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A trip down a mountain

The driver and fireman pick up their logbook, their train orders from the dispatcher and walk to their locomotive. On the way they discuss the usual inanities of home and family life and begin the day.

The Hunter Valley Line has a pretty narrow assortment of locomotives, but today there is a mixture. A modified GP38-2, made for the Australian loading gauge and an Alco DL 531 (ex SRA class 48) sit in the yard awaiting them.

Climbing aboard the 48 class they settle in and call the tower for clearance to move into the yard to pick up their train. Today it is a trip working to the other end of the system and return.

In the pre-dawn light the Alco spits out her thick exhaust as the two locos cross the yard throat and back down on train 1TRE.

The Fireman alights and secures the train, checking that all hoses are correctly fitted and that brakes are working. Next it's a brake check and then a call to the tower to ask for the road.

In the growing light the two locomotives make light work of the train as they set off toward the coast. Here on the high plains it is a little cool this morning so a cup of tea adds to their comfort on the short run to their first stop today, Summit Tank.

As they coast into the passing loop at Summit tank, driver checks the brakes again bringing 1TRE quickly to a halt. Ruling grades of 1 in 30 mean that the brakes will be working over time this trip. A short wait now in the passing loop for a down passenger service, one of many they will see today on the line.

The whine of the passenger train can be heard cresting the summit before it rounds into the station and passed the two locos. With the section clear and a green light 1TRE sets off on its descent. 

Robertson is our next stop some 23 miles away. The scenery is green and lush as we begin our descent, reminiscent of the lush countryside of the coastal plains, though much colder in the cooler air of the highlands. 

As the grade increases the whine of the dynamic brakes grow. The descent here is the steepest section on the division. 

A little history
Originally a state-owned link line, it was bought by the Hunter Valley Line in the late 1990s to increase their track-mile holdings. The line carries a vast array of goods. Block steel trains from the coastal steel works are shipped via the line when heading to Melbourne. Primary products come through to the Ports from deep in the Riverina district.

Back to operations

As we approach Robertson another freight is facing us in the loop. This one the first westbound movement of the day. Our time in Robertson will be spent cutting out some of our load for the various industries.

Robertson has several industries that provide a local employment base, and lots of rail movement. 

Our first drop off today is to the warehouse of Highland Framing. Several cars of pre-sawn timber for window framing, house frames and other construction purposes come in here during the week. As we move into the spring months this traffic reaches a peak matching the activity in the housing industry. 

With the timber now cut out of the train we move onto other commodities. Kandos Bulk Cement Company requires a steady flow of aggregate, sand and other ingredients the company uses to make its products. The company ships out bagged cement, concrete, sand and pre-stressed concrete forms for buildings and structures. What is good is that it all goes by rail.

After the bulk goods are dropped off we pick three wagonloads bound for Sydney building sites. These are marshaled into the train and we wait for the two trains timetabled ahead of us to clear the line ahead.

A passenger service arrives first. Quickly it moves on again and all is quiet, except for the rumbling of our diesels. It is a little after 9.00 am now and the sun is beginning to make its presence known.

In short order freight 5EX1 comes thundering through Robertson with an all Alco lash-up. Soon the green light awaits us and with another test of the brakes we begin our descent again to the coast.

The grade on the next section between Robertson and Port Harbour is not as severe as the last and the whine of the dynamic brakes, while steady never rises above a racket. The trip takes a little over an hour to safely cover the 25 miles to our next crossing point.

At Port Harbour we meet 5SF1, a super-freighter. Originating in the Sydney yards this train, hauled by the SRA's latest locos, powers through

Port Harbour on its assault up the grade. Soon it is just a memory and we take our last short hop, all of two miles into the Port Harbour yard.

 The HVLs east yard is the end of our journey today, but not the end of the work for us. We have about an hour before we finish with shunting our return train. Then time for a quick lunch in the crew room before commencing the journey home on a fast freight.

 We were glad to have you aboard this morning and hope you'll ride with us again soon. Mind your step as you get down. I do not need to have the safety officer see a member of the press fall off a locomotive of mine.

With a five-chime poop, and a blast of Alco exhaust we set about the remainder of our morning's work.

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