Coals to Newcastle Route Background

Compiled by Brian Bere-Streeter

This information is provided to allow MSTS enthusiasts, who may not be familiar with the New South Wales Government Railways, to enjoy an enhanced understanding of how they operated their system, and provide some prototype information relevant to using the Coals to Newcastle (CTN) route in a more authentic atmosphere.

Brief History of Australian Railways

History of NSWGR

Background to the 'Short North'

General Description of the 'Short North'

Electrification of NSWGR

Typical Services on the 'Short North'

Rolling Stock commonly seen on the 'Short North'

Additional Prototype Information

Description of Major Branches

Brief History of Australian Railways

The first Australian railway to operate a steam engine was the Melbourne and Hobson's Bay Railway Company which opened on 12 September 1854 which ran a distance of 2.5 miles between Melbourne and Port Melbourne.

NSW began steam train operations with the opening of the line between Sydney and Parramatta on 26 September 1855. This railway had commenced as a private company but due to financial problems the NSW government took over the line just prior to opening and thus became the first government operated railway in Australia.

Prior to the Federation of Australia in 1901, the six individual States were governed, independently (almost as if they were separate countries). The earliest railway systems in each state were typically owned by private companies, howvever these companies soon found themselves in financial difficulties and their railways were taken over by the relevant State Government. In regard to railway policy and standards each State acted independently to each other and as a consequence all the railway systems had various differences, such as railway guages.

Generally Australian railway gauges are as follows:

  • Broad Gauge - 5ft 3 inches - Victoria (and some parts of the eastern section of South Australia between Adelaide and the Victorian border).
  • Narrow Gauge - 3ft 6 inches - Queensland, Western Australian, Tasmania, and South Australia (north and west of Adelaide).
  • Standard Gauge - 4ft 8.5 inches - New South Wales.

As considerable delays were experienced due to having to trans-ship all goods and passengers at the "breaks-of-gauge" points at the borders of the respective states, thus hampering commercial trade, decisions were made to expand the Standard Gauge network to each State Capital (Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Darwin).

As a result the following lines were built:

Sydney to Brisbane - Completed in 1932, with the building of the Clarence River bridge in Grafton. This line follows much of the coastline of northern NSW to Brisbane. It replaced a journey through Wallengarra, which required a guage change there.

Sydney to Melbourne - Completed in 1967, with the completion of the Albury to Melbourne section, this allowed travellers to travel through on the same train rather then changing at Albury as had been the case beforehand.

Melbourne to Adelaide - Completed in 1995. This standard guage route replaced a previous "broad guage" (5' 3") route.

Adelaide to Perth - The first section was completed in 1917 from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie a distance of 1063 miles (1711 km). Narrow guage sections existed at either end of the line between Adelaide and Perth. This allowed travel, break-of-guage between the eastern and western parts of Australia. The completion of the standard guage sections at the Perth end was completed in the 1970s, with the Adelaide end completed in 1985. This section has a 497km straight section of track which is the longest in the world.

Adelaide to Darwin - The standard guage section between Adelaide and Alice Springs was completed in 1980, with the railway to Darwin being completed in 2004. This line links the northern and southern parts of Australia.

The total distance is from north to south is 2,979 kms, whilst east to west it is 4352kms.


History of NSWGR

When the railways were first being built in NSW, natural geographical barriers, such as the Great Dividing Range to the west of Sydney, and many coastal rivers hampered the development of the railway system.

The first railway in NSW was built from Sydney to Parramatta (15 miles west) in 1855. In 1857 a second railway (the Great Northern Railway) was built from Newcastle to Maitland (again 15 miles west).

From these two roots, a broad and complex railway system was to develop, the Sydney system very quickly expanded west to Penrith and south to Picton (by 1863), and the Newcastle system to Singleton (by 1865).

From here the system expanded into four generally broad directions:

The Main South - from Picton to Albury (on the Victorian border), and into the south and south-west of the State.

The Main West - from Penrith, over the Blue Mountains to Bathurst, and into the west to Broken Hill and the north-west via Dubbo.

The Main North - from Maitland the line split into two sections, the far north-west to Werris Creek and beyond, and the North Coast line to Casino (and Brisbane) and to Murwillumbah.

The Illawarra - from Sydney through Sutherland, along the South Coast to Wollongong, Kiama and Nowra (Bomaderry).


Background to the 'Short North'

Because of the major barrier of the Hawkesbury River, the Great Northern Railway (and the north-western area lines) was physically separated from the other main lines heading west and south out of Sydney.

The main metropolitan and suburban railway system from Sydney terminated in the north at Hornsby, the northern line being opened from a junction on the main western line at Strathfield, in 1886.

Because of the growing commerce between Sydney and Newcastle, and the difficult and often impassable road system or the longer sea voyage along the coast, it was decided to build a new railway joining these two major cities.

The railway was extended in two sections, northwards from Hornsby, and southwards from Newcastle. The section from Hornsby reached a terminus on the south bank of the Hawkesbury River in 1887. The line south from Newcastle reached Gosford also in 1887.

All goods and passengers had to change to a paddle-steamer (the General Gordon) which plied between the southern terminus at Hawkesbury River and a wharf on the Brisbane Water at Gosford. As the paddle-steamer was subject to open ocean weather for part of the route, the railway was extended further south through Woy Woy, and a new long tunnel, to a temporary station on the banks of Mullet Creek by 1888. This enabled a shorter, faster and more protected voyage for the General Gordon.

A contract was let to the Union Bridge Company of Cleveland Ohio, and the first Hawkesbury River bridge was opened in 1889, thereby joining the previously isolated sections of railway. The Sydney to Newcastle railway was finally a reality.

Initially the railway from Hornsby to Broadmeadow (at Newcastle) was single track, the new bridge having been built to allow double track at a future date. Progressively the sections of the Main Northern line were upgraded, and by 1910 all the sections from Hawkesbury River through to Woy Woy were double track.

In 1938, serious cracks were discovered in one of the main support piers of the Hawkesbury River Bridge. Temporary strengthening, speed restrictions, weight restrictions and "gauntleting" of the track (interlacing of the double track to a smaller "footprint" in the centre of the bridge) was implemented, until a new bridge was opened in 1946, on a parallel alignment slightly west of the existing bridge. Once the new bridge was opened, the old one was dismantled; however, the original stone piers were left in place.

The main line between Sydney and Newcastle continued to grow in traffic and became one of (if not) the most important lines in NSW. The main northern railway line between Sydney and Newcastle was known colloquially by railway employees (and others) as the "Short North".


General Description of the 'Short North'

Whilst the "Short North" officially begins at Strathfield where it junctions with the Main South. A journey along the "Short North" normally starts at Sydney station (the largest on the NSWGR system), comprising 15 "country" platforms (terminal station) and 8 "suburban" platforms (Central station). The main lines extend out from the south-west of Central as 4 double-track lines, widening temporarily through Redfern station to 5 double-track lines. Just after Redfern the Illawarra line splits off to the south, and the remaining 3 double-track lines wander through the inner-western suburbs to Strathfield.

The first section of the line follows a relatively flat course northwards to the Parramatta River, many industrial sidings being along the western side running off a Down Relief line. Once the river is crossed, the line begins its climb up through the Northern Suburbs to Hornsby; just after West Ryde, there is the first obstacles in the ?Denistone Bank? a long climb up to Eastwood, with a short respite, then the long "Eastwood Bank" up to Epping. The line continues its steady, slightly undulating, climb to Hornsby (there is only minor goods facilities along this section).

Hornsby is the first major traffic centre, being the northern limit of the general metropolitan area. Whilst many trains pass through Hornsby, most suburban services terminate here (both from the Strathfield line and the North Shore line), as well as local goods services.

The section from Hornsby to Gosford runs through a fairly rugged and heavily forested bushland setting, with only occasional pockets of "civilisation"; however, the main characteristic is the impressive scenic views, particularly along the cliff-face and waterside sections.

From Hornsby the line follows the general line of the natural ridge to Cowan, with slightly undulating grades, where the real descent to Hawkesbury River starts. The "Cowan Bank" at 1 in 40 to Up trains is one of the steepest in NSW, where most trains (except for certain expresses) generally require assistance from a banker. Most assistance was by the "banker" coupling in front of the train engine, but certain goods services used the "banker" pushing in the rear of the brake van. After the Hawkesbury River Bridge opened, Hawkesbury River station and yard reverted to a quieter "backwater" only renowned for "banking locomotives" (and the local fishing and oyster farming).

After crossing the magnificent and impressive Hawkesbury River bridge, the line follows a flatter almost water-level course along the shores of Mullet Creek, one of the most scenic in NSW, passes through the small way-station of Wondabyne (sandstone quarry), then tackles the short but sharp 1 in 40 "Wondabyne bank" up to the southern portal of Woy Woy tunnel, 5871 feet long. After emerging from the long Woy Woy tunnel, the line drops gently down to near water level again, passes through Woy Woy, and runs along the side of Brisbane Water and environs, through several small communities, into Gosford.

Gosford is one of the most important stations on the line; it is the "gateway" to the "Central Coast" regions. The electrified line terminates here ( by 1960 at least) and just about all trains change locomotives and crew. Gosford at 50 miles from Sydney is almost exactly the half-way point in the line to Newcastle (104 miles). Even though the track layout seems relatively simple, it was an important passenger, goods and locomotive division point, and belied the amount of traffic passing through it.

The character of the line changes north of Gosford, in marked contrast to the southern end of the line. The next section from Gosford to Wyong is relatively level with only slight grades, but starts as a winding route, following the adjacent Pacific Highway, passing through several small communities based on farming, fruit growing and timber getting, before straightening out before Wyong. Between Ourimbah and Tuggerah, the line passes through a heavy forested area with little habitation. The long flat section south of Wyong provided a good opportunity to establish long relief roads with watering facilities, to allow passing of trains.

Wyong was the next major population centre, north of Gosford, several trains started or terminated here, and goods traffic was fairly frequent from the local industries.

The line north of Wyong to Awaba was relatively un-spectacular, passing through mainly forested areas or open farmland, with a couple of local population centres in Wyee and Morisset. Once across Dora Creek, the long 1 in 44 climb over Hawkmount slows progress for a little while; followed by the gentler run down into Awaba. From here north, the character of the railway traffic itself changes; as Awaba is the first traffic centre where a branch line swings off, to the south-east to Wangi Power Station. Just off the main line along the branch, is Awaba State Coal Mine, which fed the Wangi Power Station . Interesting local coal workings occur here (in the later 60's, involving Garratt haulage), as well as other coal trains from Newstan Colliery further up the line at Fassifern.

Not far north of Awaba, is Fassifern, the junction station for the Toronto Branch. Just to the north-west of Fassifern station is Newstan Colliery, which fed coal trains in both directions, south to Wangi Power Station, and north to Port Waratah. Toronto was serviced by local passenger services from Newcastle (and also had minimal goods facilities) until the line closed in 1990.

Immediately north of Fassifern is the fierce 1 in 50 / 1 in 40 "Fassifern Bank". As northbound ex-Newstan Colliery coal trains started from a stand at Fassifern station, they had to be assisted by a "bank engine" (pushing from the rear) to the top of the bank. The bank engine was supplied each day from Broadmeadow depot, and using a special "bank engine key" was allowed to return "wrong line" from the top of the bank, back to the Down siding behind Fassifern platform to await the next duty. Most heavy northbound through goods trains also required banking assistance.

After climbing Fassifern bank, the line curves around and drops down into Teralba, where two more major collieries, one to the north-west and one to the south-east, add substantial extra traffic to the line. After a fairly easy run across to Cockle Creek, the old West Wallsend line comes in from the south-west; this feeds the traffic from another three major collieries onto the main line. The original main line required a deviation to accommodate a stronger bridge over Cockle Creek, and from the old main line, a series of colliery exchange sidings were added to hold the coal traffic from the three local collieries until such time as traffic "slots" became available for them.

At this point we are now at one of the busiest and most congested parts of the "Short North"; as well as all the normal Sydney to Newcastle traffic, the major traffic to and from the North (beyond Waratah), the local Toronto Branch traffic, all the coal traffic north to Port Waratah and the returning empties added to the pressure to get trains through here on time.

A relatively easy run is then made to Sulphide Junction; from here a line branches off south-east to the Sulphide Corporation, which receives long, heavy trains of concentrate ore from Broken Hill for the Corporation's smelters. Also here is the NSWGR's Cardiff Workshops, the main centre for locomotive and rolling stock construction and maintenance outside the Eveleigh Workshops at Redfern in Sydney; and across the other side, a coal loading facility for the Joint Coal Board.

At this point we are now into the outer southern suburbs of Newcastle and urban development becomes more prominent.

After leaving Sulphide Junction, the line starts to curve around the valley of Winding Creek, up through Cardiff, with a long hard climb to Tickhole Tunnel. The Cardiff deviation was designed to speed up passage of the coal trains by using a maximum 1 in 80 grade, with a long Down Relief line to allow other traffic priority. Catchpoints were provided on the Relief to trap any runaway wagons, a not altogether uncommon occurrence with the chain-coupled non-air-braked coal hoppers.

North of Tickhole Tunnel, the line steadily drops down to Adamstown, where the Belmont Branch comes in from the south-east, again adding considerable traffic to the main line. However, as the Belmont branch comes in at the south end of Adamstown, and the vast Broadmeadow marshalling yards start at the north end of Adamstown, traffic delays caused by Belmont traffic are only minimal. All the area from Adamstown north was now basically on level or only very slightly graded lines.

Broadmeadow Yard was the principal traffic terminating and originating centre for the whole of the Hunter Valley region. Just about all goods trains stopped or started here, only some fast fruit, perishables and fast stock trains passed straight through for the major goods yards in Sydney. Broadmeadow also had the main major locomotive depot north of Sydney, with two turntables, two roundhouses, a large elevated coal stage and servicing facilities for a large fleet of locomotives; mostly passenger locomotives, as all the coal traffic locomotives and many goods locomotives were based at Port Waratah locomotive depot.

Broadmeadow Station, itself was a major interchange point for northbound passenger and mail traffic, most of the main Northern express and mail trains changed engines here, suited for the lesser main lines to the North, for example changing a heavy 38 Class for a lighter 35 or 32 Class.

Leaving Broadmeadow, the line quadruples, with separate Up and Down Mains and Relief lines in parallel to Woodville Junction. Here the line divides, one line swinging North through Islington Junction, to Waratah (and points North) and the goods lines to Port Waratah and Bullock Island, and the other line swinging East to Newcastle, via Hamilton, Wickham and Civic. Honeysuckle and Newcastle goods yards fed local goods traffic from Newcastle itself, and the Hunter River wharves, for onward forwarding from Broadmeadow Yard.

Finally our journey along the "Short North" comes to a stand at one of the 4 platforms at Newcastle station, right on the "doorway" to the Newcastle Central Business District, 104 miles by rail from Sydney Central.


Electrification of NSWGR

During the early to mid 1920's the Sydney metropolitan area suburban lines were electrified on a 1500v DC overhead system. In the north the electrification terminated at Hornsby by 1929 (by now, also joined by the North Shore line, through the affluent northern suburbs, to Milsons Point. Through electric services were possible from Hornsby to Sydney, via the North Shore, when the Sydney Harbour Bridge opened in 1932). However, with the growing suburban electric traffic, a new electric car depot was built just north of Hornsby, near Asquith. This comprised a large covered carriage shed over four sidings, with another eight sidings in the open.

In the early 50's, the NSWGR decided to electrify the line over the Blue Mountains to Lithgow (to cater for increased coal traffic). To cater for this, 40 new electric locomotives were ordered (the 46 Class) and new single-deck stainless steel Inter-urban car sets (the so-called "U-boats") built to cater for semi-fast passenger services.

When the railways found the coal traffic over the Blue Mountains failed to materialise, a decision was made to electrify the Main Northern line as far as Gosford to better utilise the surplus 46 Class electric locomotives and also built extra Inter-urban stock.

The first stage from Hornsby, as far north as Cowan, was opened for traffic by November 1958. Suburban electric services were covered over this part of the line by a 4-car (daily off-peak) or 2-car (weekends) shuttle-service from Hornsby to Cowan, or by full 8-cars sets from Cowan to Sydney Central during morning and afternoon weekday peak hours.

The second stage opened from Cowan to Hawkesbury River by April 1959. At this stage, all steam assisted banking of Up trains on Cowan Bank ceased, and from this time all Up trains requiring assistance, were assisted by 46 Class electric locomotives.

Whilst the electrification works were in progress between Cowan and Hawkesbury River, a series of single-line workings took place where, the construction engineers took possession of one of the main lines. All traffic, both Up and Down, used a single track over this section, on some working days, the Up line was used, and on some working days the Down line was used. As a precaution to trains stalling in the 'work area', all Up trains were generally banked, including trains that would otherwise ascend Cowan Bank with only the train locomotive. This could lead to some very interesting train workings in MSTS, using 'wrong-road' running in a legitimate activity, eg - an UP Newcastle Flyer working towards Sydney on the Down line, with a standard goods in the lead, as banker.

The third stage (and final at this point in time) to Gosford was opened in January 1960. (Subsequently, the electrification was extended right through to Newcastle in the mid 1980's).

When the final section to Gosford was opened, all steam hauled local passenger services, south of Gosford, were replaced by Interurban sets, all Newcastle and long distance passenger services, were hauled by 46 Class electric locomotives between Sydney and Gosford, where steam or diesel took over, and all express goods, fruit and perishable trains were electric hauled south of Gosford, when electric locomotive availability allowed.

Most passenger services north of Gosford, continued to be steam hauled, right to the end of steam in 1973, however, some prestige Express and Mail trains were diesel hauled, either all the way from Sydney, or northwards from Gosford.

During the later part of the 60's, it was common practise to use the AD60 Class Beyer-Garratt locomotives to haul major goods trains from Gosford to Broadmeadow, in fact, a set of locomotive sidings (known locally as the "Garratt Sidings") were provided at North Gosford to facilitate this electric to steam change-over for northbound goods trains.


Typical Services on the 'Short North'

Freight - Bulk - Coal

The primary reason for the railways around the Newcastle area, was the transport of coal. Coal was transported from a number of locations for shipment from the Port of Newcastle, mostly through the coal loader at Port Waratah.

Extensive deposits of coal were discovered to the north, the west and the south of Newcastle. A network of privately owned railways sprang up around Newcastle to move this huge tonnage of coal from the mines to the Port.

The coal mining railways around Newcastle can be considered as four main areas of operation:

All this coal was intended for three major destinations:

Originally all export coal was handled directly to ship at the wharves complex in the main goods yard area adjacent to Newcastle station. However, as the volume of coal increased to unmanageable proportions, a new dedicated coal handling facility was built at Port Waratah, and all coal traffic was then re-directed through Port Waratah, leaving the Newcastle goods yards for all general goods traffic and Zarra Street Power Station coal traffic only.

Firstly a brief look at the Belmont Corridor; collieries along this line were:

Details of the traffic workings and timetable on the Belmont branch, can be found in the Working Timetable and Local Newcastle Coal Appendix, mentioned at the end of this document.

Secondly a brief look at the "Short North" corridor; collieries along this line were:

At Cockle Creek on the main Northern line, a branch swung off to the west and north-west to serve West Wallsend. The line was privately owned, but worked by NSWGR. The passenger service and goods service to West Wallsend did not last past the 1930s. However, the line was truncated near the old Cockle Creek Power Station, and remained to serve the Killingworth, Northern Rhondda and Stockton Borehole collieries. A series of full/empty exchange sidings were built just to the west of Cockle Creek off the old diverted main line, to serve these three collieries.

Details of the traffic workings and timetable on this section of line can also be found in the Working Timetable and Local Newcastle Coal Appendix, mentioned at the end of this document.

Freight - Bulk - Wheat

Under construction

Freight - General

Under construction

Passenger Services

The Passenger Services on the "Short North" fall into a number of broad categories: