3801 with Newcastle Flyer
Preserved 3801 leading the Newcastle Flyer'

Years built



Clyde Engineering

Number Produced


Years in Operation


Fleet Numbers




Type of Train


Number Operational


Number Preserved


Number Scrapped





1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
standard gauge

V - E - T - D
3801 (NSW steam locomotive) 2
3801 (pronounced Thirty-eight o-one) is Australia's best known and most widely travelled steam locomotive operated by the New South Wales Government Railway. 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). 3801 is the only steam locomotive to visit every mainland state and territory in Australia. During its preservation career, it was operated by the non-profit organisation 3801 Limited until the company's 20 year lease on the locomotive expired on 26 November 2006. The locomotive then returned to the custody of the NSW Rail Transport Museum where it performed for the public on rail tours during 2007. It is currently undergoing an overhaul at Chullora Workshops.


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 ServiceEdit

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. In 1960, the 38 class were transferred from Eveleigh to Broadmeadow sheds to reflect their decreased importance 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. 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.


In November 1980 David Hill Chief Executive of the NSW State Rail Authority (now RailCorp) 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.


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. In 1992 3801 visited the "red centre" - Alice Springs - for the first time, using the standard gauge track laid in 1980. 3801 is 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 overhaul comprises a new all-welded boiler & firebox and various mechanical repairs. This has been timetabled to be complete by the end of 2010. A new boiler and firebox has been ordered from Germany. The tender tank has been removed from its bogies and has been transferred to the Hunter Valley Training Company at Maitland for repair. On 19 August 2009, the old riveted boiler of 3801 was removed from the frame of the loco by a 30-tonne overhead travelling crane at Chullora Workshops. 28 of September 2009, the frame of 3801 was lifted off the wheels by two mobile cranes to completely rebuild the 3801. On the 20 of April, the new all-welded boiler & firebox of 3801 is now taking shape on the floor of Dampflokwerk Meiningen, Germany. On the 5th of September, 3801s new boiler was completed and was put on display during The 16th Meiningen Steam Loco Open Day. The boiler has passed its hydrostatic test and has been certified by TÜV Thüringen for a working pressure of 16.89 bar (245 lbs/in²). The Boiler left the workshops on the 8th of September, being transported to Bremerhaven to be loaded on board a ship. The overhaul of 3801's tender was complete on the 20th of October and left Hunter Valley Training Company at Maitland. It has been refitted to the framework of the tender. On the 27 of October 2010, a mile stone was reached with the arrival of 3801's new new all-welded boiler & firebox arriving on Australian shores at Port Kembla at 2pm. The boiler was moved to Chullora Workshops where it was test fitted with the rest of 3801. In May 2011 a statement updating on the locomotives progress was issued by the NSW Office of Rail Heritage: "Following delivery of the new boiler for Locomotive 3801 in late October 2010, the NSW Rail Transport Museum, as the operator, began a detailed assessment in preparation for its installation on the overhauled engine frame. During the inspection process and test fitting of the boiler into the locomotive frame a number of issues were identified. Further mechanical assessment and communication with the manufacturer, Dampflokwerk Meiningen (DB) followed. DB agreed to send representatives to hold discussions in Sydney in late April; this visit included an on-site inspection of the boiler and the locomotive at RailCorp's Chullora workshop. The outstanding technical issues were fully considered and options for rectifying them identified. A 'Heads of Agreement' was signed which commits the parties to a process to bring the matter to an expeditious resolution. The first steps in that process are underway." Work is due to be complete in Late-2011 to early 2012.

Custodianship organisationsEdit

3801 LimitedEdit

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 MuseumEdit

The locomotives 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, management member of 3801 Limited and have indicated the locomotive will continue to provide mainline tours but at a reduced frequency.

New South Wales Rail Rollingstock
10 class,11 class,12 class,13 class,14 class,15 class,16 class,17 class,18 class,19 class,20 class,21 class,23 class,24 class,25 class,26 class,27 class,28 class,29 class,30 class,(3112)30T class,32 class ,(3237)(3265)34 class,35 class ,(3526)36 class,(3642)38 class,(3801)(3820)(3830)D50 class,D53 class,D55 class,D57 class,D58 class,D59 class,(5917)AD60 class,

SMR 10 class, ROD 2-8-0

40 class,41 class, 42 class,421 class, 422 class,43 class, 44 class,442 class, 45 class,47 class, 48 class,49 class, 70 class,71 class, 72 class,73 class, 79 class,80 class, 81 class,82 class, 90 class,PL class, XPT, X100 class tractor, X200 class tractor,

71 class, 46 class, 85 class, 86 class,

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Rail transport in New South Wales--Rail rollingstock in New South Wales--CityRail Fleet--CountryLink