Mail Trains In New South Wales in the 1970's and 80's

 
  StallionEagle Beginner

I was a Train Conductor Dept of Railways,  Public Transport Commission, and State Rail Authority of NSW I worked most of the Mail trains back in this period.

I have come here to give you information and to receive information on the subject.

I am now retired.

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  Rodo Chief Commissioner

Location: Southern Riverina
I started as a trainee engineman just as they were about to be phased out.
Sadly I never got to work one.
I did a bit of travelling on rhem and the overnight train hauling passengers and mail/parcels and light freight is a concept that should have gone on.
  a6et Minister for Railways

I started as Trainee Engineman at Enfield January 1964 and appointed acting fireman/fireman there so nil mail trains at Delec only Richmond, Campbelltown and workers trains as a result.  Going to Werris Creek end of 69 and then at Parkes on loan in 70 when the IP was running, I worked as Fireman on the mails out of WCK and the IP at Parkes.  Going back to Delec in 71 and staying there until 76 when appointed driver at Central on the ETR again no mail train working.

I ended up back at WCK in 1982 as a driver and became qualified for the mail train working, along with the XPT, had ground tuition on the DEB set that was allocated to WCK to work a connecting service to Moree off the daylight XPT services, I became senior relief driver on the XPT but owing to a back condition in 86 I never did driving trials on the DEB set and was medically retired end of 1988.

By that time the mails were a sad reflection on the way they were, ticket sale arrangements came into affect to ensure that the minimum number of passengers were able to book seats to travel on them. The mails ran as a single train from Sydney to WCK where it divided and affectively became a mixed train past there, with the parcels traffic from Trackfast Chullora being sent prior to the mail ex Sydney and was attached to the Moree Mail and Glenn Innes service, and shunted off those vehicles at the various stations along the way.

At the time also all stations deemed as stopping stations were allocated a set number of seats, both first and second class also sleeping berths.  Once sold out anyone else wanting to travel was turned away and if they wanted to travel on the mail had to go to the closest station that had seats available. EG Armidale mostly sold out all their seats every night, for those who missed out could go to Uralla for tickets if there were any available there. Both stations usually had good bookings but the likes of Walcha Road and Woolbrook rarely had many travellers but they could not provide seats to anyone from the other locations.  Same thing on the Moree sections.

On the return to WCK the two trains amalgamated and we had the same situation, that often the seats were never sold out from there but often needed for passengers from Tamworth or Gunnedah, if they missed tickets there they had to travel to WCK or Quirindi for tickets/seats, or even Willow Tree or Murrurundi.

The sad part of it was that on Friday nights Uni Students from Armidale were effectively pushed off rail with the mails, as they could travel to Sydney to be with their families for the weekends and return on the Sunday night train ex Sydney, prior to this system it was not unusual for at least two carriages extra was required for those two night trains to cater for them.

One other popular service provision was for country people to travel to Sydney to watch RL games on the Saturday or Sunday and return on the night train.  The old Wallangarra service also had passengers going down on the Saturday evening to Sydney for the same reason or for family day out at Newcastle beach and return.
  882seu4me Station Staff

Not really related to much, but a yarn nonetheless. I had a mate that did seasonal work at the old Redfern Mail Exchange. Some may remember the giant brick edifice in Cleveland St. Christmas times were busy in the early 70's. Lots of parcels and letters. The seasonal workers were uni students etc. so when an unknown destination was spotted, they would hurl the item to the Mudgee mail bags. Lots of stuff went to Mudgee, and back again.

Most people I meet have never heard of a mail train. Youse all did good work in the day. Thanks.
  mikesyd Chief Commissioner

Location: Lurking
Not really related to much, but a yarn nonetheless. I had a mate that did seasonal work at the old Redfern Mail Exchange. Some may remember the giant brick edifice in Cleveland St. Christmas times were busy in the early 70's. Lots of parcels and letters. The seasonal workers were uni students etc. so when an unknown destination was spotted, they would hurl the item to the Mudgee mail bags. Lots of stuff went to Mudgee, and back again.

Most people I meet have never heard of a mail train. Youse all did good work in the day. Thanks.
882seu4me
Some of those Mail workers actually travelled on the Mail Trains. One of the carriages was a Mail Van (a Travelling Post Office), where mail was sorted en-route. Some postmarks on letters in those days would be "TPO South", "TPO West" etc.

The last run of a TPO was in 1985 - Australia Post have a Video Link here:

https://aso.gov.au/titles/sponsored-films/australia-post-last-tpos/

I only ever travelled on a Mail Train twice, around the late 1970's, one being the North Coast mail from Sydney to Coffs Harbour, in a 2nd class compartment which thankfully was not full. We stopped at Kempsey for breakfast in the RRR. I returned on the North Coast Daylight. The other was the return of a day trip to Dubbo - out on the Central West, then the Comet set that connected from Orange to Dubbo, returning on the Mail for which I forked out the extra for a Sleeping Berth as I was dead tired.
  a6et Minister for Railways

The mail trains as such were vital feeder trains to the rural communities, the trains carried not just the passengers but mail of different sizes, such as letters and packets, but there were also parcels of larger sizes also carried on them.

The metro area of Sydney had a huge network of parcels offices, with parcel vans running through the early morning and afternoons/early evenings they delivered the parcels to the special dock above that Cleveland St PMG distribution point, which also had mail from many post offices in the Sydney area having the mail bags delivered before 5pm for sorting onto the mail trains.

I began work in 1962 as a telegram boy with the PMG, and part of the job was clearing some mail boxes, my longest time was at the old Pennant Hills post off on the Pacific Hgwy at the time with the building backing onto the main northern line, nice spot on a verandah to watch trains go past, and often with steam.  When needed on several occasions I accompanied a delivery van driver to the Cleveland St PMG sorting depot and the line up was incredible, likewise the bags in the back of the van.  Mail was sorted in the PO's by a clerk for both local, rural and interstate destinations.  Rural locations had mail put into respective TPO bags up to certain sizes, South, West, North, North Coast, those bags taken into the Cleveland St and put straight into larger bags for despatch onto the specific mail vans.

Of a morning we picked up TPO bags from the close by station and brought in to the office and sent upstairs for the posties for deliveries, had to be in by 930 though for that days delivery.

Many large stations, especially at Junctions such as Wck had late post boxes on the stations north west side at WCK for after hours posting to Sydney areas.  At each stopping station the guard and station staff would unload parcels and mail bags from the TPO and respective parcels van as well for down trains and same for up trains with parcels in one van and Sydney mail bags in the TPO sorted for the various stations on the route such as Pennant Hills.

Country Ref rooms did great business, especially where an engine change took place or in steam days when loco reconditioning and water was taken, usually an 8 - 12 minute stop, heading west of a night before I had a car, I would have a light dinner and grab two of the best pies one could want from the Lithgow Ref room, they were made in a small bakery on the Highway (IIRC) at Mt Lambie, attached to or close to the old Service Station.  They even beat the old Railway Pies that were made in the Bakery under Central Station.

One other item often hauled on Mail Trains was Meat, with Ref cars attached to the rear, for Tancreds at Darling Harbour and taken off by a harbour shunt engine down to the siding at the harbour.  Empties were a regular on the old Brisbane Exp via Wallangarra as well.
  mikesyd Chief Commissioner

Location: Lurking
I used to work in a Bank in some country places too. In those days, before Armoured Vans that we see today, Cash travelling to/from the Reserve Bank went by registered mail in those vans. The Great Train Robbery in the UK happened for that very reason.
  a6et Minister for Railways

I used to work in a Bank in some country places too. In those days, before Armoured Vans that we see today, Cash travelling to/from the Reserve Bank went by registered mail in those vans. The Great Train Robbery in the UK happened for that very reason.
mikesyd
That reminds me of our postmaster at Pennant Hills whose job it was to bank the days takings, as a Junior Postal officer, telegram boy one had to accompany the boss to the bank just in case of an attempted robbery, yeah a 15/16 year old was a great body guard.  The PM had a loaded pistol in his right pocket, problem was that often we had 4 bags of money that contained coins and paper money, the bosses trousers had quite deep pockets, where the gun was carried, so a robber comes up and demands the money bags, the PM has to drop a bag and try to fumble the gun out his pocket, would have been hilarious and scary as the robber would have taken off with the dropped bag, leaving the PM to try and cock the pistol and unlock the safety catch and try to shoot the robber in the main street.
  GeoffreyHansen Minister for Railways

Location: In a FAM sleeper
I was born in the 1980s and just missed out on catching the mail trains although I think I saw your their carriages around Central. I'm keen to hear any stories about them.
  L1150 Assistant Commissioner

Location: Pakenham Vic.
During the 70s I rode on many of the Mails. From memory, that included Narrandera-Sydney, Parkes-Sydney, Dubbo-Sydney, Sydney-Cooma, Sydney-Canberra, Sydney-Nambucca Heads, Sydney-Albury and perhaps others.

One of the most memorable was (in winter) when I was doing the Dubbo-Sydney mail. I had travelled to Dubbo in the daytime using the Central West Express ( pre XPT days) with a train change at Orange to a Silver City Commet set for the remainder of the run to Dubbo. I remember it was bitterly cold at Orange with low hanging very dark clouds around. Dubbo was much warmer. Travelling back on the mail, we paused just before Orange and I heard a bit of a commotion in my carriage, with people saying things like "wow, look at that!" etc. Looking out of the window, I could see that it was SNOWING. When we moved into the platform at Orange, the conductor said that we would be staying for about 20 minutes. Most passengers got off to have a look, and some children built a snowman at the end of the platform. When we were on the move again, the lights in the carriage were switched off, the clouds had cleared and a full moon was shining. For the next fifteen minutes or so the scene passing the window was pure magic, snow covered fields illuminated by the full moon! Very Happy

L1150
  CPH8 Locomotive Fireman

My first experience of the Western Mails was when I was living in Sydney in the early 1960's and had friends at Dubbo. I used to catch the Coonamble Mail to Dubbo on Friday night leaving at 9pm with a 36 or 38 on the front from Lithgow, returning on Sunday night on the Forbes Mail.


Then in 1974 I was transferred with my work from Leigh Creek to Dubbo and in 1975 built a house at Wongarbon, between Dubbo and Wellington. From then up to 1978 we used to get our mail via the TPO at 9 am, before the good people of Dubbo. Sometimes my wife or I would travel with the kids from Dubbo to Wongarbon just to give them the thrill of a train ride.


Fast forward to 1986 and as secretary of the Macquarie Valley Railway Society  I bought a TPO - KP 845. It arrived the day after being taken out of service on the South Mail, with many of the dockets, labels etc still in their pigeon holes. When the society collapsed I believe the Dubbo Police Boys Club bought it. The KP's were built by Ritchie Brothers in Sydney in 1905. In later years they were equipped with gas heating but that was about all the amenities so it was not surprising that when the SRA refused to update the TPO's, they were taken out of service, in keeping with the mantra at the time, "Passengers are pests". As a keen philatelist I collared all the paperwork for displays.


What hasn't been mentioned is that all passenger trains carried a letter box. For most of them it was a slot on the side of the guard's van but with the CPH railmotors, it was a box hanging on the front left side of the railmotor on the outside. Letters had to be stamped and they were cleared by the guard - or supposed to be - at the end of each run. The North Mail to Grafton was the last to run.
  Travelling Hooker Locomotive Fireman

Location: Follows the weather up and down the coast
mmm, my experience of mail trains was running away from boarding school in Bathurst in the 80s and catching the western mail at 12.38am for the 5 hour run down to Sydney, arriving 5.20am. I was 12. Got into ****loads of trouble but still immensely proud of my 12 y.o. self
  neillfarmer Chief Train Controller

I did a fair bit of Mail train travelling in the 1960s. The Coonamble Mail was a good train, often a full load for the 38 class.
I had a cab ride from Lithgow to Orange on the Through Mail on 11th August 1966. The engine, 3810, wasn't too healthy and steaming poorly so the 36 class bank engine, 3675, stayed on all the way from Bathurst to Orange. At Orange the 38 came off to go to loco for attention, 3675 was sent straight back to Bathurst light engine and a 45 class took the Mail on to Dubbo. That day 65 goods went to Dubbo via Molong with 3618 + 3636 and 3825 arrived le from Bathurst to cover No.28 Central West Express.
A good trick in those days if you wanted the compartment to yourself was to get to Central early and get a spot in the leading car. A couple of empty wine bottles placed on the window sill was sufficient to deter fellow travellers who would object to the window being open all the way after Lithgow.
On another trip on the up Glen Innes Mail we had 3279, FS, BS, EHO out of Glenn Innes, from Armidale it was 4520+4513, FS, BS, TAM, MHO. From Tamworth 4520+4513, MHO, ACS, CR, FS, BS, TAM, MHO and from Werris Creek 3526, MHO, KP, KP, MHO, MHO, ACS, CR, FS, BS, TAM, MHO. From Broadmeadow 3816 took over.
In that era mail Trains were well patronised and passengers were always getting dropped off or picked up all along the way. Holidays were always busy with Black Thursday before Easter having a full compliment of Mail trains. Many enthusiasts travelled to Demondrille or Tumulla to witness an almost constant stream of trains up the hill.
Neill Farmer
  a6et Minister for Railways

I did a fair bit of Mail train travelling in the 1960s. The Coonamble Mail was a good train, often a full load for the 38 class.
I had a cab ride from Lithgow to Orange on the Through Mail on 11th August 1966. The engine, 3810, wasn't too healthy and steaming poorly so the 36 class bank engine, 3675, stayed on all the way from Bathurst to Orange. At Orange the 38 came off to go to loco for attention, 3675 was sent straight back to Bathurst light engine and a 45 class took the Mail on to Dubbo. That day 65 goods went to Dubbo via Molong with 3618 + 3636 and 3825 arrived le from Bathurst to cover No.28 Central West Express.
A good trick in those days if you wanted the compartment to yourself was to get to Central early and get a spot in the leading car. A couple of empty wine bottles placed on the window sill was sufficient to deter fellow travellers who would object to the window being open all the way after Lithgow.
On another trip on the up Glen Innes Mail we had 3279, FS, BS, EHO out of Glenn Innes, from Armidale it was 4520+4513, FS, BS, TAM, MHO. From Tamworth 4520+4513, MHO, ACS, CR, FS, BS, TAM, MHO and from Werris Creek 3526, MHO, KP, KP, MHO, MHO, ACS, CR, FS, BS, TAM, MHO. From Broadmeadow 3816 took over.
In that era mail Trains were well patronised and passengers were always getting dropped off or picked up all along the way. Holidays were always busy with Black Thursday before Easter having a full compliment of Mail trains. Many enthusiasts travelled to Demondrille or Tumulla to witness an almost constant stream of trains up the hill.
Neill Farmer
neillfarmer
The beauty of the leading cars was that most passengers, and lets not forget they were all non booked seats except the sleepers, was that few wanted to be in there especially west of Lithgow owing to the noise and smoke from the steam loco up front. It provided for the rail follower a good chance to record the engine going up grades. I have a nice old tape of 3810 starting out of Wang, right to the top of the grade through the pine forests, to grade top when it then picks up pace before shutting off.

I got on the assist engine from Bx to Wimbleton and rode back to Tumulla for a day of photographing, that night I was back in Bx after the signalman arranged for a trip back there at sunset, was a 45cl and the inspectors dicky seat allowed me to sit. I caught the first mail in which had the Cowra cars on the front, there was no one in that 2nd class cabin, being a 1st, sleeping & 2nd set up, I thought a good nights sleep would come but that was not the case as the sliding door would not latch, and every change of motion, grade and the like had it roll open or shut with the associated bangs. It had no vestibule so couldn't go back into the FS until Wang, I did at least sleep in there.
  tonyp Chief Commissioner

Location: Shoalhaven
I rode a number of mails as a passenger. Always a rough experience sitting up and trying to sleep at night, especially sharing with a passenger of less fortune in life who'd spend the night roaming the train's ashtrays in search of cigarette butts that he could smoke. Got a sleeper once, that was much better. The RRRs (ref. rooms) were a really great experience, now stored away among all of those memories that the young will never be able to share - the Tin Hares, the Comet, riding a steam ferry to Manly, Sydney trams ....

The best thing about the mails was that you could go away (to Sydney or vice versa) Friday night and come back Sunday night. You might be trashed, but satisfied at the end of it, especially considering it was far cheaper than flying.

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