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Motive
Power Competition
2004

Pre-thinking, planning and the wash-up.

Now I have to say at the outset I have been largely absent from rail photography for many years. Anyone who looks through my web pages will probably note there is very little taken after 1997: the reason - children! And I also have to say that I have at times lamented the fact that the move to corporatisation and then privatisation, and the general withdrawal of the rail scene behind security fences, movement detectors and intimidating signage all seem to conspire to make my favourite genre of putting people in the scene even more difficult.

However, I discovered that the competition proved to be a very good motivator to get out and try to push a few perceived boundaries, with productive results. So having said that, on to the weekend itself.

I was keen to try and get some scenes illuminated entirely by moonlight, although I'd never actually done any. Some quick thinking suggested the spiral at Border Loop might be a suitable subject for a moon shot. I was also keen to have a look around the relatively new motive power depot at Acacia Ridge in Brisbane, although I was uncertain how to get access to it since the advent of private ownership. To the casual outsider, it is by no means a welcoming place.

A bit of research for the first idea soon showed that there would at least be a moon on the evening of 23 October, and that according to the WTT there should be a train heading north around 10pm. A northbound would probably be the most effective choice given the nature of the loop and the location of our likely viewing point, but it looked like being a late night for us.

More research uncovered a comprehensive web site covering all matters around lunar photography, so some indicative exposures were soon calculated. All we needed then was a clear night, and the train to actually run! That got the preparations for the "lunar light" scene out of the way.

A couple of phone calls to Pacific National at Acacia Ridge set the wheels in motion to trying to get access to that facility. Those calls led me to a "decision pending" based on trying to get access on the afternoon of the Saturday. A few days later access was confirmed, along with a contact phone number of a PN driver who had volunteered to be our guide - unlimited access for up to two hours, and safety vests supplied to us as part of the bargain!

In theory, that covered Saturday, and I thought Queensland Rail's north-coast line might be a good bet on the Sunday, especially the tilt trains. While this was only a modest use of the total time allowed for the competition, it was about all I could manage as domestic negotiations proved to be at least as difficult as any other part of the weekend, and baby sitters were needed as well.

All was set - now we just needed some good weather and the trains to run.

As it turned out, the week started with some admittedly much needed rain, but rain and lunar photography are hardly compatible! However, the forecast was good and that's how it turned out - a perfect weekend weatherwise. Indeed, it turned quite hot with temperatures pushing the mid-30s and before we knew it smoke haze, at least on the north coast, proved a challenge.

With the weather acting favourably, attention now turned to the trains. A call on the Friday to get some idea of train movements over the border spiral for the Saturday suggested the worst possible start - track-work on the Short North just north of Sydney meant cancelled trains and major delays to those trains that were running. For heaven's sake, didn't they know there was a photo competition that weekend? Still, all I could do was call again on the Saturday morning and see how things were developing.

Which of course I did, and was told that one of the southbounds we wanted to photograph was indeed cancelled, the other regular departure was doubtful, but there would be an extra northbound which could be on the loop around 8pm, which was darned near perfect. Maybe it would not be such a late night after all!

As previously arranged with Pacific National, we got access to the loco area at Acacia Ridge around 3pm and were very helpfully escorted by one of their drivers, Brett, who was also keen on the idea of photography. Brett was an extremely helpful host and was also willing to be our "model" and graciously put up with my requests to get him in the viewfinder. While there, Brett also gave us the latest times and it turned out the northbound would be on the loop in the very late afternoon (there went the moon shot!) but that BM4 would be much later than usual on the loop waiting for a new crew to come on duty, so we decided that the southbound BM4 would be our lunar subject

After a useful hour or so of photography at Acacia Ridge we hot-footed down to the loop to set up for the moon shot, although we sneaked some shots of the now-early running northbound from the Lions viewing platform in the last minutes of daylight. It was then a matter of waiting for the sun to set and train to arrive. While killing time, we finalised our exposures (interestingly the calculated time using the material I'd got off the web was very close to what the exposure meter of my Dynax 5 told me the exposure was using a grey card), had something to eat and then just talked the time away. By the time the train was due, the moonlight was extraordinary on what was a near cloudless and very warm night. Although only a half moon, the shadows were very strong and I was able to write my notes using nothing more than the moon. It's so easy to forget these kinds of experiences living in the city.

We did get the moon shot, although it would now be a "going-away" shot which may or may not be useful, along with a set of other lunar exposures for future reference, and then headed back to Brisbane for our respective homes and beds.

Sunday was much more leisurely, and started off with a set up at an old haunt of mine skulking under the bridges at Toombul to capture a view of Sunday's northbound Sunlander, and as it turned out of a freight running ten minutes ahead of it. Smoke haze was evident to the north, pretty much exactly where we would shortly be heading.

The next shot was at the small railway town of Elimbah, with the northbound Sunlander on the bridge just to the south of the township. It would probably be an OK photo, but nothing special.

We then got a few assorted shots on the way to Eumundi and managed to view a cross of the two Rockhampton Tilt Trains crossing at Sunrise loop, after which it was time to head home.

As you will see as you go through the gallery after all the effort the lunar light shot did not make the cut! We always thought the risk of failure was high given neither of us had done this sort of photo before. As it turned out the final results were close, but not quite. However, it's given us a taste for this style of stuff in the future, so maybe next year! You will also see those ten shots that I submitted as long as a few that I did not.

While of no great importance, I took exactly one roll of 36 exposure Ektachrome100G over the whole weekend, including the test shots around the border spiral. With no great difficulty getting what I thought were ten reasonably strong entries it represents one of my best returns ever from a given film. I think planning and lots of prior thought is definitely the way to go in the future!

One final point: my natural tendency would have been to use black and white for many of the photos I had in mind. However, with some idea of the readership of the magazine, I opted to shoot colour, figuring that black and white would not have as great an appeal. Some of these colour photos might be reworked as black and white images later, and appear in other galleries.