Albany revisited and other travels! by Phil Melling

Living in Geraldton, Western Australia means normally having to drive long distances to see our various family members. On Sunday 11 August I embarked on a journey to Cuballing in the Upper Great Southern and also a planned visit to Albany on Western Australia’s South coast. The return journey was to be via Narrogin, Bunbury, Mandurah, Perth then back to Geraldton. Albany was a location I had not visited since December 2003, an occasion when I luckily got to see ex South Australian NJ5 running its first trips on the Albany Woodchip train. The journey to Cuballing can be undertaken using a number of different road routes, mine would be via Mullewa, Wubin, Northam, York and on to Cuballing or generally in that direction. The chances of seeing a few trains was a possibility over the 660-kilometre journey and I understood there could be a few stabled trains, as Kwinana CBH was on a maintenance shutdown.
Sunday 11 August 2019 The first train was seen just west of Mullewa, a loaded Karara iron ore led by ACN4142/ ACN4148 and on the back ACN4171 in DPU mode. Luck was not with me near Canna as an empty Karara and a loaded Mount Gibson crossed at the inaccessible Leda crossing loop. I continued on and at Perenjori the railway becomes disused between there and McLevie just north of Dalwallinu. I did stop at Caron to photograph the sole surviving coal stage in Western Australia, still solid – being built of concrete. Once past McLevie it was back to an active railway, but of course the Kwinana shutdown would mean no trains, or so I thought. On arrival at Goomalling I saw a headlight and CBH006 had detached from CBH009 and train of empty wagons. CBH006 was actually heading off light engine as 1K62 to Forrestfield. I managed to score a photo at Jennacubbine of the light engine passing through. Also stabled at Jennacubbine was CBH002/ CBH008 and their train.
I ended up doing a slight deviation and went east of Northam to Meckering where I found CBH121/ CBH118/ CBH120/ VL361 stabled on an empty grain train. It had been a while since I had seen either of the leased CBH/Watco VLs. From Meckering it’s lucky in that it’s possible to reach York via various secondary roads rather than having to backtrack to Northam. The towns are much more closely spaced as one heads south and soon I was in Beverley where seven of CBH’s 10 DBZ class locomotives (purchased from Aurizon) are stored. A couple of photos were taken of the line of DBZs consisting of DBZ2313, DBZ2312, DBZ2304, DBZ2307, DBZ2306, DBZ2303 and DBZ2308. After leaving Beverley, I only got to Mount Kokeby CBH where CBH’s DBZ2305 was stabled for driver training (after being reactivated at Aurizon’s Forrestfield Workshops). I thought that interesting, as I hoped to see Aurizon’s two DBZ’s currently working on the Albany Woodchip train as well, so I could potentially see a good proportion of the class. No more trains were seen on the rest of the journey to Cuballing.
Tuesday 13 August 2019 After a day at Cuballing, my Dad and I set off south and on to Albany. The section of line between Narrogin and Wagin (part of the Great Southern Railway) is unfortunately little used and normally limited to loco and wagon transfers and the occasional ‘out of zone’ grain trains. Arrival at Wagin (where Watco have a base at the railway station) found stabled CBH003 on a grain set and CBH012 stabled in the yard. A pause for coffee and cake at Dome Coffee’s restored Katanning Flour mill (now a coffee shop and hotel) took place, unfortunately, there was no rail activity in town though a photo was taken of Katanning Railway Station and much reduced yard area from what I remembered. We continued further south and CBH016 was solo loading a grain train at Broomehill CBH (it would depart for Albany later in the day). Although the station platform still exists at Broomehill the station was removed a long while ago. As we travelled south a stop was made to photograph the stations at Tambellup and Cranbrook but no further trains were seen. We soon arrived into Albany and had to sort out our accommodation located on the outskirts of Albany. With accommodation sorted I decided to reacquaint myself with Albany and its rail facilities but only got to the station when DBZ2309 leading 3605 loaded woodchip train to Albany Port arrived, trailing on the end of the train was DBZ2311 with 15 XOA woodchip wagons between them. The woodchip train operates with the trailing unit not in power but of course does lead in one direction in this case DBZ2309 was the power on the loaded whilst DBZ2311 will be the power on the empty train from Albany. The woodchip trains basically shuttle between Albany Port and the woodchip mill at Mirambeena, 26 kilometres away, and run up to five times each way per day on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. No run round facilities exist at either the mill or at the Port unloader hence the use of a locomotive at each end. The Woodchip train has seen a wide variety of motive power over the years including initial operations in 2001 with the ex-South Australian Railways Goodwin/Alco 830 class units, rebuilt with a low nose and classified T01 (ex 874) & T02 (ex 849) in WA. These later returned to South Australia, as 907 and 901 respectively. Since that time AB, DBZ, DFZ, NJ and P class units have all had stints on the train. Currently, two of Aurizon’s three remaining DBZs are based at Albany, and there is no spare unit, so if a failure occurs the train does not run. The last time I had photographed the woodchip train was on the first run of NJ5 on 2 December 2003 – nearly 16 years earlier. It is possible to drive on the main port access road, part of Princess Royal Drive, down to the level crossing where the woodchip line crosses the road into the unloading point. The CBH grain trains unload closer to the city centre. Unfortunately for me the two grain sets working to Albany at that time arrived and departed the port at night. Just after 4pm the now empty 3606 woodchip train began to make its way through the port area in pouring rain, led by DBZ2311. We gave chase, but the heavy traffic at that time of day meant a slow meander on the parallel road, and a limited number of photos were
taken despite several track speed restrictions. The sun stubbornly refused to break through until 15 minutes after the train had gone!
Wednesday 14 August 2019. It being a Wednesday, the woodchip train remained parked up for the day. The day also was quite wet, as over 20mm of rain had fallen. We visited the ANZAC Centre that sits near the Albany Fort complex, which is well worth a visit.
Thursday 15 August 2019 The day was bright, clear and sunny, but the first few runs of the woodchip train that day had been cancelled so we ducked across to Denmark, 54 kilometres west of Albany. Denmark has a number of reminders of the former railway that used to link it with Albany, including a walk trail over a portion of the route with the former railway trestle bridge repurposed as part of the trail. Once back in Albany the woodchip train was at last on the move coming out of the storage sidings led by DBZ2311, to form 5606 empty woodchip train to Mirambeena. Of course, the weather had decided to cloud over though the sun finally broke through near Elleker (former junction for the Denmark branch).
Friday 16 August 2019 The day was sunny and clear and a visit to the Port yielded DBZ2311 departing on 6602 empty woodchip with DBZ2309 trailing as usual on the empties. We followed the train to the South Coast Highway level crossing at Marbelup, we then headed north on our return trip to Narrogin. We stopped briefly at Mount Barker, where the well-preserved Railway Station exists with the forecourt used by the TransWA road coaches. Pausing at Broomehill CBH found CBH016 loading another grain train in far better light than on Tuesday. A brief deviation was made at Woodanilling to photograph its timber railway station (looking like it needed a coat of paint). No other trains were seen on the way back to Cuballing.
To be continued…