Steam locomotive 3642 celebrates 125 years of Sydney’s North Shore railway

Locomotive 3642 steaming out of Gordon station on 8 March 2015. Photo by Phillip Simpson.
Locomotive 3642 steaming out of Gordon station on 8 March 2015. Photo by Phillip Simpson.

Last Sunday, 8 March 2015, the leafy tranquility of Sydney’s Upper North Shore was pierced regularly throughout the day by a shrill steam whistle. Steam had returned to this commuter line to the city with the historic steam locomotive 3642 providing steam train rides between Hornsby and Gordon stations to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the opening of the line. Five steam train trips were operated between the normal double-deck electric services.

The North Shore received its railway line fairly late in railway era well after lines had been built out into country NSW. Surveys for this fairly steep line from Hornsby to North Sydney, which required numerous cuttings, were made between 1881 and 1882. Unfortunately these plans were stored in the old Sydney International Exhibition building in the Botanic Gardens, which burnt to the ground in a massive fire in 1882. The fire not only saw the loss of these plans but this Museum’s original collection and many of the State’s records including the census returns, a tragic loss for family historians.

After considerable delays the line was finally opened on 1 January 1890 as a single track line between Hornsby and St Leonards. It would seem there weren’t too many passengers at this time as a small horse bus then carried passengers from St Leonards to Milsons Point to catch a ferry service across the harbour to the city. The North Shore Line was extended to Milsons Point in 1893, which encouraged considerable urban development around the stations, but city passengers still had to wait until the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932 to be able to travel all the way to town on the train.

Steam locomotive 3642, which celebrated this event yesterday, is in the state’s heritage fleet to take members of the public on city and regional trips. It was built in Sydney at the Clyde Engineering Company Ltd’s Granville works in 1926. The 36 class locomotives were the mainstay of the state’s express passenger service hauling famous trains like the ‘Newcastle Flyer’ and the ‘Melbourne Express’. They gained the affectionate nickname, the pigs, due to their hump-shaped boiler. After the introduction of the 38 class locomotives in 1943, the 36 class engines were used mainly on express goods trains, and after dieselisation, short-haul passenger and goods trains.

Photograph of steam locomotive 3626 built in 1925 by the Clyde Engineering Co. Ltd, Granville, NSW. Photograph was the gift of Clyde Engineering Co. Ltd, 1988. (MAAS collection 88/289-9).
Photograph of steam locomotive 3626 built in 1925 by the Clyde Engineering Co. Ltd, Granville, NSW. Photograph was the gift of Clyde Engineering Co. Ltd, 1988. (MAAS collection 88/289-9).

The Clyde Engineering Company not only built steam locomotives and rolling stock but trams, buses, agricultural equipment, large engineering projects funded by Australian State and Federal governments; and aircraft maintenance and construction during the Second World War. The Museum has an amazing collection of photographs from the company taken at the Clyde works in Granville between the 1880s and 1945 depicting both the workers and the machinery they manufactured. Collectively they show the Industrial Revolution at work in Australia. By 1923 Clyde had 2,200 employees working round the clock on eight hour shifts.

I am sure those workers at Clyde would be delighted that at least one of the steam locomotives they built was still running and being enjoyed by hundreds of enthusiasts and members of the public on Sunday.

Clark, L.A. “North of Harbour: A brief History of Transport to and on the North Shore”, 1976.

Post by Margaret Simpson, Curator

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