The Mighty 38 Class – NSW’s Express Passenger Steam Engine

Going back over my photos and reminiscing on the stories from back in the 1960s and early 1970s when I was riding the rails locally, my definite preference in motive power was the 38 class. These locomotives were constructed during the Second World War around 1943, and became the last of the Express Passenger engines built in Australia. Sadly, only a few years later diesels started to appear and took some of the prestige trains from their command. The first run of the 44 class Diesel Electrics in 1957 started a sad period for railway enthusiasts.

I Capture Most 38s On Film

Among my personal collection I managed to photograph 22 of the 30 of these magnificent locomotives. The one’s I missed out on are 3804, 3805, 3814, 3816, 3817, 3819, 3821 and 3826. Some of these were involved in crashes, while others were withdrawn early in their life. I have memories of seeing 3804, but can’t find a photo, and my pictures of 3812 and 3829 are taken on my first Kodak Brownie Box Camera, often the first purchase in camera equipment in those days.

Figure 1 3812 Awaits Departure From Sydney On The Evening Moss Vale Train In 1964

Over the years from the end of 1964 through to 1970, when 3820 hauled the last Newcastle Flyer Express to Sydney, I travelled behind, or on board most of the 22 I managed to photograph.

The Last Run South Of Sydney

Class leader, 3801 and green machine 3813 seem to pop up often in my photos, which would imply that they were running more often than the others. In fact when the line south from Sydney to Goulburn stopped running steam in October 1969, right before my final school exams, 3801 hauled the famous Southern Highlands Express, while 3813 was rostered on the Moss Vale Train which left an hour and a half earlier.

I have an interesting story on this event and how we attempted to deceive our colleagues. Regrettably the plan failed!


Figure 2 The Last Steam Hauled Southern Highlands Express With 3801 Ready To Leave Goulburn

In the latter days, the Newcastle Flyer was my focus. Four 38 class would be rostered to Broadmeadow Depot to cover the non electrified section of the line north of Gosford, where I now live. This section has long been electrified, and now is an interurban service, a far cry from the former prestige of the Flyer. Interestingly enough, the fastest express trains now cover the distance in 3 hrs 37 minutes. Back in steam days, it took 3 hours 30 on the Flyer including an 8 minute stop to change engines at Gosford!

How I Suffered For Love Of Steam

I took a heavy personal toll for my love of the 38s. It was 1969 when everything started to wind up. It was the final year of High School for me. That meant my studies for the Higher School Certificate were severely interrupted, and I obtained much lower grades than I should have! The exams started late in October. The last run of the “Southern Highlands Express” was on October 11, right before my exams started. I had spent the previous three months riding and photographing as many trains as I could o the South. To compound this, During the exams I purchased a fortnightly ticket with unlimited travel from Hornsby to Newcastle and between exams spent every available minute riding up and down the Short North! No wonder I missed out on University.

The End Of The Mighty 38

The 38s kept hauling the Newcastle Flyer until December 29, 1970m when 3820 hauled the last steam run all the way back to Sydney. I managed a tape recording on the run up Cowan bank from within the front car. CA Cardew, someone who was very famous as a former Chief Mechanical Engineer and holder of a Gold pass to drive any train he chose, was at the throttle. He always provided a memorable trip and this one was no exception. I am making this recording available to members.

I also managed to chase 3820 on its last trip up to Newcastle. On that occasion it ran on a freight and I managed to get an exclusive shot of her crossing the Hawkesbury River Bridge. It won First Prize in an AHRS photo competition.

Figure 3 3820 Departs Enfield On Its Final Regular Journey North

I cannot do justice to my entire coverage of the 38s in one article, so I am presenting a series, detailing the one’s I have photographed, plus the special trains they hauled. One trip was the last steam hauled Federal Express. This train ran from Canberra to Sydney until the Deb railcars were introduced in 1955. What many don’t know is that on the weekend there was an express service to Canberra leaving Sydney at 11.20 pm on Saturday night and returning late Sunday night. I was privileged to ride in the cab of 3810 on the very last run back, and it was quite an adventure!

Regrettably as I write this, not one 38 class is operational. 3801 received a new boiler, made in Germany, but it did not fit properly. We all hope that it will not be too long before the Jolly Green Giant steams again.

If you are a member, you will get access to all of this as we post the stories and photos. Better still, you can add your own stories for others to read your adventures, or simply marvel at what occurred back in the days of steam in NSW.

Remember the mighty 38s. Who knows, in the next year or two 3801 may again come to life and take you on a steam adventure to some part of NSW.


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