Great Southern Railways (or GSR) is a long distance train operator in Australia operating famous trains such as The Ghan, The Overland and The Indian Pacific. In 2008 they announced that they were going to run a service that brought all of their current services together, including a trip to Brisbane, to be known as the Southern Spirit. Unfortunately, due to the 'Global Financial Crisis', this service did not run in 2009... being postponed for a year.
So, after returning from Japan, I noticed a thread on Railpage titled 'Loco hauled passenger services...' and realised they were talking about the Southern Spirit. This brought back all the feelings of anger from last year when I'd heard it was to be completely cancelled... I was excited back then since the train was to make an overnight stay in Canberra! It also made me realise how much people had forgotten (or ignored) the service altogether, as it seemed like a pipe dream.
Anyway, the service was now running, and was to make a stopover in Melbourne on a weekend... perfect timing. It turns out Saturday was to be great weather, so I chose the beach instead, but the train was to depart for Sydney on Sunday the 17th December and I was going to capture it.
Just a note, the full album of photos and videos is located here.
The consist and loco had spent the night in Dynon Yard which is a large area of freight and maintenance operations in Melbourne. I jumped on my bike on Saturday evening and could see the consist from Mooney Ponds, but couldn't get a good shot of it. I did at least confirm that the train existed and could also determine it's approach to Southern Cross Station the next morning.
I made it to North Melbourne Station at 9am on Sunday morning and then proceeded towards Southern Cross following the railway. Most of the lines running are broad gauge, but there is a single standard gauge flyover from the yards to the Southern Cross a little further south of North Melbourne station. Here I waited for the service to move in.
Whilst waiting I saw a few things I didn't expect. It turns out that the second line on the flyover is broad gauge and is used quite a lot!
At around 1010 NR85 could be seen long-end-leading (which is extremely unusual for an NR) towards the flyover from Dynon Yard. It proceeded slowly over the gradient and then down towards Southern Cross.
From here, as I was on foot, caught a suburban to Southern Cross and took a few more pics of the train.
I then jumped on the next Footscray-bound service and found a spot trackside halfway between Footscray and Middle Footscray. Of course, there just had to be a passing EMU as I was recording a video of the Spirit leaving Melbourne.
Whilst returning to Flinders Street, I saw a freight service heading south towards Southern Cross Station. The EMU I was on managed to beat it to Flinders Street and I got a few shots of it passing through the station.
Shots from Eureka Tower
Unrelated, I've also been up Eureka Tower lately and got a few shots of the return freight service.
Due to having a lot of friends in the Kansai area, I'm always found basing my holidays in Japan from Osaka. Sure, the trains have less colour and there are no where near as many networks as Tokyo, but there's something about the city, it's warmth and, of course, the people. Did I mention trains? Also the trains.
I'm usually found loitering around Shin Osaka station (both photographing and residing) as it's the only place to get on the Shinkansen and also has a lot of limited express services stopping through. I usually stay in the same place; a room rented out by a Japanese citizen for a very good deal, but this time his apartment was booked. I instead ended up near Noda Station (on the JR Osaka Loop Line) and had to, more or less, start my learning of the timetables and networks from scratch. Of course, due to JRs punctuality and level of service, I really had no issues getting around... It just meant getting up 30 minutes earlier if I wanted to jump on a Bullet train.
One good bit about the Loop Line is that it's not all just boring local trains. It so happens that I was in the 4th quarter of the line (counting clock-wise from Osaka Station) and therefore only 2 stations from Osaka itself. This was really convenient, but also meant that I was on the Limited Express line (that bypasses Osaka and goes direct from Shin Osaka to Fukushima) that is also used for freight!
Of course, it wasn't until my last day that I actually saw freight on the line, as you either have to fluke it and see standard container trains to the port out near Universal Studios Japan or wait until around 11pm to see the M250 Super Rail Cargo leave. Since I'd found out the timetables of the M250 prior to this trip, I'd known what to do this time (instead of just seeing it shoot by when stumbling home from karaoke) and got in position to get a photo of the damn thing.
M250 Super Rail Cargo
My first attempt to see this train was on a weeknight from Noda Station at 10pm, heading to Ajikawaguchi Station (which is right next to the yards where the M250 is loaded.) Upon arriving, I saw the M250 cab lit, but also noticed that the Sagawa Transport trucks were still speeding into the yard in quick progression. I watched (walking from Ajikawaguchi Station up to USJ Station) as the trucks drove in, lined themselves up in a queue and then were unloaded by forklifts. They all knew exactly which car number (flat wagon in the consist) to drive up next to. The forklift would then pick up the container, the truck would drive off and the forklift would place the container on the train.
I soon realised, as I walked along the yard towards USJ, that there were only about 3 or 4 more containers left to load... and those trucks were already in the queue waiting to be unloaded! Hence I started speeding up my return, on foot, to Ajikawaguchi, as this is where the M250 would join the Yumesaki line (the line from the Loop Line to USJ/Sakurajima), as this would provide a good vantage point for a photo. Turns out I couldn't get a clear or steady shot without a tripod, so a movie was to be it.
All of a sudden this random music started playing (turn the volume up on the movie, you can hear it at the start) over ALL speakers in the yard... I thought the Thunderbirds were about to arrive. Then I heard a very feeble train horn and, before I knew it, the M250 was departing. It was 2304 and I looked at the timetables on the platforms at Ajikawaguchi... there were to be no trains for the next 4 minutes, a perfect time for this high-speed freight service to depart. And it did! It accelerated quite quickly, passed onto the left line and then disappeared out of sight.
Of course, I then wanted to get this train at another station along the line. I tried again the following Sunday and but I only got to see the consist shut down in the yard and partially loaded. As I arrived at Ajikawaguchi Station, the lights in the yard started shutting down row by row (around 2250) and I could tell that an employee was walking along the yard, manually switching them off. Fail for this night to get a movie.
I then ran out of time in Osaka to get another shot. The train departs at a bad time, as its always when you've had your fill of shabu-shabu, you've sung a few songs at karaoke and you're just not ready to leave the booth! Of course, the last loop line train is also sometime just after midnight, meaning a run to get a video of a train is usually always out of the question. The only real vantage points are at Nishikujo, Noda and Fukushima Stations which are out of the way from where the nightlife is.
Hence I only have the above video... but I'm glad I saw the train, finally... functional.
Umeda Freight Yards
Another favourite place of mine is the Umeda Freight Yards north-west of Osaka Station. This yard seems to be shrinking everytime I go there (due to construction of new buildings), but is often receiving traffic as the west-most lines are dedicated to freight from Shin Osaka and further on to Kyoto. These lines are also shared by the limited express trains that bypass Osaka Station. This includes the Ocean Arrow, Kuroshio and Haruka (to name a few.) Seen below is a Haruka service returning from Kansai International Airport to Kyoto via Shin Osaka. The lanes are also used by the M250 on it's way to Sakurajima.
This station on the loop line has meant nothing at all to me before; infact I resented stopping at it on local trains as I would have been able to get to Osaka quicker if it hadn't existed. This trip was, of course, different as it was my closest station. I also had Noda-Hanshin but my JR Railpass dictated a lot of travel paths.
On the south side of the station is a "Tetsudou Toshokan" or "Railway Library". It turns out you can pay 180yen for 30minutes of access to everything they had available. I snuck a peek from the stairs and saw shelves of maps, diagrams and manuals... but didn't enter. They'd only be picture books to me!
On my last day I took advantage of the sunset and photographed everything coming towards the station (actually, I lie, most of this was from Nishikujo, but the effect is the same.) I was impressed to see a freight locomotive coming towards me and laughed when I saw it towing only 2 flatbeds to Sakurajima.
This is the end of the Yumesaki line, whose main purpose is to serve Universal Studios Japan. I just thought I'd add in some photos of the USJ liveried loop line EMUs.
The Oigawa Railway is still my favourite railway in Japan (Second is the Eizan/Eiden Dentetsu in Kyoto) and I, again, visited it on my most recent trip to Japan. I also went back up to Hokkaido, this time actually spending time in Sapporo and returning via a different Night Train.
Two words... "Damn cold". I think we averaged around 3 degrees celsius whilst there but loved every minute. Crossing road intersections was a deadly game as you quickly found the ice under the snow and watched as either you or others around fell flat on their asses. All this snow also gave express trains a challenge, but the effects are magical when you get to see one at full speed.
I actually started from Hachinohe and took the Super Hakucho and Hokuto to get to Sapporo. There was no snow falling in Hachinohe but the ground was icy. As we got closer to Aomori the snow on the tracks got thick (I love the front windows in both express services) to the point where you couldn't actually see the rails. I was disappointed to not see any snow plough trains in action.
I didn't really get to venture out too far, but the first night there was spent in Otaru. This is a beautiful "canal city" and I happened to stumble upon a steam locomotive when first arriving.
Unfortunately it was cheating with a DE10 up it's rear end. Of course this is required as a fail-safe on mainlines, but you could hear the DE10 doing a lot of the work.
Returning to Sapporo I saw all sorts of services and also rode on the Super Kamui and happened to see one pass another.
I returned to Osaka overnight on the Hokutosei. I travelled from Sapporo just after 1700, arriving at Fukushima at 0600 to swap to the Tohoku Shinkansen and then the Tokaido Shinkansen. Swapping to the Shinkansens early (instead of sleeping through to Tokyo) meant I saved around an hour and a half in transit.
This trip started from Osaka, with a detour via the Entetsu Railway and Tenryu Hamanako Railways:
Oigawa Railway is a third sector railway running from Kanaya (JR Hokkaido Line) to Senzu, known as the Main Line, and then through to Ikawa on the Ikawa Line. The line was built to transport equipment and materials to build a dam on the Oigawa River. The Ikawa line is partially a rack railway due to the gradients in some places.
My trip involved travelling through to Okuizumi on the Ikawa Line and staying at the Okuooi Ryokan (highly recommended). I returned via the SL the next day and I also totally recommend this. It was the christmas day special and I booked ahead on their website.
I took a lot of photos, you can find the whole album here... but here are a select few:
The highlights were the workmen at the start pushing a rail ladder along, the manual operation of the turntable and the in-car entertainment on the way back!
I'll be returning again...
I've recently been though both of these places and thought I'd write a few quick notes on both.
This is an area of Tokyo known to be a bit of a ghetto. Here you'll find a lot of down and out souls wandering, drinking and sleeping in the streets. It is a real eye-opener and really brings a different feeling to Tokyo. There are 2 youth hostels here; I stayed at the Aizuya Inn.
Now, the great thing about this place is that JR East has a nice freight station (Sumidagawa Station Container Terminal) that acts as a transfer point for freight up the east-coast line. Upon first arriving to the passenger station (On the Joban Line, 2 stations off the Yamanote Line) you must cross a pedestrian bridge south to get to the hostel. This bridge passes the entrance to the freight yards and the east-bound freight line.
The yard becomes very active at night and quietens during the day. You will find freight trains coming in from both directions, but the best are those heading towards Tokyo, as they will pull past the yard and then reverse in. There are a few DE10 shunters and usual stabled EF81s and smaller electric locomotives. I stayed back one night until it got too cold and saw at least 5 freight trains enter to form at least 2 that then left. Freight seems to be sorted and then longer trains formed. This provides for still shots when the locos are paused to change direction and you have quite a few vantage points along the fence.
Also, the passenger station has the Ltd Exp. Hitachi services shooting through:
Following the plan in the previous post, I took a Bullet train from Tokyo to Koriyama and then the Aizu Liner 1 from Koriyama to Aizuwakamatsu. The plan was then to catch the local train to Shiokawa to get a shot of the SL Banetsu, but the connection wasn't made as the Aizu Liner 1 was about 4 minutes late and that meant there wasn't enough time to put luggage away in lockers.
Fortunately this paid off, as the SL was to arrive at 1331 and I was to then catch the return Aizu Liner to Koriyama at 1414. The SL didn't show up until 1404 and that left very little time to get photos.
Since I arrived at Aizuwakamatsu juse after 12pm, I then had an hour to loiter and wait for the SL to arrive. I wandered around the station and found a few locals walking a track through the yards, it seemed harmless enough... this turned out to be an amazing walk through the inner workings of the DMU service area (see the photos below.) The snow made it even more perfect.
I made it to a good spot near a pedestrian underpass and waited for the SL. I was about 20mins walk from the station and knew I had to run as the Aizu Liner wasn't going to wait for me. From where I was I saw the Liner pull out of staging and head into the station and I knew I was running out of time. I went back to the station, put my luggage in the Aizu Liner and then the steamer arrived.... took photos... and then went north.
Here's the shots from the day... it's welll worth staying longer: