Australia's 38 Class - Where to find them?



March 18th, 2021

We've been delighted to hear recently from a number of Australian railfans, submitting photos to our social media pages and giving information about trains and routes in that part of the world. Like the 'Big Boy' locomotives of the USA and likes of Mallard and the Flying Scotsman in the UK, Australia too has its most famous class of steam locomotive: the NSW C38. New-South-Wales-C38-Maksym-Kozlenko-CC-BY-SA-4 Shiny, clean and glistening green. After its latest overhaul, 3801 looks stunning. Photo by Maksym Kozlenko from August 2020. CC-BY-SA 4.0.

The 38 Class of locomotive was first built in 1943, with 3801 being the first example to roll out of Clyde Engineering in Granville on the west side of Sydney. They were planned to haul express trains across New South Wales and were initially built with a streamlined body which, whilst providing the same function as that of A4 Pacifics in the UK, looked distinctly different with a 'bullet' style nose similar to those found on some US locomotives. Only the first 5 of the 25 built received these noses, with the others having a more conventional body to aid maintenance. NSW-Archive-3806 Staff from the Eveleigh workshops standing in front of locomotive 3806 in 1949. Note that this example is without the streamlined body. Image: NSW State Archive. NSWSA: NRS-17420-2-11-[SAMS1]-8.

The 38s ran throughout the 40s and 50s even alongside diesel locomotives as they began to take over operations from their steam counterparts. As a result, though the first was withdrawn in 1961, others carried on right through until the end of 1970 when the last example was taken out of service. Today, only 4 remain in preservation but all are very popular with both domestic railfans and those across the globe.

  • 3830: With two major stints of operation between 1949 - 1967 and again from 1997 - 2009, it is perhaps not surprising that 3830 is awaiting overhaul before it can operate again as a heritage locomotive. Not only was it the last of the 38s to be built and is therefore without the streamlined body, it was also the last steam locomotive to be built in NSW. It lies in wait at Thirlmere. NSW-3830-Barnesy-Barnes-CC-BY-3 3830 in steam at an event in 2008. Photo by Barnesy Barnes CC-BY 3.0.

  • 3820: Joining 3830 at Thirlmere is number 3820 which remains in very much the same condition that it was in when withdrawn back in 1970. As a result, it has a black livery, unlike the others since repainted in an iconic green and is on static display at the NSW Rail Museum. Its last time in use was in 1975 when it helped move two other locomotives for the relocation of the museum.

  • 3813: Though 3813 was lucky enough not to be scrapped with most of the others of its class, it sadly did not follow in the footsteps of the other 3 preserved locomotives and was dismantled, bit by bit, after withdrawal. The private Dorrigo Steam Railway and Museum, which has rarely opened to the public, holds onto the boiler, wheels and cab amongst other parts of 3813, along with a wide collection of other locomotives and rolling stock. NSW-Archive-3801 3801 with the 'Newcastle Flyer' at Stanmore Railway Station in 1945. Image: NSW State Archive. NSWSA: NRS-17420-2-10-[SAMS1]-24.

  • 3801: As the first example of the class to be built and holder of many 'first' accolades in Australia, 3801 is arguabaly the most famous locomotive in Australia and is up there with British and American contemporaries as one of the world's most famous steam locomotives. It was the first locomotive to cross the Australian continent in 1970, appeared in a number of films and songs, set records for fastest journey time (Sydney to Newcastle) and even raced a Tiger Moth plane. With that in mind, it is no wonder that it has seen use also in preservation and after a recent 12-year overhaul returned to service in March 2021.

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