The Newcastle Flyer

Newcastle Flyer

When I was young, I spent a great deal of time riding and photographing steam trains in my local area. I lived on the North Shore of Sydney, and distinctly remember the Shore Goods running each morning around 4 am. I never managed to photograph it, partly due to the unreliability of the timetable, partly because it often ran in darkness, and partly because I was too lazy to go walking at that hour of the morning.

Anyway in 1965 at the age of 13, my grandfather died, and I ended up with his Kodak Retinette 1A 35 mm camera. We didn’t have a lot of money at the time, and but for my grandfather’s misfortune, I would not have many of the photos I took back then.

At this time there were steam trains operating out of Sydney to Richmond, Campbelltown, Goulburn, and the Sydney Abattoirs. Most of these were in peak hours when the diesel railcars couldn’t handle all the passengers. This finished in 1968 with the electrification of the line to Campbelltown, releasing more railcars to dieselise other services.

3825 steam train stories sydney terminal moss vale passenger 49 south
3825 at Sydney Station leaving on 49 south


The heaviest steam movements were from Gosford to Broadmeadow. For some reason there was amazing variety in motive power with 30Tank, 32, 35, 36, 38, 50, 53, 59 and 60 class engines all in fairly frequent use. Gosford wasn’t that far away, so I headed off on Saturday mornings in the wee small hours to Gosford.

Figure 1 5915 On The 1 AM Train From Sydney at Wyong with crates of Corrio whisky left on the platform

Very early on, I learned of Control. Not the Maxwell Smart spy agency, but a place above Central Railway where rosters were put together and all of the trains tracked. I would head down there after school on Friday and get the weekend roster for the Short North. I had collected a complete set of railway timetables including all the goods trains, so I was well informed.

From early 1966, if steam was rostered, I arose in the middle of the night and headed north. There was a train that left Hornsby around 5 am, and that was what I aimed for. It connected with the first train north on the North Shore Line. One morning I arrived at Hornsby and the train north didn’t show up! I was really mad. I had on a pair of jeans and a grey jacket, not that dissimilar to clothing worn by Railway staff.

Anyway, not much later a 44 class diesel came down the track at a fair clip and for some reason I decided to try to stop the train! I waved my hands in the way a railway perway worker would if they wanted to flag down a train, and low and behold, the brakes went on and the driver pulled up the brake van directly opposite me. This was a heavy load, so I was very impressed!

The only other alternative was the 1 am Passenger which was loco hauled with a 46 from Sydney and then a 38 from Gosford. That meant no sleep at all. This train helped me get many time exposures.

The 1 AM paper train from Sydney arrives at Broadmeadow under cover of darkness

Back to the “Flyer”.

Up until December 1970, 38’s often hauled this train. There were 3 or 4 of these mighty engines assigned to Broadmeadow loco at any one time, and the 75 foot turntables at Gosford and Wyong meant they could be turned to work both directions.

3813 steam locomotive gosford loco nsw steam train
3813 is turned at Gosford to work 21 Flyer north

The Flyer was steam all the way from Sydney until 1960, well before my time, at which time the line was electrified to Gosford. That meant the loco had to be changed for the run without overhead wiring to Newcastle. In fact my first memory was of a giant green steam engine coming into Hornsby station to take the family to Woy Woy. I was very impressed! This was in 1955, well before electrification. For me, unfortunately, I didn’t get my wheels until late October 1970, so many of these photos were obtained by long walks along the tracks.

3827 3813 3820 gosford loco steam trains locomotive
A rare occasion. 3827, 3820 and 3813 wait for their trains at Gosford loco

During the week there were 3 daily Flyer movements in each direction. From the South No 21 left Sydney at 9 am, and the schedule showed a non-stop run to Broadmeadow. This meant the loco could be changed at the Garrat siding, approximately a mile north of Gosford station itself. This siding was mainly used to change from electric to steam on through goods trains.

3820 4614 21 newcastle flyer gosford garratt siding steam train
3820 ready to take over 21 Flyer as 4614 arrives on a wet morning

21 would arrive at Gosford at 10.13 and leave with a 38 in charge at 10.21. It was an hour to Broadmeadow and then arrival in Newcastle was scheduled at 11.30. The schedule was 12 minutes slower than the 1947 times, but with stops at Strathfield, Hornsby, Broadmeadow, Hamilton, Civic and Newcastle.

hawkmount newcastle flyer 3820 nsw steam locomotive steam train australia
3820 hauls 21 flyer over the top of the grade at Hawkmount

The second run was number 71 Mid-Day Flyer which left Gosford at 2.12, stopping at Wyong 2.28, Morisset 2.45, Fassifern 2.59, Broadmeadow, Hamilton and Newcastle where it arrived at 3.30

3827 newcastle flyer fassifern 1968 nsw steam train stories
3827 Arrives At Fassifern On 71 Flyer in 1968

No 31 evening Flyer left Sydney at 4.55 pm. Stopping at Hornsby and Gosford to pick up (it couldn’t use the Garratt Siding because of the stop), then Morisset except Fridays when it went non-stop to Broadmeadow, Hamilton and Newcastle. It arrived in Gosford at 6.04-6.12. Broadmeadow 7.13 (7.15 Mon to Thurs), 7.15 at Hamilton and 7.21 at Newcastle, a total of 2 hours 26 minutes. This made it the fastest trip of all on a Friday night.

3822 newcastle flyer steam train locomotive gosford station nsw
3822 ready to depart Gosford on 31 flyer one Friday evening in 1970

The Return Newcastle Flyer Journey

On the Up from Newcastle to Sydney, there were 3 trains daily.

No 24 left Newcastle at 6.55 am, stopping at Broadmeadow, Morisset, Gosford arrive 8.06 am and then on to Sydney. It was designed for commuters who would return on 31 in the evening.

3813 newcastle flyer hawkmount nsw steam train stories
3813 On 24 Flyer Climbing Hawkmount mid winter

No 72 Left Newcastle at 1 pm and stoped at Hamilton, Broadmeadow, Fassifern, Morisset, Wyong and Gosford

3815 newcastle flyer nsw steam train adamstown
3815 gains speed as it is about to tackle the climb through Kotara on 72 flyer in 1967


No 32 Left Newcastle at 4.43 pm, first stop Gosford where it arrived at 5.53 pm.

last steam newcastle flyer 3820 nsw express passenger final run
The last steam hauled Newcastle Flyer with 3820 awaiting departure from Newcastle on an appropriate gloomy afternoon

On A Saturday there were two trips south. No 20 Left Newcastle at 1.45, stopping at Hamilton, Wyong, and Gosford. No 154 left Newcastle at 5.10 pm. Stopping at Hamilton, Broadmeadow, Wyong and Gosford where it arrived at 6.30

I was fortunate enough to ride the flyer on many occasions. In fact one of two mile a minute (60 mph average) from start to some point in the journey was in the cab of 3827 between Gosford and Morisset one Thursday night. My friend who recently passed away, John Lacey recorded the times. When you consider the amount of curves and grades and the 310 ton Hub set in tow, it was an exceptional run. I left the train at Morisset as I had to return home for a Higher School Certificate exam the next day!

Here is a chart of the gradients for the “Short North”. It gives you an idea just how challenging this section of track is.


You can see from the chart that there was a steady climb from just north of Gosford to Lisarow, then fairly flat to just before Wyong with several climbs through to Morisset, including a 1 in 50 around Wyee. This is the reason there were very few mile a minute runs recorded compared to Europe with long, straight, flat lines in many parts.

3803 newcastle flyer 21 narara
Streamlined 3803 accelerates On 21 Newcastle Flyer towards Narara in 1966

Gosford To Newcastle On A Typical Flyer Run

On a typical run on the flyer, the train would accelerate out of Gosford along the flat and then speed up faster down the hill after the Garratt siding. You would often hear the engine slip as it leapt into life getting those 500 odd tons (including the locomotive) moving. At the end of the Gosford straight there is a large sweeping curve, negotiated at around 45 mph, and the train would often slow as it approached the curve leading into Narara station.

3612 nsw steam train locomotive narara 37x local passenger
3612 climbs out of Narara in 1967 with steam cocks open

Once around the curve, the driver would open the throttle with a full head of steam as it started climbing the short bank from Narara, There would be a speed check while traversing the island platform at Niagara Park, and then a short grade into Lisarow where on many occasions the 38 would hit 60 mph for the first time on the trip. Between there and just past Ourimbah the train would often accelerate to 70 mph, the track limit and hold it for much of the run to Tuggerah. There were several level crossings along this route, where the whistle would be blown. These have now either closed or been replaced by bridges.

3827 newcastle flyer tuggerah 1968 nsw steam train stories
3827 travelling at 70 MPH approaching Tuggerah at full speed

Speed is maintained through Wyong, with a short, sharp 1 in 50 just before the station, which barely troubles the mighty 38. There is a 1 in 66 for about ½ mile north of the Warnervale level crossing, although on the fast run, we topped this at over 60 mph. The flat nature of the line in this section means a good pace can be maintained.

3822 newcastle flyer steam train locomotive wallarah creek warnervale wyee
3822 on 71 Flyer crosses Wallarah Creek on the high speed section between Warnervale and Wyee

The only other real impediment before Morisset is a 20 chain curve just past MP 74 where we slowed to 53 mph momentarily. Having maintained a speed above 60 mph for all but that sharp curve from Ourimbah made it possible to cross that magical mile a minute barrier. From Milepost 55¼, just after Lisarow, to MP 76¼ the last post before we slowed to stop at Morisset, we averaged a remarkable 66 mph. This is not bad considering top speed was 75 mph.

6037 dora creek coal train newcastle nsw steam train
6037 climbs towards Morisset from Dora Creek. On the down journey speed is slowed for this curve

This section really is the speedy part of the journey as after Morisset the fun begins. There is a sharp curve on the 1 in 75 downhill section to Dora Creek, and the fireman uses this opportunity to stoke the fire and top up the water in the boiler. You will often hear the safety valve blow as the train speeds through Dora Creek and along the flat leading to the main climb of Hawkmount.

nsw 59 class coal train 4 wheel wagons dora creek nsw steam locomotive double header
Double 59s on a 4 wheel coal train build up steam and speed through Dora Creek

Hawkmount is a 1 in 44 which lasts for around a mile. At the top of the grade is a 16 chain curve with a 40 mph speed limit. It is remarkable how different various climbs on this hill can be. On this occasion the grade was topped at 33 mph, although I have been on runs that sped over the top at well over 40 mph. Regrettably, my original timings were lent to someone else, and although I have recovered some of them by good fortune, some of the notable runs are not in my possession at the moment.

3822 newcastle flyer steam train locomotive
3822 nears the summit of Hawkmount on the Newcastle Flyer in 1970

In this day and age, most of us are used to cars with petrol or diesel engines. These are very simple. Inject more fuel and it has more power. On a Diesel train you have a brake and throttle, nothing more. On a 38, and other steam engines, you have many more variables which account for the vastly different performances up hills.

32 class cab inside nsw steam locoThe illustration to the left shows the inside of the cab of a 32 class. Note the brass brake handle, regulator, reversing gear wheel, and steam and pressure gauges. You can also see the glass which measures how full the boiler is.

The engine consists of a boiler where water is injected and converted to steam. This is fed into the pistons to propel the train forward. At any one time, the boiler can have a different amount of steam at a different temperature. This is one variable. The firebox on a 38 is quite large. It is had fired, so the fireman uses the shovel to direct the coal to various parts of the firebox. The aim is to have an even heat, and keep the fire hot. Too much coal will cool down the fire a bit, and not enough will result in cold spots. The state of the fire has a great influence on the boiler pressure and steaming capability.

When an engine slips, meaning the wheels spin during acceleration or a hill climb, it can cause a draft in the fire. This has the potential to draw the fire into the smoke box and make a mess of it. The amount of aggression of the driver has an effect on performance.

There is an infinitely variable reversing gear which sets the length of stroke in the cylinders. The longer the stroke, the more steam is used and the more power per stroke. By shortening the stroke at speed you can actually make the engine go faster up hills. There are many variations in the theory of getting the most out of the reversing gear.

I am attempting to put all this in simple terms. This is part of what makes steam so fascinating. I have seen some performances on hill climbs that defy the theoretical capability of the engine. As well as the driver skill, different members of the class had different characteristics.

3830 liverpool nsw steam train
3830 on a special leaving suburbia

An example is 3830 which gave a very smooth ride. 3827 and 3820 were quite good riders too. On the other hand 3810 and 3811 could be quite scary. I was fortunate enough to ride in 3810 on an Express from Moss vale to Campbelltown and the movement was quite frightening at times. I rode 3811 on the Central West Express from Bathurst to Orange and on 31 mixed to Goulburn from Bundanoon. A run on 3827 on the Newcastle Flyer at high speed was quite smooth by comparison. My trip firing 3801 on 37X all stations from Gosford to Broadmeadow was a smooth ride too.

Here is another story of a climb of Hawkmount.

To give you some idea how challenging this climb is, I refer to a trip I made in May, 2012 with 3642 on a “Newcastle Flyer” special, assisted by a diesel. The “pig” as they are affectionately called, started well enough, accelerating along the Dora Creek flats. Half way up the hill, she stalled, having run out of steam. This is most likely due to the fact that there are so few steam journeys nowadays that some firemen don’t get the mix of water in the boiler and the fire right. The diesel simply pushed the load along while the steam engine recovered. How humiliating.

Speed Over Hawkmount

Back in the flyer days, I crossed the top as slow as 22 mph, but I never had a stall. While the normal consist of the Flyer was 310 tons, occasionally there would be a mail van, lifting it up to around 330 tons. More challenging on a Friday night was the relief train, no 33, which consisted of heavy cars and often approached the load limit for a 38. A good run would see us top the summit at 40-45 mph.

From the top of Hawkmount, there is a drift down the 1 in 75 towards Awaba. The descent ends half way between Awaba and Fassifern and it was on this section that 3801 on the record run to Newcastle realigned the railbed due to excessive speed around the 15 chain radius curves. This is an opportunity to build a full head of steam for Fassifern bank.

3801 newcastle flyer 1970 awaba nsw steam train
3801 approaches Awaba after completing the climb over Hawkemount december 1970

There is a short, sharp burst up the 1 in 66, and then a fairly sharp curve just before the station. For stopping trains the ascent from Fassifern is a 1 in 40 for the first ½ mile, with a standing start it is the most challenging section of the line. Being only a fairly short climb though, for a through train that gets an unchecked run into Fassifern, momentum just about takes you over the top. On the “Flyer” you would hear the throttle open as she approached Fassifern as the driver went flat out for the hill. On occasion, a through Flyer would top Fassifern at 40 mph, the speed limit for the curve at the summit. Once over the top, acceleration goes to around 50 mph, and then this speed is held all the way through to Teralba.

3813 newcastle flyer fassifern 1970 nsw steam train
3813 Tops The Grade At Fassifern On 71 Flyer

You could expect to maintain around 50 mph down the hill through Booragul, an island platform, with a sharp curve into Teralba, where the throttle opens for a sprint to Cardiff. Sometimes the Flyer would reach 70 mph over this section. There is a sharp curve coming into Cardiff so you get no momentum for the 1 in 80 up to Tickhole Tunnel. On a normal run the speed into the tunnel is around 40 mph.

3827 newcastle flyer nsw steam train tickhole tunnel cardiff
3827 climbs towards Tickhole Tunnel northbound

From there it is all downhill to Adamstown, with a curve around Kotara Island platform. The train accelerates to a little over 50 mph and then holds that speed until the deceleration for the stop in Broadmeadow.

The rest of the journey is quite flat, with an easy run through to Newcastle terminus.

3822 newcastle flyer steam train locomotive newcastle station 31
3822 has just arrived in Newcastle on 31 flyer

Newcastle To Gosford

The journey south had only one non stop run between Broadmeadow and Gosford. No 32 which left Newcastle at 4:43 pm on a weekday was scheduled to run non-stop from Newcastle to Gosford. The journey south meandered along to Broadmeadow reaching this point in about 8 minutes. Then the throttle opened up as the train accelerated towards Adamstown and the extended 1 in 75 climb to Tickhole tunnel. All told this climb lasted about ½ mile, and speed would be around 40 mph at the summit on a good run.

3813 newcastle flyer adamstown steam train stories
3813 Climbs the 1 in 80 from Adamstown to Tickhole Tunnel on the Newcastle Flyer

3813 Hauls The Flyer Plus Mailvan Near Tickhole Summit

From Tickhole, the flyer would drift down the hill around 50 mph before braking for the sharp curve through Cardiff station to a speed of around 45 mph. Once off the curves, she would accelerate through Sulphide Junction and Cockle Creek hitting 60 – 70 mph before braking heavily to 45 mph just before Teralba to negotiate the sharp curve after the station. This checked the speed, losing momentum for the climb up the back of Fassifern bank through Booragul, so you could hear the 38 working at speed through this section. Typically the summit would be reached around 40 mph, then a muted descent into Fassifern due to the curves after the station. On occasions the train would touch on 60 mph on the 1 in 40.

3813 newcastle flyer cockle creek steam train stories
3813 Speeds Along The Flat Near Cockle Creek

The next ascent starts with a 16 chain radius curve from the south end of Fassifern, and the line undulates between there and Awaba. Typically speed would exceed 60 mph on this stretch before slowing a little on the approach to Awaba where steam was building for the Hawkmount climb. You would often hear the hiss of the safety valve approaching Awaba station as a full head of steam was prepared. Again, on a good run you would top the summit at Hawkmount around 40 mph, and shutoff for the descent which commences with a sharp left hand curve.

One this curve is negotiated, the Flyer accelerates to 60-70 mph and maintains this all the way through Dora Creek. There is a 16 chain radius curve in the middle of the 1 in 75 section to Morisset, which checks the speed, so often the train approaches Morisset station at less than 40 mph. Out of Morisset there is a short 1 in 50 downgrade allowing rapid acceleration to 60 mph, then the train brakes for the curve at the bottom of the hill to 45 mph. From here the line straightens out and after a steady climb through Wyee, we hit the speed stretch to Wyong. With throttle wide open the train bursts through Wyee at 53-55 mph, and once it negotiates the 1 in 80, reaches speeds of 70 or even 80 mph between there and Wyong.

A Fast Run

On one sustained run I timed with 3827 in a Werris Creek special, the train maintained a speed of over 60 mph the whole way from MP72 to Narara, with the exception of a track work speed limit near Wyong! This truly was a speed stretch. The average speed was 70 mph over 21 ½ miles with top speed of 80 mph. It was actually faster than the 3801 record for this section.

The Newcastle Flyer is no more. Electrification sees an EMU (Electric Multiple Unit) take over the route. It has become a commuter run with no reserved seats, no loco haulage and more frequent stops. As the last steam hauled passenger Express train in Australia, and with a long history, it is a real shame that only the occasional special rerun reflects this once great train journey.

Surviving 38 Class

Some 40 years after the last steam Newcastle Flyer, only two 38s remain fit for service. 3813 is dissasembled and stored in wagons at Dorrigo, 3830 is scheduled to return to steam in 2013, while 3801 is in limbo, as a new boiler manufactured in Germany doesn’t quite fit, and engineers continue to work to return her to the tracks. Given the investment, this will eventually happen, and once again you will be able to ride a “Newcastle Flyer” excursion with the Jolly Green Giant at the head.

Northern Exposures

This coffee table, full colour production of regular steam north of Sydney, features photos from the cream of Australian Railway Photographers. Set to be a collectors piece, Northern Exposures is due for release in August, 2014. Find out more or order your copy at

Newcastle Flyer



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