When Steam Trains Operated in the Heart of Sydney

When my fascination for steam was ignited back in 1964, one of the delights were after school trips to Sydney Terminal and surrounds to watch the many movements of steam trains in the evening peak hour.

This morning shot, with the clock tower in the background sets the time at 8 45 am. In 1970, I attended Sydney Technical College on Friday morning, so I had opportunities to grab a few photos. The 50 class may well have been destined for the Abattoirs, as they ran a workers train or two from Sydney.

We would catch the train from North Sydney to Central, where there were a number of activities available, and a surprisingly good variety of steam locos on display. There was Darling Harbour Goods Yard, the docks, Sydney Terminal and the line to Strathfield and beyond. You could even take a ride to Richmond or Campbelltown behind a 32 class.

We would get station access using a platform ticket, and occasionally would disappear towards Campbelltown, although the school holiday 10c excursion ticket was used for travel around the metro area.

This was possibly my first visit to Sydney Station, armed with a box Brownie. On this occasion 3812 was waiting to depart. The 30 class has been shunting a HUB set, probably in preparation for the evening Newcastle Flyer.

My friends and I were most interested in timing the trains, seeing how they compared to the timetable, and what speed they would reach. The evening peak trains did not stop much until the last leg of the journey. I have included a few timings in this post so you can see how they compared with today’s journey.

Redfern was another popular spot to record the passing parade. Note the clothing, men in suits or uniform, women in conservative dress. Very different to today! This train was most likely headed for Richmond.

Redfern was another popular spot to record the passing parade. Note the clothing, men in suits or uniform, women in conservative dress. Very different to today! This train was most likely headed for Richmond.

School finished at 3.15, so you could get to Sydney in time for the Moss Vale train which left at 3.55 pm with a 38 up front. It was express to Campbelltown and then all stations. A few times I rode it all the way to Moss Vale, connecting with the Canberra Monaro Express for the return journey.

3825 opens the cylinder cocks as she springs into action starting her journey to Moss Vale at 3.55 pm.

Getting off at Campbelltown was another option, although riding in southern Sydney at night could be dangerous. There were two trains hauled by 32 class in the evening peak hour. On one occasion I caught a Campbelltown evening peak hour service with 3229.

This train normally had a 32 class with a 6 wheel tender to fit the Campbelltown turntable. It is the only time I have been physically assaulted in all of my travels and my instincts saved me on this occasion.

3255 accelerates through Stanmore on an evening suburban express bound for Campbelltown.

Several teenagers were menacing me and when one threw a punch, I put my arms up to protect myself. I had a watch on and as he went at me at full speed, the inside of his arm was ripped open by the watch winder and they left in a hurry.

Sydney station had an interesting layout. On the western side was the mortuary station, the original Sydney station, later used to transport the dead to Rookwood Cemetery. The station was actually built on top of a cemetery, with 30,000 people buried there, so I suspect there might have been a few ghosts around too. Apparently everyone was exhumed and relocated to other cemeteries around the area before the station was built.

3130 sits at the Mortuary Station with some louvre vans. A few tour trains have commenced from this point in recent years.

A number of 30 tanks did the shunting until eventually the 73 class took over. Steam lingered for some time as earlier attempts with 79 and 41 class diesels were not so successful!

3130 marshalling a train on Platform 1. This was used for the Southern Highlands Express and the Southern Arora to Melbourne.

There was also a connection to Darling Harbour with a tunnel which started half way up the yard. During my studies I was at Sydney Technical College and could hear the locos rumbling underneath. The dive was mostly used to get locos from the depot at Eveleigh to Darling Harbour.

Sydney was famous for its Griffith Bros Tea Rooms, with signs all over the state giving the distance. Many would come of the mail trains in the early morning and take breakfast there before continuing on to their final destination. Above the tea rooms was a special place. One which determined where a young rail enthusiast would head for the weekend.

Train Control was situated on the first floor and I was always welcome on a Friday afternoon. They had maps plotting the schedules and actually movement of trains for the South, North, West and Illawarra lines. This included loco allocations for the weekend. One evening there were 5 double smalls scheduled (no garratts) out of Gosford so I headed north. I managed a couple of photos, but the weather was terrible and most ran before dawn. Sometimes there were few steam movements and I stayed home.

3532 leads a 59 class through Narara on a cold wet morning in the days when this type of combination was quite common.

There was a train which ran on race days to the Hawkesbury River races at Clarendon on the Richmond line with a 32 class. I managed to ride it one day during the school holidays. On one occasion it was renamed the fashion express with designers joining the crowd. Interestingly, this train was 5 minutes faster than the modern electric train service. In those days race trains ran to Menangle in the South, and Gosford on the Central Coast as well.

The fashion designer tried a coat on the train driver, who seems quite thrilled about it.

The last Express train into Sydney was number 18 South. This ended in July 1969, when I rode in the cab of 3810 from Mittagong. After a slow run down the mountains with the fireman driving, I encouraged him to speed up down Spaniards Hill towards Menangle. He obliged and we accelerated to 78 mph when the driver leapt across the cab, shut the regulator and applied the brakes, concerned that if we hit the facing points at Menangle at that speed we might derail. I must admit at speed, 3810 was jumping around quite a bit!

3825 has just arrived on 18 South. It is 10 pm on a Sunday night and this is the last steam working for the weekend.

Interestingly, while the suburban steam trains ended in 1969, steam continued to Goulburn until October that year. The last regular steam train from Sydney was on October 11, 1969, with 3638 in charge.

3644 is ready to depart on 23 South on a Saturday night, leaving at 5.50 pm. This train ran via the loop line.

This returned via the Mittagong Picton loop line on the Sunday night, marking the end of steam into and out of Sydney.

The shunters continued on until 1971. The next post will be about the activities at Darling Harbour.

There are plenty of photos from this part of the world in our new book, “Smoke” due later in June. More information at https://wheretheressmoke.com.au



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