The following is a trip report for a journey I took in August, 2013. Note – since I took this journey, the Brisbane XPT has been altered to depart Sydney at 14:41, arriving into Brisbane at the anti-social time of 04:53 (03:53 during NSW daylight savings).
After arriving in Sydney on the Bathurst Bullet, I had a hearty breakfast, before heading for Dungog and onwards to Brisbane. Instead of going the fast way and taking the 16:24 XPT directly to Brisbane, I had decided to take the slow trains; Central to Tuggerah, Tuggerah to Morisset, Morisset to Newcastle, Newcastle to Maitland, Maitland to Dungog then meet up wit the overnight XPT to Brisbane. This would see me stopping at all current passenger stations between Berowra in Sydney’s North and Kyogle in the North of NSW.
I made my way to platform 12 for the 10:45 Wyong service, and found an 8 car Interurban H (OSCAR) Set waiting. I had a few minutes before departure, so I took some photos as I waited. We departed right on time and made our way towards the NSW Central Coast, stopping at the suburban stations of Strathfield, Eastwood, Epping, Hornsby and Berowra. As we made our way north from Berowra, our big, 8 car double deck train stopped at every little station, including the single car platforms at Wondabyne, Tascott and Koolewong, and for the second time in one morning, I was treated to spectacular scenery as the train run alongside the Hawkesbury River and Brisbane Water; arguably the most picturesque views from a train in Australia.
At Gosford, we had been stopped for longer than normal. Just as people were starting to get fidgety, an announcement came over the station PA saying that we were waiting for a Driver. This drew jeers and laughter from most passengers, and we waited for what felt like an interminably long time until Driver appeared and we were off again (actually under 10 minutes in real time).
I left the train at Tuggerah to wait for the following Newcastle train. The Central Coast line is very busy, and in the 15 minutes that I waited at Tuggerah, There were 2 southbound Interurban EMUs, a southbound freight, a northbound freight and a northbound Xplorer DMU to Armadale and Moree. My Newcastle service arrived; an 8 car V set interurban EMU of 1980s vintage. I boarded. the limited express service, which was much busier than the Wyong train I had just left. I stayed on this service for only 4 stops to Morisset, where I boarded a local service for Newcastle. This local service was a 4 car H set (a 4 car version of the train I had caught from Central to Tuggerah). This train was very lightly loaded, and for much of the journey to Newcastle, I had the top deck of the car to myself.
Newcastle is not Newcastle’s main station and not on the main line. The main station is Broadmeadow, where all of the long distance and Interstate trains stop, as well as Sydney – Newcastle services. Broadmeadow is also the servicing depot and storage yards for North Coast and Hunter Valley trains. Newcastle station is at the end of a branch line running into the heart of the city, and the line between Broadmeadow and Newcastle is currently under threat of closure or conversion to light rail. This would affect the suburban Newcastle stations of Civic, Wickham, Hamilton and Newcastle.
Newcastle is a dead end station with many different types of train operating out of it. There are H and V Ineterurban EMU sets operating Newcastle – Sydney services, as 4 car H and 2 car K EMU sets operating Newcastle – Morisset local services. There are also Hunter and Endeavour DMUs operating Hunter services to Maitland, Scone, Telarah and Dungog. I had about 20 minutes between trains, so I spent the time photographing all I could before it was time to go.
The next leg of my journey was on a local service, stopping all stations from Newcastle to Telarah. The line through the Hunter Valley is not electrified, and this service was operated by a 2 car Hunter DMU. The Hunter DMUs were built in 2006 by United Group to replace the aging 620/720 class DMUs. The 620/720 class DMUs were non air-conditioned and did not have power doors. They did not have retention toilets either, so any waste was dumped directly onto the tracks. Hunter DMUs have all of these features, and are well suited to their suburban duties between Newcastle and Maitland, and on to Scone and Dungog. They seat less than Endeavour DMUs (which operate alongside them), but have greater standing room and are more wheelchair friendly. Like the Endeavour DMUs, the Hunter DMUs are in fixed 2 car formation, sharing 1 toilet between 2 cars.
Our little DMU roared out of the platform at Newcastle, and stopped at the suburban platforms of Wickham, Civic and Hamilton before reaching Hamilton Junction. Hamilton Junction is a triangular Junction, where the Hunter Valley line meets the Newcastle Branch and the Central Coast main line. From the Newcastle Branch, all EMU trains turn south (towards Broadmeadow) and Hunter Valley trains continue west, to the non-electrified line towards Maitland. The only passenger trains that run from the Central Coast line to the Hunter Valley line are long distance XPT and Xplorer trains to Armidale, Moree, Grafton, Casino and Brisbane. At Hamilton Junction, our train came to a halt, and the guard made a very vague announcement; “due to an unknown signal fault, our train will be delayed for an unknown duration”. There was a collective groan from the passengers. Thankfully, the train was only delayed for a few minutes, and we were soon on our way.
I left the train at Beresfield, to take some photos and wait for the next service to Dungog (which departed Newcastle about 30 minutes after the Telarah local service). The Hunter Valley line between Newcastle and Maitland is Quad track; 2 bi-directional lines for coal traffic paralleling 2 unidirectional lines for general traffic. Long, heavy coal trains run very frequently (sometimes only 5 minutes apart) from the coal rich Upper Hunter area to Port Waratah at Newcastle. The legality of photography on railway property in NSW is a grey area, so I found a convenient public road bridge and took photos from the footpath. Unfortunately, I only had the chance to capture 1 coal train and another Hunter DMU before it was time to return to the station to board my train onward to Dungog.
The journey from Beresfield to Dungog was on another 2 car Hunter DMU. We stopped all stations, and the journey was unremarkable and punctual. Of interest between Telarah and Dungog are several stations such as Hilldale, Wallarobba and Wirragulla. These stations appear to be in the middle of nowhere and are so short, that only 1 door fits onto the platform. There were no announcements regarding these stations, I guess if you want to go there, you already know where you are and how to get off the train!
Dungog station is underwhelming, as is the town itself. It is quite a nice little town, with a respectable station, but is a bit of an anti-climax as a terminus station for suburban trains. The station is an island platform – gravel with asphalt edges. There is a small wooden building containing a ticket office and toilets. A ramp leads down from the island platform at the ticket office end to a pedestrian crossing across one of the tracks and out towards a small car park. There was a solitary worker constructing a new ramp, with a sign proclaiming the benefits of the “upgrade”. I waited at the station until the train I had arrived on returned towards Newcastle, before leaving my luggage with the station attendant and heading off to explore Dungog. It didn’t take long; the town consists of a main street full of shops and a few side streets with houses.
After walking around town, I found my way to a nearby level crossing on a curve. I knew that a southbound XPT was due to approach soon, and I set up to take a video as it passed. As I waited, the light was fading, and I was worried that darkness would fall before the XPT passed, ruining a perfect video opportunity. My ears pricked up at each mechanical sound I heard, but most were just cars on the road. It was becoming darker and I was about to give up hope, when I heard the distinctive 2 tone horn of an XPT in the distance. I hurriedly set up my mini-tripod on a fence and recorded a fairly respectable video of the train.
I returned to town and had an acceptable burger from the only take away shop still open, before heading back to the station to continue my journey. At the station was another 2 car Hunter DMU which was waiting for the imminent arrival of the Brisbane XPT. The Brisbane XPT slid into the station and I boarded car A. The train pulled away after a brief pause at the platform, and I stepped into my sleeping compartment as the train rushed me northward towards Queensland.