The Cockatoo Run in Australia

by Ken Humphreys

In March 2003 your webmaster was in Sydney, Australia on business, had a free day and, as usual, I looked for a train trip somewhere. Checking what was available on short notice, I found the 3801 Limited, better known as the "Cockatoo Run" from Sydney to Robertson, New South Wales. The train departed Sydney at 8:40 AM and returned at 6:30 PM, perfect for a railroad buff with a day to spend.

The Cockatoo Run travels the South Coast of Australia to Wollongong and then, leaving the coastal mainline, turns inland climbing the steep Illawarra Escarpment through the coastal rainforest to a stop at Summit Tank, a climb of 600 meters (about 2000 feet) in a distance of 16 kilometers (about 10 miles). Summit Tank is so named because it was a water stop for trains in the days of steam. The run then continues inland to Robertson, NSW. The train is turned at Robertson for its return run to Sydney about two hours later.

The locomotive is a 49 class heritage diesel built in 1960. The cars are coaches from the 1930s and 1940s. The train has a buffet car with a few unassigned seats at one end. I discovered that those seats were primarily taken by crew members and, during the run to Robertson, I took the opportunity to forget about my assigned seat in one of the coaches and instead to sit in the buffet car and chat with the crew. I was surprised and rather pleased that when we were ready to depart from Robertson for the return run to Sydney, I was asked if I would like to take the "shotgun seat" in the locomotive for the return trip. It took me about a nanosecond to get up into the loco before they changed their minds and we headed back down the steep Illawarra Escarpment with me acting as the fireman until we reached the mainline at Wollongong. It was an experience of a lifetime for a railroad buff.

The trip cost $100 Australian or about $65 US. Not bad for a long day riding, and "co-piloting", a train. As best as I can figure from a map, the round trip totalled about 200 miles overall. The sequence of photos below documents the trip.

Click on each image below to see its full sized version. Hit your back button to return and view the next photo. All images, with the exception of the map, are copyrighted by Ken Humphreys, March 2, 2003.

Map of the region. Our trip left Sydney heading south to Wollongong and Unanderra (not shown on map). Unanderra is near Dapto. We then turned west heading up the Illawarra Escarpment to Robertson.
Locomotive 4908 on Platform 1 at Sydney Central Station in the glare of the morning sun. The loco has been uncoupled from the train and will return on an adjacent track and couple to the far end of the train to push it into the station.
Passing and electrified passenger train on the mainline at Wollongong, NSW. Note the sign promoting a visit to the Nan Tien Buddist Temple.
The Cockatoo Run stopped at Summit Tank at the top of the Illawarra Escarpment
Car 2, Number 2078 at Summit Tank
Engine 4908 at Summit Tank
Train at Robertson, NSW turned for the return trip to Sydney
Scene through the locomotive window on the return trip to Sydney
Looking forward from the cab on the return trip
Webmaster Ken Humphreys in the catbird seat.
Stopped at Summit Tank on the return trip
Crossing a wooden trestle in the rain forest on the steep Illawarra Escarpment downgrade
Rejoining the coastal mainline at Unanderra, NSW
Passing some Broken Hill Pty. closed hopper cars at Wollongong, NSW.
Back at Platform 1, Sydney Central Station
Engine 4908 uncoupled from the train. The engine will switch to the adjacent track, pass the train, and recouple to take the train to its overnight area for cleaning and preparation for the next run.

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