I'd been invlted to the Gold Coast for NYE 2010 and so I thought I'd make an adventure of it and go by rail. Google Maps indicated that, via the Pacific Highway, the distance is 1,130km and, by car, it would have taken around 14 hours. I wasn't going for a land-speed record (and this isn't Japan) so I decided to take a relaxed path via Country Link (which does happen to be the only regional rail transport that travels north nationally.) This trip was to go via Sydney, Maitland (the start of the Hunter Valley) and then the north coast (overnight) to Brisbane. I could have chosen to switch to a bus at Grafton/Casino, but I didn't feel like changing transport at some gawd-awful time in the morning and a bus didn't appeal to me. After arriving at Brisbane early in the morning, I was to change to QR and travel south to the Gold Coast, arriving around 8:00am.
This trip started early at Kingston Railway Station in Canberra, ACT on Wednesday the 29th of December. This station (note that we are in Australia's capital) sees no more than 3 passenger train departures per day and 3 arrivals. These are even staggered so that every second day you can leave in the morning and afternoon, alternately with morning and evening on other days. Randomly inconvenient and it gets worse; the trip to Sydney (Central Station) takes around 4.5 hours. Meanwhile, if you are wanting to buy tickets for Country Link trains, I can only recommend to purchase them at Queanbeyan Station as it's run by the staff of the ARHS ACT and they get a commission.
Either way, we got off on time and stopped at Queanbeyan 10 minutes after leaving Canberra.
We then arrived at Bungendore around 30minutes later. As I had worked on the ARHS ACT trains, I knew I had enough time to grab a few photos as the whole line from Canberra to Goulburn still uses the 'staff' system. This meant that the driver had to exchange staffs in each of the signal boxes along the way.
At Tarago, the same thing had to happen and so I checked out the station. This was the final station on the Goulburn-Canberra branch before the train was to enter the "Main South". After this there were not going to be many other photo opportunities.
Sydney (aka. CityRail)
We arrived at Strathfield Station at some time after 10:00am after leaving Canberra at 6:43am. I then had about 6 minutes to change platforms and get onto a northbound express service. This service was to be run by CityRail which is the Sydney electric train network operator. They also run DMU services on non-electrified track.
This northbound train was to terminate at Wyong, but that was good enough, as I knew that there were freight services running over the "Main North" to keep me entertained there. I'd stopped by Wyong around 3 years ago and had seen a nice couple of RLs carrying freight southbound... unfortunately, we were well short of Wyong when the freighter stormed past, doing a great speed up the Cowan bank.
The CityRail fleet consists of all sorts of electric trains, but the northbound long-distance routes are covered by "V" sets (I believe) and they are ancient... Fortunately they are extremely comfortable and are even decked out with toilets and mildly-functioning air-conditioning. Really quite retro!
I therefore got off at Wyong and waited for the next service to Newcastle. I would only travel as far as Hamilton which is three stops before Newcastle and is the first station which intersects with the Hunter Line. Here I would transfer and then travel on the diesel service to Victoria Street where I was to stay overnight.
The DMUs used on the Hunter Line are two-car and I think nearly everyone of them had a flat-spot on one wheel somewhere.
Maitland and surrounds
Now, once in the heart of coal-country, it wasn't going to be too long until a coal train was to come hurtling past; it ended up being three, straight after each other. From what I gathered, the trains gave around 10 minutes minimum between each other when travelling in the same direction; but the paths were already clear well before.
After realising I could see coal trains all day, I packed up the camera and checked in to my hotel. Once settled, I then headed back to Warabrook Station and checked out the action. This station is located between Islington Junction and the other triangle (Koogarang Junction?)... although the double-triangle is probably known as Islington Junction. Either way, coal trains would be entering from all directions and I wasn't disappointed.
So, random light engine movements, but no coal trains... it turns out I could see them, but none were coming from the Newcastle direction. I therefore jumped on the next westbound train and got off at the next station past the triangle: Sandgate.
I was to catch the 6:65pm XPT from Maitland Station to Brisbane and therefore had the whole day to check out what was happening around the Hunter. I dumped my bags at Maitland Station and then proceeded to loiter at random points between Maitland and Newcastle. Fortunately, as soon as I'd sorted out my luggage, an 81 class + 2 48s rolled in with a grain consist. It turns out they were not going anywhere until the next DMU was through (thanks for that information from the drivers!) and therefore I took a few photos at Maitland Station and then waited for it at Sandgate.
At Sandgate, the main line is elevated over the coal lines to Koogarang Island. I was told by the grain train drivers that they were to change onto the main line and proceed through to Broadmeadow yard. This meant that they would come over the hump... of course, I didn't make it to the platform end to get the 'perfect shot'... but it worked out OK anyway...
I loitered at Sandgate and was lucky to see QRs new liveried 50 class.
The rest of the afternoon...
It was too hot by 11:00am to be hanging around in the sun and so I travelled on to Newcastle and swam at the main beach. Afterwards I ventured back to Broadmeadow Station to see if there was anything interesting going on. Broadmeadow is at the mouth of a maintenance/storage yard for locomotives and wagons. Unfortunately I only got to see a coal train passing through.
Back to Warabrook Station
I had been on to a good thing the day before, and so I though I would return to see what else was moving around.
Overnight on the XPT
I'd done this once before, back in 2000 or so, and I can only imagine that I'd forgotten how difficult it was to sleep upright. We ran on-time all the way, but the track wasn't as smooth as it could've been.
Meanwhile, the view as the sun was setting north of Maitland was beautiful. Rolling green pastures and lots of stock roaming around or running from our train. Unfortunately, the sun set pretty quickly and the reflective tint on the outside of the windows meant that there was next to zero visibility.
Lights were out at 10:00pm and most people tried to sleep (some with very loud music in their earphones.) Sleeping wasn't too easy though, as there were stations all throughout the night and people were getting on and off the train, dragging their luggage and making enough noise to wake all the light sleepers up. Even better was the fact that the guy next to me wasn't meant to be there, so at 11pm we all had to shuffle around when the actual passenger arrived.
After a random amount of sleep, then sun started rising at 5:30am and the view from the train was undeniably suburban Brisbane. A lot of the houses we passed backed on to the railway line and didn't care much for fences. We finally arrived at Roma Street Station and then I transferred to the Gold Coast Line to Nerang.
Until Australia cares for passenger trains... CountryLink will be the only option for east coast travel. The line has been primarily built for freight trains and therefore there is no regard for speed or smooth travel. They have done a lot of improvement work over the years, but again, population and demand is lacking to make any more of it.
I would recommend this trip be done during daylight as opposed to overnight. The view is spectactular and having had the sun up during the entire route would have been great. The only other way to do it would be via a sleeper compartment, but the cost will be quite prohibitive for the foreseeable future.