top of page
WC 157.jpg
Anchor 1

The first Hawkesbury River Bridge. With the opening of this bridge in 1889 it became possible make a train journey between Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. A new bridge replaced the first bridge in 1946. Photo: Broadhurst collection of postcards of New South Wales scenes, State Library of NSW, PXA 635 / 348-349. This image is of Australian origin and is now in the public domain because its term of copyright has expired.

Electric suburban power car C3045, NSW Rail Museum, Thirlmere, 2 March 2019. The first electric trains operated in New South Wales in 1926. This carriage was built at Eveleigh Workshops in 1919 and operated as a locomotive-hauled carriage until it was converted for electric operation in 1927.

Major Events in New South Wales Railway and Tramway History

David Matheson

21 April 2019

10 December 1831

First railway in Australia officially opened by the Australian Agricultural Company in Newcastle. It was an inclined plane gravitational line of about 300 metres in length, along which loaded coal wagons descended from a mine to a coal loader at the wharf.

26 September 1855

First steam-powered railway in New South Wales opened between Sydney and Parramatta.

15 January 1857

John Whitton (1820–1898) became Engineer-in-Chief of New South Wales railways. Whitton was the Engineer-in-Chief until 1890, and oversaw construction much of the state’s railway system, including the Great Zig Zag near Lithgow. He is known as the ‘Father of New South Wales Railways’.

30 March 1857

Railway opened between Newcastle and East Maitland. The railways in Sydney and Newcastle operated as separate networks until the opening of the first railway bridge across the Hawkesbury River in 1889.

23 December 1861

Horse tramway opened in Pitt Street, Sydney.

18 October 1869

Railway opened to Bowenfels, completing the line across the Blue Mountains, including the Great Zig Zag near Lithgow.

May 1877

First 79 Class (C79 Class from 1889, and then Z12 and Z13 classes from 1924) 4-4-0 passenger locomotive entered service.  These locomotives were the main express passenger locomotives in New South Wales until the 1890s.

30 January 1878

Collision between two goods trains at Emu Plains resulted in the deaths of three people. The Emu Plains crash led to significantly improved rail safeworking practices in New South Wales.

28 September 1879

Steam tram services commenced in Sydney.

14 June 1883

Railway bridge opened across the Murray River between Albury and Wodonga, connecting the lines between Sydney and Melbourne. Although the two cities were linked by railways, Victoria built its railways to broad gauge while New South Wales built its railways to standard gauge. Albury and Wodonga were both break of gauge stations where passengers travelling between the two cities were required to change trains and goods were transhipped, although Albury later became the major interchange location.

1 May 1889

Railway bridge opened across the Hawkesbury River, connecting the lines between Sydney and Brisbane. With the opening of the Hawkesbury River Bridge it became possible to travel by train between Brisbane and Adelaide via Sydney and Melbourne. The Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge was the longest bridge in Australia until the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932. Following the discovery of structural problems, it was replaced by a new bridge in 1946.

5 November 1890

First electric tram in Sydney commenced running, between Randwick and Waverley.

3 February 1892

First P6 Class (C32 Class from 1924) 4-6-0 locomotive entered service in New South Wales. A total of 191 members of this class entered service, providing highly reliable service until the 1970s.

19 February 1894

Tramway opened to Bondi Beach in Sydney, completing the line from the city. “Through” trams, which ran express for part of the journey, were introduced in peak hours, leading to the Sydney expression “Shooting through like a Bondi tram.”

15 May 1896

First T524 Class (D50 Class from 1924) 2-8-0 locomotive entered service in New South Wales. The T524 Class was the first locomotive in Australia to weigh in excess of 100 tons and eventually had 280 members, making it the most numerous class of steam locomotive in Australia.

4 August 1906           

Current Central station opened in Sydney. Upon opening Central had 15 platforms, but it now has 25 platforms servicing trains.

8 March 1908

First O Class tram entered service in Sydney. A total of 626 O Class trams entered service, making it Australia’s most numerous type of tram.


John Bradfield (1867–1943) became Chief Engineer for metropolitan railway construction in New South Wales. Bradfield was responsible for the design of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and much of Sydney’s underground railway system.

17 December 1923

First CPH Class rail motor entered service in New South Wales. The CPHs provided passenger service, mostly on rural branch lines, until the 1980s.

1 March 1926

First electric passenger train services commenced in New South Wales, between Central and Oatley.

20 December 1926

First underground passenger railway in Australia opened between Central and St James in the Sydney CBD.

8 November 1927

Railway opened between Ivanhoe and Menindee, completing the line between Sydney and Broken Hill. A railway line linked Broken Hill to Adelaide in 1888, but it was not until 1927 that Broken Hill was connected to its state capital.

20 March 1932

Sydney Harbour Bridge opened, carrying railway and tramway lines. The bridge remains a vital transport link between the CBD and the north shore of the harbour. Although the tramway lines closed in 1958, the Sydney Harbour Bridge continues to carry two railway tracks.

8 May 1932

Bridge over Clarence River at Grafton opened, completing the line between Sydney and South Brisbane via the New South Wales north coast.

27 September 1937

The Silver City Comet, Australia’s first fully air-conditioned train, entered service between Parkes and Broken Hill.

22 January 1943

First C38 Class 4-6-2 express passenger locomotive, 3801, entered service. Thirty members of the C38 Class entered service, the first five being streamlined. The class was noted for its speed and modern design. 3801 became the most famous steam locomotive in Australia: it travelled from Sydney to Perth in 1970 and 1988, and has visited all mainland states and territories.

13 July 1945

Joseph Benedict (Ben) Chifley (1885–1951), a former engine driver, became Prime Minister of Australia. Chifley joined the New South Wales Railways as a shop boy at Bathurst in 1903 and gained his driver’s certificate in 1912. He resigned from the railways after he was elected to parliament in 1928.

30 November 1951

First 40 Class diesel-electric locomotives, 4001 and 4002, the first mainline diesels in New South Wales, entered service with the Department of Railways.

21 July 1952

Electric locomotive 4501 (later 7100), the first electric locomotive in government service in New South Wales and the first mainline electric locomotive in Australia, entered service.

30 July 1952

First AD60 Class Beyer-Garratt heavy goods steam locomotive, the largest class of steam engine in Australia, entered service. Four members of the 60 Class have been preserved.

22 January 1956

Railway opened between St James and Wynyard, completing the City Circle railway in Sydney.

2 January 1957

AD60 Class locomotive No. 6040 became the last steam locomotive to enter service with the Department of Railways in New South Wales.

9 June 1957

Electrification of the railway across the Blue Mountains to Lithgow opened.

1 September 1959

First 48 Class diesel-electric locomotive entered service in New South Wales. A total of 165 members of the 48 Class entered service, demonstrating very reliable service on light lines, passenger and general goods work.

25 February 1961

Sydney tramway system closed. The last trams operated between the CBD and La Perouse, with R1 Class tram 1995 being the final tram to operate in Sydney’s streets until 1997. The Sydney tramway network had once been the second-largest in the Commonwealth after London.

3 January 1962

Standard gauge railway line opened between Albury and Melbourne, completing the standard gauge connection between Sydney and Melbourne. The completion of the standard gauge line enabled direct trains to operate between Australia’s two largest cities for the first time.

12 April 1962

Inauguration of the Southern Aurora standard gauge express passenger train between Sydney and Melbourne. The Southern Aurora operated an overnight service between Sydney and Melbourne until 1986.

2 March 1964

Australia’s first double-deck train carriages entered service in Sydney.

29 November 1969

Standard gauge railway line opened between Broken Hill and Port Pirie, completing the standard gauge railway across Australia between Sydney and Perth. The completion of the standard gauge line enabled direct trains to operate across Australia between Sydney and Perth for the first time.

23 February 1970

Inauguration of the Indian Pacific passenger train between Sydney and Perth.

23 February 1973

Last regular steam-hauled trains operated in government service in New South Wales. AD60 Class Beyer-Garratt locomotive 6042 worked two trips from the State Mine to Wangi Power station, near Awaba. Limited steam shunting continued in government service at some workshops in New South Wales until the 1980s.

18 January 1977

Worst railway accident in Australia killed 83 people after a train derailed and hit an overhead bridge, causing the bridge to collapse on to the train, at Granville in Sydney’s western suburbs.

23 June 1979

Eastern Suburbs Railway opened in Sydney between Central and Bondi Junction.

8 April 1982

XPT express passenger train, the fastest train in Australia at the time, entered regular service. In regular service the XPT has a maximum speed of 160 km/h.

2–3 August 1986

Final regular runs of the Southern Aurora and the Spirit of Progress express passenger trains between Sydney and Melbourne.

22 September 1987

End of steam operations on the privately-owned Richmond Vale Railway between Stockrington and Hexham, the last regular steam-powered goods railway in Australia.

21 July 1988

Sydney monorail commenced operations. The monorail provided passenger services between the CBD and Darling Harbour until it closed in 2013.

10 January 1992

Last all single-deck suburban passenger trains withdrawn from service in Sydney.

11 August 1997

Light railway opened between Central station and Wentworth Park in Sydney. The opening of this line brought regular tram services back to Sydney for the first time since 1961.

21 May 2000

Railway opened between Central and Sydney airport. Sydney was the first state capital city in Australia to provide a passenger railway line to service its major airport.

13 September–1 October 2000

Olympic Games held in Sydney. CityRail trains carried an estimated 29.5 million passenger journeys during the nineteen-day operation of the Olympic timetable. The Paralympic Games followed from 18 to 29 October and also attracted large crowds.

1 July 2011

Set A3, the first A Set Waratah suburban passenger train, entered service.

26 December 2014

Heavy railway line closed between Hamilton and Newcastle. The Newcastle line had provided trains services since 1857.

17 February 2019

Newcastle light rail line opened.

WC 158.jpg

4001 on the front of a special train with 3642 on the rear passing Beresfield, 10 April 2016. 4001 was the class leader of the 40 Class, the first mainline diesels in New South Wales, and entered service in November 1951. It is preserved at the NSW Rail Museum, Thirlmere.



R1 Class tram 2074 and O Class 808 tram in the middle of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, 13 April 1958. Sydney’s extensive tramway network closed in 1961. Photo: Lindsay Bridge, Wikimedia Commons.

bottom of page