Northern NSW Steam Action – Were You There?

It has been over 40 years since steam operated in regular service on the NSWGR, now known as the SRA (I think). Many of you reading this were there, or have seen photos of the days when steam plied regularly between Gosford and Newcastle, long after other parts of the state were dieselised.

3526 3246 moombi ranges steam train locomotive nsw

3526 and 3246 climb the Moombi Ranges. Not 17 Brisbane Express but a rail tour

While I managed to photograph the last years of steam with my Kodak Retinette, a far cry from the modern SLR, lack of transport restricted my activities to walking along railway tracks for hours for a single photo.

Back in 1965, I had just started High School, with little money to purchase film, and no wheels. At that time photographers were driving up and down the northern line to Wallangarra, recording history in the last days of steam on that very scenic part of the country.

ben lomond nsw 3214 1243 176 steam loco australia highest railway station

176 (formerly 1243) and 3214 head the Vintage Train at Ben Lomond, Australia’s highest railway station. This line is now abandoned.

I did manage to chase the Vintage Train and a special on the long north, and I have included a slide show of my exploits here to get your mouth watering, but you will have to get a copy of “Northern Exposures” for the regular steam shots.

My only trip during steam times that far north was when I travelled on the diesel hauled Brisbane Express from Broadmeadow to Werris Creek. That night I pretended to be asleep when the conductor came past and managed to get there for 10c! After a couple of black and white shots in the yard that so far I have been unable to locate, we went for a walk into town. We were approached by a passing police car and the cops were wanting to charge us for vagrancy for wandering around town n the middle of the night.Somehow we managed to talk him out of it, went back to the station and caught a cab ride in a diesel freight back home. Another weekend excursion cut short.

I did manage to chase a steam special bound for Wallangarra, which only managed to get to Glen Innes due to loco failure. As it turns out, the locos were seconded to rescue no 13 mail due to a failed diesel near Kentucky. So I do have a picture of steam on a regular train in the far north.

glenn innes mail 3246 3526 steam train kentucky nsw

3526 and 3246 haul the Glenn Innes Mail with a dead 44 attached at the rear May 1972.

Here are some of my shots of the area in a slide show

Of course, I missed out on the amazing variety of motive power used in this part of the world up until 1966 when the diesels moved in. In “Northern Exposures” you will see stunning colour photos of 30, 32, 35, 36 50, 53 and 59 class engines in various combinations on passenger and freight trains.

 Northern Exposures – Full Cover Coverage Of The Last Days Of Steam In The North OF NSW

Collectors Item

This great new book featuring hundreds of full cover photos of NSW steam in the 1960s and 70s on lines north of Sydney, compacts the work of dozens of rail photographers including yours truly. None of the photos shown here were good enough for selection for the book!

Get your copy at

Modern Day Train Trip To Newcastle NSW

3822 newcastle flyer gosford 31 1969 steam train

3822 Awaits Departure From Gosford On 31 evening Flyer 1969

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



Time Interval Top Speed




























































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.


3813 no 71 newcastle flyer fassifern 1969

3813 Tops The Summit At Fassifern On 71 Flyer 1969

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.

If you like this article and want more on the “Short North” and other lines in the north of NSW, check out “Northern Exposures” where the best of NSW railway photographers put their best shots into what will be a collectors item.

Newcastle Flyer Photos From The 1960’s

I started venturing north to Gosford back in June 1966 at which time I discovered the Newcastle Flyer.

My first trip saw me only get as far as Gosford, as I spied a 32 class on its way to Sydney, something even then rather rare on the short north. This engine had come from far away, possibly Narrabri, and was on transfer. As I recall, I never saw another ‘P’ on this stretch of rail line over the next 7 years.

3233 leaves Cowan towards Sydney on a freight in June 1966

My father lived in Belmont, near Newcastle, the northern terminus for this line. This meant I could go and visit him on school holidays and spend my time photographing and riding in the Newcastle area. While there, I was even fortunate enough to ride on the Belmont Passenger, which ceased operations in 1970. In its later years it was a rail motor, but in my time it was still hauled by a C30Tank

3138 C30 tank nsw steam belmont adamstown

3138 heads a passenger train towards Belmont in 1967

My main interest in steam was riding express passenger trains. My first venture to Campbelltown ended with a high speed run with 3617 on the relief Goulburn Day Train between Campbelltown and Liverpool. I clocked it at over 80 mph and we made the journey at a mile a minute pace. I was only to achieve this twice more in all the time I rode NSW Steam Hauled express trains.

2029 liverpool campbelltown nsw steam train

2029 approaches Liverpool on its way to Campbelltown in 1965

In the early days, 20 class used to operate the line between Campbelltown and Camden. After this finished, an occasional 20 class still shunted Campbelltown yard. Here 2029 approaches Liverpool station on a freight.

For the remainder of my school years, I divided my time between the Short North between Gosford and Newcastle, and the Short South between Sydney and Goulburn. With no vehicle until the very last years of steam, I would often walk the tracks to get photos of trains in action along with many of my mates. It wasn’t easy, but we did get our record of history as steam hasn’t operated in regular service since 1973.

The Flyer Was Special

This is a famous train, perhaps the most famous in NSW and until electrification to Gosford in 1960, travelled non-stop. After this time it was hauled by a 46 class electric to Gosford and then normally a C38 to Newcastle. Interestingly, with the time to change locos at Gosford, the schedule never reached the fastest all steam time. Even today it takes longer for the journey, although the modern electric trains stop a lot more.

I rode this train many times and often recorded it with a stopwatch. There were some very interesting trips, like the one with green 3813 where Jaffas were spilled all over the carriage after I asked the driver for a fast run and he obliged! Jaffas are balls of chocolate with an orange coating and there were many jokes about rolling Jaffas down the aisle at the cinema to cause commotion. The catering staff were not happy and abused the driver at the end of the trip. I compiled some 50 timings of steam hauled flyer trips into a “Fantasy Run” using the fastest section times between each station. Considering the schedule as 60.5 minutes for the fastest trip, these time are pretty good. It was very difficult t pick up time on this run owing to the many hills and curves en route.

  Kms Milage Record







Niagara Park
















Wyong ar      
Wyong dp












Morisset Ar      
Morisset Dp




Dora Creek








Fassifern Ar      
Fassifern Dp












Cockle Creek
























 Northern Exposures – Full Cover Coverage Of The Last Days Of Steam In The North OF NSW

Collectors Item

This great new book featuring hundreds of full cover photos of NSW steam in the 1960s and 70s on lines north of Sydney, compacts the work of dozens of rail photographers including yours truly. None of the photos shown here were good enough for selection for the book!

Get your copy at

Newcastle Flyer Slide Show

The purpose of this post is to introduce you to some of my pictures from those days. These are of the Flyer taken from my collection. The soundtrack is a 38 accelerating from a standing start on the Flyer back in 1970. I hope you enjoy it. Please leave a comment with your recollections or anecdotes after viewing the clip. It is only about 3 minutes and includes a few wheel slips as the pacific gains speed.

Regular Steam Trains On The NSW Central Coast Of Australia

For the last 22 years we have been living at Kariong, only a stone’s throw from Gosford, just an hour north of Sydney, at least as it was back in the 1960s! The train journey then between the two cities was just 1 hour and 9 minutes by the famous “Newcastle Flyer”, a train that is now a distant memory. The air-conditioned HUB sets hauled be the mighty 38 class used to be the pride of the Railways, with a tradition going back to the 1920s.


My First Trip North

As it turns out, I spent a great many of my teenage years in the area. I lived in Sydney at Roseville, and was smitten with the steam bug from an early age. By age 14, I had saved up my pocket money and with the aid of a Kodak Retinette 1A I inherited from my grandfather, I would travel to Gosford and beyond every chance I got.

3233 p class cowan bank 1966 nsw steam train short north

3233 Departs Cowan June 1966

My first trip was in June 1966, not long after I recovered from a bout of Rheumatic Fever which had kept me bedridden for the early months of that year. I arose very early in the morning, and caught the first train to Gosford, arriving around 7 am. On this occasion it was as far as I managed to get!

I witness something very unusual as it turned out, a P 32 class on its way to Sydney. In my time it was very rare to see these engines on the Short North, and I was very lucky to come across one on my first outing.

Two Steam Trains On Cowan Bank In One Day

Pretty soon a 46 class attached itself to the front of the train, and I hitched a ride in the cab of the “Banking Engine”. We headed down the track to Cowan at the top of the famous Cowan Bank, a scene where later there was a nasty accident when a signal failure cause a collision with 3801, and another occasion where double 38s ripped out the coupling gear and left some carriages behind, such was the power of our great Pacifics!

6013 Hawkesbury River nsw central coast ad60

6013 at Hawkesbury River June 1966

After farewelling the P the 46 headed back down the hill to Hawkesbury River to help another train climb the bank. As it turned out, it was another steam train, a 60 class. 6013 is one of the original Garratts without a dual cab, meaning it should only be operated funnel first. This engine was probably en route from Werris Creek and was normally assigned to the Western division.

3820 + 60 class on N645a arrives pre dawn at Sulphide Jct after a long journey from Broken Hill. This combination hauled the final leg from Gosford.

The Longest Train Journey In NSW

One of the more interesting trains hauled by 60 class for most of its journey was the lead train from Broken Hill. Designated W44 for the western journey it was often hauled by double 60 class from Dubbo to Lithgow, where a 46 class took over for the run to Gosford. The last section of the journey to Sulphide Jct near Cockle Creek would involve a 38 double heading with a 60 class.

 Northern Exposures – Full Cover Coverage Of The Last Days Of Steam In The North OF NSW

Collectors Item

This great new book featuring hundreds of full cover photos of NSW steam in the 1960s and 70s on lines north of Sydney, compacts the work of dozens of rail photographers including yours truly. None of the photos shown here were good enough for selection for the book!

Get your copy at

Anyway, enough of the reminisces for now. I have put together a slide show of some of the pictures I took in the Gosford area way back then. The background are tape recordings I made on the Short North, and are all my original material.

I hope you enjoy a trip back in time to when steam was King on the NSW Central Coast.


What’s A 412?

5412 port waratah 1972Those of us who witnessed the end of steam in NSW and were part of the rail fan fraternity at the time would be aware the 412 was considered a significant number by most of us. I believe this number gained prominence in the last days of steam on the Peterborough to Silverton line in South Australia, home of the 400 class Garratts, back in 1969, while I was still at school. Perhaps one of these was numbered 412, although I believe there were only 9 of the class. Rumour has it that on a photo location someone was listening to a Stan Freberg radio piece which included the line, “What’s a 412?….Overacting”. Someone may be able to enlighten me on this!!

Anyway, from that day on, the number 412 stuck on my mind. In 1970, a significant event happened on the week including the fourth of December, or 4/12. I am not religious, but I nearly turned Catholic when the appearance of the Pope in Australia resulted in adding hundreds of extra trains to bring all the Catholics to Sydney for the celebrations. For our group it meant that there were many extra trains on the “Short North” between Gosford and Newcastle, and a number of 36 class plus 3801 were dispatched to cope with the extra traffic. Diesels were commandeered for other parts of the state resulting in the highest level of steam running for some time.

Many friendships were solidified during that week, along with the consumption of significant quantities of beer at the Hawkmount hotel, a tent city on the best vantage point of the line, now the site of a very ugly power station.

3801 hawkemount 1970 popes week

3801 Hawkmount near Mandalay Bridge Dec 1970

My fondest memories of the time were photographing 3801 on a local from the famous Mandalay Road tree, now cut down, and taking on the job of firing the same engine from Gosford to Broadmeadow on an all stops passenger. It near killed me preparing the fire for the standing start up the 1 in 40 out of Fassifern.

3801 fassifern 37x local 1970 pope's week

3801 ready to depart Fassifern on 37x Dec 1970

I consider myself fortunate to have been able to ride in the cab of this loco, which we all hope one day will run again. At least it is in one piece unlike the very popular 3813 which ended up in a couple of 4 wheel “S” trucks at Dorrigo, or 3827 which went to scrap.

Now the closest I remember to a 412 numbered loco was 5412. I managed to capture a few shots working the Newcastle coal lines and with a little bit of magic made up the following photo. I hope you like it.

5412 + 5912 gosford

5412 + 5912 awaiting departure early one Saturday morning 1972

If you have any anecdotes about 412 or Pope’s Week, or can point me to a loco actually numbered 412, I would appreciate a comment.

John Gaydon

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