Showing posts with label Railway Reminiscing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Railway Reminiscing. Show all posts

Friday, 28 October 2016

Neath: one final railway reminisce

Everything has a use-by date, and when it comes to trains, it doesn't matter if its a locomotive, a railway line or even a railway blogger. When I took a break from writing novels in 2014 to indulge in some blogging about one of my favourite pastimes, I didn't know that my love of trains would take me from Kuranda to Warrnambool. Factor in my previous trips to see the sugar cane railways of far north Queensland, the inland railways along the Newell Highway and a tiny bush tramway at Ida Bay in the far south of Tasmania, I can honestly say that I've seen a lot of railway lines in this country. Including one former railway station that up until this year I didn't know existed, at a little place called Neath in the New South Wales Hunter Valley.

What remains of Neath Station on the former South Maitland Line, as photographed in May 2016.

Neath Station first opened in 1908 on the privately owned South Maitland Railway system, built to link the region's coal mines to the port at Newcastle. Nearby Neath Colliery had opened 2 years earlier in 1906 by the Wickham & Bullock Island Coal Company, after the line had first been constructed through Neath to Cessnock in 1904. The line to Neath Colliery veered to the left in the above photo, at a point just beyond the signal box. A flurry of independently owned and operated coal mines soon sprung up close to the railway line,with each of them hauling their own 4 wheeled wooden hoppers to the nearest junction to be collected and taken to port. Eventually, this complicated labyrinth of privately owned railway lines became the South Maitland Railway, a railway which continued using steam engines to haul their trains to port, right up until 1983.

The station sign on Neath platform with The Neath Hotel in the background, May 2016.

At one time the line through Neath was double tracked as far as Aberdare Junction, hence the two platforms that can still be seen at Neath Station today. The South Maitland Railway operated a passenger railcar on the line between Cessnock and Maitland, where the line junctioned with both the NSW Main North Line and NSW North Coast Lines. Later in 1940, the NSW Government Railways introduced direct passenger services between Cessnock to Sydney and Cessnock to Newcastle, and my own copy of the 1956 Country Train Services timetable shows Neath marked only as a "stops if required" station. By 1967 the South Maitland Railway service had been withdrawn, and the NSW Government followed soon after in May 1972, the same year as it turns out that I was born.

The line through Neath has since reverted to single track to serve the one remaining coal loader at the end of the line at Pelton. Coal from the nearby Austar Colliery is fed by a conveyor belt through a long cutting and beneath Wollombi Road to the still intact surface loading facilities where the Pelton Colliery once operated, and from here, as always, the coal finds its way to the Port of Newcastle by train.

Neath Station still retains a little of that bygone charm today in 2016.

Turning the filter on my camera to sepia tone gives a glimpse of what this station must have looked like back in its day. Today, the tiny signal box dwarfs the the toilet block come waiting shelter that still stands on the platform alongside Cessnock Road. Ignoring the unimaginative graffiti that seems to always find its way into the corners of God-knows-where, there is a certain something about Neath that seems both foreign and all-too-familiar. Perhaps it is the quaint size and shape of the signal box. Or maybe it is the fact that a signal box with no apparent purpose is still standing in this day and age. One thing is for certain, having purchased a HO scale kit building of this signal box from Model Train Buildings, I will soon have a scale-sized reminder of this little place near nowhere.

The impressive 1914 Neath Hotel. What a place to end a railway adventure. May 2016.

Actually, I shouldn't say nowhere. That impressive 3 story brick building that you can see just down the road in the background of my photos turned out to be The Neath Hotel. Passing through Neath one more time during our visit to the Hunter Valley with my wife Denise, we noticed 2 tour buses pulled up outside. Taking this as a sign that it might actually be a really good hotel, we stopped the car just on twilight to check it out, and ended up staying for dinner. After the excitement of 2 bus loads full of Sydneysiders on their way home from a day day of visiting the local vineyards had pulled out of town, a blanket of silence fell over the place. Just as it does whenever the last train pulls away from the station. If you've ever stood on the platform to wave goodbye to someone, you'll now exactly what I'm talking about. You listen for the feint sound of a distant whistle, and hear only crickets.

Sauntering into the quiet ambiance of the dining room, we stopped dead in our tracks at the sight of this slice of Australiana. Built in 1914, the dining room looked as though little had changed since World War 2. Sitting in the quiet charm of such an unexpected find, we indulged in a traditional Aussie roast dinner while wondering about the history of this 100 year old pub. It turns out that the pub was a favourite with coal miners who would stop by for a drink after a day working the mines. One of those miners, a bloke by the name of Harry Littlefair, went off to war, but not before asking the publican of the time to mind his miner's lamp. Harry never made it home, and his lamp still remains behind the bar at The Neath Hotel.

It's stories like these that have inspired me as a writer, and its amazing to think of how many of them I have discovered from just stopping to see what remains of a former railway station. I wonder if Harry actually boarded a troop train at Neath station? Maybe, maybe not. But it doesn't hurt to stop and imagine what stories an old railway station such as Neath might be hiding. Maybe that's just the romantic in me, but whatever your thoughts are, I do thank you for reading the past 100 Railway Reminiscing articles that I have featured on this blog.

Strangely I find myself ending a blog post without the phrase "but as usual, that's a story for another day." While still hopeful that there will be more books to follow somewhere in the future, I feel that this post is as good a place as any to call it a day on my blogging series. Who knows? In the future I may even collate all of these tales into one big book to remember this period of my life by.

In the words of a somewhat half-decent writer; "everything has a use-by date.... even a railway blogger." Till we meet somewhere down the line, take care and safe travels.


Monday, 10 October 2016

South Brisbane: end of the line

South Brisbane Station was once the terminus for interstate trains travelling north from Sydney via the standard gauge North Coast Line. Board the Brisbane Limited at Sydney's Central Station at 6.30 in the evening, and the following morning at 10.14 am it would pull into South Brisbane Interstate Station, leaving you to find your way across the Brisbane River and into the city by taxi. For interstate travelers, South Brisbane was the end of the line. Today, the Brisbane XPT glides past South Brisbane's platforms and instead terminates across the Brisbane River at Roma Street Station. Yet South Brisbane Railway Station still retains its' heritage listed building in the face of the massive change that has swept Brisbane's South Bank area since the city's hosting of World Expo '88.

The impressive entrance to South Brisbane Station as photographed in February 2016.

South Brisbane Station first opened in 1884 as part of the Queensland Railways narrow guage network. Back then it was known as Melbourne Street Station, standing on the corner of Melbourne and Grey Streets. With the Brisbane River's potential for flooding already being realised early-on, the present station was rebuilt on higher ground in December 1891 and renamed South Brisbane. By 1918, the station had expanded to 6 platforms, and remained the terminus for all train services on the southern side of the city until the opening of the Merivale Bridge in 1978. The standard gauge line from Sydney didn't arrive until 1930, when the line was extended north of Kyogle through the Border Ranges.

South Brisbane's No. 1 platform with the Convention Centre and Brisbane Eye in the background, May 2016.

Interstate freight and passenger trains continued to use South Brisbane Station up until 1986, when the South Brisbane Interstate Station and goods yards were demolished to make way for Brisbane hosting World Expo '88. The tracks across the Merivale Bridge were relaid as dual gauge and from June 1986, the Brisbane Limited (and the 1988 Expo Expresses) crossed the Brisbane River to terminate at Roma Street Station.

The Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre dominates South Brisbane, photographed May 2016.

Following Brisbane's hosting of Expo '88, the entire South Brisbane precinct underwent a rapid and massive transformation into what is now South Bank Parklands. The 17 hectares of riverfront public space have transformed Brisbane into one of Australia's most pleasant cities. While the adjacent space to the west of the railway line where the Interstate Station and goods yards once stood is now dominated by the curved roof outline of the massive Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre, which at one point even straddles the railway line itself.

The Queensland Museum as viewed from South Brisbane Station, May 2016.

Today, South Brisbane Station consists of 3 platforms served by trains on the Cleveland, Beenleigh and Gold Coast Lines. The 1891 heritage listed brick station building remains Brisbane's second oldest railway station and is a key station for stepping from the train to visit the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre, Queensland Museum, Queensland Performing Arts Complex and South Bank Parklands, all of which stand parallel to the station.

Having visited the Queensland Museum in February 2016 to see the Medieval Power exhibition along with my wife and daughter, it was ironic to look back at the station from the steps of the museum and find it was like looking at a museum piece set against a backdrop of modern progress. The red brick facade of South Brisbane Railway Station, along with its white stone trim and picket fences, stands out in contrast to the white steel roofs and concrete architecture that surrounds it on all sides.

As a young boy growing up not far from the railway line in Gosford, I'd always fall asleep at night to the sound of trains heading north out of Sydney, wondering if perhaps one day I would get a chance to discover for myself what lay waiting at the end of the line. Standing on the steps of the Queensland Museum with my wife of 23 years and our daughter who was about to turn 21, I finally realised I had already found the answer. Sometimes it is only by looking back that we realise how far we've come. In my case, it is my wife Denise and two children Rochelle and Brandon who have provided a ride far greater than any train journey could offer, and it is fitting to think that all three were born at the nearby Mater Hospital, right here in South Brisbane.

The Red Bay Brewing Co's Silver Bullet at the Boundary Street Markets, photographed February 2016.

South Brisbane today is a far different place compared to when the Brisbane Limited arrived at the end of the line. Across the road on Melbourne Street you'll still find the Fox Hotel which traces its origins back to 1927 when it was known as the Hotel Terminus, while the Brisbane City Council offer a free heritage walking map of South Brisbane for those wishing to explore more than just South Bank Parklands. But perhaps the strangest find came at the end of the day, when we headed to the nearby Boundary Street Markets at West End and discovered an old train that had been converted into a bar. Billed as the Silver Bullet, the former QR railmotor now serves up craft beer in the vibrant atmosphere of a street market teaming with the aromas of nearby food stalls. For a lifelong train enthusiast, it is just as much an excuse to stop in for a drink as it is to photograph a train.

Having enjoyed sharing my Railway Reminiscing Adventures for the past 5 years, I do hope you'll join me soon for one last time as I share my final adventure from a place that up until this year I'd never heard of.

See also; Roma Street: Perestroika on Platform One

Friday, 23 September 2016

Roma Street: Perestroika on Platform One

Roma Street Station in Brisbane has always been a bit of an enigma to me. For a key railway station that is supposed to be a culturally significant landmark location for catching a train in Queensland, it just comes across as a bit 'blah'. Not only is the modern day version overshadowed by the foreboding Brisbane Transit Centre, but in the wake of Brisbane hosting the political G20 Summit in 2014, security around the station has evolved into something of a regimented Communist exercise that borders on perestroika.

Roma Street Station as I photographed it in 2004 when construction of the parklands had just begun.

But it wasn't always that way. So first, let me paint you a picture of what Roma Street Station was once like. Long after the rail freight yards were relocated to Acacia Ridge inter-modal terminal in the south west of the city, plans were drawn up for what is today the Roma Street Parklands. As you can see in the above photograph taken back in 2004, work was progressing on the new Platform 10 structure which is today flanked by a wall of residential buildings to the right of picture. Today, platform 10 is the arrival and departure point for Queensland Rail's long distance passenger trains, the Spirit of the Outback to Longreach, the Spirit of Queensland Tilt Train to Cairns, and both the Rockhampton and Bundaberg Tilt Trains. However, if the Roma Street Parkland project was supposed to give the railway station a much needed face lift, it didn't. Dividing the railway station from the parkland with a wall of apartment buildings has only confined the station to a string of covered platforms located somewhere 'out the back' of everything. There is no integration between the two and the parkland is almost impossible to find when stepping from the train.

The Indian Pacific on a promotional trip to Brisbane in 2004.
Worse still is what has become of Roma Street's platform one. When the standard gauge line from Sydney was first extended across the Merivale Bridge in 1986, the Brisbane Transit Centre opened soon after on the southern side of the station.

The Sydney XPT ready for its morning departure from Roma Street's platform 1 in 2007.

What was supposed to be a fully integrated bus and train terminal soon resembled an archaic concrete parking lot with the iconic platform 1 buried beneath an unimaginative tomb of concrete support posts for the bus station above. The photo at the top of this post shows me standing beside the 'tail end' of the Sydney XPT beneath the bus terminal, while above you can see the front of the train standing alongside platform 1.

I arrived at Roma Street Station from the Sunshine Coast in 2016 on the former ICE train that once ran between Brisbane and Rockhampton. It has now been relegated to running the Gympie North service.

Visit Roma Street Station today, and you will discover there is no platform 1. In its place is the Northern Busway, built to link the Brisbane City bus station beneath the Queens Street Mall with the Northern Suburbs via a dedicated bus-only roadway. The XPT now uses the dual gauge line that serves platform 2. Upstairs in the Brisbane Transit Centre, very little has changed since its opening in 1986. World Expo 88 may have come and gone, but the transit centre still has the same disjointed connection between trains on the ground level, buses on the upper level and a few fast food outlets caught somewhere in-between. I've caught both trains and buses from the Brisbane Transit Centre in the past, and compared to most domestic airports in the country, the transit centre is sadly outdated and a little dingy on the inside. Most commuters to Roma Street however, simply use the underground concourse to access the platforms, but fortunately on platform 4 you can still see a slice of what Roma Street Station was once like.

Roma Street Station's original 1874 brick building on platform 3 as photographed in 2016.

The original station building is Brisbane's oldest, and dates back to 1874. The building faces platform 3 and when I last visited in 2016 was closed to the public for renovation. But for a station that is now overshadowed by progress on either side, it is nice to know that there is still a bit of history to be found that has not been swept aside. Without the historic station building on platform 3, Roma Street might well be no different to the archaic transit centre that stands above it, a replica of a Cold War utilitarian building that is designed more to withstand the elements, than to welcome its travelers.

A Queensland Rail SMU220 set photographed at Roma Street in 2016.

And perhaps that's where my stoic 1980's description of Roma Street Station meets the meaning of the word perestroika. Taking out my camera to photograph some trains at Roma Street Station in 2016 is a completely different to my past experiences, and I'm suddenly interrupted by a female Transit Officer who asks me to put my camera away. Apparently I was being monitored from upstairs and she was there to inform me as to why security cannot allow someone to photograph the surrounding infrastructure.

In the next 60 seconds I'm also given an explanation as to why there are no rubbish bins on any of the platforms or within the station concourse. They are all new rules introduced at the time of the G20 Summit two years earlier, supposedly to keep the traveling public safe. Her open policy explanation all sounds very Mikhail Gorbachev to me, and for a second I'm wondering if perhaps Vladimir Putin had caught a train to Roma Street while the G20 was being held in Brisbane. Of course he didn't. The visiting world leaders were too busy being privately chauffeured around the city, or catching helicopters to and from the airport to be bothered boarding a train. It's all just a reminder of the world we live in.

That's me at Roma Street beside the Carnival of Flowers express to Toowoomba in September 2014.

It seems the only time taking photographs of trains at Roma Street Station is viewed as acceptable, is when there is a steam train tour, such as the one above. In a flashback to happier days, (ironically in September 2014, 2 months prior to all the perestroika associated with the G20 Summit was introduced), I was able to freely shoot some early morning photos at Roma Street Station before boarding the Carnival of Flowers Express to Toowoomba. So when compiling the images I used in my book 30 Years Chasing Trains, I wisely steered clear of using any photo that dared show a piece of the station's infrastructure.

For an author, train enthusiast and railway photographer for the past 30 years, it has all got a little too complicated for my liking. These days when passing through Roma Street Station on the way to a Broncos game at nearby Suncorp Stadium, I don't so much as take my iPhone out of my pocket. Perhaps in years from now there will be no photos of what Roma Street Station looked like in the year 2020. Maybe that's just a bit of my own paranoia, but it certainly is a part of the enigma that is Roma Street Station. It's like a little bit of Russia Down Under, only don't send a postcard.

Available now through my Books page

Monday, 19 September 2016

Korumburra: South Gippsland steam memories

Korumburra is a former railway town nestled in the green rolling hills of South Gippsland in Victoria's south east. The railway station which is perched high on a hill overlooking the town of 4,400 people, first opened 116 km from Melbourne's Flinders Street Station in June 1891. The stately red brick and terracotta roofed station building that still stands at the top of town dates back to 1907, and is one of the rare examples of a Queen Anne styled station building built for the Victorian Railways. Yet back in 1990 when I was at Korumburra to photograph steam locomotive K153 celebrating her 50th Birthday, I had absolutely no idea that less than 6 months later I would move away from South Gippsland, or that only 3 years later passenger trains on the South Gippsland Line would become a thing of the past.

I captured K153 departing Korumburra Station in 1990.

If watching a steam train excursion pull away is something that evokes nostalgic longings for the past, then you can only imagine what it must have been like for locals when the final V/Line passenger service from Leongatha passed through Korumbura on Saturday 24th July, 1993. When freight services to the Australian Glass Manufacturing's Koala Siding near Nyora ceased in January 1998, it brought to an end more than 100 years of government service on the line. Despite usage of the line between Nyora and Leongatha having been transferred to the South Gippsland Tourist Railway in 1994, it too would cease operating some 23 years later in January 2016. Today, Korumburra Railway Station lies silent on the former South Gippsland Line.

T352 and T376 at the head of the Barry Beach freight train in Korumburra yard. Photo 1990.

Korumburra was also the starting point for the weekly freight service to Barry Beach, conveying fuel tankers to the Bass Strait oil rig service facility in Corner Inlet. While doing work experience as a high school student with V/Line in 1989, I was lucky enough to have got to travel in the cab of a T class locomotive on the Barry Beach freight between Leongatha and Korumburra. Later in that same week, I was able to ride in the cab of a P class locomotive from Leongatha to Melbourne and back on the midday Leongatha Passenger. If I wasn't already crazy about trains as a teenager, I was certainly obsessed with them from that moment on. Unfortunately my childhood dream of growing up to become a train driver, also happened to coincide with enforced redundancies and the closure of many country branch lines throughout Victoria. So as I prepared to leave high school, the thought of joining the railways just didn't seem like it would lead to a secure line of employment. Perhaps it was the right call after all.

Korumburra Railway Station, as I photographed it in 1990.

Today, despite decades of broken election promises from politicians, the South & West Gippsland Transport group continue to push for the reopening of the South Gippsland Line and reintroduction of passenger trains to Leongatha on their Facebook page. With passenger trains having already once come back from the dead in 1984 after briefly being cancelled in 1981, it remains to be seen if future generations will once more be able to board a train for Melbourne at Korumburra Station.

Thankfully I have the above photos from that one magical day in 1990 to look back on and recall my time fondly of living in South Gippsland. Together they form just a small part of the story in my book 30 Years Chasing Trains, but one that left a big impression in the mind of a young train enthusiast. Even now, I can still recall sounding the horn on a P class diesel as we raced against the setting sun on the evening train to Leongatha, and the moment that K153 let rip with an almighty whistle as she steamed out of Korumburra Railway Station. They're both memories that are etched in my mind forever, and images that I am pleased to include in my book.

Available now through my Books page

See also; Foster: Victoria's South Gippsland Line and Flinders Street: Melbourne's grand old station

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Foster: Victoria's South Gippsland Line

Foster is a small country town with a population just a little over 1,000 people located in the south east of Victoria. If you'd never heard of the place before, then don't worry, neither had I until my parents told me we were moving to Foster late in 1986. For a young railway enthusiast of just 14 years of age growing up north of Sydney in the Gosford suburb of Point Clare, leaving our home close to the busy NSW Main North Line to move to Foster was the equivalent of moving to a railway Siberia. As it turned out, I arrived in time to witness the final years of operation on the South Gippsland Line east of Leongatha.

The once-weekly Barry Beach oil train passing through Foster in 1989.

Foster Railway Station stood 174 km north east of Melbourne's Flinders Street Station and first opened in 1892. The Great Southern Railway as it was once known continued east in 1921 to Yarram, a total distance of 220 km from Flinders Street Station, and from 1923 to 1953 included a 39 km branch line linking Yarram with the towns of Port Albert and Woodside. Passenger services through Foster had already been discontinued in June 1981, so by October 1987 when the line to Yarram was closed beyond Welshpool, only a sporadic weekly freight train remained, hauling superphosphate to various locations east of Leongatha, and oil tankers to Barry Beach to service the oil rigs in Bass Strait.

The Barry Beach oil train with empty VTQY wagons passing through Foster in 1989.

For a budding train photographer, my four years spent living in Foster were hardly a railway enthusiast's delight. Still too young to hold a license, my train watching days were confined to wherever my bike would take me. Often while on school holidays, I would hear a distant locomotive horn early on a Wednesday morning, and know that I had just enough time to cycle the 2 miles out of town to where the railway station once stood to watch the weekly freight train pass through.

Foster's railway station platform was already disappearing when I photographed it in 1989.

Sometime between 1986 and 1987, Foster's railway station building was removed and the platform reduced to an overgrown motley collection of shrubbery trying desperately to hide the fact that a railway station once stood there at all. In the above photo taken in 1989, you can still make out the track arrangement in the goods yard and the track leading to the turntable that I've shown at the top of this post. Foster once had a goods shed and a 4 track yard, 1 track for the platform road, 1 used as a passing loop and the other 2 for handing freight wagons. By 1989, the passing loop had been removed, and by 1991 the other 2 tracks were cut back to the double slip point on the turntable approach. I still remember the sight and sound of the last steam train to Yarram passing through Foster on Saturday 24th October 1987. Although I only found out about it at the last minute and as was the custom in a small country town on a Saturday morning, all the shops shut at 12 midday so I was unable to buy any film for my camera.

Taken in 1989, the old water tower was still used for steam excursions on the line.

My time in Foster was cruel like that. Although to be perfectly honest, my 4 years living there gave me a new found appreciation for Australia's disappearing railway scene. It seems we were all at one time guilty of complaining about travelling by train in draughty red carriages, that we never stopped to pay attention to something as utilitarian as a worn-out weatherboard railway station and a rusting water tank until it was gone.

This up home semaphore signal guarded the approach to Foster Station. Photo 1989.

While in Foster, I worked at the local Murray-Goulburn farm and hardware supply store directly across the road from the railway station. The building was at one-time the local Foster Butter Factory, no doubt built to be in close proximity to the railway line. Wednesdays were my favourite days to be rostered on during school holidays, as I'd see the Barry Beach oil train pass by anywhere between 7.30 am and 9.00 am, then a couple of hours later it would pass by once more, hauling empty VTQY or VTQF distillate wagons back to Korrumburra. Sometimes the locos would run light engine one way to collect the empty fuel wagons, sometimes it would be the other way around. Usually the train would also attach any empty superphosphate wagons at Fish Creek and Buffalo on the return trip to Korrumburra. On the rare occasion, this would be done on the way to the Barry Beach marine terminal, providing the rare sight of a mixed freight train running through Foster.

The final July 1980 Melbourne - Yarram train timetable. A year later passenger services ceased beyond Leongatha.

Thumbing through my collection of old Victorian Railways timetables, I came across the above train timetable for passenger services on the South Gippsland Line to Leongatha and Yarram. The July 1980 timetable would be the final train timetable for passenger services beyond Leongatha, and all of the railway stations shown on this timetable were closed less than a year later on 6th June 1981. While the 1964-65 timetable shown below, includes stops for long forgotten stations between Leongatha and Yarram such as Koonwarra, Tarwin, Stony Creek, Bennison, Hedley and Gelliondale, all of which were believed to have closed by 31 July 1976.

This timetable scan is also from my collection, showing 1964-65 Yarram train services.

This 1964-64 VR railway timetable shows long forgotten stations on the South Gippsland Line.

It was a far cry from the days when a daily mixed local train ran between Melbourne and Yarram however, and to have lived in Foster at a time when R class steam locomotives were being turned on the turntable would have been something else. But sometimes those are the cards that life deals you, and my time in Foster was that of a high school student writing letters to the editor of the local newspaper imploring the government to reinstate passenger trains on the line east of Leongatha. Thankfully the local Foster Mirror indulged me with my passion. Fortunately that passion didn't die away with the slow death of the line beyond Leongatha. By the time I got my drivers license in 1990, I finally got to experience bouncing across the level crossing in my car. By January 1991 I had bounced my way out of town altogether.

The trestle bridge across Stockyard Creek in Foster is one of the few reminders of Foster's railway past. Photo taken 1991.

The line east of Leongatha was finally closed on 30th June 1992 and the rails between Leongatha and Welshpool were sadly ripped up. The following year on 24th July 1993, the remaining section of the South Gippsland Line east of the Melbourne suburb of Cranbourne also closed, bringing to an end just over a century of railway history. Fortunately, the corridor of track east of Leongatha was converted into The Great Southern Rail Trail, and today it is possible to bike or hike the rail trail through Foster along the 73 km former railway line as far as Port Welshpool. There are many books and other resources available online through the Rail Trails website, and thanks to the internet I've been able to discover some amazing collections of railway photos such as the South & West Gippsland Transport Group's Facebook page featuring vintage 1970's photos of trains passing through Foster and the Hoddle Range.

Yet for all the cruel luck I seemed to encounter when trying to photograph trains during the four years I lived in Foster, I was able to include two scenes of Foster, (and many more of the South Gippsland Line) in my book 30 Years Chasing Trains. Published as a photographic memoir of a train chaser, Foster became my catalyst to better myself as a both a writer and railway photographer. By the time I'd left town, I had won the Foster & District High School's Writing Workshop Award twice, bothered the local newspaper with numerous Letters to the Editor and even won my local High School's Senior Sportsman of the Year Award, (probably on account of my fitness from cycling two miles at record speed in an attempt to see the weekly train pass through town), all because of trains. Perhaps more strangely however, Foster also became the place where I would meet my wife of almost 24 years, and Denise is still at my side today whenever I set off on another railway adventure. So with only four more Railway Reminiscing blog posts to follow, I couldn't help but share what in reality was a rather unexciting rail tale of a railway line that once went to a quiet, unassuming location in South Gippsland. A tiny place that actually turned out to be a huge turning point in my life. A little place called Foster.

Available now through my Books page

See also; Flinders Street: Melbourne's grand old station

Monday, 12 September 2016

Warrnambool: Victoria's Port Fairy Line

It's hard to believe that more than a year has passed since I boarded a train from Melbourne to Warrnambool, simply to see what was waiting for me at the end of the line. Warrnambool Railway Station lies 267 km west of Melbourne's Southern Cross Station, and is the end passenger terminus on what was once the Port Fairy Line along Victoria's west coast. Having an interesting past which included a time between 1993 and 2004 where passenger services were operated privately by the West Coast Railway, today the Government operated V/Line continues to provide two daily trains between the state's capital and this slice of paradise pressed hard against the sea at the end of the Great Ocean Road.

Warrnambool's 1892 railway station building, as photographed in July 2015.

Warrnambool Station first opened way back in 1890, after the railway line had been extended southwest from Geelong via the towns of Colac, Camperdown and Terang, and at one time continued 37 km west of Warrnambool to the town of Port Fairy. The line to Port Fairy closed in 1977 and today the rails end a few kilometres west of the city at the WestVic container loading terminal near Walsh Road. Warrnambool's current brick railway station building dates back to 1892, and after more than a century in use is still a busy station with connecting road coach services to Ararat to the north and the South Australian town of Mount Gambier to the west.

Warrnambool Station entrance and road coach interchange, July 2015.

Having caught the 7.20 am train from Southern Cross Station, I arrived in Warrnambool at 10.52 am on what was a 3.5 hour long scenic trip through Victoria's best dairy farming region. With the return midday train due to depart for Melbourne at 12.08 pm, I had just over 1 hour to take a quick look around the city before climbing aboard for my next destination of Geelong. Walking up Merri Street past the Warrnambool RSL Club, I followed Artillery Crescent until I reached the top of Cannon Hill lookout. From here on a clear day you can look out across Lake Pertrobe towards the ocean. The lookout is also a well-known location to train photographers, with views of the Pertobe Road overpass to the east, and Warrnambool Railway Station to the west.

The view from Cannon Hill lookout above Warrnambool Station, July 2015.

Pertrobe Road railway overpass, the ocean is lost somewhere in the white background haze.

Warrnambool Station as seen from Cannon Hill lookout, July 2015.

After snapping some photos from this location for my book 30 Years Chasing Trains, I hurried back past the RSL Club, crossed the road into Gilles Street and followed this for a block until I reached Timor Street. Here you are able to see the historic former Court House and Post Office buildings.

Warrnambool's historic old Post Office, as photographed July 2015.

The Western Hotel on the corner of Timor and Kepler Streets Warrnambool, July 2015.

Continuing left along Timor Street, I followed this for a block before coming to the impressive Western Hotel on the corner of Timor and Kepler Street. Here you can turn left again to head back towards the train station, or continue for one block further until you reach Fairy Street and also turn left. Both ways will lead you back to the train station within the hour provided you are a brisk walker like myself. Or, simply stay for the entire afternoon and catch the 5.50 pm train back to Southern Cross.

Selfie time in front of N475 at Warrnambool, before riding the train back to Geelong. Photo July 2015.

Back at Warrnambool Railway Station, the lead locomotive had already run around it's train and coupled on at the Melbourne end of the platform ready for the return service. There was just enough time for me to take a selfie in front of locomotive N475 the 'City of Moe' before climbing aboard. For a city as beautiful as Warrnambool, a one day visit doesn't do it justice, let alone a one hour visit! But I had a train to catch and another city to visit down the line to collect photos for my train chasing book. My next stop is Geelong, but as usual, that's a story for another day.

Available now through my Books page

See also; Geelong: A 19th Century Survivor

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