By Stephen Miller

Stephen is currently studying a Bachelor of Arts at the UON. During Semester 1, 2018 he undertook a Work Integrated Learning (WIL) placement in the GLAMx Living Histories Digitisation Lab digitising part of the NBN Television audio-visual footage. Stephen’s knowledge of rail and transport of the region has been invaluable in identifying items, location and context of rail/transport associated archival material.  

NSWGR Steam Era

The first railway in the Hunter Valley was constructed between Newcastle and East Maitland by a private organisation known as the Hunter River Railway Company. However, the Hunter River Railway Company was forced into liquidation when they ran out of finance. Subsequently, the NSW Government stepped in to complete the project, which was opened to the public in 1857 . From these humble beginnings, a vast railway system was constructed that would be crucial to the future prosperity of the State and the Nation. This line was later extended towards Gosford in the south, where it would eventually link up with the rest of the NSW system. During the early years of railway in NSW, the railway system in northern NSW was isolated from the rest of the network, because there was no bridge across the Hawkesbury River until 1889 . One of the difficulties in building this line was the construction of the 1790-metre Woy Woy tunnel, which was recognised as the longest in NSW for many years .

A 32 Class hauling a passenger across the original Hawkesbury River Bridge near Brooklyn during the 1930s, Courtesy: UON Cultural Collections, ARHS Collection

Meanwhile, the construction of the Northern Line continued northward towards Murrurrundi and eventually to Armidale and Tenterfield in the Northern Tablelands. This route was chosen because the district had a thriving wool industry that was important to the Colony’s economy during the 19th Century and due to the extensive shipping trade along the coast. The Main Northern Line to Wallangarra on the NSW/Queensland border was completed in 1888 . Unfortunately, despite the introduction of rail services between Sydney and Brisbane, passengers were forced to change trains at Wallangarra, because the NSW and Queensland railways laid their tracks to different track widths, (i.e. NSW: 1435mm, Qld: 1067mm) . The increase in the size of the locomotive and wagon fleet, led to the construction of the Honeysuckle Workshops, to avoid the arduous task of shipping locomotives to Sydney for maintenance. To move the thousands of passengers and the vast tonnages of produce across the vast network, the State Government purchased 190 express passenger locomotives and 590 goods locomotives from manufactures in Britain and Australia . These locomotives were highly versatile and they could be frequently spotted on all manner of trains across the Hunter Valley until the end of steam in the 1970s. In addition, they also ordered a fleet of suburban tank locomotives for use on local services to Toronto, Belmont, Morpeth and Maitland. During the 1900s, the single-track Main Northern Railway was duplicated between Hornsby and Antiene (near Muswellbrook) to increase the line’s capacity to cope with the ascending population throughout the State . The emergence of coal-mining in the Maitland area, led to the construction of two additional tracks between Waratah and Maitland to cope with the influx of coal trains enroute to the Port of Newcastle. Eventually, it became evident that the Honeysuckle Workshops were too small to cope with the large locomotive fleet in northern NSW, this led to the construction of the Cardiff Railway Workshops. To provide more ongoing maintenance, a large locomotive depot was constructed at Broadmeadow and another at Port Waratah. Whereas, two smaller depots were also provided at Muswellbrook and Murrurundi. In the 1900s, construction began on the North Coast Railway from Maitland to South Grafton to access the region’s thriving timber and dairy industry. This line opened to Dungog in 1910, followed by Taree in 1913. In 1932, trains commenced running directly between Sydney and South Brisbane following the construction of the dual level road/rail bridge spanning the Clarence River at Grafton.

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A 35 Class gallops through East Maitland with a passenger soon after its departure from Maitland [c.1930s] Courtesy: UON Cultural Collections, ARHS Collection.
One of the most popular locomotives to operate in the Hunter Region was the 35 Class express passenger locomotives, which were nicknamed, Nannies. A common myth is that the popular 38 Class Pacifics, such as 3801, regularly hauled trains throughout the Hunter Valley, however this is not correct. Although they were regularly rostered to expresses, mails and even goods trains between Newcastle and Sydney, they very rarely worked beyond the Newcastle area into the remainder of the Northern Region due to their design and mass. The 35 Class were the most common express passenger locomotive in the northern region where they spent the majority of their operational life. They were capable of speeds of in excess of 115km/hr and they were preferred by most northern enginemen even over the newer 36 Class. Thankfully, an example of the 35 Class, No.3526 remains until this day and it is regularly featured at the Maitland Steamfest. Another popular engine to operate in the Hunter Region were the 60 Class Beyer-Garratts, which were imported from Great Britain in 1952. These locomotives were unique, because they featured an additional water tender in front of the boiler and two sets of main driving wheels. These locomotives had the highest tractive effort of any steam locomotive in Australia by being able to exert 280kN. This enabled them to haul up to 600 ton trains between Gosford and Broadmeadow. This line has a ruling grade of 1 in 40, which is the steepest grade along the route, making it one of the steepest sections of main line in NSW. The tractive effort is the measure that is used to describe the force that applied by the locomotive to the rails to indicate the engine’s ability to haul a train. This differs from a locomotive’s horsepower, which is an indication of the speed that the locomotive will be able to haul the train. Although the Garratt’s ability may sound impressive, it must be understood that the 42 Class diesel-electric locomotives, which were delivered the same year as the 60 class, were able to produce up to 350kN. Yet, they only produced about 1600 horsepower, which was typical of most early diesels. This compared to approximately 3000 horsepower for the Garratt. This meant that the diesel reached its maximum power at a slower speed, meaning that although they could pull heavier trains than the Garratts, they did so at half the speed. An 81 Class can haul 1050 tonnes over the same section of track. A common myth is that the 60 Class were the largest and most powerful locomotives in the Southern Hemisphere. Although they were certainly the heaviest, they were by no means the most powerful. This title belongs to the GL Class Beyer-Garratts of the South African Railways, which were able to produce 350kN.

Locomotive No. 6012 [n.d.]
60 Class No.6012 hauling a northbound goods, departs North Strathfield [c.1950s] Courtesy: UON Cultural Collections, ARHS Collection.
The Newcastle Express
The origin of the legendary Newcastle Express began in the 1929, when two prestigious express services known as the Northern Commercial Limited and the Inter-City Express, were introduced to compete with road traffic using the newly-constructed Pacific Highway, which was perceived to be a possible future threat to rail patronage on the route. . The services comprised elegant wooden tourist carriages and were hauled by 32 Class express passenger locomotives. Four members of the class, 3201, 3265, 3277 and 3289 were painted maroon to match the carriages and named Wyong, Hunter, Hawkesbury and Parramatta, respectively after the major river crossings along the route. . During the following decade, the services under went various changes. The first major change came in 1934, when the track was upgraded, which enabled train speeds to be increased from 88km/hr to 100km/hr. Consequently, the 32 Class locomotives were replaced with more powerful 36 Class locomotives and American-style pullman carriages replaced the wooden tourist carriages. A total of seventy-five members of the fleet were constructed at the Eveleigh Railway Workshops and Clyde Engineering during the 1920s and they were the premier passenger locomotive in NSW prior to the coming of the 38 Class in the 1940s. Two members of the class, 3608 and 3609, were painted green and named Hunter and Hawkesbury respectively. In the late 1930s, both services became officially known as the Newcastle Express and 72-foot heavyweight carriages were introduced to replace the pullman cars. Unfortunately, these carriages were unable to cope with demand. As a result, they were replaced with steel-bodied non-airconditioned tourist carriages. These carriages were the forerunner to the more familiar airconditioned sets that became associated with the Newcastle Express legend. In 1943, the first example of the famous 38 Class Locomotives, No.3801, was commissioned into service . There were a total of thirty 38 Class locomotives: the first five locomotives were streamlined similar to class leader 3801 and were built by Clyde Engineering at Granville. The remaining twenty-five 38s were non-streamlined and were assembled at the railway workshops at Eveleigh and Cardiff. These locomotives became synonymous with Newcastle Express working, which became colloquially known as “The Flyer”. The first appearance of the new thoroughbreds on the Newcastle Express occurred in May 1944. The 38 Class proved themselves to be a highly reliable locomotive that comfortably sustained speeds of 115km/hr and could haul the service non-stop for the entire 167 kilometre journey between Sydney and Newcastle. A fault in one of the piers on the Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge necessitated the introduction of a severe speed restriction for all trains crossing the bridge. When the new bridge was opened, the speed restriction that inhibited train performance for several years was removed. As a result, a new schedule was issued for the northbound evening service, which was 2 hours, 18 minutes, which was the fastest regular schedule ever introduced for trains between Sydney and Newcastle. Although this may make the steam-hauled service appear superior to services that came later, it must be understood that this train was a non-stop service and therefore it had a considerable advantage. In addition, the State’s population was much lower and the settled areas of Newcastle was much more concentrated around the city centre. Places like Charlestown and Cardiff were considerably smaller than what they are now and therefore, there wasn’t the same level of demand for travel at places like Cardiff, Fassifern and Morisset. If an electric service was issued with a non-stop timetable it is likely that the service would be considerably faster than the 1947 timetable for the Flyer. The only service to ever beat the non-stop Flyer was the Kempsey XPT, when it was first introduced in 1982. It was scheduled to take 1 hour, 57 minutes between Sydney and Broadmeadow and stopped at Hornsby, Gosford and Broadmeadow only, before proceeding to the North Coast Line. Therefore, it had a considerable advantage, because it could operate at up to 160km/hr and it had a minimal number of stops. Whereas, the 38s, diesels and electrics could only travel at 115km/hr. On 28th June 1964, Locomotive 3801 set a new Sydney-Newcastle speed record of 2 hours, 1½ minutes. This record remained unbeaten until the introduction of the XPT in the early 1980s, which set a new record of 1 hour, 55 minutes. In April 1948, the new air-conditioned daylight carriages were introduced, which replaced the non-airconditioned cars. It was combination of 38s and these carriages that formed the image that was commonly associated with the Newcastle Express for the next two decades. The non-airconditioned coaches were rostered onto a new service known as the Cessnock Express. Following electrification between Sydney and Gosford, steam-working on the Newcastle Express became confined to the northern leg of the journey between Gosford and Newcastle. The 38s continued operation on the Newcastle Express and worked along side the early diesels into the 1960s. The last steam-hauled Newcastle Express occurred in December 1970, when 3820 was authorised to haul the evening service from Newcastle to Sydney. Despite the demise of steam, the Newcastle Express continued operation into the 1970s and 1980s, mostly hauled by electric locomotives between Sydney and Gosford and diesel-electric locomotives between Gosford and Newcastle. Following electrification to Newcastle in 1984, the service became electrically-hauled throughout the journey from Sydney to Newcastle. The legend of the Newcastle Express came to an end in November 1987, when the familiar locomotive-hauled carriages were replaced with an ordinary double-deck Interurban electric set.

3801 performing a reenactment of the Newcastle Flyer during the 140th Anniversary of the NSW Railways in September 1995 at Newcastle station. The electric trains in the other platforms are examples of services that replaced the locomotive-hauled express in the 1980s.                 Courtesy: Stephen Miller

Private Railways
Although most railways in Australia were generally built by the respective state governments, some railways, such as some colliery lines in the Hunter Valley, were developed by private enterprise. One of the most significant was what became commonly known as the, Richmond Vale Railway. The first section of this system opened between Hexham and Minmi in 1859 . The line became incorporated into an enterprise owned by mining baron, John Brown, who extended the network westward towards Kurri Kurri and Weston, where it linked up with the neighbouring South Maitland Railway. To provide transportation of coal on their network, Brown acquired several steam locomotives that previously operated in Europe during World War One by the British Railway Operating Division . An example of these locomotives is now on display at the Richmond Vale Railway Museum. In addition to the railway, he purchased a fleet of ships to transport the coal to power stations in Sydney, which were known as Sixty-Milers . The emergence of coal mining in the Maitland area, led to the construction of the first leg of the South Maitland Railways from West Maitland to Stanford Merthyr (near Kurri Kurri). This system later spanned out to provide transportation to mines near Kurri Kurri and Cessnock. To move the tonnages over their network, fourteen mineral tank locomotives were purchased from Beyer Peacock in England. During its heyday, there was up to 100 pits on the South Maitland Railway network. During the 1960s, the SMR operated diesel rail motors between Maitland and Cessnock. These vehicles operated until 1967 before they were withdrawn. Passenger services were completely withdrawn in 1972. Another important rail system was constructed in the Lake Macquarie area between the Wallarah Coal Company’s mine at Catherine Hill Bay to a wharf located on the town’s beach. The establishment of the BHP Steelworks at Mayfield, enabled products that are necessary for the railway industry and the Nation’s economy to be manufactured locally. In addition to steel production, BHP operated a fleet of small industrial steam locomotives as a part of the manufacturing process. Because the forests throughout the region were rich in timber like blackbutt, tallowwood and red cedar, several logging tramways were constructed to enable access from the forest site to the company sawmills. This included a system at near Stroud and another in the upper reaches of the Manning River at Mount George. Sadly, these systems only appeared for a brief moment in history, having succumbed to the onslaught of road transport. By far the largest client for the local colliery railways was the various state railway systems. Hence, when steam was withdrawn, many of the district’s coal mines closed down due to lack of demand. Nevertheless, despite a proposal to acquire a fleet of diesel engines, the company’s steam locomotives were rebuilt so they could continue to operate, due to the availability of cheap coal. In the early 1980s, there were only three pits left on the South Maitland coalfields. Sadly it was realised that it was uneconomical to persist with steam power. Consequently, the aging locomotives were replaced with Government-owned diesel-electric locomotives in 1983. The final operation of steam traction in Australia came to an end when coal haulage from Stockrington to Hexham was replaced with road haulage in September 1987.

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A typical scene of a coal train on the South Maitland Railway during the heyday of Steam No.31 approaches the exchange sidings at East Greta Junction with a rake of wooden hoppers carrying high-quality bituminous coal bound for Port Waratah. Courtesy: UON Cultural Collections, ARHS Collection.

The first trams operated in Newcastle in 1887. Initially steam trams were employed, which were overhauled at the Railway workshops at Honeysuckle. Unfortunately, as the size of the locomotive fleet grew, only a limited number of steam trams could be accommodated at any one time. This led to the construction of a new tram depot at Hamilton, which is the site of the present day bus depot . Despite the growing patronage levels that followed the establishment of industry, such as the BHP steelworks, the Newcastle system was not able to be electrified until after the conclusion of the First World War . Corresponding with the introduction of electrification, a coal-fired power station was constructed at Zaara Street in Newcastle East. At its fullest extent, the network reached out to Mayfield, West Wallsend, Cockle Creek and Speers Point . Unfortunately, the service between Wallsend and Speer’s Point was closed in 1930. Following the Second World War a decision was made to close the network. Sadly, the last trams were replaced with bus services in 1950. A tramway system was also constructed to connect East Maitland to West Maitland and Campbell’s Hill, which opened on 27th June 1919. This network was operated by steam trams, which also provided the service on the Morpeth branch. Unfortunately, despite a local campaign calling for the electrification of the Maitland tram system, Government cutbacks led to the suspension of services in late 1926.

Mayfield tram No.311, Newcastle, NSW
An L/P Type Tram pauses on Hunter Street, Newcastle to pick up passengers with a service bound for Mayfield in the 1920s. Courtesy: UON Cultural Collections, ARHS Collection.

Early Diesels
The first regular operation of internal combustion in the Hunter Valley occurred during an extended coal miner’s strike in the 1940s, when a Silver City Comet diesel train (which normally operated between Parkes and Broken Hill) was transferred to Sydney to substitute for the steam-hauled Newcastle Express. The first main line diesel-electric locomotives in NSW were the twenty members of what were known as 40 Class, which were imported from Canada in the early 1950s. Following initial trials, two 40 Class engines were rostered to haul the northbound Brisbane Limited on the 15 June 1952 . The locomotives returned to Sydney two days later, hauling a test train comprising 1000 tons of perishable goods. The test was defining moment in the history of the NSW railways, because it was released that diesels were going to revolutionise motive power throughout the State and that the steam era would cease to exist . In 1957, the first on sixty examples of the distinctive 44 Class diesel-electric locomotives, No.4401 entered service. These locomotives were constructed at A.E.Goodwin at St Marys in Sydney under licence from the American Locomotive Company of Schenectady N.Y. and like most NSW diesels, the 44 Class were based on contemporary American designs of the period. Following the success of the initially 44 Class locomotives, an order for an additional forty examples of the 44 Class was placed. In the early 1960s, acquired forty examples of the 45 Class diesel locomotives. These engines were similar in many ways to the earlier 44 Class, in that they were they were designed with the Alco 251-type engine. The main difference is that the streamlined car body was replaced with a squarer, utilitarian design. For the next twenty years, the 44 and 45 Class diesels became the standard main line locomotives in NSW.

The 44 Class as illustrated in this image were the standard diesel locomotive throughout the Hunter Valley and NSW for over quarter of a century. The image shows 4490 assisting 5917 on a special train, departing Maitland for Dungog for Steamfest 2016. Courtesy: Stephen Miller

One of the factors that made diesel traction so successful in the annihilation of steam on the North Coast Line was the staggering distance between Maitland and South Brisbane, which required steam locomotives to pause at regular intervals to be replenished with water. Furthermore, the route consisted of numerous timber trestles that were not strong enough to carry the mass of larger engines such as the prized 38 Class engines. Paradoxically, although steam trains remained prevalent throughout the lower Hunter Valley until 1973, the influx of 44 and 45 Class diesels during the early 1960s, enabled the North Coast line to be almost exclusively dieselised by 1962 . Coinciding with dieselisation, was the introduction of the new Brisbane Limited Express, which operated between Sydney and South Brisbane and the Gold Coast Motorail Express, which operated between Sydney to Murwillumbah. These services comprised stainless steel coaches that were identical to the luxury Southern Aurora service, which was introduced following the standardisation of the Albury to Melbourne Line in 1962. In addition, the airconditioned North Coast Daylight Express was introduced to provide travel to communities such as Dungog, Gloucester and the Mid North Coast. Following a brief stint in the mid-1960s on the Western division, the 45s were transferred to Broadmeadow to work coal trains and express goods trains. In addition to the fleet of main line locomotives, the Railways also ordered 165 examples of the 48 Class locomotives to dieselise branch lines such as the Merriwa Line. These locomotive were similar in appearance to the 45 Class, however they were smaller and weighed only 75 tonnes compared to 110 tonnes for a 45 Class, meaning they could tread the lightest of branch lines. The 48 Class were renowned for their reliability, despite their low power output and they were employed on all manner of services from goods trains on the North Coast Line to wheat trains on the Merriwa Branch. Gradually, other services throughout the region were slowly surrendered to dieselization, such as goods trains on the Main Northern Line to Tenterfield. In 1960, an air-conditioned self-propelled diesel train was introduced by 1960 to replace the steam-hauled train on the Northern Tablelands Express. Two-car diesel trains, similar in design to the Northern Tablelands Express were introduced to replace steam trains on local suburban services between Newcastle and Gosford, Dungog and Scone. For a brief period, the South Maitland Railways introduced a fleet of diesel rail motors to provide a passenger service between Maitland and Cessnock. Although, the Newcastle Express was regularly worked by steam locomotives throughout their final days on the NSWGR, diesel-electric locomotives made regular appearances on the Newcastle Express during this period. The catalyst for the end of steam came following the arrival of 442 Class No.44201 at Broadmeadow Locomotive Depot in 1970, which were ordered to eradicate the Garratts. By the end of 1970, the Merriwa Branch was completely dieselised. The final steam-hauled passenger service in NSW was hauled by 3246 from Singleton to Newcastle in 1971. In 1972, the NSW Government Railways and Government Transport were formed into what became known as the Public Transport Commission of NSW. One of their aims was to completely dieselise the NSW system by Christmas that year. The last regular steam working on the NSWGR was from Newstan Colliery (near Fassifern) to the Wangi Wangi Power Station, which lasted until February 1973. By autumn in 1973, steam traction had completely vanished from the NSW system . Diesel locomotives also replaced steam locomotives at the Newcastle steelworks. Passenger services were placed into the hands of either diesel locomotive-hauled passenger trains or diesel railcars between Newcastle, Toronto, Gosford, Maitland, Dungog and Scone, whereas the region’s goods and coal trains were completely hauled by the State’s diesel-electric locomotives.

44216 and a 44 Class race through Wauchope with an express goods bound for Brisbane. The 442 were regularly used on goods trains through northern region and were instrumental in the elimination of steam trains on the NSW system. Courtesy: Stephen Miller

Modern Diesels
Following the victory of the Labor Government, in the 1976 State Election, The new Premier, Neville Wran, announced a plan to modernise the State’s railways. One of the first actions of the new government was to break-up the Public Transport Commission into the State Rail Authority and the Urban Transport Authority. Amongst the Wran Government’s reforms included the resumption of construction of Sandy Hollow-Gulgong line to provide transportation to the Ulan Colliery. The formation of this line was built in the 1930s and had remained dormant for fifty years, before finally opening in 1984. One of the features of the new line was Cox’s Gap Tunnel (1975m), which replaced Woy Woy Tunnel as the longest traditional railway tunnel in Australia. Central to the State’s modernisation plan included an order for eighty 81 Class diesel-electric locomotives. The 81 Class could produce 3000 horsepower. The led to the introduction of 8400-tonne coal trains from Ulan to Newcastle. In addition, to modernise country passenger trains, the State Government placed an order for XPT express passenger train, which were first introduced in 1982. The XPT is based on the design of the British Inter-City 125 high-speed trains and have a maximum speed of 160km/hr. Initially services were introduced between Sydney and Kempsey, however services were later introduced to Grafton, Armidale and Tenterfield as additional sets became available. The increasing demand for coal transportation led to the upgrading of the Hunter rail network in the mid-1980s to handle heavier coal wagons.

The 81 class revolutionised freight working across NSW during the 1980s. Four of these brutes could muscle 8400 tonne trains from Ulan to Newcastle. This image shows four 81s idling on a coal train at the coal loader at Baal Bone Colliery, near Lithgow, in the mid 1990s. Courtesy Stephen Miller

The change in the political scene in the late 1980s would result in changes that would greatly impact the image of the railway industry in Australia. The first wave of changes came in 1990, in response to the recommendations of the Booz-Allen Report. On the corporate level, it resulted in the sectorisation of the State Rail Authority into CityRail, Countrylink and Freight Rail. On the operational level it recommended numerous reforms, such as the axing of locomotive-hauled country passenger trains, such as the Brisbane Limited Express and the Gold Coast Motorail Express, to the replaced by XPT services. Secondly, it recommended the withdrawn of loss-making services like livestock and wool and to concentrate on more profitable commodities like coal and grain. Thirdly, it recommended the closure of the Main Northern Line between Armidale and Tenterfield and the closure of the Toronto and the Sandy Hollow to Merriwa Lines. Furthermore, it recommended the modernisation of the locomotive fleet. As a result, the State Government ordered thirty 4000 horsepower diesel-electric locomotives from the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors in Canada, to haul coal trains in the Hunter Valley. Coinciding with the new locomotives, was an order for new high-capacity coal wagons to move the ever increasing tonnages. In the early 1990s, the National Rail Corporation was formed in cooperation between the State and Federal Governments. This new organisation took over the responsibility for intermodal services operating between Sydney and Brisbane in 1995. The National Rail Corporation acquired 120 examples of the 4000 horsepower, NR Class to haul express goods trains throughout Australia. Many of these trains can be regularly scene passing through the Hunter Valley area on their journey between Melbourne and Sydney to Brisbane. In 2001, the State’s freight services were sold to a consortium owned by Lang Corporation and Toll Transport. Since the 1990s a variety of private organisations have entered the rail freight market, such as Aurizon, Southern Shorthaul Railroad, Genesee & Wyoming Australian and Specialised Container Transport. These organisations acquired hi-tech diesel-electric locomotives such as the 4400-horsepower Model C-44aci type, which were assembled at the United-Goninan’s plant at Broadmeadow and the GT46-ACe diesel-electric locomotives, which were built by Downer Rail at the former railway workshops at Cardiff. Downer Rail is the organisation that is associated with the operation of Public Transport in Newcastle.

Three brand new 90 Class hauling a load of new aluminium hoppers, roll through Belford, near Singleton, Courtesy: Stephen Miller

The first major proposal for railway electrification between Hornsby and Newcastle was announced in the Railway Annual Report of 1933. In 1937, the State Premier, Bertram Stevens, commissioned the consultancy firm, Rendel, Palmer and Tritton to investigate the proposal. Their report concluded that electrification of the main railways between Hornsby and Newcastle, Parramatta and Lithgow, Liverpool and Goulburn and Sutherland and Nowra should proceed using a combination of coal-fired and hydro-electricity . In addition, the Commissioner for Railways, Mr Hartigan, hinted that the Government was also considering electrification between Hamilton and West Maitland . Unfortunately, these plans were shelved following the onset of the Second World War. The subject resurfaced again in 1949, when it was realised that electrification of the main railways between Hornsby and Newcastle, Parramatta and Wallerawang, Liverpool and Goulburn and Sutherland and Port Kembla was required to increase the capacity of these routes. Furthermore, the Joint Coal Board announced that coal production in the western coalfields would dramatically increase during the next decade and that electrification of the Blue Mountains Line was required to meet the expected growth in coal transportation. Unfortunately, a variety of unintended circumstances emerged in the 1950s that threatened to delay plans for electrification indefinitely. Firstly, diesel locomotives were being produced in North America on a massive scale, which eliminated the need for large scale electrification. Secondly, the Suez Crisis during the early 1950s, led to a global recession, which briefly stifled investment in large capital projects at the time. Thirdly, the Hughes and Vale Inquiry of 1954 had massive implications, not only for the planned electrification schemes, but the Nation’s rail industry in its entirety. For many years, state government applied sanctions on road transport to protect their railway systems. However, the decision by the Privy Council during the Hughes and Vale Inquiry legislated the removal of these taxes, which allowed trucking to compete directly with the state railways. This led to the manifestation of Australia’s massive trucking industry, which would develop during the forthcoming decades. Another factor that impacted railway revenue was the ascendancy of private motor vehicle ownership. In 1956, the State Government commissioned the consultancy firm, Ebasco Services, to provide a review into the State’s transport network. The report recommended that priority should be given to electrification of the Western Line, because westbound trains face 33 kilometres of gradients as heavy as 1 in 33 as they cross the Blue Mountains and the expected growth in coal transportation . Yet, the report also suggested that the planned electrification between Lithgow and Wallerawang should be axed and that the surplus equipment, should be transferred to the Central Coast to electrify between Hornsby to Gosford. Consequently, electrification beyond Gosford and Newcastle was delayed indefinitely . The construction of the power lines and associated works was carried out by British Insulated Callender Cables. Coinciding with the construction of electrification, the State Railway’s ordered forty 46 Class, 3780 horsepower electric locomotives from Metropolitan Vickers in England to haul goods and express passenger services, which arrived in Australia in 1956. It must be noted that electric locomotives (as the name suggests) are different from diesel-electric locomotives. Like most electric trains, they draw electricity from the overhead wiring, which is supplied by a variety of sources of energy like coal and hydro-electricity. Today electric locomotives operate all over the world in places like Europe, Russia, South Africa and China. On the other hand, diesel-electric locomotives have a large diesel engine to provide propulsion to a large generator, which produces electricity for traction, hence the term diesel-electric. In addition to the 46 class engines, they ordered eighty interurban power cars and trailers from Commonwealth Engineering in Sydney, to provide commuter services to Lithgow and Gosford. Electrification between Hornsby and Gosford was opened in January 1960 by the NSW Premier, Bob Heffron.

Three 46 Class electric locomotive race through Hawkesbury River in command of a northbound express goods in 1992. Like all electric trains in Australia the pantographs on the locomotive rooves are used to draw power from the overhead wiring. Courtesy: Stephen Miller

Throughout the 1960s, goods trains and locomotive-hauled passenger trains were mainly hauled by electric locomotives between Sydney to Gosford and trains travelling between Gosford to Newcastle and beyond, were either steam or diesel hauled between Gosford and Newcastle. The only exception were North Coast trains, which were normally diesel-hauled throughout their journey until the opening of electrification to Newcastle in 1984. The electrification to Gosford led to a dramatic increase in population during the forthcoming years. This led to introduction of a fleet of new double-deck interurban trains, which entered service in 1970. The subject of electrification between Gosford and Newcastle resurfaced during the 1970s, due to the oil price shock in 1974, which peaked in 1979 as a result of political tensions in the Middle East. One of the key policies of the Wran Government was the plans to electrify from Newcastle to Gosford and an additional proposal to electrify coal haulage from Newcastle and Muswellbrook. Coinciding with this proposal was the promise to build three new power stations provide additional capacity for the State’s electricity grid. In addition to the plans for electrification, the State Government ordered fifty 86 Class electric locomotives as well as additional double-deck interurban cars to cover the increased territory to Newcastle. The locomotives and Interurban trains were built by Commonwealth Engineering in Sydney with electrical equipment supplied by Mitsubishi in Japan. Electrification between Gosford and Newcastle was opened by NSW Premier, Neville Wran on 2nd June 1984. From this date, passenger services between Sydney and Newcastle were mainly provided by Interurban electric trains. Meanwhile, the famous locomotive-hauled Newcastle Express persisted into the electric era until it was finally withdrawn in the late 1980s. In the late 1980s, A. Goninan’s Ltd of Broadmeadow were awarded a contract to build the Tangara suburban electric fleet for the Sydney suburban network. Between 1984 and 1995, goods trains between Broadmeadow and Sydney were electrically-hauled, whereas diesel locomotives replaced electric locomotives for the journey north of Broadmeadow. Unfortunately, electrification of the Hunter Valley coal lines has never been pursued. The formation of the National Rail Corporation in the mid-1990s had a dramatic impact on electric-haulage of goods trains in NSW. It was their policy to operate diesel locomotives under wires, thus eliminating the requirement to change from diesel to electric locomotives at Broadmeadow. Consequently, electric-haulage of goods trains on the Northern Line ceased by the late 1990s and all electric locomotives were withdrawn in NSW by mid-2002. Currently, there are new double-deck electric trains under construction in South Korea to replace the aging Interurban trains.

A 1950s single-deck Interurban train at Newcastle Station in September 1995, next to a 620/720 Class diesel railcar set. These were introduced to replace steam trains across the Hunter Valley. Courtesy: Stephen Miller

The Hunter Rail Network Today
In 2014, the Newcastle line were truncated to a new interchange located at Wickham, to be replaced by a new tram system in early 2019. Electric commuter trains continue to operate between Newcastle Interchange and Sydney, however diesel railcars are used for commuter trains to Telarah, Dungog and Scone. Country trains on the North Coast line are provided by the aging XPT fleet, whereas services to Armidale and Moree provided by Xplorer diesel railcars. Today, the region’s freight task is handled by a variety of hi-tech diesel electric locomotives, which are operated by a variety of private organisations, the most prominent is Pacific National. Rail infrastructure such as tracks, stations and power lines are now managed by either Sydney Trains or the Australian Rail Track Corporation. The only steam-era locomotive depot that remains intact is the old roundhouse at Broadmeadow, which closed in the 1990s. Pacific National has built a new maintenance facility at Greta and Aurizon has built a similar plant at Hexham at the site of the Richmond Vale Railway exchange sidings. The majority of the line side infrastructure such as the single boxes have vanished and been replaced by optical fibre and Centralised Traffic Control. A tourist railway and mining museum has been established at Richmond Main Colliery near Kurri Kurri and there is a proposal to establish a second museum at the former South Maitland workshops near Telarah. Fortunately, the main rail link from Maitland to Cessnock remains intact, however the remaining South Maitland and Richmond Vale networks have been abandoned to the Australian bush. Walking tracks have replaced iron rails over the majority of the network and it is still possible to walk through at least one of the three tunnels between Stockrington and Richmond Main. Plans exist to establish a bike trail along the corridor from Hexham to Kurri Kurri. There are few remnants that exist to remind us of the Morpeth Branch, whereas the untrained eye would scarcely realise that a tramway once existed in Newcastle and Maitland. The historic wharf at Catherine Hill Bay remains as a monument to the village’s industrial past. Sadly the once might Newcastle steelworks and the company’s rail operations have passed into history. Despite the imminent return of trams to Hunter Street in 2019, it will barely be a shadow of the vast network that disappeared more than a generation ago. The old Honeysuckle workshops are now the site of the Newcastle Museum. The Merriwa branch is still active between Muswellbrook and Sandy Hollow and is used daily by coal trains enroute to the mines near Ulan. Unfortunately, the remainder of the branch west of Sandy Hollow has been closed since the 1980s. Nevertheless, the station building at Merriwa has been beautifully restored by a local community group. The popular Fernleigh Bike Track has replaced rails along the corridor of the former Belmont branch and a bike trail has also been constructed adjacent to the abandoned Toronto Branch. It is difficult to tell what the future will bring to rail services in the Hunter Valley. Will electric services ever reach Telarah? Will the light-rail solve Newcastle’s transport woes? What will a post coal world mean for the rail network? Rumours exist for the construction of a high-speed railway between Newcastle and Sydney, this would reduce travelling times from 2 hours 40 minutes for current services to about 40 minutes. Unfortunately, judging by current trends it is doubtful that this project will materialise anytime soon. One thing that is clear is that railways will continue to play a central role in Hunter Valley into the future.

A historical four-wheel wooden coal hopper on display along side the New England Highway at Muswellbrook. This example and thousands of identical wagons were used throughout the twentieth century by the NSWGR and the various collieries across the region. Courtesy: Stephen Miller.

We thank Stephen Miller for sharing his photographs and expertise.

Other Railway associated photographs can be viewed here UONCC Flickr – ARHS photographic Collection

Archival Railway Film- ARHS Presentation April, 2018

Primary Sources
“Railway Electrification: West Maitland”. The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW) 20 Aug, 1938.

Railway Quiz (Sydney: Department of Railways, 1966.

Report on the Electrical Development of NSW. London: Rendel, Palmer & Tritton, 1937.

Steam Locomotive Data. Sydney: Public Transport Commission of NSW, 1974.

Secondary Sources
Attenborough, Peter. Diesel Profiles: Alco DL541: The New South Wales 45 and South Australian Railways 600 Class. Matraville: Eveleigh Press, 1998.

Attenborough, Peter. Newcastle Express: Australian Trains. Matraville: Eveleigh Press, 2009.

Chinn, N. & McCarthy, K. NSW Tramcar Handbook 1861-1961, Part Two. Sutherland: South Pacific Electric Railway Co-operative Society Ltd, 1976.

Churchman, G.B. Railway electrification in Australia and New Zealand. Wellington N.Z: IPL Books, 1993.

Dornan, S.E. & Henderson, R.G. The Electric Railways of New South Wales. Sydney: Australian Electric Traction Association, 1976.

Durrant, A.E, Australian Steam, Terry Hills: A.H. & A.W. Reed Pty Ltd, 1978.

Preston, R.G. The Richmond Vale Railway. Burwood NSW: NSW Rail Transport Museum, 1989.

Preston, R.G. Green Diesels: The 40 and 41 Classes. Matraville: Eveleigh Press, 1997.

Preston, R.G. 44: The World Down Under. Matraville: Eveleigh Press, 2006.

Oberg, L. Locomotives of Australia. Frenchs Forest NSW: Reed Books Pty Ltd, 1975.

Rannard, Shaun. Portrait of a Classic 46. Matraville: Eveleigh Press, 2010.

Testro, Ron. A Pictorial History of Australian Railways 1854-1970. Melbourne: Lansdowne Press.

In September 2019, Stephen Miller created a display on the history of railway electrification in Newcastle, exhibited in the Auchmuty Library. You can see the posters for the exhibit here:  Electrifying Newcastle’s Railway Exhibit


  1. Located this site when searching for other material. My GGG grandfather owned a shipping company out of Liverpool. One of his many ships, the Anglia, left Gravesend, London on June 5, 1855 and arrived in Newcastle, NSW on Sept 24th. Part of their cargo was a locomotive and rails for the Hunter River Railway Company. There is a note, “Cargo and labourers held on board for 15 days, as RR Co. no longer existed and sold to government.” Oct 1855, “difficult unloading from vessel moored out in harbour.”

    Prowse & Co. also transported the first locomotive to Japan. It is difficult to imagine sailing with a locomotive on board.

    Thought this might be of interest to you.

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