Railway holidays travelling on most of the regional passenger railways in the Australian state of New South Wales in 2018.
Between railway holidays from October 2018 through March 2019, I have managed to travel to or through almost every railway station served by NSW Train Link passenger trains. There are only 2 railway stations I haven’t visited: Brisbane (in Queensland), and Kyogle (in New South Wales). Travelling to or through them will have to wait for another time. This blog entry is a record of a number of railway journeys I made between 1st March and 15th March 2019. As with the railway holiday I did in NSW in October 2018, I purchased a 2 week NSW Discovery Pass which allowed me to travel on any NSW Trainlink service for the 2 weeks of the holiday for a set price for the two weeks regardless of how many services I used. I’ve got to say that the NSW Discovery Pass is an excellent idea, and it’s a pity other Australian states didn’t didn’t follow New South Wales’ example in implementing something similar! That being said, with a NSW Trainlink Discovery Pass it possible to travel between Melbourne in Victoria and Brisbane in Queensland on NSW Trainlink services, and to various Victorian country towns that are close to the Victoria / New South Wales border.
Griffith and Broken Hill Journeys
1st March 2019 – XPT I travelled on between home and Wagga Wagga was about 40 mins late arriving at Wagga Wagga due to point failure at Uranquinty. I alighted at Wagga Wagga and got a bus from there to Griffith in the heart of the Riverina district of NSW where camped in a caravan park not far from the centre of town.
3rd March 2019 – Griffith – Sydney Xplorer was about 15 mins late arriving at Cootamundra and between Griffith and Leeton and a bit after Leeton the engine in the car I was in was not being used to power the train and the speed of the train was slower than usual for an Xplorer set and about every 15 mins or so the driver was stopping the train to check the engine compartment. After Leeton, the problem seemed to be fixed and the engine was used to power the train and it’s speed was generally faster after that. Because the Griffith Xplorer changes direction at Junee, all passengers had to get out of the train and wait until the train crew had turned all the seats to face towards the direction of travel. At Cootamundra I had a long wait for the Bathurst bus, and so went for a walk around the station and yard area taking photos of trains. Eventually I caught a bus to Bathurst, where I stayed overnight. The caravan park I stayed at was about 5km from the station, at Kelso, and by the time I got to the caravan park I had developed some nasty blisters on the bottom of my right foot. These blisters would plague me for the rest of the holiday. I think it was the type of socks I was wearing that contributed to the blisters developing initially and so tried to wear better socks for the rest of the holiday which helped somewhat but the blisters remained.
4th March 2019 – After packing up camp, I hiked into Bathurst and waited for the NSW Train Link Outback Xplorer service to Broken Hill. The Outback Xplorer was about 15 mins late departing Bathurst, but was otherwise an uneventful journey. Between Bathurst and Newbridge (around 30 mins travel time) it is mostly single track with some passing sidings, but between Newbridge and Blaney it seems to be all double tracked. Then between Blaney and near Spring Hill appears to be single track. And between near Spring Hill and Orange it appears to be double track.
Between Bathurst and Millthorpe the train speed is often limited to about 60 – 80kph as the track is very curvy. Between Millthorpe and just before Spring Hill the train speed is sometimes limited to about 100kph.
At Orange, due to where the station is located, the train arrives at Orange station, but then has to leave ‘backwards’ to a junction a few km towards Sydney, then proceeds forward into the left track at that junction towards Broken Hill.
From Orange to Broken Hill is all single track with passing sidings. And a number of times we passed freight trains going east. It seems to be Train Order controlled in some sections west of Parkes but in some places signals seem to protect sidings although they might just be protecting the level crossings with lights and boom gates. I’m not entirely sure which. Between Orange and Parkes the railway line traverses a pretty major mountain range, with some tight and slow curves and steep grades – that that took me totally by surprise! Between Manildra and Parkes train speed is often limited to about 60 – 80kkph due to many curves. West of Parkes train speed was generally higher with broader curves and some of them super elevated and the landscape flatter than east of Parkes.
Between Euabalong West and Ivanhoe, about 45 minutes travel time from Euabalong West at track speed (about 120kph) there was a 3 way (trianguular) junction, with the line heading southward with some of the rails missing and not connected to the mainline but still sleepers. This is the ex-junction with the lines from Cootamundra and Junee that go through Griffith and Hillston and is called Roto. Some years ago I read that this was once considered to be the most accessible point on the Australian railway network, somewhat like the Australian equivalent of Chicago, Illinois, in the United States. Whether that is still the case or not I don’t know, but since I read that statement many years ago, a lot more railway lines have been built and others closed )including the line from Hillston to Roto so I am guessing the most accessible point by rail is now somewhere else.
At km post 777 approximately, there is a disused stations complete with building. As we approached Menindee there were more and more sand dunes and the ground became increasingly sandy looking. And we reached the 1000km post (from Sydney) at 18:16. Menindee is one of only a very few stations in New South Wales that is more than 1000km from Sydney and still has regular passenger trains servicing it. Broken Hill is the only other currently used station that is more than 1000km from Sydney. And I travelled to or through both of them on this trip. At Menindee I was quite surprised to see thatthere are orchards and vineyards and a major looking river, the Darling. Menindee Lakes as seen from the train looked very dry – no water could be seem in them as far as the eye could see. Once of the locals I talked to on the train said that the lakes were so dry because of cotton farmers using too much water from the Darling River further north.
5th March 2019 – After staying at Broken Hill overnight, I caught the same Xplorer train back to Bathurst, and hobbled to the same Caravan Park I stayed at when I arrived from Cootamundra. Then after an overnight stay there, I hiked back to Bathurst and caught a bus from there, and a train from Cootamundra to get back home. That was the first set of journeys for this railway journeys holiday completed.
For more photos of these Griffith and Broken Hill railway journeys, go to /gallery2/main.php?g2_itemId=14591&g2_highlightId=14677
Moree and Casino journeys
7th March 2019 – The overnight XPT from the town I live in left about 10 mins late, but arrived at Sydney Central right on time.
8th March 2019 – After a few hours wait at Sydney Central after the overnight XPT arrived there, I boarded the Moree / Armidale Xplorer train which left Central on time. Also left on time at Werris Creek. But after that it started getting later and later until eventually the train was 15 minutes late. The reason? The train was travelling at a considerably lower speed because “the track was too hot”. This may well be true as in hot weather the rails can expand and cause kinks in the track. The train also had to slow down or wait at restrictive or red signals or because of restrictive train orders due to freight trains – this probably didn’t help either. By the time we got to Moree we were about 10 mins late.
There are a number of coal mines between Werris Creek and Narrabri, and our train would often meet coal trains at a siding. After Narrabri the landscape was very flat.
9th & 10th March 2019 – Over the weekend I stayed at Moree, doing various things around town. The weather was considerably hotter than it had been at home when I left, and got into the high 30s C and so I did some walking around and exploring early in the day, but then spent a consideable time in the pool in the caravan park’s pool. I needed to stay the weekend at Moree this because the Sunday train was to be replaced by buses due to track works, and as the whole reason for this journey was to travel on the train to Moree I figured I would need to get the train on Friday instead.
11th March 2019 – This leg of the holiday involved a long distance bus trip across to Grafton, then an XPT train ride to Casino, a few hours from Brisbane, Queensland. I was up early and had everything packed by about 7:30, and then walked into Moree Town bus stop, but even after I had breakfast there it was still only about 8:30am. The bus to Grafton wasn’t due to leave until 11:05. And as the sun rose higher it was starting to get hot in the bus stop. So I walked a short distance to a park on the northern end of the shopping precinct, and whiled away the time there for an hour or so. The bus from Moree for Grafton left Moree about 5 mins late, but I figure that’s a minor thing. I had wondered whether the railway line between Moree and Inverell was in use as I had seen it on a map over the weekend. But based on the overgrown state of the track and the missing bridges I could see from the bus, I think it’s safe to say it isn’t used.
Occasionally on the journey between Moree and Glen Innes, cows on the road reserve meant the bus and other traffic had to slow down, sometimes almost to a stop. As we crossed over the railway line from Armidale to Tenterfield at Glen Innes, I noticed that the track was pretty overgrown so it seems pretty obvious that the railway to Glen Innes is also not used beyond Armidale. After Glen Innes, the scenery became more hilly again, and after about 30 mins the open undulating farmland there were vistas across to some mountain ranges looming in the distance which suggested it wouldn’t be long until we started climbing into the Great Dividing Range. And sure enough, it wasn’t long before the climbing began and the open farmland changed to eucalyptus forests and the mountains of the Gibraltar Range. Once we started the steep descent on the eastern side of the range the vegetation became much more lush like a tropical forest.
After an uneventful bus ride through the Gibraltar Range, we arrived at Grafton pretty much on time only to be told the Casino XPT was running about 30 mins late due to a bushfire, and it departed Grafton about 55 mins late. The train arrived Casino 7:27pm about 45 mins late, so it was able to make up some time between Grafton and Casino. This train then became a Sydney bound train as Casino was it’s termination point.
12th March 2019 – After an overnight stop over in Casino I arrived at Casino station around 6am or so, while it was still dark. It was a lot more humid at Casino than it was at Moree, although the temperature was pleasant enough. The XPT from Brisbane that I needed to catch to Broadmeadow departed Casino more or less on time at 8:25am.
The railway line between Casino and Coffs Harbour is quite curvy and the train often has to travel at restricted speed. The line travels through lots of forests and wood plantations, some small hamlets that no longer have a passenger service, and scattered farmland. I wasn’t able to take any photos during this section due to the sun shining in through the window next to the seat I was allocated. Not far from Coffs Harbour, banana plantations could be seen on the hills and the scenery became a lot more mountainous with the railway line going through a number of tunnels to descend down the range into Coffs Harbour.
Between Coff Harbour and Macksville the train was travelling a bit faster and there were less curves but the stations were closer together. For this part of the trip the railway is fairly close to the sea, with sand dunes and coastal inlets and creeks occasionally providing fleeting views to the sea to the east, and some views to the mountains to the west. Sometimes the railway goes through coastal hills and eucalyptus forests. And all that scenery is punctuated by coastal towns of various sizes.
After Macksville the curves were back, at least intermittently, and the railway line tends to be more inland with mostly open farmland and the occasional section of forest. South of Wauchope, the scenery became mountainous with forests, tight curves and speed restrictions, deep cuttings, and at least one tunnel. We also had to wait in a siding not far out of Wauchope for a train going north to pass. But then there was mostly farmland again.
Eventually we reached Maitland. And then it wasn’t long to Broadmeadow, a suburb of Newcastle, which was my next overnight stop. The accommodation I was booked to stay at was about 5km from Broadmeadow railway station and by the time I got there, with my backpack and the warm weather I was pretty sweaty.
The scenery on this journey has been varied – forests, farmland, rural sawmills, hamlets, mountains, the industrial Hunter Valley, coastal towns and larger regional towns. Something for everyone?
As I walked to my accommodation in Newcastle, I saw the new Light Rail system in Newcastle. As one of the vehicle sets went by I noticed something strange – it had no overhead wires! At the various stops, there were these strange looking ‘wing’ shaped appendages poking out the top of the roof over the track, and as I walked by some of those stops and saw the light rail vehicle stopped there I noticed that the pantograph of the vehicle was touching the ‘wing’ above it. So it seems that those ‘wings’ provide power to the vehicle while it is stopped at the various stops and then when the vehicle is going it uses stored electric power. A novel idea!
13th March 2019 – Somewhere between Moree and Casino I managed to get a head cold, or something like that and was battling a runny nose, a cough and ear aches by the time I was approaching Broadmeadow. Add to this that the accommodation I stayed in at Newcastle had no cooling and that the weather was quite warm, and that made for a very unsettled night’s sleep, if you could even call it sleep. None the less, I was up fairly early, got my backpack all packed up, and hiked the 5km back to Broadmeadow station. The plan was simple – sit on the platform and watch the trains go by until the Sydney bound Xplorer from Moree / Armidale arrived at Broadmeadow at 2:18pm. This was very interesting for me, being the railfan that I am, and I saw around 20 trains or so of varying types including intercity EMUs, Hunter Valley DMUs, coal trains, container and intermodal trains, XPTs, and Xplorer DMUs.
Then approximately on time the Xplorer train I had booked a seat on for the journey to Sydney arrived, The journey between Broadmeadow and Sydney was uneventful, maybe even a little boring, and I was feeling a bit tired. The train arrived at Sydney Central after 4pm.
After a 4 hour wait I boarded the last train for this railway holiday – Sydney – Melbourne XPT, which departed on time, and arrived at my home time very early the next morning pretty much on time too. That was the end of that railway holiday. And I’ve already started planning the next one!
For more photos of these Moree, Casino and Broadmeadow train journeys, go to /gallery2/main.php?g2_itemId=14592&g2_highlightId=14832