The Big Smoke – Steam Trains To Sydney, Australia

In Australia, there is no larger city than Sydney, and it has been a long time since one could regularly hear the sound of a steam whistle in the Harbour City. It is where I grew up, and saw the decline of NSW steam locomotives first hand during my school years.

3827 nsw steam locomotive sydney station
3827 at Sydney early one morning preparing for a 90 mph run to Cootamundra! This special was one of the fastest rides I ever had behind steam.

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 nsw steam loco sydney terminal
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. Eventually, it was moved to Rookwood and the mortuary station below constructed to take funeral processions to the new site.

3130 steam locomotive sydney terminal mortuary station
3130 at the Sydney Mortuary Station 1967

The last scheduled steam service into Sydney was the Southern Highlands Express, hauled by 3801 at the tim,e which arrived with yours truly on board on the morning of Saturday, October 10, 1969. This was a very sad day for NSW steam train fans as the 140 mile line to Goulburn turning diesel limited us mostly to the 50 mile “Short North” and associated branch lines from then on.

3801 sydney terminal southern highlands express steam loco
3801 Prepares to leave Platform 1, Sydney Station for the last time in regular service on the Southern Highlands Express. A 46 class electric, now out of service, sits next to the mighty “Jolly Green Giant”.

3801 Prepares to leave Platform 1, Sydney Station for the last time in regular service on the Southern Highlands Express. A 46 class electric, now out of service, sits next to the mighty “Jolly Green Giant”.

The above photo was taken shortly before I boarded the train to ride on the final journey of the Southern Highlands Express, a 140 mile ride behind steam. The clock tower says 4:05, and departure was 5:20 pm each evening. The no 1 platform was extended to accommodate the large interstate trains such as the Southern Aurora and Indian Pacific. It was used for the most prestigious trains.

We rode the train to Goulburn and then slept in the waiting room there. I spent many a night at this spot. It 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!

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

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


After arriving at Goulburn, 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.

Steam In 1968

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. There was a 1 am mixed leaving Sydney for Goulburn, and on the weekend a train to Canberra leaving Saturday night at 11.20 pm, returning Sunday as an express from Goulburn arriving in Sydney around 10 pm Sunday night, with steam between Sydney and Goulburn. One last train of interest is the Moss Vale Passenger leaving Sydney at 5:50 pm Saturday evening, returning on a Sunday night, which operated via the Picton loop line passing what is now the “Steamrail” museum at Thirlmere. This was hauled by a 36 class.

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 this period I was at school, so I did not manage too much line side photography. My emphasis was on timing the various runs, my contribution to the history of NSW railways. There was a small band who did this, and most were my friends.

I am writing up the various sections of Sydney suburban operations in the late 1960s. I already have a story on the Richmond Line Steam Trains on this site. Campbelltown is worthy of a separate story as I did take quite a few photos there and visited many times.

3265 homebush blacktown express steam engine
3265 heads an express towards Blacktown just past Clyde Station

For my part, I would often leave home early in the morning and head for Blacktown to rid the commuter steam train to Sydney.

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


Seven Hills Ar



Seven Hills Dp


Pendle Hill












Parramatta Ar



Parramatta Dp


Harris Park



































Summer Hill
























One afternoon, I went to Summer Hill station and recorded the passing array of steam passengers. These included a 50 class from the Abattoirs and several 32 class travelling to Richmond, Blacktown and Campbelltown.


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

Apart from the passenger trains that ended at Sydney Terminal, there were the shunters. An occasional 79 class diesel blotted the landscape here. The majority of engines used were C30T and 30 Tender locos.

Here 7923 looks on as 3801 takes the carriages off its Southern Highlands Express run back to Everleigh Carriage Sheds.

It was quite common for the locos to be stabled at Everleigh Depot where the carriages from long distance trains were stored. The assigned loco delivered the carriages to Sydney before running around the train to haul it on its way.

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.

Mali and milk vans were commonly part of the early morning mixed trains and overnight mail trains which spread from Sydney to all parts of NSW bringing the newspapers, mail and perishables such as milk. 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 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.

Being a night train, you could only photograph it past Moss Vale. It took an eternity to reach there from Sydney, something like 5 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.

3825 departs Sydney Terminal with no 49 Moss Vale Passenger at 3:55 pm I often rode this train to Campbelltown after school and sometimes on a Friday night I went to Moss Vale and returned on the Canberra Monaro Express.

One event worth a mention was the Hawkesbury Race meetings held at Clarendon near Richmond. A special would leave Sydney just around 10 am for a fast run direct to the Racecourse. I happened to ride on this train one school holidays and time the journey. I will be writing another article on my experience with Race Trains shortly.

3255 ready to depart with the Hawkesbury race train.

There are a few other quirky things about Sydney Terminal. Back in the old days there were Tea Rooms, run by the Griffith Brothers. These 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. Ti was a blue sign with white writing, as I recall.

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.



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