As I write this I am sitting on an 8 car “EMU” interurban electric train, travelling from Gosford to Newcastle to attend a conference. My last journey on this route was in 2012 on a steam hauled “Newcastle Flyer” with 3642 pushed along by a diesel. A sad state of affairs, considering that the good old Newcastle Flyer with a single C38 class in charge would power through this journey in style, taking just one hour from Gosford to Broadmeadow and a further 6 minutes to the Terminus at Newcastle Station.
Now I admit that back in the 1960s, most of my trips were simply to ride the train and experience the exhilaration of a steam hauled express train travelling at speeds up to 75 mph over a very hilly and challenging stretch of line. Instead I am now sitting here on a lacklustre slowly timetabled journey and we are not even recovering time despite green lights all the way. How things have changed.
My Regular Steam Journeys To Newcastle
Back in the days, I would sometimes go to see my father who lived at Belmont for the weekend. This involved a trip on number 31 Flyer, leaving Sydney at 4.55 pm and stopping at Hornsby, Broadmeadow, Hamilton and Newcastle. The trip included an additional stop at Gosford to detach the 46 class electric as there were no overhead wires north of Gosford in those days. As I rode in darkness across the Hawkesbury River Bridge and on to Gosford, I would anticipate the motive power for the good part of the journey.
There were two points for changing engines in Gosford. The Garratt siding was around 1 km north of the main station and was where goods trains switched from electric to steam. Often we would see double headed 60 class Garratts attach to heavy freight trains here, hence the name.
No 21 Flyer, the morning trip, would usually do the changeover here as it was not a stop listed in the timetable. During my higher school certificate exams, I purchased a 2 week excursion ticket between Hornsby and Broadmeadow, and made an effort to ride as many steam runs as possible in between exams. Sometimes I would book a seat on 21 from Hornsby, then climb aboard at the Garratt siding, something that was frowned upon.
No 31 Evening Flyer Was The Best
The evening flyer was a different story. For some reason it was scheduled to pick up passengers at Gosford so the switch was made at Gosford Station. The train was given an extra ½ minute to allow for the extra distance.
I can tell you this EMU is currently crawling up Hawkmount, the steepest grade on the journey, and the place we would often camp in the latter days of steam.
3822 On A Fast Newcastle Flyer Run
This journey does jolt my memory as to how magnificent steam days were. The “Flyer” was on a very tight schedule. A very fast run would maybe make up 5 minutes on the schedule, so there was no time for dawdling. Leaving Gosford you would often hear a wheel slip as those 5′ 9″ drivers accelerated the 310 ton load up the slight grade from the station. Under the road bridge the grade turned as we passed the Garratt Siding and we picked up speed down the straight towards Narara. The driver would hit the first curve at around 45 mph and maintain that through to a second curve near the Narara overbridge. Once into Narara station the throttle opened and first we negotiated the grade out of the station and then accelerated to reach 60 mph by Lisarow.
There was a curve into Ourimbah station which kept us in check. From there to Tuggerah we would often reach speeds of 70-75 MPH and on occasion averaged nearly 70 mph, the track limit, for the section. Again a far cry from today’s run which seemed to dawdle. Worse still we stopped at Tuggerah, a point where the fire was reset and readied for the challenge though Warnervale. We would move from Tuggerah to Wyong in a flash, often slowing slightly in the shorty grade into Wyong station before accelerating towards Warnervale.
At Warnervale crossing we would be travelling and the throttle opened wide to top this steep grade at around 60 mph. Something about the 38 class and steam generally is that they are capable of greater performance than the specs on paper. There are many factors at play here.
Importance Of The Fireman For Performance
First, the maximum boiler pressure was 245lbs per sq inch, much higher than the C36 at 200 lbs, giving it greater steaming capacity. When the safety valve blew on reaching maximum pressure, it dropped, meaning that operating just below that level gave optimum performance. The pressure depended on the level of water in the boiler and the heat from the fire as well as distribution of heat. In this way the fireman had an influence on performance. It was a pretty large firebox. I know because I talked the fireman into letting me set the fire on a few occasions. Many of the famous steam express engines were either oil fired or had automatic stokers fitted.
How The Driver Affects Performance
On the driver side, there was of course a throttle, or regulator to control the amount of steam into the cylinders, and a variable reversing gear. The 38 class reversing gear was power assisted, so the wheel was quite small compared to some of the other engines. The gear altered the length of stroke, or over how much of the travel of the piston steam would be injected. A short stroke was better at high speed to nudge the engine along ever faster, while a long stroke was best when starting out or climbing a steep hill. If you used a long stoke at speed, you could very easily use up the steam in the boiler, or worse still ruin the fire by creating too much draft.
As we topped the 1 in 66 Warnervale hill at 60 mph I was aware of the expertise of the crew and wondering what would happen on the climb to the summit at Hawkmount later in the journey. The journey from here through to Morisset is hilly, but fast with a 70 mph limit for much of the trip. You would hear some great high speed engine noise along here. There is nothing like a steam engine working at speed. I remember marvelling at the 012’s in Germany which regularly strolled along at 75 mph or 120kph. In no time we were past Morisset and slowing down for the curve leading to Dora Creek.
This is another good example of why this route is so challenging. Past Morisset there is a sharp curve and the Flyer has to slow to under 50 mph (speed limit 40) as it prepares for the assault of Hawkmount. Once this curve is cleared the 38 gets to work accelerating up to 70 mph along the Dora Creek flat to hit the start of the grade. Speeds vary greatly on this section and normally the Flyer would top it at just under 30 mph. As I said, this wasn’t easy. On occasion, with a good 38 and a wily crew, we topped this hill at 45 mph and actually had to slow down for the 40mph curve at the top!
Hawkmount was a real display of steam power and this section would take 7-8 minutes to traverse. From there we would ease down the hill to Awaba under brakes. The famous record attempt by 3801 in 1965 is best known for the fact that the train simply went too fast down the hill to Awaba and necessitated realignment of some of the trackwork. With a high axel load, these engines were only exceeded by the mighty 57 and 58 class in their stress on the rails.
The section from Awaba to Fassifern was relatively straight, but there were more grades. We would again top 60 on this section and sometimes approach 70 before again checking speed for the curve into Fassifern. Drivers were careful not to expend too much energy on this section as the fire was prepared for the 1 in 40 out of Fassifern station, the steepest grade on the short north. Unlike Hawkemount this was a short assault, and the midday flyers which stopped there made hard work of the climb.
On the through trains, hitting Fassifern at 60 mph, momentum meant they often topped the hill around 40 mph before attaining up to 60 approaching the island platform at Booragul. The last speed stretch took us past the Cardiff Loco works at Sulphide Junction, named for the smelter nearby. On occasion the train would again reach the speed limit of 70 mph before slowing down for the sharp curve into Cardiff station.
The last climb was to Tickhole Tunnel on a 1 in 80. It was made more difficult because you would start this section at around 40. My best runs maintained 40 mph through to the tunnel and on to Kotara just on the other side. Now the work was done and the 38 eased its way through Adamstown and onto Broadmeadow.
All the puffing and panting now ceased for a gentle trot into Newcastle Terminal. With 3822 at the help, on this occasion we made Gosford to Broadmeadow in just a shade under 58 minutes, a sterling performance. This is a far cry from the interurban electric tonight which took over 1 hour 10 minutes. These days there is no attempt to regain lost time and our arrival at Newcastle was 5 minutes late, with no time regained.
Regrettably, the days of pride in the railway and on time running are long gone and with the romance of a steam train driver has become just another job. Perhaps that is why I decided not to pursue a career as a driver all those years ago.
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