Train buffs looking to jump aboard the newly launched 3801 locomotive will have the opportunity next month when it heads deep into the South West Slopes of NSW.
Even people who are not aficionados of arguably Australia’s most famous steam locomotive – pronounced ‘thirty-eight oh-one’ – should check her out, all green and shiny having emerged from a 12-year rebuild.
Thirty of these engines were built back in the 1940s which, given the wartime material shortages, was a feat in itself. And despite having more starts than Winx, little could measure up to her pull on the open rail.
An iron horse of the era, the 38-class engines were able to haul more carriages and reduce travel times, and her popularity soared as she (or her various incarnations) visited each Australian mainland state and territory.
One 3801, aptly named the Western Endeavour, was the first steam locomotive to cross all 8000km of the Australian continent, from Sydney to Perth, in 1970.
But the 38 class also boasts movie cred, having featured in 1974 short film A Steam Train Passes. Two songs were also written about the locomotive: Jolly Green Giant by Johnny Ashcroft, in 1976, and 3801, by Ray King and Ron Russell, in 1987.
And who could forget that famed partnership with the Flying Scotsman as part of Aus Steam ’88 which saw a plethora of train traffic pass through Goulburn, Yass Junction, Harden, Cootamundra and Junee.
The 3801 locomotive was not just a crowd-pleaser, it was a crew-pleaser with modern equipment making it easy to operate, including spacious cabs complete with padded seats. Bar raising as it was, only the best crews were rostered on to operate it.
To the travelling public, the class embodied the romance of the steam era, of express trains racing through the countryside from city to city. The first five locomotives, with their distinctive streamlined casings, were instantly recognisable – their sleek lines evoking a sense of speed and modernity. The non-streamlined 38s were large and solid, and gave the perception of safety and reliability.
The 38 class remained the darlings of the railways until their withdrawal from service during the 1960s and 1970s. They were the last steam engines built in NSW for passenger operations.
Today, 3801 is the only streamlined steam locomotive to survive in NSW and has a fan club all of its own, among them NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian who, in 2013, said the newly established Transport Heritage NSW should prioritise returning the 3801 to service.
The NSW government-funded $3.5 million overhaul of the engine was completed in 2020 by a team of staff and volunteers, including some who worked on the train in its heyday.
Officially relaunched at Sydney’s Central Station on Friday, 12 March, 2021, by NSW Governor Margaret Beazley, the 3801 has a full itinerary of statewide visits, including to Wagga Wagga and Junee.
It will be on display at the magnificent Junee Roundhouse Railway Museum from 6-8 April, 2021, where visitors can get up close and see inside the 3801 driver’s cab while visiting one of the few surviving, working railway roundhouses in the Southern Hemisphere.
On 9 April, visitors can travel in the open saloon carriage or a premier class compartment – for up to six people – as the 3801 hauls non-stop return steam train rides from Junee Station to Cootamundra.
On 10-11 April, the rides will be offered from Wagga Wagga to Uranquinty.
Tickets can be purchased here.