passing loop, a weird movement occurs. With the front of the train having crested the summit and now passing through the tunnel, the banker units automatically uncouple from the rear of the train and coast to a halt. Moments later, the drivers change ends on the locomotives and the banker units simply run light engine back to Chilcotts Creek at the base of the summit.

Taken at Ardglen once the sun had cleared the trees, these two bankers are heading back to Chilcotts Creek. May 2016.

In an example of how ten minutes can make a world of difference to train photography, the sun had now crested the Liverpool Range enough to bathe the trailing end of the two banker locomotives in brilliant light, and I was able to get the shot I was looking for in my book 30 Years Chasing Trains. On a full bleed double-page spread inside a 8 inch x 10 inch book, the above photo looks amazing. However, I wasn't done train chasing quite yet. With the locos now running quickly back down the Liverpool Range, I turned the car back towards the highway, and set off in pursuit once more.

I photographed 5043 and 5042 passing close to the former site of Kankool Station in May 2016.

Somewhere near the former station site of Kankool, I got far enough ahead of the two locomotives to stop the car and this time run through the long grass to take another shot that again was unfortunately ruined by long shadows. Jumping back behind the wheel I set off once more in pursuit, only to run into road works near the location of Chilcotts Creek.

The legendary 'Chilcotts Creek Lollipop Man', Chilcotts Creek, May 2016.

With my wife now enjoying the absurdity of our adventure by taking photos from the open window of our car, she inadvertently took the above photo as we crawled past a road worker holding a lollipop sign. When looking through my photos weeks later, I was stunned to find he had actually smiled for the camera as we drove past. So to the Chilcotts Creek Lollipop Man, (whoever you are), I hope you don't mind my including your photo on this blog. Despite the long grass obscuring the front of the locomotive in the picture, this has become my wife's all-time favourite train photo that she has taken.

Chilcotts Creek Loop with the New England Highway to the right, taken May 2016.

Finally, I'll finish this post with this scene of a Pacific National coal train headed by TT class loco TT119 and two 93 class locos waiting for the banker units to be attached to the rear of the train for the run south over the Liverpool Range. With the tunnel at the summit being only single-tracked, and a 10 kilometre long climb on either side that slows trains to a crawl on the 1 in 40 gradient, Ardglen Bank really is the Holy Grail of train watching. Slow passing trains give you ample time to fire off a series of shots, and getting up close to the action at this dot on a map located 328 km north of Sydney is easy thanks to a number of good photographic angles.

Not only did this morning yield a couple of great photos that I included in my book 30 Years Chasing Trains, but with my wife getting a giggle out of seeing how excited I was to chase trains up and down the same short stretch of highway, it made for a nice memory on a long trip home to Queensland. Punctuated of course by the Chilcotts Creek Lollipop Man!

Available now through my Books page

See also; Muswellbrook: Chasing those 5am coalies

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