The Newcastle Flyer was a prestigious train that boasted an air conditioned carriage set hauled by only the best locomotives the NSWGR’s had to offer - the 38 class Pacific’s - ‘until’ - the advent of the 46 class electric, the flyer then looked like any other NSW passenger train as it left and arrived at Sydney Terminal, but from Gosford to Newcastle, the 38’s reigned supreme right up till the end of their service life.

Maximum track speed in NSW was 70mph (120 kph approx) throughout the system, the 46’s (as I remember) were restricted to 65mph due to their yawing effect at speed, the short wheelbase Co-Co’s, although extremely powerful, were very uncomfortable for the crews once the pace quickened.

From Sydney to Gosford, the 46’s were in their element, there was not a lot of call for speed except for some short stretches, and the 46 class could sprint to their allowed maximum like a scalded cat. Their ability to accelerate and their efficient regenerative braking system meant that timetable running was seldom a problem, so the go - slow - go element on this part of the journey suited them fine.

From Gosford to Newcastle though, the 38’s could get up a gait that made the 46 look like an old coal hauler, and it was here that they really shone.

I remember one memorable occasion on the Flyer, one trip that stood out among all the rest and is as vibrant in my memory today as it was when it occurred.

Leaving Sydney Terminal, you would meander through the complex of points and crossings, once the complexities of the yard limits were breached, the pace quickened (and the ride roughened), still, within the confines of the suburbs, the speed seldom exceeded 50mph. A stop at Strathfield, and you would divert via a flyover to the Northern line, still more meandering, with the occasional burst of exhilarating 65mph running (feeling more like 165mph).

From Hornsby, the picturesque mountains and valleys would be traversed down Cowan Bank to the famous Hawksbury River Bridge, with a mundane downhill pace, you could take in the views, have a cuppa and basically relax.

Once across the mighty Hawksbury River Bridge, the pace was level as you parallelled the Hawkesbury River, winding around the base of the hills with arrival at Gosford just part of the general on-time routine.

Easing up to the end of the platform at Gosford, you became aware that all this serenity and calm was about to change, simmering up ahead in the exchange track, was the replacement steed, a towering black non-streamlined 38 class, the epitome of NSW  passenger steam, from a distance, not so daunting, but once cut off from the train and eased up alongside the behemoth, you became aware of the life within this big black beauty as it sat, steam drifting all around in readiness for the gait to Newcastle. With a deft hand on the brake, my driver eased the 46 to a stop with the cab door placed perfectly in alignment with the 38’s footplate, a transfer of bags to the black beast, bid adieu to the changeover crew (who looked rather sheepish by the way), and we were on board for an exciting sprint to Newcastle.

Of course, when you climbed aboard the new steed, you expected that it would be ready to gallop, the crew had passed the time away playing cards, in fact they passed too much time away and our mighty steed was more of a whimpering pony with less than half a glass of water, low in steam and an almost dead fire. No wonder they left in a hurry!

Immediately the driver turned the blower on to force a draft through the fire and I started to lay a light fire to get heat back into the firebox. Whadaya reckon, quipped PW, my regular driver, as we backed toward the waiting passenger cars in the platform, can we make a go of it?

Between us, we decided to ‘give it a go!’, PW eased the big engine along initially, giving me a chance to bring it around with steam and water. As steam pressure approached a more workable stage and the loco started to settle down, PW nodded to me, which I replied likewise.

We had lost about ten minutes in running time by this stage, but as the pop valves lifted, so did the pace. Once stirred along, and with a roaring fire and full belly of water, the black 38 began to show just what these engines were all about.

We passed cars on an adjacent highway as if they were standing still, and I knew the old girl was really getting into stride, the speed seemed to be on the increase, and I could feel that the 70mph limit had been well and truly breached, as the NSW steam locos had no speedos (and subsequently no speed recorders), it was experience on a drivers part as to just how fast we were travelling, a fob watch and mileage posts flashing past were as accurate a speedometer as you would ever find in the hands of an experienced driver.

As the speed increased, so too did the rhythm of the engines movement, an up and down, forward and back motion came into play, the fire was white hot, and although almost impossible to look into the glare, a quick glimpse revealed the fire “walking” toward the front of the firebox.

Aye! PW, I yelled over the din, just how fast are we going? Oh, when they start dancing about like this and judging by the mileposts, about 85 (mph). The passengers, sitting back in their air-conditioned comfort, could not have been aware of the dramas that unfolded on the footplate that night to get them to their destination - ON TIME!