When Steam Trains Visited Sydney Every Day

It’s over 45 Years Since This Town Has Seen Regular Steam Action

When I was growing up, steam trains spread out in all directions from Sydney Terminal. There were peak hour suburban trains to Richmond and Campbelltown, and country trains to Goulburn on the Southern Line.

By the time I became a real railway enthusiast in 1965, the lines west to Lithgow, and north to Gosford were electrified, with 46 class hauling passenger trains assisted by EMUs (Elec tric Multiple Units).

Sydney is Australia’s largest city, with the famous Harbour Bridge and Opera House known the world over. When I was researching how long steam lasted in various countries, it was interesting to note that the last long distance steam train to leave Sydney was at the end of 1969.

Don’t Forget To Watch The Video At The End, Rare Footage Of 38s Around Sydney

3801 sydney terminal southern highlands express steam loco

3801 Prepares To Leave Sydney On The Last Steam Hauled Southern Highlands Express 10 October 1969

The fact is that other great cities of the world such as New York, London and Paris had all lost their steam trains well before then.

My first visit as a 13 year old school boy was in 1965 armed with my brand new Brownie Box Camera. This was a very basic machine with some sort of lens, a shutter with fixed speed, and the ability to point and shoot. Colour film was out of the question. On an after school trip, I photographed 3812, a loco which was withdrawn from service soon after.

3812 nsw steam loco sydney terminal

3812 waiting to leave on the Moss Vale Train. In the photo is a 30 Tank and Interurban Electric.

Sydney station was quite large with 23 platforms in total. With the addition of the Eastern Suburbs line, two more platforms have been added. These are deep underground. The station is divided into two sections. Sydney Terminal is reached from the west only, and is the end of the journey for all country and interstate trains. Central comprises the remainder of the platforms and is for through electric services. There is a direct service to Hornsby which passes through the City Underground, including Town Hall and Wynyard, and the North Shore Line, opened in 1932 when the Sydney Harbour Bridge was built. John Bradfield, a visionary engineer, was responsible for both the bridge and the Sydney underground.

3812 is ready to depart on no 49 Moss Vale Passenger with 3046 shunting a HUB set of air conditioned cars from the Newcastle Flyer. Taken in 1965

Another line headed underground to Museum and St James stations from Central. Later, in 1956 when the Cahill Expressway was constructed, a loop between Town Hall and St James completed the city loop. Steam trains were not permitted in the tunnels for obvious reasons!

Sydney terminal is built on an old cemetery. Afte the Cemetery ceased operation, they build a mortuary station to take people to the new cemetery at Rookwood. It survives to this day. Funeral trains used to terminate hear, and one can imagine men in tails and gravediggers greeting the trains. One wonders how many ghosts board the trains as they make their way into the countryside!

3130 steam locomotive sydney terminal mortuary station

3130 at the Sydney Mortuary Station 1967

In my day, the 140 mile trip to Goulburn was the longest continuous steam journey available, and I would ride trains south as often as possible.

I spent many a night in Goulburn and Moss Vale waiting rooms. Goulburn had Gas heaters similar to those on the Diesel Railcars, so you could get warm. Goulburn is a particularly cold place. It was not a very comfortable place to sleep! In Moss Vale there was a huge open fire to keep us all warm. I made many friends on these journeys, some of whom I travelled with to far flung corners of the planet in search of steam.

3801 steam train Goulburn Southern Highlands Express

3801 gets ready to leave Goulburn on the last Southern Highlands Express

To celebrate the last steam train to Sydney, on arrival at Goulburn late at night, a few of us headed down the mile walk to the loco depot. We found 3801 there and with assistance of cleaning materials, shined her up. I had bought some red and white paint with me, and being nice, we added a piece of paper to the front bumper and carefully painted 3805 on it. This engine was one of the first of the class to be withdrawn from service and is sometimes referred to as the phantom. We were hoping all the gathered rail fans would see this engine steaming in to take the last train. It would have caused a real stir. Regrettably, the ever vigilant depot staff managed to remove the paper overnight.

goulburn loco depot steam engines 52, 32, 36, 59, 38, 50 class

Goulburn Loco Depot back in steam days. There was quite a range of steam power with 5212, 3214, 3638, 5901, 3324, 3811, and 5112 resting on this day in 1968

Sorry, for digressing, but this was the last train to Sydney scheduled for regular steam haulage. There was still some steam action in the area after this, in the form of C30T and 19 class both in Darling Harbour, and Sydney Terminal on shunting duties. The real action ended in May, 1968 when the electrification to Campbelltown was completed. This was an anomaly as the rest of the main suburban system had been electrified back in the 1920s.

Suburban Steam

I am writing this mostly from memory, as there is little data available. Prior to May 4, 1968 there were a mixture of railmotors and steam trains on the Richmond and Campbelltown lines. Liverpool to Campbelltown was a mere 12 miles, and Blacktown to Richmond 17 miles. The Richmond line was electrified later in 1992.

While most of the trains were local, commuter Express services ran all the way to Sydney Terminal. I guess it was due to lack of capacity to carry all the people to work.

3246 sydney terminal sydny suburban rickmond line

3246 ready to depart Sydney Terminal on a peak hour express run

There was an express to Campbelltown, one to Richmond, and another in the morning from Blacktown, plus trains to the Abattoirs currently the site of Sydney Olympic Park. Most of these trains were hauled by C32 class, built in the 1890s by Beyer Peacock. On Saturday night, a different class of loco, a C36 was sued for the Moss Vale run. This ran via the Picton Mittagong loop line, now home of the Rail Transport Museum, because 38 class were too heavy for the track.

sydney terminal 3644 moss vale steam train

3644 awaits departure on 23 Thirlmere Loop train to Moss Vale The date is 1969 because she has a recently fitted power gear mechanism

During school holidays, we could purchse a 10c excursion ticket that took you all over the suburban network. I would levae home at 4 am and head for Richmond or Campbelltown, the last steam suburban lines. Both had diesel railcars as well, but in peak hours they could not handle the number of passengers.

One of the more famous was 300 West which ran express from Blacktown to Sydney. It didn’t even stop at Strathfield, a major station. Very few trains skipped this place.

I used to time these trips, and I still have one record amongst my collection.

Express Blacktown to Sydney
3325 300West
LOB, HFL 7/176 tons
Time Max Speed
Blacktown 7:32:42
Seven Hills Ar 7:36:54 45
Seven Hills Dp 7:37:20
Pendle Hill 7:40:14 43
Toongabbie 7:42:01 34
Wentworthville 7:43:30 45
Westmead 7:45:21 36
Parramatta Ar 7:50:24 25
Parramatta Dp 7:51:23
Harris Park 7:52:45
Granville 7:54:13 37
Clyde 7:54:44 45
Clydeburn 7:55:24 45
Auburn 7:56:34 50
Lidcome 7:58:15 36
Flemington 7:59:31 45
Homebush 8:00:59 45
Strathfield 8:04:17 28
Burwood 8:06:10 25
Croydon 8:07:38 40
Ashfield 8:08:35 40
Summer Hill 8:09:53 40
Stanmore 8:10:30 40
Lewisham 8:11:21 45
Petersham 8:12:00 47
Newtown 8:13:23 47
Macdonaldtown 8:13:50 40
Redfern 8:15:29
Central 8:19:59

To get an idea of the number of suburban “expresses” radiating out from Sydney int eh afternoon peak, here are  a few shots taken on the same day in 1967.

Three Passenger trains each with a different 32 class passed in a half hour on this day in 1967

One of the more unusual workings was a train to the Sydney Abattoirs. This was hauled by a 50 class standard goods loco and went right into the heart of the Sydney Meatworks. This was transformed into the site for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

The train from the Sydney Abattoirs heads towards Sydney Terminal through Summer Hill 1967

I remember travelling on this train. The stench of rotting carcuses left a permanent impression on me. I saw huge lines of cows and sheep hung upside down to bleed with rivers of blood all around. It is enough to turn anyone vegetarian! The line seriously went to the centre of the meatworks.

5273 at the Sydney Abattoirs

Steam Shunters

Steam engines were considered great ways to shunt rolling stock right up until the end. 30 class were often used in Sydney and down the road at Darling Harbour ancient 19 class were preferred.

Many of the trains in and out of Sydney were important mail trains. Even newspapers were delivered to country towns by rail in those days. Newsagents and postmasters would meet the mail at their local station to get deliveries for the day. While everyone slept, the trains did their job. Almost all of this has been replaced by air and road now.

3130 shunts a mail van and milk wagon.

The early moring mixed train to Gouldburn left at 1.10 am and there was a paper train taking the mail and newspapers to Newcastle at 1 am. I recall one night in 1966, talking my mother into dropping me off at Sydney Station to ride behind 3811 on the 1:10 am to Goulburn. She still reminds me about it! This was my first long distance ride. I had been in bed for 3 months at the start of the year, and then had my arm in plaster for another 8 weeks.

3809 on the morning mixed to Goulburn in 1968 nears its destination taken near Tallong.

On this occasion I rode in the cab from Moss Vale to Goulburn and was given the shovel. I really felt how weak my arm had become after not being used for some time! It is one of those nights I won’t easily forget. I absolutely loved the experience.

Being a night train, you could only photograph it past Moss Vale. It took an eternity to reach there from Sydney, something like 7 hours, shunting at every stop. In the latter days of steam on the south, a group of us would ride out of Sydney on Saturday morning to Moss Vale, then walk the tracks and photograph the few passing steam trains.

3055 arriving at Sydney Terminal with an empty commuter train

The 30 Tender Engines were converted from the tank engines following electrification of the Sydney Suburban System and hauled country branch line trains for many years. A few spent their time shunting carriages at Sydney Terminal and at Darling Harbour goods yard.

Griffith Brothers Teas

There are a few other quirky things about Sydney Terminal. Back in the old days there were Tea Rooms, run by the Griffith Brothers. They sold legendary Scones with Jam and Cream and the famous railway meat pies. While things have changed now with Australia being an international culinary destination, for many of us this was a staple food back in the old days. The pies were sloppy, full of gravy, gristle, and perhaps a little meat, slathered with tomato sauce and if you weren’t careful would run all over your clothes! The Railway Pie is part of our heritage and folklore.

Griffith Bros Teas were very important as throughout the NSW rail network there were signs with the distance to the Tea Rooms on them. It would typically say 50 miles to Griffith Bros Teas. It was a blue sign with white writing.


Around the corner from Sydney station was Darling Harbour, then a major port and now an entertainment precinct. The chief form of motive power here was the 19 class, a relic of the past, the first being built in 1877. They just fell short of 100 years of operation, having retired in 1972.

1945 shunting Darling Harbour in 1970. This is now the site of the Sydney light rail line and Sydney Entertainment Center.

I think the 19 class were rather splendid. You can see an English touch in them. Like many NSW steam locos, they were built by Beyer Peacock in England, as were the last engines, the mighty Ad 60 class Garratts. I will be covering my experiences at Darling harbour in another story.

It is funny how motive power around Sydney and Darling Harbour remained fairly similar for so many years, until a rapid upheaval as steam unfortunately gave way to diesel.

I Discovered This Amazing Video Of 38s Around Sydney In The 1940s.

Courtesy of Belpin Video


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