Double Headed Steam On The Short North

As publication of the definitive memoir of the short north approaches, I thought I would reminisce about some of the many double headed steam trains I managed to photograph on this famous section of line from Gosford to Broadmeadow and on to Newcastle. The new book is “Northern Exposures” and you can find out more about it at

“Northern Exposures” commences with plenty of fabulous photos on the Short North of NSW. This section includes the spectacular Hawkmount, which unfortunately now has a gigantic power station as a backdrop! Even then transmission lines crossed the tracks in the area, but it did provide the most challenging climb.

6009 nsw steam garratt 59 class hawk mount
A rare sight as 6009 hauls a 59 class over Hawk Mount

Nowadays it is further inhibited by electrification all the way to Newcastle and the haunt of Interurban electrics which have relegated the famous “Newcastle Flyer” to the scrap heap. Mind you, the schedule for the passengers is now slower than in steam days.

One of the great things about the Short North was the amazing variety of motive power, and the other the number of double headed steam trains. In the late 1960s, I used to go to Sydney Terminal after school to the building that still holds the railway clock tower. Upstairs there was a section called “Control”. This was nothing to do with Maxwell Smart, but the place where rosters were made up and schedules created for the weekend train operations.

59 53 steam train engine gosford short north double header steam
59 class leads a 53 into Gosford on an UP freight in 1967

After a short visit, I would know whether there was any steam action worth chasing north from Gosford. These days it is all done by computer, including the signalling and Gosford is now just a siding to store a few “EMU”s for the peak hour services to Sydney.

The train left from Roseville around 4.30 am with a connection at Hornsby for Gosford. On some occasions if it was to be a really good night, we would catch the 1 am paper train from Sydney, which changed to steam at Gosford, before continuing on to Newcastle. Of course, these days, papers are all transported by road. Back then the mail trains spread to all parts of the state taking mail and papers with them.

Many Saturday mornings while the other kids were playing sport, I would get my exercise walking along the railway line from Gosford to the bank past Narara, getting the shots along the way. As you can see, sometimes it was rather cold, and on other occasions wet. Well, you have to do what you can to get the shots!

gosford narara steam train 37x 3813 short north
3813 Heads North from Gosford On 37x around 1969

On one occasion, there were 5 double headers scheduled to leave Gosford in the early hours of the morning. So early in fact that I could only get a few time exposures prior to departure.

5412 59 steam loco nsw short north australia
5412 and 59 class await departure from Gosford in the middle of the night with the turntable (still operating) in the foreground

There was the time during school holidays that two of my mates and I caught the mid-day flyer to Fassifern. After hauling our canvas tent up the hill and making camp, it started raining. By the next morning everything including the tent was thoroughly drenched. We licked up our soaking wet cargo and slowly made our way back down the hill to catch the train home.

59 60 nsw garratt fassifern short north double header steam train
59 + 60 climb Fasifern Bank 1 in 40 grade in December 1972

In the latter years, the Hawkmount Hotel became a home away from home for many of us. This was especially so during the Pope’s visit ni December 1970, a time well remembered by all present. I remember one particular night the weather was closing in. Humidity was rising rapidly and it was real hot and steamy. Next thing we knew Mosquitos came from everywhere. It was scary. They were those Hexham Grays, huge! Eventually, the rain came and they left.

hawk mount john gaydon fc holden steam trains
NSW Railfans gather at Hawk Mount for Pope’s week December 1970.

Regrettably, those days are gone forever, as are some of the characters who were there. “Northern Exposures” captures those moments with anecdotes and magnificent colour photos from the last years of steam in northern NSW. The photos in this article and accompanying slide show didn’t make the cut for the book. You can pre-order copies and find out more at

Meanwhile, please enjoy this slide show of double headers on the short north.



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