Declining railway usage means that very few towns in NSW outside Sydney now have more than one operating railway station. This wasn’t always the case: Tamworth, Grafton, Coffs Harbour and Casino all once had multiple stations (Tamworth/West Tamworth, Grafton/South Grafton, Coffs Harbour/North Coffs Harbour and Casino/South Casino respectively).
Until recently, the only current example that readily sprung into my mind was Maitland, which has four: Maitland, High Street, Victoria Street and East Maitland. You might sensibly argue, though, that the Hunter Line which serves these stations is really part of the Sydney metropolitan network.
However, there is still one prominent regional town which has two stations: Orange. The main station is a heritage-listed Victorian building constructed in 1877 when the newly-extended Main Western Railway reached the city. Eventually that line was extended all the way to Bourke, though passenger services are now restricted to a single daily service between Sydney and Dubbo.
In 1885 construction began on the Broken Hill line, which branched from Orange. To enable that, a triangular junction was created south of the existing station. That meant that while trains heading west to Parkes and Broken Hill pass through Orange, they don’t actually go through Orange station.
In 2017 there are only two passenger trains which use the Broken Hill line. The first is the once-a-week Outback Xplorer (introduced in 1996), which runs from Sydney to Broken Hill on Mondays and then returns on Tuesdays. These days, the Outback Xplorer does stop at Orange station proper, reversing out of the platform and then passing through the junction on the westbound journey, and reversing into the platform on the return.
The second is the rather more glamorous (and expensive) Indian Pacific, which currently runs once a week between Sydney and Perth. While you wouldn’t know it from looking at the official web site, you can book to join or leave the Indian Pacific in Orange. However, the Indian Pacific doesn’t reverse in and out of Orange Station. Instead, any intending passengers use Orange East Fork, an utterly bare-bones single platform located on the south-eastern side of the junction.
I think this can fairly lay claim to being the most basic operating station in NSW. It’s not unusual for stations to be reduced in size to reduce maintenance costs (Sawtell on the North Coast Line being one obvious example). Some of the Hunter Line stations are literally only wide enough for a single pair of doors. I visited and videoed one of them, Mindaribba, back in 2014:
While Mindaribba is smaller than Orange East Fork, it does have a loudspeaker for announcements, a help point and (these days) an Opal card reader. Orange East Fork boasts no such luxuries. There’s a basic shelter, and a lamp, and that is it.
It may not have always been like this, however. According to NSWrail.net, the station in its current form opened on 1 May 1970, which makes sense, since the Indian Pacific begun running in February of that year.
However, Orange East Fork was a stopping point long before the Indian Pacific launched. Below, for instance, is part of the timetable for the Sydney-Broken Hill train back in 1927, when the service was first introduced, complete with a stop at Orange East Fork:
I haven’t yet been able to discover whether Orange East Fork once had a more prominent platform. Prior to 1970, it may well have been nothing more than a platform-free halt where passengers could board or disembark if required, something that modern safety practices frown upon but which was much more common in earlier eras.
Even in 1927, locals were already campaigning for the Broken Hill service to stop at Orange station, a complaint which appears to have recurred over the years.
However, the area was quite busy. A rail depot was constructed near the junction in the 1930s, at a cost of £42,970. In the 1940s, Orange East Fork was big enough to have a station master and an assistant, but as the main focus was freight, this wouldn’t necessarily mean the provision of a platform. In 1952, it was the site of a particularly grim incident:
Further digging reveals that as late as 2002, the Outback Xplorer train was still using Orange East Fork, rather than Orange, as its local stop. A local campaign to have the train stop at Orange was rejected, with the argument that it would add 30 minutes to the journey time. That same argument had been used back in 1927, but clearly at some point between 2002 and now, the approach changed, and Orange East Fork became even less prominent.
With only the Indian Pacific now using it (Google Maps even lists the location as Indian Pacific-Orange), I can’t imagine Orange East Fork sees much action. The Indian Pacific no longer offers economy seating, so it wouldn’t be a practical budget alternative for anyone looking to travel by train to (for instance) Broken Hill on a day other than a Monday. So only the very occasional wealthy tourist is likely to take advantage.
It would seem the most active day for the station is when the once-a-year Elvis Express special service to Parkes for its renowned Elvis Festival passes through. In 2014, the mayor of Parkes Shire even boarded the service at the station.
Local paper the Central Western Daily tweeted me to say that this is a regular occurrence, though a cursory search suggests that the stop isn’t always part of the official Elvis Express timetable.
Online searches also suggest that the nearby depot, abandoned for railway use once all steam services were stopped, has been proposed as a hub for running heritage stream services, though nothing seems to have come of these ideas and a major fire at the depot earlier this year would seem to put a damper on any future plans. Under the circumstances, it seems unlikely Orange East Fork is ever going to get fancier.