Right, it's that time of year again... The Southern Spirit was tabled to come back through Melbourne from Adelaide on the 5th and 6th of November. What better excuse for a drive out west to see what had been happening...
Of course, there's always concerns that driving 400kms might be a complete waste of time and this TAA on occupations near Great Western should have probably received more of my attention. Just in case you're wondering... an 'occupation' is where the Australian Rail Track Corporation has requested complete manual control of a section of track. In this case it was the area between Pyrenees Loop – Great Western Loop and Great Western Loop – Deep Lead Loop... they were to do ballast cleaning!? ... this might actually be worth the trek for!
As per usual, I perused through ARTC's Train Alteration Advice and determined items which might have applied to the 5th of November; fortunately there was nothing apart from the above ballast cleaning. I therefore recorded the times on ARTC's timetables for the area into a diamond diagram and, from this, worked out where I should have been when. I, this time, wanted to check out places I hadn't been to yet and therefore started working out what train I could see where.
How to read the above? The vertical axis shows the time-of-day and the horizontal the location. Each location has an arrival and departure time... so if you see a flat horizontal line for any service then it means that train has not stopped. Therefore, the train with the flat line will be moving whilst the diagonal will be waiting in a loop when you see two lines intersecting.
From the above you can see where all the regularly scheduled trains cross. I had errands to run on Saturday morning and, based on google maps estimates, could only just get to Tatyoon Loop by 11:00am. This would just be enough to see 6AM3 pass The Overland. The goal was then to wait for the Mineral Sands from Portland and follow it through to Murtoa. I would then wait for the Horsham container train, arriving in time to see the Southern Spirit arrive. 4PM6 would then be following and I'd choose a point along the way back to see this again.
No, not Tatooine... there's no pod racing here. This was meant to be a loop for a pass, but it didn't seem anywhere near long enough. There was a seemingly-abandoned grain silo with a definitely unused siding for it. The poor old station platform didn't even have a station sign on it anymore... I imagine the last passenger service here would've been steam-hauled?
I waited up until the time 6AM3 was meant to arrive but realised that I was lying to myself and it wasn't coming. The lighting at Tatyoon wasn't the best for The Overland, so I bolted to Maroona and waited for it there. At the western-end of the loop was a great view with the railway sweeping to the left... it would've been perfect in the morning sun for a Melbourne-bound freighter!
Yes, Ma-roo-na. Not to be confused with: Mooroopna, Moorooduc, Maroondah, Maroota, Mooralla, etc...
This township is located due-south of Ararat (not do be confused with Ballarat) and ... there isn't much to it. Fortunately, there's a junction here to Portland which means the railway infrastructure was slightly interesting. The roads in the yard had been used recently and it seems that the trains to Portland must arrive into the yard and then depart, crossing the main.
The Overland, running 25 minutes late, arrived from the East and proceeded at a slower-than-usual pace through the station. This was the first and last time I was to see it.
I then waited for the Mineral Sands train... but realised it was never going to turn up. I therefore decided the better option was to bypass Ararat and head to Murtoa.
I'd never been here either... It's a large detour from the highway and it's the reason why I previously beat The Overland to Horsham as, although it can do 115km/h, the path via Murtoa adds quite a few more kilometres. Of course, it also meant I wouldn't see The Overland at Murtoa as I was never going to catch up to it on the country roads. Murtoa is the junction for the branch North to Hopetoun... the rails were quite shiny, so something must've run that way recently, but the Mineral Sands train wasn't to run this day.
I decided that I'd wait here for the Horsham freight. There was no reason it wasn't running, but as The Overland was 25mins late, this train would probably also be late.
After dealing with wildlife (brown snakes, etc..) the train came through fast.
I then jumped in the car to Horsham... expecting to see the tail of this train, but it had a headstart on me and there was no chance.
Last time we saw C501 and T386 doing the Horsham freight, this time it was 8030 and GML10. Other than that, not much as changed... same colourful characters on the platform watching the trains go by. Actually, there is now a rail tractor LOK001 doing the shunting/splitting of the container train instead of the actual locos that brought it in.
NR85 brought the Southern Spirit in around 20mins late. The consist was as long as usual.
And then 4PM6 came through on time based on its amended running.
And that was it... the day had turned dim and the freighter was running with the light for the rest of the trip... I chose to return home.
So, the initial TAA I mentioned had something about ballast cleaning in it? I forgot to tell you that I actually saw the track gang in the first loop directly after Ararat. It had to be a loop (was a fair distance from the highway) as The Overland had already bolted through. I was hoping they'd be in a location closer to a road on the way back, but they'd already packed up and were in Ararat yard.
The next day...
The Southern Spirit spend the night in Maroona. It proceeded east via Melbourne but was to only stop at Broadmeadows briefly. Fortunately it was to pass the large standard gauge viaducts as per usual and I decided to catch it at the one closest to Jacana. The up V/Line SG Albury service was running around 30 minutes late, but the Southern Spirit then got the green and bolted past.
And that was it... this train returns via Melbourne on the 14th of November. It will actually pass via Southern Cross Station, after a pause up in Somerton. We'll see what happens...