Saturday, January 24, 2015

Steam Special

Ja 1240 with its excursion train cresting Tumai Bank. One of my best shots of the day! 24/1/15.

A few days ago I found out about a special steam excursion being run by the Taieri Gorge Railway. The excursion was to be a return trip from Dunedin to Oamaru behind steam locomotive Ja 1240. 

Ja 1240 was one of a group of 51 4-8-2 'mountain' type steam locomotives built by the New Zealand Railways Hillside workshops in Dunedin and the North British Locomotive Company of Glasgow, Scotland. Entering service in March 1947, Hillside built 1240 worked throughout Otago, Southland, Canterbury and the West Coast before being withdrawn from service in November 1971. Luckily 1240 was preserved and is now owned by Ian Welch and cared for by his team at Mainline Steam.

Scheduled for an 8:00am departure from Dunedin, we headed down to Waitati to pick up the action. After a bit of a wait the excursion arrived with two of the Taieri Gorge Railway's very tidy DJ diesel locomotives on point. The DJ's lead the train from Dunedin to Waitati due to government imposed health and safety regulations around steam locomotives operating in tunnels.

DJ 1209 with another unidentified DJ wait in the loop as the excusion proceeds down the hill and into Waitati. 24/1/15. 

Uncoupling from the train the DJ's and 1240's service wagon entered the Waitati loop to allow the excursion through on the main.

Side by side DJ 1209 with Ja 1240 at Waitati. 24/1/15.

After getting my shots at Waitati it was time to head north. Stopping near Warrington, I joined a number of other foamers.... sorry I mean railway enthusiasts waiting for the excursion.

 Waiting for the train spoting the train spotters.

After a bit of a wait, Ja 1240 and the excursion arrived and began its climb up towards Seacliff. Both DJ's had now coupled to the rear of the train and were acting as bankers for the climbs ahead.

 Ja 1240 and the excursion approaching Warrington. 24/1/15.

And crossing the Coast Road overbridge. 

Heading north along Coast Rd, it didn't take long to get caught in the inevitable convoy of "railway enthusiasts" that follow a steam locomotive. Now it seems like everytime there's a steam locomotive, any driver nearby totally forgets the road rules. Theres nothing like an SUV screaming away from you only to slam on the brakes and dive to the left or right without indicating because they've spyed a good spot. There was also plenty of near misses seen as drivers spent more time looking for the train rather than on the road and other road users who were most likely looking for the train as well!
Anyway, just before Seacliff the convoy ground to a halt at a railway crossing with bells, flashing lights and barriers where we waited and waited some more.

The convoy stuck at a railway crossing just south of Seacliff. The excursion can be seen at the upper right of the photo. 

Now I'm not sure why the excursion had ground to a halt south of us but seeing 1240 get the train moving again on the grade (with the assistance of the DJ's) was good to watch. I managed to get a few shots as the excursion passed us gathering speed.

Ja 1240 climbs the grades near Seacliff. 24/1/15. 

And another shot. 

With the barriers up it was time to head north once again. North of Seacliff I decided to use a spot I'd used once or twice in the past. I knew the shot I'd get probably wouldn't be that flash but I knew the convoy was heading for Merton and I didn't want to be fighting for room there.

The excursion cruising along the Otago coastline with Otago Peninsular and the Pacific Ocean in the background. 24/1/15.

On the road once again we got through Karitane and headed towards state highway 1. To get there we had to cross the Main South Line at Merton. Merton was packed. One of my favourite railfanning spots was now inundated with railfans most of which were setting up for that classic shot of a train crossing the Merton bridge. 
Successfully dodging some more ducking and diving SUV's we headed to one of my all time favourite spots the Tumai bank. While there were a few railfans waiting, there was plenty of room for everybody and soon the excursion could be heard working hard up the bank.

 The excursion cresting the bank and starting the downgrade to Goodwood. 24/1/15.

Both 1240 and the train looked great as they crested the Tumai bank and I knew I had some good shots on the SD card. It was time to head north again towards my next spot. 
Being a local certainly helped today because while plenty of people go from one well known spot to another theres plenty of places I've discovered that offer great photos too.
One of those spots is the Goodwood railway crossing in Palmerston. I was really surprised to arrive there and find we were all alone. Theres something quite satisfying about having a train all to yourself especially when there's a whole heap of people chasing the same train. It was at Goodwood Road where I got one of my favourite shots of the day.

The excursion at Goodwood Rd. 24/1/15.

By now the kids were getting a little restless so were bribed with an icecream at Palmerston. The excursion had stopped as well and as we passed the crew was finishing up filling the tender with water. Heading north we came across 961 Middleton - Dunedin freight at Bushey behind two DC diesel locomotives. 961 was holding the loop while waiting for the excusion to pass.

 961 Middleton - Dunedin freight at Bushy. DC 4277 doing its best steam locomotive impersonation. 24/1/15.

Grabbing a quick shot of 961 from the wrong side we continued our travels north to another favourite spot of mine just north of the Shag River bridge. Yes that really is the name of the river. 
This spot has been very kind to me in the past due to the large piles of metal chip that is stored here for roading projects. I've been told the key to good train photo's is height, height and more height. I'm sure that weather, the sun and the locomotive on the front not being a DL locomotive also play a part too, but those metal piles were great for getting some elevation. Not this time though. Must of been some road works completed recently because those big piles of metal were now merely small mounds.
It didn't matter though as I was still able to get a good shot with Puketapu in the background to boot. 

The excursion with Puketapu in the background. 24/1/15. 

Back on the road we once again headed north on state highway one to another spot I enjoy just south of Katiki. Ja 1240 was again looking pretty in the viewfinder as it approached the former Katiki station.

Ja 1240 looking good as it approaches Katiki. 24/1/15.

Crossing the overbridge at Katiki I could see the train had come to a halt at Katiki and plenty of people were hopping off. I'm guessing it must of been a photo stop for the passengers.
Shortly after we arrived at our final spot for the day at Hampden. There was a bit of a wait but it was worth it as Ja 1240 put on a show as it climbed up the grade to the site of the former Hampden station.

Ja 1420 climbing the grade to the former Hampden station site. 24/1/15.

Turning around I managed to grab a going away shot as the excursion headed deeper into North Otago.

And the going away shot.

While the excursion and the convoy continued their trips north it was time to call it a day and head back home.
Big thanks to the good people of the Taieri Gorge Railway, Mainline Steam and Kiwi Rail for putting on a great morning of entertainment. I feel guilty getting my photo's without contributing to the running of this train. Might have to pop into the Dunedin Railway Station to drop off a donation to the TGR.
Also a big thanks to the Otago Rural Fire Authority. Otago is in a total fire ban at the moment due to the 'big dry'. Throughout the morning I saw rural fire vehicles following the train checking for any fires. If it wasn't for these guys this trip would not have gone ahead. Cheers lads.

And thats about it.


  1. Tough wasn't it. Total fire ban and 12km of continuous fire destroying vegetation and crops. Someone Somewhere has yet to answer for.

  2. My understanding is that Taieri Gorge (Dunedin Railways) took all appropriate actions in consultation with rural fire to prevent a fire happening. Rather than bad planning it sounds like bad luck. I'm sure it will all come out in the investigation.


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