New Year Steam Trains

It’s New Year’s Day, and a time to reflect on the past and plan the future. Only yesterday I heard that there is still occasional steam on the Darjeeling Railway in India, and in remote parts of China. These are small threads compared to years gone past. It got me to thinking what I was doing near year’s end over my lifetime following the mighty Iron horse.

Early Years

Christmas was of course a holiday time in Australia, so during the school holidays I would often venture in search of steam. The counterbalance was that it is a family time too, so riding 38s on Christmas day was definitely not on in our household. However, after Christmas was a different story. While memories have faded, I do remember one particular adventure on Boxing Day, 1968. After Christmas celebrations, I made my way down to Sydney station on a 10c excursion, and hopped aboard the 1.10 to Goulburn with a 38 in charge. The object of this trip was to ride the relief Goulburn Day train which ran empty cars to Moss Vale before picking up passengers. I knew all the steam working as we had access to working timetables and STNs (Special Train Notices).

3810 14a relief goulburn day train steam train nsw
3810 Taking on Water at Moss Vale after an exhilarating run from Goulburn to Bundanoon Boxing day 1968


On this occasion 3810 coupled up to the small CUB set and leaving a little late we sped off towards Moss Vale. Around Exeter, speeds reached over 80 mph and it was my first mile a minute ride, meaning we travelled some 38 miles in less than 38 minutes. In all my years of timing trains in NSW, I only achieved this 3 times, so it was very special.

New Year Beach Trips

Traditionally, New Year’s Day saw a trip to the beach at Kiama with a variety of motive power. One year 3616 was painted a bright green and headed the special down the Illawarra line.

3616 nsw steam engine
3616 on its way to Kiama on the New Year’s Day excursion. A great day at the beach with railway friends.


Here is another New Years Day tour. Not so sunny, but one of the best photo locations anywhere in the world.

3229 on this occasion with large numbers of railfans hanging out the windows and platforms of the BOB set.

3229 steam loco kiama bombo
3229 passing Bombo Quarry near Kiama taking passengers back from their day at the beach. Unfortunately the day was rather gloomy


New Year In South Africa

Eventually all the trains stopped in NSW, or at least no longer had steam locos in charge, so I ventured to other parts of the world. Christmas 1974 was spent at the famous Kings Head Hotel in London, after which I flew to South Africa. That New Year I was introduced to spectacular Paarnport in Northern Transvaal, the closest steam action to Johannesburg at the time. We had a great day in near perfect summer weather and I managed this photo of a 14CA with typical New Year’s adornment of I think Olive branches.

14CA paarnport caledon passenger steam train
14CA on the Caldeon Passenger at Paarnport with suitable olive branches for New Year South Africa 1975


Christmas 1975 was spent on the Drakensburg, a famous express steam hauled between Bloemfontein and De Aar at high speed across the desert. We got back to Johannesburg before New Year’s Eve and headed for the main line near Kroonstad. A bunch of us camped overnight including famous railfans Alan Jorgenson, Peter Stowe and Charile Lewis. Greg Tripplett and a number of other Aussies were with us as well. I remember being very drunk and sick that night, but don’t remember too much of the next day!

This was the domain of 15F and 23 class 4-8-2s which thundered up the grade, speeding along from Kroonstad to Bloemfontein.

23 class 4-8-2 kroonstad bloemfontein steam train south africa 1976
Double 23s thunder along the main line between Kroonstad and Bloemfontein


New Year In Central America

Christmas 1976 occurred about the time I was passing through El Salvador. This railway had very little traffic and was in the last stages of decline. Nevertheless, I managed to get a photo of a working steam train in the north of the country. I well remember no trains at the capital, San Salvador and a notice at the main station indicating trains leave at the exact time of departure! Hardly likely.

101 El Salvador steam train
El Salvador no 101 Baldwin leaves Acajutla on a freight December 1976

I have a soft spot for old US Baldwins. This country is USA all the way, and you can even see a caboose on the back.

New Year In China

Me on a Motorised Rickshaw

I spent one more Christmas with steam. This was China in 1984. After spending Christmas day photographing steam at Guilin, New Year’s day 1984 saw me in Louyang. I met an English “Gricer” at the hotel desk. It was absolutely freezing. We were far away from the tourist trail, and the hotel was a “Fan Dian” or friendship hotel.

Anyway, I was at the desk and spotted an Englishman. I asked him what he was doing in that part of the world. He said. “special interest.” I probed further and he had come for the steam. At that stage individual visas for China had only been available for a month.

We decided to join forces and go lineside to a grade just out of town. Now in China, tourists were only allowed to visit certain cities and then only allowed to stay within the town precincts. We went to the station and tried to get a cab. The driver refused. Eventually we managed to get a man on a motorised Rickshaw who took us out along the line. The result was a feast of steam with 6 double headed QJs in 75 minutes.

I got this rare shot of two trains passing at speed. It is not often you are in the perfect position for this sort of photo, New Year’s Day 1985.

QJ louyang steam loco china
Near new QJs passing on opposing freights near Louyang New Year’s Day 1985


I hope you derived some pleasure from this story and my photos of steam at the end or start of the year. Regrettably unless I go to western Mongolia or Darjeeling, I may not see another regular steam engine operating on New Year’s Day. Perhaps some enterprising rail group will revisit the beach trips to Kiama. In the meantime there are the photos and memories.

I appreciate any of your memories of New Year’s day in pursuit of the iron horse.

If you are in the market for beautiful colour pictures of regular steam action around the world, take a look at our “steam train books for sale” section. There are some wonderful stories and photos there.




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