Fassifern – Amazing Trainspotting Location

There is a reason I, and several others chose Fassifern, an area 16 miles or 26 kilometres south of Newcastle as a template for our model railway layouts. A 10 minute drive from civilisation, it had everything a modeller would need, a 1 in 40 or 2.5% grade, a coal mine, branch line, interesting signalling, and a constant stream of trains with a variety of motive power.


My Model railway replicating Fassifern and surrounds.

In “Smoke” we do have quite a number of photos in the area, but they are a tiny portion of the over 270 images taken from all over the state. They are grouped chronologically, from 1930 to 1973, which is a twist from our previous books. There are plenty of annecdotes to revive memories of what we all did back then. Might be good for railway trivia, or guess the photo location. Some you will recognise them, while others were perhaps not the most well known spots! Lets talk about the steepest hill on the Short North!

Track Diagram of Fassifern

Fassifern was one of the last areas of steam operation in NSW and accessible by a 3km walk or a track you could use to drive in if you were lucky enough to have wheels. That track is now almost indistinguishable and guarded by a locked gate. There are overhead wires everywhere, and warning signs not to enter railway property.

Curve and gradient diagram Fasifern area

Entry to the town was by road from Toronto, or the causeway short cut through a suburban street to the south, not known by many and occasionally under water in heavy rain. There is a road bridge on the hill that has an unusual slope on it, making it instantly recognisable.

Perhaps sensing that her brief return to main line duties will soon end, 5456 puts on a spirited display as she charges up Fassifern Bank with 269 pickup. GRAHAM COTTERALL 9 SEPTEMBER 1972

This is near the bridge, but unfortunately, the large volume of smoke blocked the view of it! The photo locations were great, scenery wonderful, and at times the lighting spectacular. Trains would work hard on both sides of the hill, and could be heard for some time.

By this time double small engines were fast vanishing from the Short North under the Garratt and diesel onslaught. Nice to see that fate could still throw in a pair of Standards. Fassifern’s southbound 1 in 75 finds 5246 and 5456 on steel out of Port Waratah.

You could see the track move as the flyer descended at speed to jam on the brakes as it approached the platform to negotiate the curve at the end. In the other direction this same curve limited the run at the hill as the heavy goods trains quickly slowed to a crawl near the summit. For our neck of the woods, this was one of the most popular places.

If we’re going to have a colour segment, we’d better have a few shots of a green loco. The air is full of astringent eucalypt aromas as 3813 canters to Fassi’s summit with No. 20 Saturday Midday Flyer. DAVID SHIELD, 2 MAY 1970

3813 accelerates down the 1 in 40 on 20 midday flyer. On this occasion she will stop to pick up passengers, but on week days thunder through the station and jam on the brakes for the curve.

On one occasion in 1970, I took my tape recorder to the south of the station, and I remember the echo as 3820 slipped and slided its way starting a heavy mail train in the crisp clear night air. Regrettably I misplaced the recording, but will never forget the occasion.

Legend were the Newstan coal trains which backed out of the branch through the station to get some sort of run at the grade, They were often overloaded for the short trip to Port Waratah, which means that when eventually replaced by diesels there were lots of engine failures until loads were reduced. In the morning a 59 and Garratt would head south from the mine to Wangi Power Station, echoing through the tress with a distinct chuff sound.

Wangi power station was situated on a branch that left the Short North at Awaba. Two engines were assigned to it during daytime in the working week and it was not unusual for them to pick up a load of steaming coal at Fassifern’s Newstan Colliery on their way from Broadmeadow, running as transfer trip A4. It was also one of the relatively rare situations, since electrification to Gosford, when 60 class not running right through to Sydney might face south on the Up line. The locomotives are 5919 and 6009. LAURIE ANDERSON, 1 OCTOBER 1966

To the South East, the Toronto branch made a pleasant journey to Lake Mcquarie, ending on the edge of the lake. A 30 class tank would make regular trips in peak hour as the diesel rail car did not have enough capacity. This is now a bicycle track, so you can still ride the railway formation.

Here’s a more reflective moment for you. 3024 rocks over a tidal pool near Blackalls Park with No. 805 Toronto to Newcastle passenger.

After a pleasant stroll across the almost flat country from Toronto to Fassifern, the 30 class would earn its keep pulling 6 cars up the 1 in 40 grade, much to the delight of the assembled audience, grateful of the break from mainline steam.

The little engine that could. The 30 tanks were extremely competent locos with a good turn of speed, their mushy saturated exhaust
conquering significant climbs with suburban trains from their introduction to service in 1903 until 3048 is far from bathed in
sunshine as 805 passenger storms up the legendary Fassifern Bank. LAURIE ANDERSON, 12 FEBRUARY 1967

This how I remember my first trip to Fassifern in 1967. At the ripe old age of 15, with 2 school mates, we decided to take a trip on the train and camp on the hill for a few days. My companions were Prof Robert Lee who has written many publications on the history of transport in NSW, and Neil Smith who had a distinguished career in the bus industry. Of course, at the time, we were a bunch of kids mad on steam!

We caught the 620 railcar from Gosford and the driver let us off at the top of the grade – imagine that today! We set up our tent around 3 pm and got ready as the rain started.

Well it pelted down all night and be the following morning our 12 x 12 canvas tent weighed a ton and collapsed. There were rivers of water and knee deep mud, and you could hardly see the action. I don’t have a single photo from that trip.

Back at that time, this was not unusual. Many don’t realise how challenging it was to get sunny pictures back then. It required luck turning up at the right time. They called me gloom, but I can assure you plenty of others suffered from the unpredictable weather.

This double pager portrays the truth of photography in NSW, where umbrellas and raincoats were sometimes essential, and it took a certain stoicism to persevere with photography as a stream of ice cold drops ran down ones neck. 3820 and 6006 race 609 goods through the
short upwards pinch at Narara. The limited light bounces off the lead loco’s boiler barrel. LAURIE ANDERSON, 10 JUNE 1967

I was standing right next to Laurie when he took this shot. It was my first trip north of Gosford. We were both drenched. It did make for some great smoke effects and the black and white version definitely looks better than my washed out colour photo.

It is still difficult to fathom that all of this steam action was over 50 years ago. I know our books have revived memories, as I now see many photos being shared from that time. This is what our books are all about. They are an historical record of steam days, and revive memories in many of us who spent our youth in search of the perfect steam train photo.

6042 and 6037, No. 951 Newstan coal, Fassifern. JOHN GAYDON 19 DECEMBER 1972

“Smoke” is at the printers and expected around this time next month. I will email subscribers on updates. If you want to keep informed or order a copy, you can do so at https://wheretheressmoke.com.au

John Gaydon


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