The NSW 70 class (part 1)

Updated: May 22, 2019

Part 1: Introduction & In Service

The story of the 70 class commenced on 1 January 1949 when the New South Wales Government Railways (NSWGR) assumed responsibility for commercial and wharf shunting at Port Kembla from the Public Works Department (PWD). NSWGR acquired several of the department’s locomotives that had been engaged in shunting duties, supplemented by a few locomotives on hire from NSWGR itself.

All were kept at the Reid’s Hill depot, owned by PWD, and PWD engines were fitted with boilers whose ages were well beyond that which the Department of Railways would normally accept, even for shunting duties. Over the following ten years, the trade at Port Kembla almost quadrupled, resulting in the lightest engines being replaced by more powerful 20 class 2-6-4 tank engines and 26 class 2-6-2 tank locomotives.

Rail network improvement plans were made as a result of increasing traffic and industrial shunting, including the construction of ten diesel-hydraulic shunting locomotives to replace worn-out and obsolete steam locomotives, as well as a modern locomotive depot to house and service the new motive power.

In January 1959, a contract was placed with Commonwealth Engineering Limited of Granville, NSW, for the construction of ten 550-horsepower (410 kW) 0-6-0 diesel-hydraulic shunting locomotives. It was anticipated that the first delivery would be made within 15 months (around March 1960), with the entire contract being completed four months later. That was not the case!

Designated the 70 class (the ‘7’ series in the diesel fleet were to be shunting units), the class leader 7001 was not delivered until 15 August 1960. The following day, after weighing, the unit worked a 400-ton test load from Enfield Yard to Botany. The next day saw 7001 run ‘light’ to Port Kembla for trials on the industrial network. On return from these trials, 7001 was returned to the manufacturers for post-trial adjustments. Emerging again on 22 August, a further test load was conveyed to Botany, this time weighing only 375 tons. 7001 was back to Port Kembla the next day for further trials and performed satisfactorily, as the unit was returned to Sydney the same evening.

New locomotive 7001 at Elston's Sidings Redfern on 3 September 1960. -Peter Neve

7001 was temporarily allocated to Enfield’s Delec (Diesel-Electric) depot pending delivery of the remainder of the class and completion of new servicing facilities under construction adjacent to Port Kembla Station. When 7001 was little more than a month old, it worked its first passenger train: the morning employees’ special from Sydney Terminal to Chullora on 28 September 1960.

By the end of 1960, three more 70 class had been delivered, a considerably slower rate than initially envisaged by the contractor. The units took up a multiplicity of local workings such as employees’ trains to and from the Enfield/Chullora area, and trip trains to Botany and the Homebush Abattoirs area. They usually worked in tandem because of their limited power. Locomotive 7003 even ventured out onto the Richmond branch from Brickworks on 23 and 24 November 1961, although it only travelled as far as Riverstone, as the line beyond was closed by flooding. The remaining units were delivered by mid-May 1961, although 7007 failed on its initial trial and was towed back to Chullora Workshops for repairs.

Prior to the closure of the steeply graded Campbelltown to Camden branch at the end of 1962, multiple-unit 70s became regular visitors on coal trains to Campbelltown and Glenlee, and were permitted to work the branch as far as Narellan where the coal loading facilities were located. Maximum load over the 1-in-19 ruling grade was 115 tons, compared with 85 tons for a 20 class 2-6-4 tank engine or 30 class 4-6-4 tank engine. Double units were allowed 230 tons. It was around this period that defects became apparent in the coupling rods, which had a nasty habit of bending, then finally snapping when the locomotive was running at speed. Heavier section coupling rods were fitted to all units commencing in February 1963.

Possibly the most unusual duty allotted to the class was the working of the new interstate profile train during the latter part of 1963. With the view of implementing a new structure gauge between Albury and South Brisbane, a profile train comprising brake van, profile car, brake van and track inspection car AK417 commenced track examinations on the Main Southern Line to Albury, the Cooma branch, and to Tumut. (Presumably the latter lines were included in anticipation of some large loads expected to be carried on behalf of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority, as these works were then in full swing).

Motive power transition at Port Kembla with 7003 and steam locomotive 2010 side-by-side in the early 1960s. -Geoff Lillico ARHSnsw Resource Centre 56400

The train commenced from Sydney Terminal on 24 September 1963 with 7008 in charge. However, by the time Picton was reached, it was realised that 7008’s side rods had not been modified. Locomotive 7007 took over the following day, running at a maximum speed of 12 mph (19.3 km/h) throughout the examination period. To facilitate the working, both 7007 and 7008 had been fitted with rear-vision mirrors. Late October saw 7007 with the profile train over the Picton-Mittagong loop line, then 7004 on the Moss Vale to Unanderra cross-country link and the Illawarra Line. The following month found 7003 with the profile train on the North Coast as far as Casino.

Another unusual working took place in the Sydney metropolitan area on 17 March 1962 when 7003 and 7005 substituted for two 30 class tank locomotives to haul a 12-car Scouts Special over the now closed and removed Liverpool-Moorebank branch.

Surprisingly, the early history of the transfer of the 70 class to the South Coast is not well documented. Both NSW Digest (now Railway Digest) and the Department of Railways’ own house journal of the period, The Railwayman, ignored the move completely. The only record appears to come from Peter Neve’s Locomotive Transfer Lists, which were compiled from the depot returns of the period. The actual introduction of the class into Port Kembla, however, has been fully recorded thanks to the meticulous record-keeping of long-term Illawarra rail enthusiast Jack Southern.

With the construction of the new diesel depot at Port Kembla well under way, it seems that the decision was made to transfer several of the 70 class to Thirroul to allow local crews to become familiar with these new units. By early July 1963, three of the engines were based at Thirroul for crew training and mainline operations: 7001, 7005 and 7008. It appears two of the 70 class locomotives normally operated in multiple on mainline and transfer workings within the South Coast local district. The third unit was sent to the new diesel depot at Port Kembla and found a home on shunting duties at Port Kembla North. On at least one occasion, one of the diesels was substituted for a 30 class steam engine on an industrial passenger train, but it was quickly found that the class were unsuited for this type of working and the experiment was not repeated.

On 30 June 1963, an up Glenlee coal train, worked by 7001 and 7008, are pictured near the present-day location of Macarthur. -Peter Neve

The delivery of 7001 marked a number of firsts in the field for the NSW Railways:

  • First diesel-hydraulic locomotive to be delivered to the New South Wales Railways.

  • First diesel-hydraulic locomotive built by Commonwealth Engineering in NSW.

  • First application of the Caterpillar D397 engine for on-rail purposes in Australia.

  • First NSWGR locomotive to be equipped with a radio for easier control in the Port Kembla network.

Thirroul was not intended to be a diesel maintenance depot, so the allotment of the Illawarra-based units tended to vary over this interim period, with servicing and other more major attention being carried out at Enfield’s Delec depot. 4 December 1963 saw a notice placed on the board at the Reid’s Hill locomotive depot advising crews of the intention to introduce the 70 class diesel-hydraulic units to the Port Kembla network and that instruction classes on the new locomotives would commence on 9 December. In the meantime, steam locomotion continued as before on the commercial and port shunting, while locomotive crews were trained in the operation of their new motive power. Steam locomotives’ last day on the network was 31 January 1964 when 1076 and 2029 worked steam’s last stand at Port Kembla.

The construction of the new Inner Harbour at Port Kembla and associated new branch line from Wollongong saw the transfer of coal loading operations during the early part of 1964 and the commencement of the gradual decline of operations on the ‘old’ commercial network.

By mid-1964, the Illawarra Line was considered fully dieselised. A major alteration to freight workings was officially introduced from 8 June that year when Thirroul Marshalling Yard was all but closed and all freights from the Sydney area ran through to Port Kembla North instead of being worked forward from Thirroul by local shunting trips. Loads for destinations to Unanderra and beyond to Nowra were taken on by separate freight trains, travelling via the Allen’s Creek to Unanderra triangle link, brought into use in November 1961.

Export coal trains were already running directly to the new Inner Harbour facilities, which were opened in October 1963, quickly displacing the old loading facilities at No.1 Jetty, Port Kembla Harbour, which dated back to the turn of the century. (The original dead-end Inner Harbour facilities were subsequently replaced in 1981 by the balloon-loop arrangement, designed in particular for the rapid discharge of unit coal trains.)

The new No.5 and No.6 Jetties led to a significant increase in the level of shipping traffic in and out of the port network. The 70 class locomotives were purpose designed for this network of close operations and sharp curves around the docks. This additional work on the docks lasted until much of the shipping traffic moved from general cargo onto shipping containers.

An additional duty for the 70 class locomotives was shunting in Port Kembla North Yard, usually a double and a single unit being rostered for either day or afternoon/evening shifts. Other units were found on local duties, including transfer workings to Unanderra and Wollongong or to the AIS (Australian Iron & Steel) Exchange sidings at Cringila. For a while during 1964, one unit was sent to Wollongong each evening to assist with the shunting of carriage sets off the evening commuter trains from Sydney.

Doing what is was designed for, 7006 shunts No.6 Jetty at Port Kembla on 14 March 1971.

Load tables were issued for 70 class locomotives to haul freight services between the South Coast and the Sydney metropolitan area, but rarely were they utilised on such long-distance workings. However, one occasion was recorded in NSW Digest when, on the evening of 5 November 1964, engines 7001 and 7003 doubled with No.264 Freight from Port Kembla North to Enfield, returning the next morning with No.105 Freight. Maximum through load in the up direction was 807 tons for a double, while on the down journey with its 1-in-40 ruling grade, the load for two units was 556 tons.

Regular inspections, servicing and running repairs for the various units were carried out at Port Kembla Depot. Units were only ever forwarded to Eveleigh Workshops when the work came outside the depot’s capabilities or major workshop attention was required.

Over the years, various modifications have been made to the class. The most extensive of these was the fitting of heavier duty side rods during the 1963–64 period. The cab windows were altered from January 1963 when the two large windows were replaced by one large fixed and two smaller sliding windows. Commencing in January 1967, the exhaust stack underwent modification; the current one being a false outer casing containing two internal silencer pipes. Originally, the front and rear marker lights were located on the main frame, right next to the crane lifting lugs, with the result that the lifting cables invariably removed the marker lamps. The lamps were relocated to a position adjacent to the headlamp.

Only two units have appeared in other than the former standard colour scheme. Locomotive 7006 was out-shopped in July 1982 following a top overhaul at Eveleigh Workshops in the short-lived ‘reverse’ colour scheme with safety-yellow on both the front and rear cowlings, while 7007 was out-shopped in April 1983 in the new ‘candy’ colours following a general overhaul.


This article was originally published in the spring 2018 edition of Roundhouse magazine. Written by Allan Leaver, Life Member, and Peter Neve.