Many of my generation will know that the last main line operations of steam on a massive scale were Gosford steam trains. As it turns out, I now live just 10 minutes from this historic station at Kariong on the NSW Central Coast. It gives me plenty of time to think about the good old days of steam.
As it stands, many of the remnants of steam days are now being bulldozed. The Garratt siding has gone to make way for the new freight loop to Narara, there are overhead wires all the way to Newcastle, and after 150 years trains no longer reach the northern city.
Back in the days of my youth, it was a different story. Electrification of the line from Sydney to Gosford was completed in 1960. That meant that apart from a trip when I was 3, I have no memories of steam on that section. At Gosford electric traction gave way to steam power, most notably on the Newcastle Flyer, where 8 minutes was allocated to switch engines. The morning Flyer did the loco change in the Garratt siding, having strolled through Gosford station. This is the reason a ½ minute was shaved off the time to Broadmeadow for this train. The siding was named because it has sufficient space to change double 46 electrics for a pair of Garratts. It had its own watering facility too.
Gosford had a busy loco depot and a 75 foot turntable that is still operational, to turn the mighty 38 class Pacifics. Garratts normally ran bunker first to Gosford and returned funnel first. The exception was in the early 1960s when Garratts working from Broadmeadow to Enfield and back. In my opinion, Gosford loco is quite a pretty place.
West of Gosford is the Racecourse. Back in those days, there was a rail line leading to this area, now long gone. As it was not electrified, a steam loco would haul patrons to the platform at the racecourse.
On a Friday night after school, I would often make a quick trip into train control at Central railway station to check the loco roster for the weekend. We got to know the control staff very well and eventually, could call for the roster to decide whether to make the trip north.
Unfortunately, many of the double headers ran at night, hence the large numbers of time exposures taken in Gosford station. Right up until the last days you could get combinations of 35,36,38, 50, 53, 59 and 60 class, usually with the more powerful engine at the helm. The 35s ceased operation in 1968, and 36s were not as common in later years. Passenger engines were withdrawn in 1970.
Stopping trains commenced their journey at Gosford with a changeover from the Interurbans from Sydney. After climbing out of the station past the Garratt siding they would speed up on the downhill section before Narara curve, near what is now Wyoming.
What is not that well known, is that during the oil strike in 1972, a steam train left Gosford for Wyong with 5905 in charge. Steam was used because of the shortage of diesel fuel and as it turns out, this was the very last regular steam hauled passenger in Australia.
Gosford Steam Trains are now a distant memory, just the whistle of an occasional special piercing the air. There is still a water tower, and column in number 2 platform, and the turntable. Gone are the days when three 38 class would line up for the Flyer, 37x stopping passenger and the Northern Tablelands relief train.
It is a real shame that as we approach 2015, we can’t even get one of these mighty pacifics operational. Perhaps 2015 will see Gosford steam trains in the form of a 38 class once again.