It almost goes without saying that the growth and reduction of Dubbo as a railway centre is the single-largest influence on the Coonamble branchline. This influence is amply illustrated through the facilities provided for passenger trains.
For the first ninety-odd years passengers journeying along the Coonamble line commenced from the main platform or the eastern dock at Dubbo. Even before leaving Dubbo passengers had the shelter of a substantial sandstone building, plus refreshment facilities. Once ready passengers would board the train located either on the main platform or the eastern dock road.
The journey on the Coonamble line commenced precisely at the crossover points to the east of Dubbo station platform, approximately adjacent to the locomotive shed. This location was sign-posted by the Down Starting Signal for the Coonamble branch, which had been moved 400 feet further away from the station on 29 January 1924. However the journey to Coonamble grew closer once more just nine months later when the crossover taking trains from the main line to the Coonamble line was moved 160 feet closer to Dubbo station.
Nonetheless, commencing a passenger rail journey to Coonamble in this manner is now no longer possible, as a rationalisation of Dubbo yard in the mid-1990s removed the cross-over points entirely. Today, trains leaving for Coonamble can only depart from the loop or the rail yard. This probably further reduces the chances of passenger train operations ever again traversing the Coonamble line, even if those services amount to no more than an occasional tourist excursion train.
So, to start a journey along the Coonamble railway from some part in Dubbo yard is still necessary to pass through the road crossing of Fitzroy Street, the exit the eastern end of Dubbo yard, by swinging north-east past what is presently the city’s Caltex petroleum sidings to Dubbo East Junction.
Dubbo’s North Junction was established by the construction of a turning leg off the old main line, which enabled trains approaching Dubbo from the east to veer to the north in order to join the Coonamble branch line. The same infrastructure also created Dubbo East Junction, at the south eastern apex of the triangle. This arrangement, with modification, remains operational into the 21st century.
Early working timetables issued for the Coonamble line refer to Dubbo North Junction as simply as ‘Dubbo Junction’. While these timetables disclose nothing of significance about Dubbo Junction, it is known that a 90kl water tank was installed at this location in time for the line’s opening.
In mid-1913 the Weekly Notices noted the existence of 15 chain curves around Dubbo Junction as the only curves on the line considered to be extremely sharp. Restrictions on speed have been repeated in the NSW Railway’s subsequent timetables and local appendices. So this new arrangement was not perhaps the greatest of engineering feats in western NSW and a less than auspicious start to the branchline.
The railway infrastructure to the east of Dubbo underwent a major metamorphosis at the time of the building of the Scenic Route between Yeoval and Dubbo on 31 May 1925. Prior to this on 10 October 1924 the Dubbo East and Dubbo North junctions were re-laid as the main line was slewed to allow for the Molong line. A new fork for the Coonamble line and a construction siding was provided on the down side of the main line to permit further work in the area.
The main line from Wellington was also slewed to the south then forced back in an arc back north whereupon it joined with the Molong line at Dubbo East Junction. This Junction then sent Dubbo-bound trains off to the north-west. This Junction retained the capacity for direct access to the Coonamble branch through a connection from the East Junction to the North Junction. This new alignment also required the removal of the redundant main line and the original turning leg.
This new arrangement opened for traffic in April 1925 when a new signal box at Dubbo East Junction was installed. The new signal box acquired the responsibility for the points for the entry to the Coonamble branch at Dubbo North Junction.
It is doubtful whether until recently trains routinely used the rails on the eastern leg of the triangle for anything greater than just reversing locomotives and trains – although it is recorded that the Wirths Circus train worked directly through from Gilgandra to Wellington on the evening of 31 May 1921 using the turning leg. However current day operations use the eastern leg of the triangle more routinely than in earlier times. Bulk grain trains operating from the Coonamble line do not routinely enter Dubbo’s yard for the locomotives to run around their trains.
More regular use of the triangle included the turning of locomotives during the formative years – with the Weekly Notices from 1911 permitted locomotives of the J483, N, O, P and T classes to run through the triangle at Dubbo, as well as lighter classes of locomotives to run through the triangle coupled in pairs – all at 10 miles per hour or less. Who would have ever thought that 800 words could be written about so little.
Next stop on iour trip up the branch, Troy Junction. Stay tuned!