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It was about this time ten years ago when word trickled through that “something was up” with the mothballed Coonabarabran line. A person I knew was friends with a farmer whose property adjoined the railway and he had noticed inspection vehicles and repair gangs at work for about a week. I made contact with one of the train programmers I knew who worked at Broadmeadow Control and he was able to confirm that the line was about to re-open to allow an operation to clear the silo at Barradine in the first week in August with the closure of the line to follow immediately after.
This was quite a surprise, given the cost associated with getting the line back into operable condition for what was going to be only a very short period of time, but I certainly was not complaining. Back in 1998 I thought I was witnessing the last trains to run on the line when I spent a few days covering an intensive program of grain movement out of Baradine, and now the chance to record footage of trains operating on this quaint, “pioneer” line with my new widescreen HD gear was something I would never have expected.
Exactly how many trains would need to run was unsure, the estimate was probably eight, so it was difficult to know on exactly which day the very last train would run. The pathing of the train each day had the down empty run to Barradine passing through Coonabarabran at around 08.00 which would allow for plenty of opportunities for photography.
However, if everything ran smoothly out at Barradine the up train would not get away from there until around 16.00, and given the slow pace at which it would run it would not travel too far before sunset. The plan was to run a train each weekday and not on the weekends, and because I could only take one day of leave from work I decided to head out there on Sunday August 7th to be ready to record the sixth train of the operation running on the Monday of the second week of the program.
I did not want to be in the situation of trying to record the very last train only to find out that it was not needed and was thus cancelled. More importantly though, my train programmer contact was happy to help with my efforts to record this historical event.
He could arrange for the first train of the week to run a little earlier, getting away from Werris Creek at a time which would put it through Coonabarabran at around 05.30, which in turn should allow it to be into the Warrumbungle Range just after dawn with the up train getting away fro Barradine at around 14.00.
Monday August 8th started with things going according to plan. Daybreak saw the train rattling down through the Range towards the Coonanabarabran Road level crossing with just enough light to capture the scene. The train then ran out to Barradine under a spotless sky in beautiful light. Loading and shunting at the silo was finished in time for a 14.00 departure, and the skies had remained cloudless but just as the train started to depart there was a huge gush of air with the rupture of the brake line somewhere in the consist and thoughts of getting some beautiful afternoon shots evaporated.
The crew were just as anxious as I was to get the train moving before we lost the light for the climb of the Warrumbungle range so we got stuck in to finding the leak and repairing it. It did not take long to discover that a brake line valve on the eighth wagon had cracked. We were faced with two options. Either shunt the defective wagon off the train, which would delay departure by at least an hour, or isolate the air on either side of the wagon and replace the valve with one pinched from one of the wagons that had been left to be loaded over night. That was the quickest option, but did we have the tools needed?
The toolkit on the loco had the necessary spanners, but a socket wrench with a long extension was also needed to access and undo the bolts attaching the valve to wagon. A quick search of the tools in my van located what was needed and we set to work, getting the job done in just over half an hour.
The train eventually departed at around 14.50., and by pure coincidence the last shot of the day was at the same spot as the first one. Unfortunately the late departure from Barradine prevented getting a shot at Coonabarabran itself, but it did allow for a very unexpected scene to be captured. I had set up the camera near Bugaldie where a rough dirt road leading to a farm crossed the line. When the train was about five minutes away along came the farmer in very old but beautifully restored pick up truck.
The photographic potential was obvious and the driver was happy to delay his trip and position his vehicle to create a beautiful scene as the train trundled through.
Unfortunately my camera experienced a very rare glitch right in the middle of the scene but thanks to the wonders of digital editing software I have been able to salvage the recording.
I’m fairly sure the actual last train ran on the Wednesday. It was only half full so it also got away from Barradine mid afternoon but I have not seen any photos of it. However, the ABC did have some coverage of it that was broadcast later in the week. If anyone does have photos or video of it perhaps they could post them to this thread.
With the severe bushfires that ravaged the area a couple of years ago destroying many of the line’s wooden trestles and the removal of the railway bridge over Coonanbarabran Road after it was “sabotaged” by someone cutting through the piers with a chainsaw I think its highly unlikely the line will ever be re-opened so I hope you enjoy what I was able to record ten years ago.
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