Foreword: For the first time in a long time, these are notes from a journey, written as the journey happened. Most of my other posts have been written after-the-fact. Let's hope we can all decipher this one!
Here comes my XPT, it's on its way south, passing Wagga. I'm to get on it tonight and head north to Goulburn. I'll arrive at 4:15am (if we're on time...) and then hang around in (what could be) low temperatures to see an engine, that has been rebuilt, make it's way on to the mainline for the first time in decades. The engine is 6029, a ginormous steam engine restored by the ARHS ACT, Canberra. It should be quite an event... am sure there'll be quite a crowd at every photo-opportunity along the way.
Anyway, back to now, my XPT is on it's way down the main south to Southern Cross where I'll board a sleeping compartment.
Southern Cross Station
When I bought my tickets, I was told to be 30 minutes early to the platform. The attendant chuckled though, indicating that the XPT doesn't always turn up on time. Either way, I arrived at SCS way too early; it'd been a quiet Friday at work and there was no need to hang around the office. SCS is always a hive of activity and Friday afternoons see trains to all destinations.
Wandering around, I'm looking on my radar and can see the XPT passing through the freight yards in Dynon. I'll go up and watch it come in ... 6 minutes early! Of course, I'm heading to the end of platform 2 and there's a V/Locity in platform 1, where the XPT _always_ waits. I can now see the XPT under the La Trobe Street bridge, but it can't proceed until the V/Lo moves.
The XPT has made it onto its platform. Passengers have alighted. Cleaning has started. I'm now 1 hour early for boarding... Screw this, I'm getting some dinner. The "Network" diner has great pizza and beer. I'll tuck in to that. Of course, I sit down and look up.. it's The Overland pulling in. Not a bad view. This train operates to and from Adelaide, going one day up, then the other day down. It sounds quite inconvenient to me, but patronage always seems quite high.
You can take your car with you to Adelaide! Or you can go buy one there and then take it back... Although it's really only an 8-hour drive...
Food was good... time to go loiter on the platform and watch some trains... It's actually just about steel-train-o'clock, I wonder if it'll show? Should I run over and be on the right platform? Or not miss my XPT. I'll wait here where it's safe. Doesn't mean I can't see the train pass though.
The XPT (eXpress Passenger Train)
I'm looking at the train from the outside... It's a dinosaur. I looked at the XPT article on wikipedia earlier today and it told me that the train was introduced the same year I was introduced!
Initial feeling whilst boarding is that this train is old; I therefore suppose I am too... The sleeping cabins look cosy, and my room mate has an oxygen tank. Might be a noisy night. He's on the train because the airlines don't want to put his tank in the cargo hold. I'm on the bottom bunk which is good for me to escape quietly in the morning, but I offer it to the gentleman for accessibility reasons. He politely declines and makes his way to the top bunk much more easily that I'd expected. The ladder is a fold-out type and doesn't quite look up to the task, but all ends well.
Turns out we've departed on time, if not 3 minutes early. I hope they checked all the seats at the boarding gate to make sure there weren't any stragglers (there is no boarding gate.)
The conductor has just introduced himself, asked what I wanted for dinner (chose the Lamb Rogan Josh) and was told that it'll be served once they heat them all up. He then asked about breakfast, but that wont be ready when I alight. He has suggested that I head to the buffet car at 4am and grab a coffee; the buffet car will be open all night.
As we proceed north, it becomes apparent that we're in for a rough ride.. I have been following the progress of ARTC on the repair work of the "main south", but this track is terrible. I wonder if it's worse up on the top bunk. Drinks can't be left open on fold-out tables... the train will throw them on the ground and my hot coffee is trying its hardest to scald me. I suppose all of this can be expected from a freight track.
I'm going to retire now... I'm reading quite an interesting book, "A Confederacy of Dunces" by John Kennedy Toole, which outlines the story of, what I can only assume is an Autistic, adult living in the 60's in New Orleans. His adventures are quite astounding and the story is told from his point of view. I'll try and read a chapter or so and then get an early night... they're about to turn the lights out (it's only 9pm) and I'll need to be up early.
I've just woken up passing Yass Junction. This used to be my favourite station whilst living in Canberra. Some early mornings were spent here watching the freighters bolt through. It's still a little too early to get up... we're about an hour way from Goulburn, but I am worried that if I doze off again then I'll cause a fuss when the conductor has to wake me.
Fumbling for my gear (there's really no space here for the luggage of two people) I dress and pack my bag. Using my mobile (there was one power-point to charge it overnight, luckily my room mate doesn't care for technology) as a flashlight I make sure I don't leave anything behind. It's now time for coffee... I'm going to make my to the buffet car.
The buffet car is one economy-car away. It's full and it's a gauntlet of limbs and heads snoring in the corridor. Lots of murmuring and other loud slumber. The swaying of the train doesn't help one bit. I've got my backpack on as well and I'm trying my hardest not to over-balance.
At the buffet car, the attendant is already serving a lady who also can't sleep. She has just asked him if we've passed Goulburn. I chimed in chuckling, "If we have, then I've missed my stop!" The attendant served me coffee and water, very chirpy and helpful for 4am in the morning. I now have to work out if I run the gauntlet back with burning coffee... or just camp out in a vestibule and wait. I do the latter... I can only see injury if I try to get back to my cabin.
Welcome to Goulburn. It's 4:17am. There's already 8 people on platform... All looking for trains. 3 other passengers came off my XPT and 2 of them have stayed to railfan.
The order of the morning has been menial chit-chat with fellow train nerds. They are all full of speculation and I tried to correct a bit of their misinformation. It seems there's a crapload of crap spoken of Canberra... Anyway, I am also helping them as my radar is allowing me to tell them when the next freighter is to come around the bend. They are impressed... but that isn't an achievement.
So far I've seen 3 freight trains... It's dark and I can't take a good shot.
I'm now going for a walk. A friend (who is also in town) has hinted that the consist is waiting in the yards just west of Goulburn station. This is owned/operated by CFCLA who work with ARHS ACT often. I start off and choose the clockwise loop, passing under the railway on Braidwood Road and heading around to the museum entrance... it's not open and there is zero visibility. I can hear a steamer idling though. The lap continues around on to Sloane Street and I can see the steamer. I'm hungry, the visibility is poor.. I'm going to go find food. It turns out the best bet right now is Baker's Delight in the mall. Everything else is shut! No coffee to be had near this station.
6029 at Goulburn
Crowds have been building steadily since 6am. There's now 100s of people here. The steamer is to arrive any minute. All of a sudden we hear quite a haunting whistle and the behemoth appears through the fog. It's summer... but the southern highlands are always shrouded in fog in the early mornings. It's just after 8am and the steamer is arriving.
I'm recognising quite a few faces from the ARHS crew ushering passengers onto the train. None of them have recognised me... I've only been away from the volunteer work for 6 years though! The train is now departing, on time, assisted by 2 diesel locomotives. They seem to be powering a notch higher than expected; I was hoping the steam would be doing all the work.
The chase begins...
I'm now to catch the Countrylink (NSW Trainlink? will never get used to that...) Xplorer from Canberra to Sydney. It'll drop me in Goulburn where I'll catch up with some friends and we'll chase further from there. I can see two freighters coming from the west, but it looks as though they'll give way for the passenger train.
It's here, we're off... the conductor tells me there's no hot water... oh god, I need a coffee. We're dawdling... I assume that the steam is in front and taking it's leisurely time. These seats are comfortable and my lack of sleep catching up. Cold coffee it is... Oh good... No buffet attendant. I keep looking around to see if I know any Canberrans.
I realise that this Xplorer is capable of double SL speed and so we've definitely caught up to the SL and we're dawdling. It seems that the SL would never had a chance of making its path, even with diesel assitance? The SL was built for heavy haulage at moderate speeds... the main south nowadays expected 100+ km/h running. I think the SL is hard-limited to 80 km/h.
Looking outside, the fog seems to be lifting. Thank the lord... We might get some well-lit shots! Still no buffet attendant...
30 minutes have passed and we now have a Buffet Attendant!! Frowned on for buying chocolate? Hah. I need the sugar.
Another lady asks for a packet of coffee to go with her cold water... His response: "What are you going to do? Chew it?"... Good show.
Meanwhile, I'm finding out the hard way that coffee bags do not work in cold water! It seems that there is no reaction and I'm probably quite close to tearing the bag. Shouldn't matter as usual instant is direct in the water anyway. How very fancy to have coffee in a tea bag?
It turns out I've used a lot of web/GPS this morning watching the radar, so I already need to charge my phone. Yes, I fully charged it on the train overnight. Fortunately I'm packing 2 Sony battery packs and have plugged one in. It's charging the phone and I've got the phone on airplane mode also. Very fast charging. Battery running hot. Note also that these trains (XPL, XPT, V/Lo) are all made of solid steel and reflective-tint windows. REALLY BAD for mobile reception. There is nothing a mobile battery hates more than shitty reception. It seems the 'radio' in the phone just keeps searching for a signal and screws the charge royally.
I'm wondering if I can use the battery to heat my coffee... I just chuckled out loud... I'm blaming the fatigue. Meanwhile, we've just passed Bundanoon... no kilts to be seen. Next actual stop is Moss Vale, but there goes Exeter. We're flying.
We've just arrived and I've got a missed call from Andrew. I call back, they're on the bridge up ahead. Peter is with him and they're checking out the servicing of 6029. My XPL continues north and then the southbound XPT arrives. Not much of a spectacle, but I'm told that the others have never had a shot of it here.
We are now heading north to Bowral where there is a good photo op. We have made it to a bridge just before the station, but Peter can't park in time... Andrew and I have just jumped out and go the shots. Peter isn't fussed, he's done it all before.
We continue on north, listening to ABC classic FM; a great radio station for intense train hunting. Bolting along, we're heading to a good spot just before Picton. The rail traverses a viaduct over a river and then we pass over on our own road bridge. Great shots and location. Lots of people.
Big question now: SL at picton or wait for the 2 freights (that my XPL held up at Goulburn) here? Picton it is...
This place is packed. Train is arriving now and no one is realising that the train won't come all the way in to the station. We are running to the end of the platform to see it do the shunt onto the Thirlmere branch. Whilst we're at the end we can see the driver photographing us... Photographers along the platform are getting angry that train isn't coming all the way in.
The two freighters have passed through. Picton is on a huge hairpin turn... so you can see the northbound trains coming. You can hear them also taking the bend.
We're now making our way back to Braemar Junction for the Intermodal. Am quite hungry! Screw food though, the trains wont wait for us. Really happy the sun has come out!
Off we go, on the way to Werai (I've been told there's a great curve there...), but we're stopping in on the Cement works first. There's a train approaching and the guys have never seen a train on this line before. I seem to be good luck.
The 81s aren't going anywhere fast... so we continue on. Turns out this cement branch also has a chicken feed factory and a limestone mill. We stop in Moss Vale for pies. REALLY tasty. Or was I just super starving?
I've seen 100s of shots from this location, but I've never been here. The northbound intermodal is approaching. Turns out it has steel slapped on the back.
There isn't much else happening, so Peter has suggested we return to just north of Bundanoon. Specifically the bridge at Bunadanoon Road, just near the intersection with Ringwood Road.
We're about to see the northbound XPL... we're so close to having the southbound pass at the same time.
We're now off to Marulan South. Learnt about the old town built around the mines. Not much chop from access roads. Radar shows there's a consist (the TTs we saw at Braemar Junction) in there, but we can't see squat.
Back to Goulburn
And that's a wrap, I'm now back at Goulburn. I've parted ways with Peter and Andrew who are driving back to Canberra as we speak. I'm about to go purchase my ticket to Moss Vale; I stupidly bought my XPT return trip ex-Moss Vale when I should've purchased ex-Goulburn. One more trip on the XPL for me then. There might even be more traffic up there later this evening.
I'm waiting at Goulburn and I can see a consist on the radar. But it's not coming in. Here's the reason, a track gang is returning to the sidings.
10 minutes later the consist lead by 3 CMs arrives... They're trying to shunt off one loco and a few flatbeds, but have had signalling issues on the west end of the station.
The garbage train has now arrived in the refuge. It will have to wait there until the northbound XPT passes.
The CMs have finally cleared the line, a held QR consist is now coming through. ARHS is now returning via Goulburn with only 4403. Not going slowly; flogged it through. 6029 and the HL will stay at Thirlmere.
My XPL has arrived... A bunch of southbound NRs are passing me as I sit down. I've seen enough NRs this trip already. After finding my seat, I've turned on the latest episode of Person of Interest. It'll last me until Moss Vale. We've just passed the same TTs that we saw at Braemar wrong road, coming out of Marulan South.
Not much happening at Moss Vale. I can see the TTs heading my way, so I'll wait for them, then go and find food.
Returning to Melbourne
Not much chop around the station, so I'm going to entertain myself in the waiting room. Am currently watching the movie 'In Time' on the dodgy TV bolted to the wall. It's actually getting really tough to keep my eyes open.
My XPT has arrived on time. The whole train is dark and I'm feeling my way to my cabin. I'm on the top bunk this time so, without making too much noise, I fumble my way onto the top bunk. I know I'll quickly pass out.
The trip is rough. Every now and then I'm jolted awake by the train getting thrown around on the tracks. The sway of the top bunk like a metronome and although I'm lying perpendicular to the direction of travel, I'm still rolling towards the edge of the bed. This feels much worse from the top bunk than it did from the bottom bunk last night. It feels like it's been a lot longer than 24 hours since the last sleeper.
We're back in Melbourne and we've hit a red light at the Bunbury Street tunnel opening. This is the entrance to the freight yards, but there is a road straight through to Southern Cross. I'm actually currently still stuck well inside the Bunbury Street tunnel due to my carriage being at the far end of the train. We're officially on-time, but we now only have 10 minutes to make the flyover. Easy!
Or is it? We've just come to a solid stop at LPC/Sim st. All locomotives around the LPC have changed, none recognisable from the last passing. Conductor now addressing us over the loudspeaker: "drama happening at SCS. V/Line engine refusing to start. They need to remove this before we can enter...". Right, so like when we were leaving, a V/Line consist is in platform one, but this one has failed. We all know that Platform 2 is also SG, can we use that?... We saw the overland there on Friday night. Or is the overland due in also? Checking the dismal overland timetables online (yes, phone was charged overnight): no Sunday service.
...and the buffet is closed...
Looking around, the service is well patronised. Economy sitting car is quite full. People occupying all sleeper twinettes. I can smell myself, though only slightly, so won't go check economy. Then again, the stench may allow me to fit in easier. Hah.
10 minutes later and we haven't moved... I do believe I just jynxed this. I promise I wrote "Or will we?" prior to any announcement. I'm writing notes on a crappy little app on my android, for once, as I'm often told I forget all the minor details. (Whilst fleshing out the notes I am now in total agreement that it's a great way to record trips!)
Whilst waiting in the vestibule, I may have been ever-so-slightly blocking the bin. Nothing an "Excuse me" wouldn't have fixed. Unfortunately, it turns out that if you're standing in front of the bin then elderly Asian ladies with walking sticks will simply throw their rubbish on the floor. I chuckled at her and put her shit in the bin. Too bad she didn't watch me do it. I wonder if she was the +1 to the husband who wanted to experience the train trip.
Still at Sims St, NR72 just started up at the LPC. It actually looks like a steamer at full tilt. The smoke/exhaust from the diesel engine is intense... didn't get a pic.
We're off! Straight through to SCS. Am I awake? No less than a usual work day :)