Our Most Famous Freight Train

Once upon a time there were important lead, silver and Zinc mines at Broken Hill in the far west of NSW. I remember a trip there where I was taken 4,000 feet underground to witness men blasting the rock and transporting it into skips. Due to it being well inside the earth, it was hot and muggy in there, and I am glad I didn’t have to do that job. The miners told me that although the wages were great, working underground shortened their existence on the planet and most retired by 50.

The Journey

From Broken Hill North mine, the ore was mounted into GC bogie wagons and assembled in lots of 1,020 tons to be transported to Sulphide Junction Lead Smelter near Newcastle. Quite possibly a C32 class would help assemble the wagons as one was stationed at Broken Hill in the 1960's. There are some photos in “Shooting The West”.

The Journey was 780 miles or 1,250 kilometres. You could travel through half of Europe in that distance.  The train was set as a block load, with priority passage and plenty of motive power.

W44 left Broken Hill at 11:30 am with a single 49, arriving at Parkes at 3:30 am the following day. In the early 1960’s steam took over here. At Parkes, a light Garratt and a small engine, usually a standard goods or 36 would haul the load to Molong, where they were exchanged for heavier motive power to tackle the grades towards Orange.

Why This Train Was So Special

Back in the early 1960s there were single Garratts on the South and Short North, and some double headed with smaller engines such as 35 and 50 class between Gosford and Broadmeadow, What wasn’t happening back in those days were two of the mighty Garratts in tandem… until W44 came on the scene.

It was a long and often freezing haul to Molong . Only the bravest of photographers took their not too roadworthy vehicles that far. When we were young, many of our cars were held together with tape and chewing gum – literally! I am told the first time you saw the two Garratts thundering up the grade with a less than full load, you could never forget it.

In fact this legend of a train only ran for a few short years, a contract job to get lead to the smelter in a hurry. When you see half full wagons, don’t be fooled. The contents were literally “as heavy as lead”. By 1968 Garratts were gone from the west and the blast was only a memory. By then double Garratts were happening on Newstan coal trains out of Fassifern and on the Short North. I have certainly not seen a display to match the last occasion double headed 60 class hauled a full load from a standing start out of Fassifern with fading light in December 1972.

Crazy Railfans

People would go a bit loopy after travelling all the way to Molong to witness this event, and there are many tales of encounters in the process of getting the coverage. One such story features in “Shooting The West” and made the local paper at the time.

A few young men were looking for that Garratt smoke. When they found it, they nearly rammed a police car and an altercation ensued. The driver missed the shot. Eventually the story was published in the local newspaper to give them immortality!

A similar incident happened to me in East Germany where my friends photographed a 3 cylinder 01.5 Pacific at high speed on the Dresden line while I was talking a policeman out of arresting us!

Up until early 1966 it was steam all the way to Lithgow, although even in the 1970's you could see it being pushed up Raglan bank by a 59 class. That is something I did witness and photograph.

From Lithgow a pair of 46 class electrics took the train to Newnes Junction, where one 46 was detached, a second being attached at North Strathfield for the run to Gosford. This was all that was required for the snaking run down the mountains and into the Sydney basin.

From Gosford, a 35 or other “small” engine, and a 60 class would finish the journey to Sulphide Junction near Cardiff. The train was scheduled to finish its journey very early in the morning if on time.

The fact it had travelled nearly 800 miles meant that it could be many hours late due to engine issues or signalling delays.

The photo below shows a 59 and 60 class topping Hawkmount with the well-known GC wagons in tow full of their precious and very heavy cargo.

W44, or N645 on its journey north, was a very special train, the like of which we will never see again,  with any sort of motive power.

"Shooting The West" inspired this post and is a mine of information and amazing colour photos of steam west of Sydney as far as NSW stretches.

Orders being taken now!

John Gaydon