I Drive NSW Steam Trains On The Richmond Line

By John Gaydon

Figure 1 3219 Awaiting Departure On A Regular NSW Steam Train At Richmond. I Was The Driver, So It Had To Wait For Me!

No, I am not a train driver, never was. I did contemplate signing on as an engine cleaner with a view to graduating to cab duties in Port Elizabeth in South Africa, but the pay was around $400 for 50-60 hours work, so I chose a more lucrative job using my technical skills. My driving experiences are restricted to the steam trains of NSW, and then only in my youth.

My NSW Steam Train Driving Experience

I have driven for short times under supervision, Sydney suburban electrics, Melbourne Trams, 3811 at Goulburn loco, and fired a few engines along the way. Perhaps one of the most notable efforts I will write about one day, is firing an SL in China out of Xia’an. This was an amazing trip using a very small shovel with pulverised coal – much heavier than the big lumps of Newcastle coal we had in NSW.

The Sydney Suburban NSW Steam Train Days

Back in the 1960’s I was at high school. Steam in Sydney pretty well ended in May, 1968 following the declaration of Campbelltown as a City. This coincided with electrification of the railway line from Liverpool. Electrification extended to Glenlee, a coal mine just to the south.

Prior to this occasion, I recall several regular NSW steam train passenger movements. There was a 50 class that regularly took a train from Sydney to the Abattoirs, on the site where Olympic Park now stands. This was the site for the Sydney Olympics. I made a NSW steam train trip out there once, and it was a smell you would never wish to experience. I saw rows and rows of dead cows hung upside down with blood pouring like a river around the place. It reminded me of Enfield loco depot at that time which was a graveyard for many NSW steam trains being readied for the scrap torch.

The Richmond Line

The second suburban run for NSW steam engines was the Richmond line. By this time, the bulk of the services were operated by 620 rail car sets, but in the peak hours, 30 Tanks and 32 (P) Class were used. Finally there was the line to Campbelltown. Most steam passengers travelled from Liverpool, although there were a couple of peak hour expresses that were steam hauled all the way from Sydney.

This story occurred one School holidays, probably in 1967. There was a train that started in Seven Hills early in the morning and went all stations to Richmond. The engine was turned, and then it headed back to Seven Hills, running Express to Westmead.

My Journey Started At 4 am

In order to catch this early morning train, a mate and I started out at Roseville station at 4.12 am or thereabouts! It travelled all stations to Blacktown, and we alighted at Seven Hills to connect with the Richmond steam train. On this occasion it was a clear, but brisk morning.

We travelled on a 10c excursion which took us as far as Campbelltown in the South, Emu Plains in the West, Cowan in the North, and Waterfall on the South Coast. As we had limited means as students, we somehow sued to stretch the journey and get to Gosford or Goulburn, far beyond the ticket inspectors reach. On one occasion I even made it to Werris Creek, on the Brisbane Express no less! These tales will be told, I assure you.

The Driver Invites On The Footplate

After a few stations, I think at Quakers Hill, we ventured up to the cab and asked the driver if we could ride with the crew. For once they said, “yes”! There was a catch. “If you want to ride with us, you have to earn your keep.” I was shown the driver’s seat, much to my delight, and my friend signed on as fireman, a job he really enjoyed. As it turned out, we crewed this train all the way to Richmond and back to Westmead. It certainly was one of my more memorable experiences. The locomotive on this occasion was 3219.

Now, I am no engine driver, but I did learn quite a lot about it. The 32 class is a 4-6-0, built around 1890, and the mainstay of the Sydney suburban fleet up until electrification. The basic controls are a Westinghouse air brake system, a throttle, and reversing gear. The reversing was completely mechanical, with a large wheel operating it. The regulator handle is pivoted above the firebox.

My Idea Of Driving A NSW 32 Class Steam Engine

The reversing gear determines how much thrust there is in each turn of the wheel. When starting you wind it full forward, and as you go faster, you reduce the effort. This allows the engine to travel faster. When you hit a hill, and require more effort, you wind the gear back out. This uses more steam, and can affect the fire if not done correctly. In fact a lot can go wrong climbing hills. If you spin the wheels with too much thrust, you can kill the fire and blow it out the smoke box. If you put too much water in the boiler, you can have a pressure drop and run out of steam, stalling the engine. Fortunately the Richmond line didn’t have too many hills, so it was pretty safe.

I started the train out of Quaker’s Hill and was doing pretty well until the next station, Vineyard came into view. Vineyard in those days was a small platform one carriage length and you had to stop the last car adjacent to that platform. It might seem simple to someone driving a car, but when you have 300 tons of steel and 500 feet of train behind you, it isn’t that simple.

My First Stop

Coming into the station, I closed the throttle and wound out the gears. Then we applied the brakes to bring the train to a halt slowly. That means not upsetting the passengers by stopping too fast, meeting the schedule by not stopping too slowly, and the hardest part of all, lining up the last car with that platform.

Well the first stop was not that great, but by the time I reached Richmond, I was getting pretty good at it and really enjoying driving the train.

The Big Challenge

At Richmond, we had to turn the steam locomotive for the return trip. Richmond has a manual 60′ turntable. With a manual turntable, it was necessary to have the loco perfectly balanced, or you simply couldn’t operate the turntable. When you apply brakes, or throttle of a train, there is a delay before anything happens. The crew were determined I would get the loco on the center of this equipment myself. Eventually, I managed the task and then my friend and I pushed the P class around to face Sydney.

Our all stations trip back was uneventful until Riverstone, where the ticket inspectors who had been on the train decided to check our tickets. I can’t remember if we had any, as Roseville station was unattended at 4 in the morning, so it is very possible we didn’t. Normally you would tell the inspector there was no station staff when you boarded the train and they would sell you one on the spot rather than fine you.

Well, the crew pointed out the engine was their domain and told them to go away (in less polite terms). We headed off on our way to Seven Hills, unimpeded by the Ticket Gestapo.

We Race An Interurban And Win!

For those of you who don’t know, the railway line from Seven Hills to Westmead took the form of inner main lines and outer suburban lines. There was a flyover at Seven Hills to take the outer Suburban down (away from Sydney) line across to teh Richmond line. At Westmead, the lines converged for a two track lie to Parramatta. All of this area is now 4 tracks. From Seven Hills, our P class took the suburban, or outer line. On the mainline an Interurban from the Blue Mountains was scheduled to travel on the main at the same time, and it duly appeared. Being very comfortable at this stage, I decided to see what the “P” class could do. By the time we had to slow down, we had crept past the Interurban and reached a speed of just over 70 MPH. Not bad for an engine built in 1892.

We alighted at Westmead and profusely thanked our hosts. It was an amazing NSW steam train trip I will never forget.



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