Jonathan Lee

Worldly Images

3801 Limited “Cockatoo Runs” 2nd & 16th December 2012

3801 Limited operate regular main line runs from Sydney Central to Moss Vale, picking up and setting down at various places along the route. They also run other main line trips throughout the year with both steam and diesel. Their staple power for the Cockatoo Run is their GM 49 class, 4918, with 3 coaches. We’d reached agreement before we went out for the 49 Class to be replaced by a 44 Class on the first weekend we were to ride with the train Sunday 2nd December, for a fee, however due to a group booking being made in the meantime it resulted in the train having to be run as load 6 and rostered for a 44 Class anyway, saving us some cash as well. Anything above load 3 is too heavy for the little 49 to pull through the hills.

The second date we’d planned to travel with 3801 was Sunday 16th December, this being the 3801 Limited volunteer Christmas Special and was rostered to be load 6 at least and a pair of Alco’s namely a 44 Class & 45 Class, 4501, which it had been for the previous two years also. All we had to do with this one was book on it.

The guys in the 3801 office at Redfern looked after us very well indeed, keeping us up to date on everything we needed to know; it was a pleasure to deal with them and making a group booking over the internet was easy. Tickets for the trains were held on the train for us to collect on the day.

3801 Limited’s Loco Fleet was in the following status during our visit:

4401 – out of service pending work on its wheelsets; had been so for almost 2 years

4464 – out of service with traction motor problems; sustained 2 months prior to us going out

4473 – in service

4486 – out of service pending rectification work to its generator having suffered problems while working a charter on 25th November

4501 – in service

4833 – in service; hired out for EMU moves in the Newcastle area

4918 – in service

Sunday 2nd December 2012 

Arrival into Sydney Central gave us plenty of time to mill about and get ourselves to the end of the platform to photograph the empty stock coming in. We already knew the train would be worked by 4473 (see loco status above) and that 4501 was out on ballast work for the weekend, and it arrived promptly with 5L20 0831 Eveleigh Shed – Sydney Central, blunt end leading into Central. The train was load 7.

Our tickets were with the steward for our coach, which were handed to us as we were greeted onto the train and shown to our seats. Unfortunately we were situated in the middle of the train as the three extra coaches for the group booking were between us and the loco on the front. It didn’t matter though as with all the windows open 4473 could be heard 4 coaches back well enough.

The run through the Sydney suburbs was great, plenty of stopping and starting for the Alco to deal with and then came the surprise at Unaderra, where the climb through the hills really starts. Having been held at the bottom for almost an hour waiting for a freight train to come down we were treated to nothing but pure unadulterated 12 cylinder Alco thrash for the next 45 minutes or so, while 4473 got to grips with the train and the 1:33 gradient, up which we never got to much more than 25kmph. Despite the lateness, having missed out a stop at Summit Tank we arrived into Moss Vale right time. The train runs into a reception road round the corner from Moss Vale and then reverses in to avoid the need to run round, thus keeping the train in the same formation for the return journey.

Moss Vale has a few places to eat on the main road outside but nothing major. There were a few bits going on in the station but we would be the only passenger train to actually arrive and/or depart that day as the main line from Sydney to Goulburn was closed throughout for engineering works with buses replacing trains; something we had to look forward to that night as our XPT was a bus from Sydney to Goulburn.

Having killed the 90 minutes we had the run back to Sydney was a bit more relaxing than the outward, probably because a lot of it was downhill and we even had the windows closed at one point due to the mist in the hills as we headed back.

The train was early back into Sydney Central, with no delays en-route back at all. A thoroughly enjoyable day out it was too and we were already looking forward to the same run again but with a pair of Alco’s on 16th December. At that point though all we had to immediately look forward to was the bus replacing out XPT to Goulburn as we headed south to Melbourne that night.

Wednesday 12th December 2012 

Although we weren’t allowed to travel on it we did manage to time our arrival into Sydney Central, more due to late running than anything else, to see 3801 Limited’s “Christmas Special” run in conjunction with other railway parties for children with learning difficulties. It ran from Sydney Central to Rosehill & return with steam loco 3016 leading and Goodwin/Alco DL541, 45 Class, 4501 on the rear to assist where needed.

Sunday 16th December 2012 

There had been some debate during the week in that 3801 were hiring out locos for track work over the weekend of the 16th. This was due to a de-railment on the line between Werris Creek & Narrabri which had not only resulted in a bridge being partially destroyed but it was also responsible for us re-planning the final week of our trip as we’d planned to attempt to chase 48s on freight trains at Werris Creek (see Parkes section for details). It didn’t stop there as 3801 were hiring out their locos due to 9 locos being stuck the wrong side of the damaged bridge, resulting in there being a shortage for the upcoming track works that weekend. Initially 3801 were to hire out 4918/4501 in a pair, this leaving 4473 for the Cockatoo on its own, again, not the best for us. Thankfully what actually happened was 4918/4473 were hired out for the rail train they were to work that weekend and 4501 was held back for the Cockatoo Run on the 16th, only a single Alco rather than the pair it should have been but it was well worth it being!

As the train was effectively a staff Christmas Special that was open to the public to travel on, it was quite empty and we had the whole front half of the front coach to ourselves all the way out and back. We got to meet the top man at 3801 Limited as well as the guy I’d been dealing with in their commercial department for the last 18 months. Everyone was very friendly and helped us out in any way they could; including getting 4501 onto the train vice 4473.

The run with 4501 on load 6 was probably better than 4473 on load 7 two weeks previous, mainly due to being in the front coach, right behind the engine. 4501 certainly didn’t let the side down as far as the thrash stakes went and I think it was better than 4473. The crew on the footplate this time having over 100 years driving experience between them and had been driving since before 4501 had been built, in 1962! The weather was excellent through the hills this time, no mist, no rain, no coldness, just plenty of sunshine and the roar of 4501.

The train terminated at Robertson, this was where the staff went for their pre-booked Christmas lunch, all but the drivers who had lunch brought to them in the cab before heading off to Moss Vale to turn the set and loco. Running long hood first isn’t practice used in Australia due to the poor visibility. In fact it was apparently quite rare to have 4501 on its own for that very reason as it is usually used in a pair with something else when a run round is required.

With just over three hours in Robertson it allowed for Sunday lunch in the pub up the road from the station, which looked straight onto the railway line. We saw 4501 arrive back from Moss Vale and were also treated to a Pacific National freight heading towards Sydney with an 81 Class leading and a pair of 48’s inside, which we were all regretting not getting out of our seats and going out to photograph; of course not expecting 48s to be involved.

The return journey was just as enjoyable as the outward and once at the bottom of the hills 4501 gave a good display when starting away from stations as it set down en-route back into Sydney Central, where we arrived early again.

This was the end of the road for the whole trip too, it having started and finished on a high for me with some of the best thrash of the trip. What better way to celebrate than with a few beers before we all headed off our different ways to get home, me via India, two via Malaysia, one via Korea, with only one sensible person among us taking the direct route home……..


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