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Chronicles of a Train Nut.

 

By the age of 8 I was well and truly hooked. A dedicated train nut.

 

I grew up on the quarter acre block in the outer suburb of Noble Park Victoria, (on what was then the very edge of suburbia Melbourne), with its dairy farms, market gardens, railway station and small signal box*. But just 3 miles down the road was the regional Gippsland city of Dandenong with its big railway station, rail yard and regional stock yards.

 * Noble Park during the 1960''s had semaphore signals. I can remember Distant signals, Home arrival signals and Home departure signals on the up and down lines. I think there was also an up starting signal on the other side of Heatherton Road. Noble Park station was gutted by fire one night in the very late 1960''s or early 1970''s (arson). A new station was built opposite the old station, but the signal box area was patched up and remained in use for a while until 3 position signaling was installed in the area. According to the book of Weekly Notice extracts by Alan Jungwirth and Keith Lambert, Noble Park was disestablished as a block post in May 1971 due to provision of 3 position signaling between Springvale and Dandenong.

 Monday was sale day at the stock yards and by the age of ten I was a regular. It might have been a school day, but so what! I was over at the stock yards seeing what sort of cattle were being sold, who was buying cattle and generally being the lucky kid who had the run of the entire sale yard (cattle pens, selling ramps, walk ways, cattle races, offices, rail loading area).

 By the age of fourteen I had gravitated from the stock yards to the railways station. I knew every inch of Dandenong station and most of the rail yard. I had graduated from the school of hard knocks and apart from regularly hanging out at Dandenong railway station I was a regular at Flinders Street railway station and the road over-bridge between platform 1 and 2 at the old Spencer Street railway station. I was even lucky enough to score the occasional trip down to the Dudley Street car sheds and through the old Spencer Street railway station.

 I had been to Lakeside on Puffing Billy, to Daylesford and Queenscliff behind a steam loco, to Ballarat, Bendigo, Sheparton, Mornington and Geelong behind a diesel, to Traralgon behind an L class and to Maffra and Stony Point on a railmotor. I''d crawled all over an F,L,E and B class locomotive (and asked lots of stupid questions) when some unsuspecting driver let this young railfan onto his loco.

 At sixteen, I had left school and expanded my train travel to include Tocumwal and Cobram, at 16 and 11 months I had been interview and accepted as a Trainee Locomotive Engineman at South Dynon Loco Depot and was due to start on Monday Feb 14, 1977, 2 weeks after turning 17.

 Disaster struck that very weekend 11th, 12th and 13th of February 1977. While in Ballarat with friends, a major bushfire started in the Creswick area. Being members of the State Emergency Service in Frankston, we volunteered our services with the outcome being that I was put in a fire crew on a tanker from Trentham. I spent Saturday afternoon and night, and most of early Sunday morning on that fire truck as large areas of Creswick were threatened by fire and some partially evacuated. On Sunday we were sent over to Streatham where our unit from Frankston had been sent. Streatham, a small town in Western Victoria was over-run by a very fast moving grass fire with a result that most of the town was burnt to the ground. Sunday night I collapsed alongside many of the locals through sheer exhaustion on a camp stretcher in one of the few remaining buildings still standing at Streatham. When I woke the following day I was supposed to have been in Melbourne attending a Trainee Enginemens class. A few phone calls to somebody who knew somebody, who know somebody else and everything was arranged that I could start work with the Victorian Railways as soon as I was released from the fire area and without the loss of any pay. Thus my first day on the railways was counted as paid leave on fire fighting duties.

 I lasted about 5 months at South Dynon before the call of the bush became to much. Being to young to have a car licence also made it pretty hard when you had to come to work on the last suburban train and wait 5 hours before you started, or you knocked off just after the last suburban train left and you would have to wait 5 hours before they started running again. The big wheel drivers from Warragul would not stop or slow down at Noble Park to let a lowly South Dynon fireman get home during the night. Plus the big smoke was starting to get to much for this country fella.

 I applied for, and was successful in obtaining a position at both Hamilton and Orbost. Neither place had I ever been to. I went to Hamilton as they had the most variety of running. At the time I applied, Hamilton crews ran to Portland, Mt Gambier, Ararat, Koroit, Balmoral, Casterton and Coleraine. On the day that I officially transferred to Hamilton, the Koroit, Casterton and Coleraine lines were closed. I did manage to run the last return train from Hamilton to Balmoral with Brian Storer. We placed all the RY and GY wagons between Cavendish and Balmoral inclusive that were left there for fertiliser when the line closed.

 My time as a fireman (loco assist) was mainly spent at Hamilton running between Ararat - Hamilton - Portland and Mt Gambier. Like most loco jobs it was all night shift. I was at Hamilton for three years and did a short spell back at South Dynon firing for Bruce Knights for 11 months in 1979. During that time I also went on Temporary Transfer to Donald and Ultima. I did my 2nd half exam at Hamilton with Laurie Boyle from Ararat in early 1978, did my preliminary drivers exam with John Costello from Ararat in early 1981 and then out with the trainer driver for 35 trips. On Thursday June 6, 1981 it was down to Melbourne to do the full drivers exam with Roy Oldacker at 1200 hrs. Having passed that and having completed my evaluation trips with the local loco inspector I became a qualified driver class 3 at Hamilton. Between the end of June and until the middle of August I spent most of my time then relieving down at Portland or over the border at Mt Gambier. (Mt Gambier at the time was the only location to have a full time Victorian crew employed outside Victoria. It was a retirement job meaning that you had to be 64 and a half to even get a look in. So long as the train ex Hamilton and Melbourne was running on time you stated at 0855, relieved the Hamilton crew who went to barracks while you watched the South Australians kick out the arriving trains. You then you ran across to Dartmoor at 1100 hrs arriving back at the Mount at around 1500 where you once again watched the South Australians kick out your train and make up that evenings Melbourne and Adelaide trains. You were then relieved at 1820 by the Hamilton crew ex barracks and signed off at 1835 each day, five days a week).

 In the middle of August 1981 I was compulsory transfered to the Electrical Running Depot in Melbourne. After doing roads and signals, a six week course of instruction on Tait, Harris and Hitachi trains, then out with a driver trainer for a month or so I was qualified as a Driver Class 5. Thankfully when I was transfered to the ERD there was still a big shortage of drivers there so I gained seniority fairly quickly. Most of my time at the ERD was spent relieving at Ashburton and Dandenong with the occasional stint at Oakleigh, Ringwood, Upper Ferntree Gully, Belgrave, Croydon or Glen Waverly (where I lived). In late 1984 I had enough seniority up to get out. I was successful in obtaining positions at Geelong, Dimboola, Ararat and was one off in getting Murtoa. I took the position at Ararat as this was the main depot between Melbourne and the South Australian border and had a big variety of running.

 At the end of January 1985 I arrived in Ararat. After learning the roads and signals, and being reassessed on diesel locomotives I was let loose driving. Ararat ran to Melbourne (via Bacchus Marsh, Meredith and Cressy), Dimboola and eventually Wolseley (South Australia), Warracknabeal, Portland and Mt Gambier (South Australia) (when Hamilton was closed in 1986), and Maryborough via Avoca and eventually to Dunolly and Carisbrook.

 Ararat was a large loco depot with 50 loco crews, a large loco and wagon repair facility, a large Marshalling yard where most trains were re-marshalled, fully interlocked yard with signal boxes at each end of the yard, shunter''s around the clock, train examiners, admin staff and a train control centre. Slowly the end was coming. ''B'' Box was closed and removed when the CTC was completed to Wolseley. Trains weren''t re-marshalled as often reducing the number of shunter''s needed. Train examination was done at Portland or Dimboola for grain trains, train control was moved to Melbourne and in late 1987 the end was announced for Ararat as a loco depot. We went from running the Overland and other Interstate trains between Melbourne and Dimboola to coming in at the normal sign on time to be available for 8 hours of doing nothing while watching Melbourne and Dimboola crews run through on the trains we use to run. In the end I was put on a relieving roster and sent to Maryborough, Donald, Ouyen, Mildura and Korrumburra for different periods of time. Thus I was eventually qualified in all the roads above, plus Ballarat to Mildura, Ouyen to Pinnaroo (South Australia), Redcliff to Meringur (before that line closed), Dunolly to Korong Vale, Maryborough to Castlemaine, and Melbourne to Welshpool and Barry''s Beach. My last job with the Victorian Railways was on Tuesday April 26, 1988 where I was rostered 0800 shed shunt. On Thursday April 28, 1988 I went off sick until further notice (stress and anxiety through depot being closed and lots of unused sick leave) and I finally accepted redundancy from the Victorian Railways (V/Line) on the 20th of July 1988.

 At most depots where I worked branch lines where being closed down. Unfortunately I did not at the time have a camera to carry around, but it did ignite an interest in branch line history and the infrastructure of the many long and closed sidings in the middle of nowhere. After taking redundancy I literally bummed around for several years picking up work when I needed it. After my separation (and subsequence divorce) I decided a change of life style was needed, so back off to school I went. University that is, University of Canberra to be precise and after several years of study (and a couple more years of fun) I was awarded a Bachelor of Applied Science (Majoring in Ecology). After University I worked with NSW Agriculture as a Scientific Technical Officer for several years, but the railways never left my blood, so:

 In August 2000 I was re-employed back on the railways, this time in a different state with FreightCorp (now Pacific National) in New South Wales at Narrabri in the hot and dry North West. I gained employment as a Terminal Operator (Old shunter''s and Assistant Station Masters position rolled into one with alot of computer work thrown in). On Monday February 3, 2003 I finally got back onto the locos as a Driver at Narrabri.

 Narrabri ran mainly branch line trains from:

  • Narrabri West - Walgett Wheat Terminal (ex Walgett line truncated back to the wheat terminal currently being re-railed with heavy rail);

  • Burren Junction to Merrywinebone (ex Pokataroo line truncated back to Merrywinebone, was recently under threat of closure, but now with a reprieve and a recommendation to upgrade in the latest grain line review);

  • Narrabri - Moree to North Star (ex Boggabilla line truncated back to North Star. This line is supposed to become part of a great inland railway);

  • Camurra to Weemelah (ex Mungindi line truncated back to Weemelah, currently under threat of closure);

  • Moree to Apri-Park (ex Inverell line with a small part opened as a siding ex Moree, currently used to store wagons);

  • Narrabri to Werris Creek (main line);

  • Gwabegar to Werris Creek via Binnaway (Gwabegar - Binnaway line under threat of closure (and probably seen its last train) with services suspended):

 On November 9, 2003 I resigned from Pacific National, the following day I started with ARG as a Locomotive Driver based at Gunnedah running between Gunnedah and Moree on the Manildra Wheat train. For personal reasons I didn't last long at ARG (in hind site this was good as ARG had lost the Manildra Wheat contract within 2 years making the Gunnedah depot surplus to requirements and later on lost the flour side of the Manildra contract). On Sunday June 20, 2004 I started work with Southern Shorthaul Railroad (SSR) based at Werris Creek learning the road to Sydney. On Monday September 20, 2004 I moved down to Cootamundra to set up the SSR depot there. Coota ran mainly between Griffith and Melbourne with the occasional trip up to Sydney. On Monday March 7, 2005 I became redundant for the second time in my railway career (contract pulled by Patick Corp). Fittingly I ran the first SSR train out of Griffith to Albury (3MC7) on Tuesday 28-09-2004, and the last SSR train ex Melbourne (7MC7) on Saturday 05-03-2005. Thankfully by the time the rumors started about our inevitable redundancy another option opened up.

 On Monday April 4, 2005 I started with back with Pacific National, but this time based in Townsville in Far North Queensland working trains between Cairns and Mackay. I do have to say, working around the Queensland Rail industry is most defiantly different to the rest of Australia. Their computer based train order system is about the best I have seen and their North Coast track standards are great, but the rest of the industry is about 20 years behind the rest of Australia. Things like their signaling which is more like 150 years behind and their open access policy works great so long as it follows this order: QR 2 legged passenger (human), QR 4 legged passenger(stock), QR coal, QR sugar,QR freight, QR maintenance, and finally other operators.

 I now carry a camera around with me all the time plus do the occasional road trip to record the infrastructure, thus these pages are a recording about me, the places I have been and things within the rail industry (past and present) that have caught my eye

 

Enjoy.

 
     Me in about 2003