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NSWGR 3801
3801 with Newcastle Flyer.png
Preserved 3801 leading the Newcastle Flyer
Type and origin
Power type Steam
Builder Clyde Engineering
Build date 1943
Configuration 4-6-2
UIC class 2′C1′ h
Gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
Driver diameter 5 ft 9 in (1.753 m)
Wheelbase 65 ft 7 18 in (19.99 m)
Loco & tender weight 201 long tons (204.2 t) when in steam
Fuel type Coal
Fuel capacity 14 long tons (14.2 t)
Water cap 8,100 imp gal (36,800 l; 9,730 US gal)
 • Firegrate area
47 sq ft (4.4 m2)
Boiler pressure as built: 245 lbf/in2 (1.69 MPa)
as restored: 215 lbf/in2 (1.48 MPa)
The New Boiler: 245 lbf/in2 (1.69 MPa)
Heating surface 3,367.79 sq ft (312.878 m2)
 • Tubes 142 tubes, 2.25 in (57 mm) dia each
 • Flues 36 flues, 5.5 in (140 mm) dia each
Superheater 36 element
Cylinders Two, outside
Cylinder size 21.5 in × 26 in (546 mm × 660 mm)
Performance figures
Tractive effort as built: 36,200 lbf (161.0 kN)
as restored: 31,767 lbf (141.3 kN)
Operators NSWGR
Class 38 class
Number in class 1st of 30
Numbers 3801
Nicknames The Grey Nurse
Locale Australia
First run January 1943
Withdrawn December 1976
Disposition Restored for excursion service (currently under overhaul)
C.38 Class Locomotive Cab Controls

3801 (pronounced Thirty-eight o-one) is a two-cylinder simple, non-condensing, superheated, ‘Pacific’ 4-6-2 express passenger steam locomotive and Australia's best known and most widely travelled steam locomotive. The streamlined locomotive was designed to haul express trains such as the Newcastle Flyer and Melbourne Limited for the New South Wales Government Railways (NSWGR).


Built in 1943 by Clyde Engineering, 3801 was the first of 30 38 class locomotives built to haul express trains and replace the 36 class on these premium workings. 3801 - 3805 were built in Sydney by Clyde Engineering to a streamlined design, whilst the other 25 locos in the class were built by the NSWGR and were unstreamlined. Of the other 38 class locomotives, only the unstreamlined 3830 is still operational.

The 38 class were first conceived in 1938. They suffered many delays during construction - mostly due to World War II. 3801 was the first engine completed late 1942 and entered service in January 1943 to little fanfare. It became known at the time as the "Grey Nurse" due to its drab, all grey colour scheme - a wartime economy.

In service[edit]

3801 passes through Stanmore in 1945

When joined by 3802 in April, these engines were allotted to working the Melbourne and Melbourne Limited expresses between Sydney and Goulburn. In early 1947 3801 was given a heavy overhaul and was painted in its standard colour scheme of green with yellow lining. A Waratah emblem was added to the top of the nose cone in later years. In 1955 3801 was overhauled again, being painted black with red lining as a cost-cutting measure. It was around this time that diesel locomotives started appearing on the rails of NSW. These would take the "glamour workings" away from the 38 class, who would be confined to all-stations passenger and even goods trains. In December 1956 3801 was the first in its class to reach 1,000,000 miles (1,600,000 km) of service.

Demise and Preservation[edit]

In 1960, four of the 38 class were transferred from Eveleigh to Broadmeadow sheds due to the Gosford electrification (opened 23 January 1960) and in 1962, 3801 was slated for withdrawal. A "final run" was organised in September 1962, however 3801 continued working into December.

In early 1963 3801 was given a major overhaul, returned to green paint and to service. 3801 was often used on special services operated by railway heritage organisations, the most famous being a non-stop run from Sydney to Newcastle on 28 June 1964. Just failing to break the two-hour barrier, this remains the fastest journey from Sydney to Newcastle by rail (2 hours 1 minute 51 seconds). On the return journey 3801 again fell just short of the two-hour mark. In October 1965 the locomotive was found to have serious boiler problems, so was withdrawn and placed in the care of the New South Wales Rail Transport Museum. The museum contributed $18,000 to return 3801 to service and the boiler from 3819 was fitted. In October 1966 3801 returned to service, however the following year boiler problems re-emerged and the loco was withdrawn. Another boiler exam gave the loco a reprieve and allowed it to return to service. During this time it operated a train celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Newcastle Flyer on 31 May 1969, as well as the Western Endeavour special across the continent to Perth between 22 August and 12 September 1970. From the end of April 1974 all steam trains were barred from NSW rails, however during June and July of that year 3801 was allowed back to be used as the star of the award-winning film A Steam Train Passes.

3801 was subsequently used on Lidcombe 'goods loop' trips on 6 January 1975, to help raise money for survivors of Cyclone Tracy, which struck Darwin on 24 December 1974. 3820 was in steam that day too, as a back up should 3801 encounter any problems.

After this 3801 was deeded to the Rail Transport Museum and was called upon to help transport exhibits when the museum was forced to move to from Enfield to Thirlmere. 3801 hauled "dead" (not in steam) engines 5711 & 1905, three carriages and a brake van. The engine was then used on tours until December 1976, when boiler problems forced it to become a static exhibit.


3801 under restoration at the State Dockyard

In November 1980 David Hill Chief Executive of the State Rail Authority enquired about the suitability of restoring 3801. Hill had the 1988 Bicentenary of British settlement in Australia in mind, and saw a restored 3801 as a representative of Australia's railways. The boiler was the major item needing repair and an investigation needed to be carried out to ascertain if restoration was viable. A visit was made to the South Maitland Railways (who at the time still used steam engines) to learn about modern boiler techniques. It was discovered that many advances had been made and it was possible to return boilers to service which previously would have been scrapped. The next step was to examine the boilers of the other preserved 38 class members - 3820 and 3830 (though 3813 had survived, it was completely stripped and in two different locations) - and compare them with 3801's boiler. It was decided to use the boiler already in 3801, however the inner firebox had suffered thermal fractures and would need extensive repairs. Restoration was deemed possible and a fund-raising appeal began.

With some finance raised, 3801 was taken to Newcastle for restoration by the Hunter Valley Training Company - an apprenticeship scheme later involved in the restoration of 3830. This was due to the railway's workshops being stretched by regular work.

The firebox was to be completely replaced, however the dies and jigs used to press the boiler metal had been scrapped, so the old firebox was used as a template. The new firebox had a different shape and this reduced the boiler pressure to 215 psi. It was decided to weld the new firebox and some conservative engineers were sceptical as to whether this would work. Repairs and reconditioning of many other components were also carried out. The tender tank was so rusted, it needed to be replaced. The new tank was welded rather than riveted and this resulted in a sleek, plain tender. On 8 November 1986 a fire was lit for the first time. By 10 November 3801 was running around nearby sidings. More short trials followed and on 15 November 3801 was handed over and hauled a train to Maitland. More trial runs followed and on 19 November 1986, 3801 headed from Newcastle to a grand ball on the concourse of Sydney's Central Station.


3801 in 2006 with a recreation of its original "Grey Nurse" colour scheme

Since restoration 3801 has crossed the continent for the second time, visited Australia's "red centre" and run with LNER 4472 Flying Scotsman - the most famous locomotive in the world. 3801 was restored for Australia's Bicentenary so it was the natural choice to lead the Bicentennial Train. This train visited every mainland capital accessible by rail (Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne) during 1988. During 1988-89 LNER 4472 Flying Scotsman visited Australia and 3801 joined it on many trips including a number of doubleheaders.

On 6 May 1990, 3801 was involved in the Cowan rail disaster. 3801 was struggling to climb the Cowan bank (on the Sydney side of the Hawkesbury River) when returning from the Morpeth Jazz Festival when a CityRail Interurban passenger service crashed into the back of 3801's train. Six people lost their lives, including driver of the intercity electric Gordon Hill, and a passenger in the V Set's cab. 3801 applied sand to the track to assist grip and an investigation into the crash suggested this may have caused the signals to malfunction. The signals changed from red to green several times. After the signals were green for a few moments, the interurban driver then entered the tunnel behind 3801 where the accident occurred. The handbrake in one of the carriages may also have been applied.[1][2]

In 1992 3801 visited the "red centre" - Alice Springs - for the first time, using the standard gauge track laid in 1980.

The locomotive was awarded an Historic Engineering Marker plaque by Engineers Australia on 6 November 1994, the ceremony taking place at Robertson Station.

3801 was also a regular at the Hunter Valley Steamfest where the loco travels to Newcastle, Paterson, Singleton, Branxton or Dungog.

Despite a campaign by 3801 Limited to retain custodianship of the locomotive, on 26 November 2006 the custodianship passed back to the New South Wales Rail Transport Museum (who 3801 Ltd had leased it from for 20 years). The locomotive hauled day trips and longer excursions with the NSWRTM throughout 2007. It was withdrawn from service for a major overhaul at the end of that year.

The 2008-2016 Overhaul[edit]

When 3801 was withdrawn in 2007, it was decided to replace the original boiler with a new welded one as well as conducting various mechanical repairs.[3] This was timetabled to be complete by the end of 2010. The contract for the construction of the new boiler was let to Dampflokwerk Meiningen in Germany, while the tender tank was transferred to the Hunter Valley Training Company at Maitland for repair.

The 3801 website features updates on the locomotives progress issued by the NSW Office of Rail Heritage,[4] with archived updates available separately. [5]

In May 2013, NSW Transport Minister, the Hon. Gladys Berejiklian acknowledged the importance of 3801 saying it would be a priority of the new not-for-profit company Transport Heritage NSW to return 3801 to service.[6]

In November 2014 a spokesman for Transport for NSW announced that the boiler for the 3801 steam locomotive would be brought to Australia so that local experts can get the locomotive back on the tracks.[7][8]

Custodianship organisations[edit]

3801 Limited[edit]

It was decided during restoration that a separate organisation needed to be formed to manage 3801 when it returned to service. In 1984 3801 Limited was established to oversee the operation of the locomotive. The State Rail Authority, the New South Wales Rail Transport Museum and the Australian Railway Historical Society (NSW) were former stakeholders. In 2005 RailCorp indicated that 3801 Limited's fixed term 20-year lease of locomotive 3801 would not be renewed.

NSW Rail Transport Museum[edit]

The locomotive's original and now current custodian, the NSW Rail Transport Museum, is an independent, not for profit company, established in 1962. The museum is located in Thirlmere, south-west of Sydney. The Museum was a foundation and managing member of 3801 Limited and have indicated the locomotive will continue to provide mainline tours but at a reduced frequency when it returns to service.[9]

Transport Heritage NSW[edit]

A new not-for-profit company called Transport Heritage NSW has been set up to manage rail heritage in NSW.[10] In May 2013, NSW Transport Minister, the Honourable Gladys Berejiklian stated "The NSW Government is committed to locomotive 3801 operating again in NSW." [11] In December 2013 Minister for Transport Gladys Berejiklian said an important stage in the creation of Transport Heritage NSW was reached, with a clear majority of the NSW Rail Transport Museum members voting in support of the new era for rail heritage.[12]

Major accomplishments and events[edit]

The Bi-Centennial Train passes through Wodonga, Victoria on 16 October 1988
  • First streamlined locomotive in NSW
  • First 4-6-2 locomotive in NSW
  • Fastest journey by rail from Sydney to Newcastle (2:01:51)   (28 June 1964)
  • Operated train celebrating 25th anniversary of Newcastle Flyer   (31 May 1969)
  • First steam locomotive to cross the Australian continent - "Western Endeavour"   (22 August 1970 - 12 September 1970)
  • Starred in film A Steam Train Passes (1974)
  • A three-year restoration at the Hunter Valley training company announced in (1983), back in steam in (1986)
  • Two songs were written about 3801, Jolly Green Giant by Johnny Ashcroft (1976) and 3801 by Ray King and Ron Russell (1987).
  • Main locomotive of the "Bicentennial Train"   (1988)
    • Visited Perth, Western Australia again   (April / May)
    • First standard gauge steam train to visit Adelaide, South Australia   (20 May 1988)
    • First standard gauge steam train to use Roma St station, Brisbane
    • Paralleled by 2 Victorian steam trains towards Albury at Aus Steam '88   (22 October 1988)
  • Involved in many trips with LNER 4472 Flying Scotsman - the world's best known steam locomotive   (1988–1989)
  • Involved in Cowan rail crash claiming 6 lives   (6 May 1990)
  • Visited Alice Springs, Northern Territory   (1992)
  • Annual race against a Tiger Moth aircraft at Maitland Steamfest
  • 3801 is recognised by the Heritage Council and Engineers Australia as a heritage icon
  • 3801 has carried over 500,000 passengers since restoration
  • 3801 is now getting its long awaited major overhaul including a new all-welded Boiler and firebox


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Cowan 1990". Emergency NSW. Archived from the original on 2 Oct 2010. Retrieved 8 December 2007. 
  2. ^ "TRANSPORT - BROOKLYN TRAIN COLLISION". Australian Emergency Management. Retrieved 8 June 2014. 
  3. ^ "Office of Rail Heritage – Projects". Office of Rail Heritage. Retrieved 1 May 2009. 
  4. ^ "3801 locomotive overhaul". Archived from the original on 2 Mar 2014. 
  5. ^ Overhaul and New Boiler, 3801
  6. ^ Fixing the trains: A fresh start for Rail Heritage
  7. ^ Transport for NSW update on steam train locomotive 3801 Transport for NSW 21 November 2014
  8. ^ Update on Locomotive 3801 Transport Heritage NSW 21 November 2014
  9. ^ 3801: An Operating Future New South Wales Rail Transport Museum
  10. ^ Transport Heritage NSW Announces New Management Team Transport Heritage NSW Ltd — Media Release — 23 December, 2013
  11. ^ Fixing the trains: A fresh start for Rail Heritage Transport New South Wales 17 May 2013
  12. ^ New era for transport heritage in NSW Transport for NSW 10 December 2013

External links[edit]