Believe it or not I used to work for the State Rail Authority of New South Wales from May 1981 to September 1995 at total of 14 years. It was a job that demanded a lot of unscheduled working hours during those years. Basically it was shift work around the clock with no roster to work by for the majority of that time. This meant I could finish a job at 0720 hours and be rostered again for my next shift 11 hours later as Guards had a union agreement that they had a minimum of 11 hours off between shifts. From what I could gather these working conditions caused many marriages to fail between guards and loco drivers. I heard one loco driver telling me on a freight train trip from Broadmeadow Yards in Newcastle to Enfield Yards in Sydney that his young son a loco driver was getting married the next weekend. About two years later I had the same loco driver again telling me that his son was in the process of getting divorced after 2 years of marriage.
When I first joined State Rail NSW I commenced my employment as a Station Assistant at Broadmeadow Station (Newcastle). I worked on the station for four years and then applied for a freight guards position at Broadmeadow Yards (Newcastle). This required me to complete a five week full-time course at Petersham staff training college in Sydney to pass all the Safe Working systems used by State Rail NSW in those years. The result was that I passed and then commenced duties as a freight train guard in 1985. Between 1986 to 1987 there were major industrial disputes between the drivers and guards at Broadmeadow Yards due to the rail authority wanting to cut operating costs and remove the rear guards brakevan. After a long dispute the rear guards van was removed and replaced by a red flashing light which still exists today from what I can gather. This meant that the guards then became “Second Persons” who acted in the same role as the loco observer. This was not appreciated by the Loco drivers initially having a freight guard now in their cabin that replaced the observer. Once I worked an empty wheat freight train from Port Waratah to Werris Creek as a Second Person and the driver ignored me all the way to Werris Creek which was a ten hour shift. This happened quite often and personally I found it quite stressful to point of having butterflys before each shift. I found out later on that many other guards felt the same way as I did during those years.
By 1988 I applied to become an Electric Train passenger guard which required another six weeks of theory at Petersham staff training college. Firstly this meant I would study the Sydney Suburban electric train system and be capable of driving an electric train for emergency situations when a driver became incapacitated for whatever reason. Secondly I did a refresher course on the inter-urban electric train system as I did qualify for this at the end of 1987and also was qualified to drive the inter-urban trains under emergency conditions. By completing the electric passenger train course meant I did not have to work freight trains anymore which was a relief for me at that period of my life.
I remember when the Tangara electric passenger trains first came into service for City Rail to which I was rostered to work a brand new one from Hornsby Car sheds to Hornsby Station and then to Strathfield- Central and back to Hornsby via the North Shore line. By the time I arrived back at Hornsby via the North Shore the train carriages had rubbish from one end to the next. It was kind of sad to see something so fresh and brand new rubbished and not cared for by the travelling public.
One of the humorous experiences I had on my first ever electric passenger train jobs was working a red rattler from Strathfield Station to Central. When I passed Newtown station a couple of guys gave me the two finger salute. At first I was offended as I did nothing to cause them to act like that so I decided to give the two finger salute back to them from my guards position on the train. Next thing I notice is that both of them cracked up with laughter to which took me by surprise. It then dawned on me that I actually gave the two finger salute to the other public members on the platform also waiting at Newtown station. I didn’t fall for that hoax again after that experience.
Towards the end of my rail career I was privileged to work the steam train 3801 from Sydney Terminal to Newcastle and return. This was an experience as I really gained in real life what many train guards of the past endured on a daily basis in their duties when steam was in use. I was all nice and clean when I first left Sydney terminal but when I arrived in Newcastle I had black bits of soot all over me from the ash blowing back from the loco. I guess I shouldn’t complain as the steam loco cabin would have been quite hot from the boiler and coal being shovelled in along the way.