Sunday, October 30, 2011

Hauling the Cocky!

The last posting made mention of 4833's role as a stalwart of the Cockatoo Run, known affectionately as 'the Cockie' or 'the Cocky' (depends on whether you had an expensive education, I suppose).  The Cocky is operated by 3801 Ltd, one of the more innovative heritage outfits in Australia

The Cocky has featured plenty of interesting motive power over the years.  While it commenced running around 1995, the concept was a tourist train emanating from the Illawarra, climbing into the NSW Southern Highlands towns of Robertson and Moss Vale, using the Unanderra to Moss Vale line. 

I should do a free plug for the Cocky right now - it runs through incredibly beautiful countryside, including some of the last remaining patches of tropical rainforest on the eastern seaboard of Australia.  Travellers get to see beaches, rolling surf, lakes, farmland, rainforest, landslides, deep gorges and you can end up in Robertson, home of the Robbo Pub.  But don't take my word for it - book yourself a trip here.

While there is a remarkable amount of interesting countryside to journey through, putting any service regularly up one of the steepest pieces of mainline track in NSW adds another dimension to the interest.  It has also certainly added to the locomotive attrition rate over the years!  

In the early years, when steam was not generally available, 3801 Ltd relied on their two 73 class locomotives.  For former shunting locos, mainline operation on a passenger train was a pretty novel experience.  Here, in 1996, 7333 and 7344 (the green frog) head up through Farmborough Heights.

The initial idea was to haul the Cocky using vintage steam, which was a very good idea if one had a reliable, tough vintage steam locomotive.  Former South Maitland Railway Pty Ltd's No 18 - known to all as 'Bob' -  was two out of those three.  Reliability wasn't Bob's strong point, which added to the charm of the journey.  Bob could be reliably counted on to run out of steam pressure mid-climb, so that the entire train sat stationary until Bob's steam pressure improved.  The next photo show Bob in a foggy Robertson, awaiting passage of the mighty 3801 on another tour train in 1997.

On  many occasions Bob was just not available, so when steam was required, 3801 did the honours.  The lack of turning facilities at Robertson usually meant that the train went through to Moss Vale to be turned on a triangle at that location.  On at least one occasion, this was not possible, as the following photograph shows.

3801 wasn't the only member of the 38 class to get in on Cocky duties - 3830 did a fair number of trips too before the Powerhouse Museum decided that the best place for a steam locomotive was under cover, away from the weather and certainly not in steam.

In the late 1990s, vintage steam gave way to vintage diesels.  While a number of 44 class locos have worked the Cocky, fittingly it was class leader 4401 which made the early appearances.

In the final period of being a purely Illawarra based operation, 3801 Ltd started leasing 48 class locos from FreightCorp.  Two Port Kembla-based locos which got a fair amount of work on the Cocky were 4862 and 48121 - both shown in the following pictures performing Cocky duties.

Somewhat ironically, both of these locomotives have failed to endure to the age of the heritage locos they replaced - in 2011 48121 is stored at Werris Creek and 4862 is a memory, having met the scrapper's torch in 2010.
Having tried vintage steam, mainline diesels and leased locos, in 2000 3801 Ltd managed to secure two dilapidated 49 class locos - 4908 and 4918.  The following photograph shows their good side!

Both locos were cosmetically restored as quickly as possible.  4908 received the 3801 Ltd's corporate livery and 4918 scored a coat of black, with red bands - echoing 3801's livery of the same period.  Regardless of what one thinks of either livery, they were certainly much needed.

4908 was the first to emerge with its new livery.  Over the summer months the Cocky struggled for patronage on its usual route, so instead attempted to lure patrons with a trip to the Central Coast or to Kiama.  On an absolutely stinking hot summer's day, on 21 January 2001 4908 is returning through Woy Woy with a Wollongong-Gosford Cocky.

It was around this time that the decision was made to centralise 3801 Ltd's tour operations - meaning the end of the Illawarra-based Cocky runs.  On its last time out of Port Kembla on 25 January 2011, 4908 did the honours.

So, for the last decade, the Cocky has been a Sydney-based operation. While this has altered the premise upon which it was established and added 160 kilometres to the excursion, opening itself to the Sydney tourist market has probably ensured its survival.  

Operating from Sydney on a 9:05am departure time ensured that for many years I never made it to work before 9:15am on running days.  It also guaranteed that I would leave work around 6:00pm on these days, in time to catch the return!

I have too many photographs to post, mainly bleary morning shots of a three or four car train and a bunch of meandering tourists.  Of the locos, apart from those mentioned already I have witnessed 4473 and 4486, 4514 and 4501 as regulars.  Thanks to the Lachlan Valley Railway, steam has made an appearance intermittently.  I have a recollection that the Cocky was worked by 5917 in 2009, and 3237 certainly made an appearance in 2010, as the following photograph shows.

While I could prattle further, I am going to finish with two shots of the Cocky's

And, fittingly for the final shot - long after the tourists and the mug punters have left for the day, the train crew and volunteers have to stick it out, waiting for a path back to base at Eveleigh.  By 2008 4918 had been returned to its original NSWGR Indian Red livery as it sat waiting for a green light.
Long live the Cocky!

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