Australia's Last Steam Railways
The South Maitland and Richmond Vale Railways
- John Woodhams
15th August 2024
The South Maitland and Richmond Vale Railways together formed an extensive network of standard gauge lines serving collieries in the New South Wales coalfields. The first section opened for coal traffic in 1893, with passenger services being introduced on part of the growing SMR system from 1902. Such was the volume of traffic that sections of route were double-tracked and signalled. The New South Wales Government Railways took over passenger services from 1930 until 1961, following which the SMR continued with diesel railcars until 1972. The RVR also operated passenger trains for miners until 1959.
The railways used a fleet of British-built steam locomotives, ranging from six coupled saddle tanks to several originally built for use in the Mersey Tunnel, and thirteen R O D tender locomotives constructed for use in France during the First World War. However, the last working locomotives were a fleet of Beyer Peacock 2-8-2 tank locomotives, which in later years often worked 1500-ton trains double-headed. Steam operation ended on the South Maitland system in 1983, leaving the Richmond Vale operation as the last commercial steam working in Australia until that too ceased in 1987.
A section of the Richmond Vale Railway has become a museum line, and fortunately many locomotives have survived from these remarkable operations.