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!

Book now available exclusively through

See also; Muswellbrook: Chasing those 5am coalies

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Point Clare: The Angry Station Mistress

Thirty years ago, I set out on my BMX bike as a young boy armed only with a Kodak 110 mm camera to take photographs of trains passing between Gosford and Point Clare Stations. Nicole Kidman had only just made her onscreen debut in BMX Bandits, Paul Hogan had introduced himself to the world as Crocodile Dundee, and double-decker V-sets were still wearing their original 'blue goose' livery as they plied their trade on the recently electrified mainline between Sydney and Newcastle. Looking back on 1986 a lot has changed, while on the other hand a lot has stayed the same.

This photo of a V-set was taken in the cutting just north of Point Clare Railway Station in 1986.

As a 14 year old, processing a roll of film back then cost the equivalent of a month's pocket money. To make matters worse, I quickly learned that using a 110 mm pocket camera was near impossible to keep still to avoid camera shudder. Still, looking back on the few photos that were actually discernible brings back a flood of memories.

There was the time that I was travelling back from Woy Woy Station with some friends when we realised that the carriage we were travelling in was not going to pull up alongside Point Clare's short platform. Point Clare was one of those stations that the train timetable advised passengers to travel in the rear 2 cars. So as the train slowed for its scheduled stop and the platform rushed into view, I quickly pointed out to my friends that we were going to have to jump. Of course I meant once the train had stopped, but before the train had come to a complete stop, my friend had pried open the carriage door and leapt from the still moving train. The carriage doors on the V-sets may have automatically closed, but you would manually pull the handle for the doors to slide open. Those who can recall the single deck U-sets may even remember the sight of commuters shooting the breeze while standing in open doorways on moving trains. Anyway, hitting the ground running, my friend's short little legs kept pace alongside the train for about 5 seconds before making a spectacular head-over-heels tumble for what felt like an eternity. When the train finally did stop, the open door of the carriage we were riding in had stopped just 6 foot past the end of the platform. We easily jumped down to track level to exit the train. Our other friend however, was now standing on the platform above us, dripping blood from both knees and elbows while cowering beneath the stern gaze of the Station Mistress who had stormed towards him after witnessing his spectacular exit.

Yelling at him to jump, our friend escaped the Station Mistress's wrath by climbing through the platform safety railing and jumping down to where we were standing at track level. Laughing as the train pulled away towards Gosford, our friend joined us, bruised forehead and all, and we left the Station Mistress to angrily shake her fist at us as we scrambled through the long grass and bracken ferns towards the safety of the road below.

This 86 class electric loco had just exited the cutting and was crossing The Broadwater into Gosford in 1986.

I still look back on those days with a sense of wonder. As in, its a wonder I didn't get in more trouble or get myself killed. Trouble always seemed to have a way of finding me when I was young. Thankfully raising kids of my own didn't turn out to be quite so hair-raising. Now, thirty years later, Paul Hogan may have long retired from the silver screen, but Nicole Kidman is still an established Hollywood actress in her own right. And although my BMX bike is probably rusting away at the bottom of a rubbish dump somewhere near Gosford, those V-set double-decker trains are still plying the rails north of Sydney. So when it came to collating the images for my book 30 Years Chasing Trains, how could I leave out the photograph at the top of a V-set double-decker train arriving at Point Clare Station? It may not have been the best train photo I have ever taken, but it was certainly one of the first. Seeing it grace the pages on the introduction of my book not only reminds me of Point Clare's short little platforms, but of one very angry Station Mistress from 1986.

preview this book now exclusively through

See also; Gosford: Growing up with trains

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Singleton: The 04:31 to Scone

There are a million places I would rather be than standing at Singleton Railway Station at 4:31 am on a freezing Hunter Valley morning in the middle of winter. So as I count down to my 100th and final Railway Reminiscing post, let me tell you the tale of the 04:31 to Scone.

This rushed shot makes the destination board look like the train is going to cone instead of Scone. Taken at Singleton Station in May 2016.

Just an hour into our trip home from a recent holiday, I decided to turn off the highway to see what was happening at Singleton Railway Station. An early morning Hunter Railcar service ex Hamilton Station in Newcastle was due in at Singleton at 04:31 am. But thanks to Tom, (the GPS unit on my dashboard) the direction he mapped coming from the east to reach Singleton Railway Station took me on a pre-dawn tour of every one way street and lane way in town. Complete with speed bumps and having to dodge parked cars and wheelie bins that were lined along the roadside for the garbage man to collect, I arrived at Singleton Station just in time to step onto the platform and see the 04:31 to Scone pull into the station.

Having only a split second to aim the camera and shoot wasn't exactly what I had in mind when hoping to collect a shot for my book 30 Years Chasing Trains, but it did leave me feeling sorry for the two young chaps that had been waiting to board the train. They looked rugged-up enough to be headed to the snowfields, when the truth was they were probably just on their way to work. Waiting for the train in 3 degree temperatures was likely just a part of their weekday routine. I do however have to give them credit for doing their best to avoid being in my photo. I can only imagine what the sight of me leaping excitedly through the waiting room door armed with a camera and yelling "it's here" to my wife, (like she would have cared on account of the cold anyway), would have done to startle the young blokes as they waited for the train. Maybe now I can get a job working as a Paparazzi. It seems I have already mastered the art of stalking up on someone, frightening the living daylights out of them and then capturing the moment on film. So to whomever you are guys, I'm sorry. I had no idea anyone was there.

This timeless night time scene was captured from the platform of Singleton Railway Station in May 2016.

So with my wife having abandoned me for the warmth of the car, (maybe on account of the cold, maybe on account of being embarrassed to be seen with me), suddenly I was all alone on the platform at Singleton Station at 04:33 am. With the 2 car Hunter railcar set now trundling off into the darkness towards its destination of Scone, I adjusted the camera to take the above shot in black and white. In all the years I've been chasing trains and taking photos, I have to admit that there's no more lonely a feeling that you can capture than an empty railway station platform in the moments after the train has departed.

Singleton Railway Station slumbering in the wee hours of the morning, May 2016.

Walking quickly back to the warmth of our car, where the engine was now running and you could almost hear the air-conditioning fan blowing hot air at top speed, I turned to take one final photo of Singleton Railway Station. Who knows when, or if for that matter, I will ever find myself in Singleton again? A few moments later, (this time choosing to ignore TomTom and simply following the street signs), we drove slowly along the sleeping main street through Singleton and were soon back on the New England Highway once more.

See also; Muswellbrook: Chasing those 5am coalies