Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Steam Train, Day Three: Picton to Christchurch

Tombstone Backpackers was the best hostel experience I’ve had so far; a real home away from home. I played the piano for the other guests after dinner, which was great fun, and then went and sat in the “spa pool” (jacuzzi) with Sebastian and Isabel (from Germany), talking about our countries and what we knew about one another’s countries (when we were talking about famous musicians, Sebastian helpfully said, “Celine Dion is Canadian, no?” Ah, our legacy into the world...).

This morning George (co-runner of Tombstone) was very kind and drove me down to the station for 7:20am so I didn’t have to walk. The train didn’t end up leaving until 8am, but I got to see then bring Jb 1236 around and couple her up to the front of the carriages. Named “Joanne” (by Ian Welch), Jb 1236 is a 4-8-2 built in 1939 by North British Locomotive Works. She runs at 200psi and weighs 108 tons, with a hauling capacity of 210 tons. This we found out the hard way... due to some miscalculations (possibly forgetting to take into account the extra water tank attached to the train), Jb 1236 left Picton station pulling 310 tons. Unfortunately, straight out of Picton station is a steep grade, and there is very little room in the yard to build up any sort of momentum without losing large amounts of steam. We came crawling to a halt about halfway up the hill, and had to radio back to the Picton rail yard to have the shunting diesel come give us a push. As the train shuddered to a stop, Mike got on the PA, saying, “Alright, the problem is you all had too much breakfast this morning...”

Jb 1236 getting ready in the Picton railyard

So the shunting diesel has knuckle couplings...

...but our water and fuel tanker trucks have
the Norwegian couplings!

"I think I can, I think I can..."

Incidentally, the shunting diesel is remote-control! The operator wears a yellow box strapped to his or her waist, and stands on the front or back of the train on the footplate (or on the ground) and operates the train with buttons and switches. Oh, man, did I want to give that a try...

The remote-control shunting diesel. The engineer is riding
on the front step with the control box strapped to his front.

Vineyards are a common sight in this part of NZ

After our push we made it up and over the hill and into Blenheim (where the rest of the tour had spent the night in a hotel), and then started up the next uphill pass. This time I was a little nervous, seeing as we hadn’t made the first pass, but slow and steady was the name of the game (the engineer vetoed a photo stop because he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to get 1236 going again!) and we made it up and over. We stopped near the top of the pass to allow the fireman to fill the boiler up with water. In order to make it up the steep grade the fireman and engineer had been keeping a lower level of water into the boiler (so as to maintain maximum pressure by avoiding shocking the boiler with continuous amounts of cold water), but if we then started to descend the hill with such a low level of water, the crown sheet would be exposed (not good!). The train didn't need as much steam on the way down the hill, and filling the boiler with water gave it the time it takes to descend the hill to heat it up and have steam ready for pulling again at the bottom of the hill.

Rail tracks + idyllic pasture = beautiful photograph

We made it to Seddon, where we stopped to refill our water tank. Seddon has a “Duncan Street”, which made me smile (I took a picture). Leaving Seddon, I rode on the “balcony” - if you will - of the power car, taking in the fresh cool air. We drove past Lake Grassmere, where salt is collected from the sea: salt water from the Pacific Ocean is pumped into Lake Grassmere, which is divided into several different ponds. The water evaporates, and the salt concentration rises, until the salt is dried, crushed, washed, and pushed into mounds to be packaged and sold. The cool thing is the colour of the lake ponds: they range from the sparkling aquamarine blue of the sea here to a deep pink-purple. The pink colour is caused by the green algae in the water that turns pink in a high-salt solution (now you know why the Red Sea is red).

This way to Duncan Street!

Piles of salt extracted from the sea at Lake Grassmere

Salt ponds at Lake Grassmere

For most of the afternoon the train followed the sea down the coastline; at several points the only thing between us and the beach was a small embankment made of rocks; it was like we were really running the train on the beach! We did several photo stops near tunnels so we could get shots of the train charging out of a tunnel mouth and then plunging back into darkness again. Combined with the mountains and ocean and the beautiful sunny day, the setting was perfect. One of the more interesting (or scary) things was seeing where a landslide had shut down the highway and rail line for several days after the earthquake... construction crews are still busy at work removing debris, including some brave souls whose job it is to be up on the side of the embankment loosening the remaining rock and sand so they don’t come crashing down at a later date (as Mike dryly remarked over the PA, “I hope they’re well-paid!”).

Just a sand dune between us and the beach!

None of my tunnel shots worked out.
I have some good videos, though.

Jb 1236 stopped at Kaikoura to take on water

I love this. The grill of our bus is cut out in the shape of kiwis!

Beautiful Kaikoura beach

Evidence of the land slip caused by the earthquake

Leaving the coastline, the train headed inland in the late afternoon, following the Clarence River. We stopped at the Weka Pass Railway depot in Waipara to let the TranzCoastal express to Christchurch sail past us (and then spent the rest of the trip into Christchurch having to get track warrants every few kilometers to ensure we weren’t going to run into the back end of it stopped at a station!). As we headed into Amberley, we started to see the effects of the earthquake: fissures and cracks in pastures where the earth has been shifted and torn. Some of these cracks have filled with sand and sediment, as silt and water trapped underground were forced up and out to the surface.

Stopped at the Weka Pass Depot waiting for the
TranzCoastal to pass. Something tells me the
Weka Pass Express might be a coal-burner...

Jb 1236 at the Weka Pass Depot

The Weka Pass Express was hiding in its shed.
I took this picture by pressing my camera
up against the gap in between the doors.

Cracks and liquefaction due to the September earthquake

We arrived at Christchurch Station at 7:15pm, and then Alan and I walked over to Jailhouse Accommodation. Yes, I am in jail right now! This is a historic jail that was closed in 1999 and has been converted into a youth hostel. Their website is quite amusing. Some of the rooms have been preserved as they were when this was a jail, complete with the (very uncomfortable looking) beds and wall art drawn by inmates. Thankfully, my bed looks nice and comfortable, and the most inconvenient thing is having all the light switches and power outlets located in the corner of the room (far away from my bed).

The first floor of Jailhouse Accommodation.
Cell Block Tango, anyone?

Original artwork preserved in one of the cells

Tomorrow morning the train doesn’t depart until 10:20am, so I can sleep in somewhat (yahoo!). I best be off and go let myself into my cell before the jailkeeper catches me outside here on the balcony at such a late hour. Hmm, why is it Cell Block Tango keeps running through my head...?


No comments:

Post a Comment