The Singleton Passenger – The Last Regularly Steam Hauled Passenger Train in NSW

Singleton Passenger Train

As a teenager, I used to travel regularly to Gosford, and occasionally stay with my dad, who resided in Belmont at the time. I saw this as an excellent opportunity to travel on and record the trains in the Newcastle area. One of the more unique of these was the Singleton Passenger, a train with quite a history.

3246 SIngleton Passenger NSW Steam Engine 1971

3246 Climbing Whittingham bank heading towards Newcastle just before dawn in 1971

Family Connection

In researching the family tree, we discovered that my partner and I both descended from people who lived in the Hunter Valley back in the 1820s. For me it was the Blaxland brothers, John and Gregory. In addition to being credited as one of Australia’s most famous explorers with the first official crossing of the Blue Mountains in May 1813, Gregory was the first to export wine from Australia. This is now a major industry. Brother John had major vineyards in the area too, and was credited with construction of the road to Wollombi from Sydney. Many were not too happy about this as it finally gave convicts a way to escape from the Newcastle area. Previously this was the only way to reach this part of the world.

John Earle And Benjamin Singleton

One of My ancestor’s neighbours was one John Earle, who happened to be married to Anne Mounsey who had 3 children, one of whom is a direct descendant of my partner. John Blaxland and John Earle were involved in a court case against some of their workers who claimed they were unfairly treated. You have to remember Newcastle was the final frontier in those days and was like the wild west of the USA.

John Earle came out from England and was granted land for sheep farming just to the south of Singleton. Benjamin Singleton, the local constable after whom the town was eventually named, was not happy at this interloper taking land off the locals as he and his friends were grazing cattle in the area, just like in the wild west of the USA! John Earle’s reaction was to write to the Colonial Secretary and organise to replace Singleton as constable!

 

The Rail Line Reaches Singleton

The railway line reached this growing town in 1860. At that time the main centre of population was Maitland, located on the Hunter River. The railway extended to Newcastle in 1858, and then from Maitland to Singleton. The station at Singleton was designed by John Whitton, the same man who designed the Lithgow Zig Zag.

I am a founding member of the Zig Zag railway that today operates a 3′ 6″ railway over the old Zig Zag road. More reasons to be interested in the Singleton Passenger.

The Last Domain Of The “Nanny”

Of course, back in 1967, when I made my first trip on the Singleton passenger, I had no idea of all this. In those days the 35 class were the motive power. These were larger and younger than the 32 class. There were 35 “Nannies” built around 1915. These were larger engines and took over express running from the 32′s. The 35s worked the Brisbane Express and Gen Innes mail trains right up until 1966. In many parts of the state, the 36′s took over their runs just a few years later. In the 1960s the 35 class all ended up at Broadmeadow, working the short north, the Singleton Passenger, and Newcastle suburban lines. Perhaps the most famous train scheduled with a 35 was the “Caves Express” which was painted blue and travelled from Sydney to Mt Victoria with a coach connection to Jenolan Caves.

My Trip On The Singleton Passenger

I was fortunate enough to make the journey to Singleton on 737 singleton passenger, stopping all stations from Maitland before the demise of the 35 class in late 1968, with 3501 the last to go in October of that year. Only one of the class remains, 3526 which is still occasionally used on special trains.

3531 nsw steam locomotive singleton 1968

3531 arriving at Singleton in January 1968

The challenge for those of us interested in trains, at least from my era was youth. I was only 15 when I started venturing beyond Newcastle – on my own! This would be unheard of for most families these days. I was on limited pocket money, so I couldn’t afford the fares plus film for the camera.

How I Managed To Travel Widely With No Money

Those who know me understand I have a way of getting things done, and mere obstacles like lack of cash aren’t really a problem! Newcastle and Sydney at the time both offered school excursion tickets. For 10c during school holidays, you could travel as far north as Cowan from Sydney, and to Wyee from Newcastle. You could also travel to Singleton in the north from Newcastle. Basically, between these points, we would fare evade and hope we wouldn’t get caught by the ticket inspectors.

After a while, we knew their movements. Often they would get on the train at Woy Woy on the way to Sydney. They would get in the last car, so we travelled up front. At Hawkesbury River, we would get off the train and head for the other end passing around the other side of the station building, thus avoiding detection.

When we did get caught, we would tell them we got on at an unattended platform, avoiding a fine. Niagara Park was a good one to choose. In addition, you could purchase platform tickets to see someone off on a train. This gave us access to the platform. We simply hopped on the train and off we went. At least the trip on the Singleton Passenger was covered by the excursion ticket.

6013 nsw steam engine hawkesbury river 1966

6013 at Hawkesbury River in 1966. On my first trip north I only travelled as far as Gosford!

 

As for film, I bulk purchased black and white negative film, cut it into rolls, and developed the film in a darkroom in my mum’s laundry. She wasn’t too impressed, but I got away with it. If not for this, I wouldn’t have the collection I now have. As for colour, it was a rare treat, hence not too many slides from those days. Regrettably, I wasted much of the colour film on tours.

The Singleton Passenger was a commuter train. It boasted open end platform cars. These were originally used on the Sydney Suburban runs prior to electrification. They were great to ride on as on the platform you got your full quota of soot and steam.

Leaving Newcastle, the line headed due west into the sunset all the way to Maitland. It was a pretty straight run along there as can be seen from the following shot taken out of the cab of a 35 on the Singleton Passenger.

C35 class NSW steam engine maitland 1968

The view from the cab of a 35 on the Singleton Passenger 1968

The line is double track as far as Hanbury Junction, where it joins the coal lines from Port Waratah. The Port has its own loco depot, and it was one of the most photogenic I have seen.

Port Waratah Loco Depot D50, D53 class nsw steam engine

The Port Waratah loco fleet including standard goods and 19 class locos.

 

From there to East Greta Junction, just past Maitland there were 4 tracks, two for the main line and 2 for coal trains. In its heyday, this was one of the busiest lines in NSW, transporting massive amounts of coal to the port of Newcastle for export. Even today, Newcastle is the largest coal exporting port in Australia. Incidentally, Hunter Valley coal is considered the very best for firing steam engines and NSW was blessed to have it right in Newcastle!

5365 NSW steam engine Taro 1971

5365 Hauls A Load Of Full 4 Wheel Coal Hoppers Towards Port Waratah

The suburban line between Newcastle and Maitland was busy too. In 1968, when I visited there, I saw a procession of steam trains, including 35 class and standard goods on passenger trains.

3213 NSW steam engine Beresfield 1968

3213 on Maitland Suburban

As you can see, it was a great afternoon of lineside photography with great variety of motive power. Unfortunately in most parts of the world, what those who witnessed the last puffs of steam missed, was loco variety.

3130 Maitland Suburban NSW steam engine Beresfield 1968

3130 on a Maitland Passenger

Even standard goods engines were required to haul the many local passengers in the days where people travelled by train rather than motor car.

5269 Sandgate Newcastle Suburban 1968 steam engine

5269 At Sandgate On A Local Passenger

All the above were taken in a single afternoon. It was a very busy line back in those days.

West Of Maitland

After East Greta, the track split with one line heading directly north via the coast to South Brisbane, while the mainline continued double track to Singleton. Unfortunately, I only managed limited shots of 35 class beyond Maitland due to the lack of a vehicle, or means of getting home at night! Even in 1968, the Singleton Passenger was the only steam hauled passenger beyond East Greta Junction.

3501 Singleton Passenger Maitland 1968 nsw steam engine

3501 about to leave Maitland for Singleton after taking water in 1968

The shot above is, for me, a rare colour picture in this part of the world. It was taken in May, 1968, not long before the last Nanny hauled this train.

Interestingly, the timetable for the Singleton Passenger was made specifically for the 35 class and perhaps was a last reminder of their glory days.

3531 nsw steam engine singleton 1968

3531 shunts I Singleton yard after arriving on 737 Singleton Passenger January 1968

In January 1968, I rode on the Singleton Passenger all the way, and took the trouble to record times for the trip. I believe this is a rare timing, as not many did this beyond the Short North and Short South. It will be the subject of a separate article

The Demise Of The Nanny

After these were withdrawn from service, motive power switched to a 32 class. The main loco used in later years was 3246. By this time we had wheels, and were able to chase the train, along with many more railway photographers all the way from Singleton to Newcastle on a Saturday morning.

I do remember one occasion when I left home very early in the morning and drove all the way to Broadmeadow only to find 3246 sitting in the depot. Yes, it was a diesel passenger that day! On other days we had terrible weather, and then there was the fog!

3246 Broadmeadow Loco Depot nsw steam engine 1971

3246 Sitting in Broadmeadow Loco Early Saturday morning. No Steam This Day!

Anyway, the train left Singleton very early in the morning. In the winter first light happened just past Whittingham, this was where the first photograph in this article was taken. This was the land owned by John Earle back in the early 1800s.

The train climbed out of Whittingham towards Belford on a 1 in 80 grade. With the cold morning air, you would often see a white plume of smoke over this section. After topping this grade, the “P” would drift into Belford station.

3246 nsw steam engine belford near singleton 1971

3246 Picks Up Speed Between Belford And Branxton

 

From there it was a fairly flat run to Branxton with a great opportunity as the train sped over a stone viaduct. Even though it stopped all stations and with a 32 in charge, we had to motor to keep up. By this time there were hoards of railfans following the train, darting here and there and grabbing the best photo spots.

3246 nsw steam engine singleton passenger branxton 1971

3246 Crosses Branxton viaduct early Saturday morning in 1971

Passengers board the train at Branxton. Note the clothing and hairstyles! Very different from nowadays. The second shot is the last train arriving at Newcastle.

There was a steady climb from the next station, Greta to Allandale, then the line drifts down to the flood plains of Maitland. For the most part, the tracks are a fair way from the main road, so we had to select a few spots on each trip.

You can see from the map how the line is well away from the New England Highway for most of the journey. The choice was to find a spot and wait, or catch a couple of locations and try to keep up with the train.

3246 SIngleton Passenger branxton NSW Steam Eninge 1971

3246 Climbs out of Branxton on a cold, wet morning

There was a lot of rain that year. 1971 was the year of a big flood in the Maitland area. For a while it rained and rained. Locals were quick to point out that this flood was nothing compared to the 1955 one and showed us the high watermarks of the two.

5475 nsw steam train east maitland 1971 coal train matiland floods

5475 hauls a load of empty 4 wheel coal wagons through flood waters near East Maitland in 1971

During the floods there were many challenges. First of all many roads were impassable, making it difficult to get there in the first place. Then it was a challenge to find a decent photo advantage point. As well many snakes had collected around the railway line, being the only dry place in town. This photo shows East Greta signal box during the floods. Nowadays, with diesels hauling all the trains, they can’t travel through flood waters. It was different in the steam days!

 

 

3246 5369 coal train nsw singleton passenger

3246 races past 5369 on a coal train

One particular spot of interest was Maitland Gaol. Situated at East Maitland, it was the longest running penitentiary in Australia, established in 1840 and not closing until 1998. There was a bridge just past the gaol, so we would race ahead, turn into East Maitland, pass under the railway bridge and turn right past the goal. One day we were in a good mood so we waived at the guards in the watchtowers. Big Mistake! A police car saw us and promptly pulled me over. They were very inquisitive as to why a bunch of young men from Sydney were driving around waving at the prison guards. In those days on a “P” plate, one conviction and you lost your right to drive for 3 months. One of my mates informs me that I reached into the glove box, and pulled out a sodden drivers license, at which stage the cop told us to get out of the place! Unfortunately, we missed the shot. I might add, a few years later in East Germany, the mate I was with on the former occasion was busy photographing an Express train on the Berlin Dresden line while I was conversing with a constable in an effort to maintain our freedom! We did get a photo near the gaol on another occasion.

3246 SIngleton Passenger maitland gaol NSW Steam Eninge 1971

3246 passes Maitland Gaol on the Singleton Passenger

From there, it was a straight, flat run all the way to Newcastle. There was a bit if a hill at Hanbury, where the coal line branched off to the Port, but apart from that was fairly uneventful.

3246 SIngleton Passenger hanbury junction NSW Steam Engine 1971

The Singleton Passenger Crosses Over The Coal Line At Hanbury

Regretfully, all good things come to an end, and this great train ride was no exception. On July 24, 1971, 3246 had the honour of hauling the last scheduled steam hauled passenger in Australia, the singleton passenger from singleton to Newcastle.  Although in the end it was a suburban run, it has a long history dating back to well before Sydney and Newcastle were connected by rail and will go down in history as being the last regular steam passenger in NSW with an 80 year old engine in charge! The 32 class was the oldest motive power built to haul passenger trains at the time! It had outlived its younger cousin, the 35 class by 3 years.

Those were the days!

For more information on the Singleton Passenger, see my article in the October 2013 edition of Australian Railway History, or for a more permanent record of steam in the north of NSW, our new full colour publication, “Northern Exposures” is the ultimate collection of photos from many of the very best railway photographers of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Visit http://northernexposures.com.au to find out more.

Singleton Passenger

Comments

  1. Graeme Skeet says:

    Thanks for the journey back in time John.

    I was a regular user of the 10c Child Special Excursion ticket and often on Sunday’s would travel to places throughout the Sydney Metropolitan area in search of steam and signal boxes. With my trusty old camera I would take some select pictures as film developing was expensive then!

    The only regret out of Newcastle was not riding the Cessnock Flyer.

    Cheers mate!

    Graeme

    • John Gaydon says:

      Hi Graeme,

      Good to hear from another rail tragic. The Cessnock Flyer? Wasn’t that a railcar?

      Do you have any good stories or pics you would like to share with the world? I am always looking for more material to add to the site.

      John

  2. Dennis Mitchell says:

    John, the Cessnock express was usually a NIB set hauled by a 38 Gosford to Waratah it was a sort of relief Newcastle flyer and ran until at least 1969/70.on a semi regular basis, it was by the 60s Cessnock in name only as it ran to Maitland connecting for a while with the S.M.R. railmotors then later with a N.S.W.G.R. 620 CLASS “GRUB”.
    I can’t remember whether it ran all the time or just in holiday periods, I think the train numbers were 191 and 196? HAPPY STEAMING
    Dennis

  3. Hello John. Loved this story on the Singleton Passenger. My family all come from Singleton & were involved with the Railways since 1916 when My Great Uncle (On my Dads side) Robert Emmit Ryan started @ Singleton Loco as a Call Boy, finishing his career as Driver in Charge @ same. My Father started his career in the same manner @ Singleton,( as I did also in 1969 @ Werris Creek ) & was a senior Act/Driver Driving @ Singleton in the early 50s & with Fireman John “MOONY” Bates , they Banked the last train from Nundah to Padulla on the Old Single Main Line. The new Double Line Deviation was cut in the next day? These Blokes would have worked trains to Newcastle/ Broadmeadow on countless occasions as I did later on only from WCK. I was fortunate to have a cab ride on 3246 from Civic to Wickam when I was @ the Act/Frms School in The Railway Institute Building in Hunter St in 1971, Moony Bates was the Driver that day & I think his firemans name was Lachlan Usher?????.
    John, you have a shot here with the caption “3246 climbs out of Greta on a cold & wet morning”, Mate this shot is leaving Branxton & I was wondering if I might use it as a WHERE IS IT segment on the ” Australian Ratbag Enginedrovers”& Other Railrats Association” with all Credits to you.
    Awaiting your reply.
    Regards M. Bizant. RET Train Driver Werris Creek.

    • John Gaydon says:

      Hi Michael,

      Thanks so much for your reminisces of the old days. This is the stuff I am looking for to complement the stories.

      I how to your superior knowledge on the caption, and am changing it to read “Branxton”. ON closer examination I agree with you. I lost all my old notebooks, so much of what I write is from memory.

      I am more than happy for you to use any material, providing you include a link to http://steamtrainstories.com We are slowly getting more recognition, and gaining more contributors from a vast audience of worldwide steam buffs.

      Cheers,
      John

  4. Andrew Smith says:

    Hi John
    With my brother I travelled out from England overland to Australia in 1970, returning via a different route in 1971. We are railfans and the purpose was to travel behind steam locos as much as possible. We both worked for the NSWGR while in Sydney and made as many trips as possible on the Singleton train, sleeping in the waiting room at Singleton (which had a coal fire lit in the winter) or riding back to Port Waratah on an evening freight with a 60 cl then out again on the night mail. What a classic train it was, coaches and loco both 19th century.
    Other highlights were the last officially steam Newcastle Flyer on 29.12.1970, 3820 from Gosford Yard on the 0900 ex Sydney, returning on the 1645 ex Newcastle and allowed to work through to Sydney (at that time steam wasn’t allowed unassisted up Cowan Bank, but an exception was made).
    Then just up the line from Singleton was the last regularly steam worked country branch line goods, the thrice weekly 0850 Muswellbrook to Merriwa and 1700 return, with 4-6-0 3090, another gem.
    When the Pope visited NSW in December 1970 the NSWRTM made some of its locos available for relief expresses on the Short North, but many of these trains did not run as large anticipated numbers of travellers did not materialise. Still, a number of unusual trains were steam hauled, including 3801 on the 1655 Flyer north from Gosford on 1.12.1970, which reached my highest speed behind steam in Australia, 82 mph around Tuggerah, and I was able to return with 3813 on the Up North West Mail from Broadmeadow to Gosford on 2.12.1970, going straight into work!.
    On 29.4.1971 3203 worked the 0618 passenger Gosford to Newcastle whilst en route north for the ill fated Wallangarra AHRS railtour.
    I loved the 32 class and have many fond memories of the Singleton passenger.
    Best wishes.
    Andrew Smith

    • John Gaydon says:

      HI Andrew,

      Thanks for sharing your memories.

      As it turned out, I was on the last Flyer and taped the trip. I am in the process of transferring my old reel to reel tapes to digital at the moment. I hope to be able to release some sort of flyer tribute soon with the sounds of 3820 as a background.

      Pope’s week was something special for most of us. I don’t think there has been a busier steam week in Australia since. We enjoyed it and the Hawkmount Hotel was fully booked that week.

      82 mph on the Flyer is impressive. I have many recorded runs, and rarely did we hit the 80 mph mark. You are fortunate to have witnessed this.

      Have a great Christmas.

      John

  5. Anne Miller says:

    I am trying to track down a Jack Shepard who was the station master at Wittingham Station in the early 1940s. I am not sure of the spelling of his name but I would appreciate if anyone had information on Wittingham Station at that time that they could contact my. I have been searching for a long time with no luck.
    Thank you
    Anne Miller
    Phone 02 49383236

    • John Gaydon says:

      Hi Anne,

      Thanks for leaving this message. Let me know if someone contacts you. You would surprised who might see these stories

  6. Greg Ellis says:

    hi , does any one have detail Photo’s of NSWGR Passenger BOB Sets, and CCA Cars,
    Cheers GregEllis

  7. David Lochlin says:

    Hi John, I just came across your webpages by accident and thought I’d contact you. I travelled with you a few times in the old FC Holden during some train chasing trips(during the OTC days) including one of the Singleton passenger’s last few runs and also up north chasing a Nanny and something else(P class?). A ride in a 60 class and changing batons at Ardglen. Wow fantastic memories. Must dig out my old slides.

    Regards

    Dave

    • John Gaydon says:

      Hi David,
      It is a long time ago. I think you were part of my trainee group at OTC? You lived in Musswellbrook, didn’t you? You were very lucky to rinde a Garrat through Ardglen. I thought they had trouble with the tunnel. It ahs been great to connect with so many old friends here. Where are you now?

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