Figure 1 Map Showing The Location Of Liddell Mine And Its Proximity To Maitland
When I was young I lived at Roseville on Sydney’s North Shore. On weekends and school holidays, I spent as much time as possible riding, photographing, or timing the speed of the remaining steam trains. By the early 1970s, I had left school and steam was dwindling fast. The Southern line to Goulburn was dieselised, even the mighty Newcastle Flyer was now exclusively diesel hauled. Steam was limited to a few local passengers, shunting, and the northern line from Gosford north as far as Liddell Coal Mine.
With my usual sense for adventure, I decided one weekend to make the trip to Lydell, as much as possible by steam.
My Train Was Cancelled
My journey started very early one morning. I caught the first train from Roseville around 4 am and arrived at Hornsby in time to catch the first train north to Gosford. There was only one problem – it didn’t come! Now Hornsby is a cold place at the best of times, and this was winter, so there I was freezing on the platform, with no more passenger trains for at least two hours. I was pretty mad.
Very soon I heard the horn of a diesel and saw a 44 class speeding towards the station. I am not sure what got into me, but I started waving my arms and crossing them as the train approached. Fortunately I was dressed in a grey jacket and jeans so resembled a railway worker.
To my surprise there was a screech of brakes and a sudden stop. The train came to a halt with the Guard’s van exactly opposite where I was standing. I hopped on and off we went! I still have no idea how I was able to stop this speeding train, but I was really focused o getting on board. It was a real thrill.
Figure 2 Broadmeadow Loco Depot In The 1960s
As this was a through freight, I rode all the way to Broadmeadow, the site of one of the largest loco depots and marshalling yards in NSW. This was one of the few places with a turntable large enough to turn an AD 60 class Garratt, one of the largest engines running anywhere at the time. I visited the dispatch depot and discovered a Garratt was about to leave for Port Waratah depot to pick up an empty load for Liddell.
By this time, north of Singleton, these were the only steam trains to use the main line. It had been a great place to photograph steam, although I didn’t have the means to get there in the good old days!
A Cab Ride In A Mighty AD 60 Class
After a quick chat with the driver, he agreed to take me in the cab and we headed off. The loco was 6023, and the day was rather gloomy. The 60 Class were built around 1952 by Beyer Peacock in England. Shown here is a builder’s plate of an AD60 I photographed at Campbelltown in 1965. Perhaps someone can enlighten me as it is no 7545, which is attributed to 6043 which was never assembled! Unfortunately, I didn’t take a photograph of the engine at that time. There were simply too many steam movements that day!
Figure 3 Port Waratah Was A Pretty Loco Depot Near The Hunter River
The Newcastle Coal Fields
Port Waratah at the time was a busy depot, devoted to coal traffic. It serviced mainly the coal lines to The South Maitland Railway, just west of Maitland, commencing at East Greta Junction. The SMR was one of the last places to run regular steam in NSW. The main motive power were the 10 class 2-8-2-T locos. These were originally built around 1925 and some re-boilered around 1970. They finally ended service in 1983.
Figure 4 SMR 2-8-2 Number 28 With A Full Load
SMR locomotives used to take the load from the mines around Cessnock and Kurri Kurri, and the standard goods 50 or 53 would proceed to the Port Waratah coal loader. The Port has become one of the largest coal loading facilities in Australia, and now massive amounts of coal are shipped to China and Japan each year. Hunter Valley coal is known for its steaming properties, and that accounts for the lovely smoke clouds we often got from steam trains we photographed.
Figure 5 5483 Heading Towards East Greta Junction
Anyway, we picked up a load of empty BCH coal hoppers at the Port and started our journey north. The BCH was commonly used for coal until the advent of the larger CH hoppers. At Liddell, there was a mix of the two. As can be seen from the picture, the South Maitland coal trains were usually 4 wheel coal wagons, something that no longer happens. Something else that is now gone from rail is the brake van, then required on every train.
Figure 6 6023 Gets Ready To Leave Port Waratah For Liddell
After hooking onto our load and waiting for a while, we finally steamed out of Port Waratah on our way north.
The railway line proceeds across flood plains to Maitland. It is very flat and went underwater in the Maitland floods of 1970. I remember well this part of the world. We called it the Hexham swamp because low lying areas were usually underwater. It was home to the “Hexham Greys”, the largest Mosquitoes I have ever seen. That’s a bold statement considering I have been to all parts of the planet. This was not a pleasant place to be around sunset.
Figure 7 6037 Heads Across The Hexham Swamp
The Loco Stopped At Singleton For Water
Our next stop was Singleton where we took water. These trains used to be serviced at Singleton in both directions as the Garratt is a thirsty loco. Singleton is around 45 miles, or 75 kms from Port Waratah.
Figure 8 At Singleton We Gave Our Garratt A Drink
At Singleton the railway crosses the Hunter River. It is an impressive structure that is well above the flood levels. Unfortunately, the road doesn’t fare so well in the event of heavy rain.
Figure 9 LIddell Coal Crossing The Hunter River At Singleton
One of the more spectacular climbs on this journey is from the Hunter River bridge just north of Singleton. Singleton is an early settlement dating back to the 1820s. After crossing the river, the railway traverses a long curve, crossing the New England Highway along the way.
Figure 10 6039 Winds Its Way Out Of Singleton
Another great spot for photography was the bridge at Ravensworth, where there is now a giant hole left by a monstrous open cut coal mine.
Figure 11 6018 Crossing The Ravensworth Bridge
Just near the junction of the line to Liddell there is a coal dump that burns constantly due to spontaneous combustion. The excess sulphur content of the coal means that when exposed to oxygen, it burns without lighting. It has been a major environmental issue for the mine. There is a power house built next to the mine as well, using conveyor belts for the coal to be funnelled direct to the boilers.
Figure 12 Finally We Arrive At Our Destination And Deliver The Empty Coal Cars
By now it is mid afternoon. The next step is to pick up some loaded wagons for the return trip. The heaviest grades are on the way down to Liddell.
Figure 13 6023 Preparing To Leave Liddell On The Way Home. The First Two Wagons Are The New CH Coal Hoppers
We took our load back to Port Waratah and then headed back to Broadmeadow where I farewelled my hosts. It was a truly wonderful experience.
Figure 14 6009 Hauls A Load Of CH Hoppers Near Branxton
From Broadmeadow, I can’t recall how I returned to Gosford, although I am fairly sure it was in the cab of a 59 class loco. The final stretch from Gosford to Hornsby was on a passenger train hauled by a 46 class electric. Altogether it was a most satisfying experience.
I will be penning another couple of stories of my ventures north of Newcastle. One is the Singleton Passenger, a peak hour service between Newcastle and Singleton. I was fortunate enough to ride and photograph both 32 class and 35 class locomotives on this great train. There was a trip to Merriwa in the wheat belt. This was a 30T, yet another class of locomotive. The crew obliged by giving us photo stops along the way! I remember this trip mainly for the lack of sleep. I think I went 40 hours between naps and was very tired by the time I returned home. The final venture on the long north for me was a trip to Werris Creek to photograph the shunting engines there. By this time that was all there was. As it turns out it was somewhat of an adventure all its own.
I hope you enjoyed this tale.