The Camden-Campbelltown Branch Railway Line
One of the most frequent memories of the Camden area by locals and visitors alike is the Camden branch line and its famous locomotive Pansy.
It has a truly dedicated and enthusiastic bunch of supporters who positively drool about it and overlook its foibles. Old-timers tell stories, then retell them, to anyone who wants to listen, all laced with a pinch of exaggeration and the romantic. A part of local nostalgia.
Steam engines and locomotives bring back memories of the glory days of industrialization and the great days of Australian nationalism in the late Victorian and early 20th century. Monstrous engines that hissed, spat and groaned. They were mighty machines that were living beings. They had a life and soul of their own. They were responsible for creating the wealth of the British Empire. And Pansy is part of that story.
Local railway stations
The Camden branch line was operated by the New South Wales Railways from 1882 to its closure in 1963. The Camden tram was one of several standard gauge light rail lines in the Sydney area. The tank locomotive worked a mixed service that took freight and passengers. The branch line was thirteen kilometres and had eight stations after leaving Campbelltown station, where it joined the Main Southern Railway. The stations were Maryfields, Kenny Hill, Curran’s Hill, Narellan, Graham’s Hill, Kirkham, Elderslie and finally arriving at Camden.
Most of the stations were no more than a short rudimentary wooden platform with a shelter shed that was unmanned. Others like Camden had a longer platform and associated goods handling facility. Pansy was a regular part of daily life for those who lived near the line. Locals in the Camden township would listen for the loco’s whistle and know that the morning papers had arrived from Sydney.
A host of daily passengers
Legend has it that the engine driver would hold the train for regulars who were running late for work on their way to the city, especially local lasses. Some of Camden’s better-off families sent their children to high school at Parramatta and Homebush each morning on the train. Pansy would chug past the milk factory at the entry to Camden township as local dairy farmers were unloading their cans of milk from their horse and dray. Tourists from Sydney would be dropped off on Friday afternoon at Camden station to be bused to their holiday boarding houses in Burragorang Valley.
Wartime heroes in blue and khaki
The first passenger service left Camden station left at 5.47am to connect with the Sydney service on the Main Southern Line. On the return journey, the last passenger service left from Campbelltown at 9.44pm. During the Second World War, the train provided transport for many servicemen (Army, RAAF) who were based at local military establishments. Airmen from Camden airfield would catch the train to Sydney for weekend leave and would be joined by soldiers from Narellan military base and Studley Park Eastern Command Training School.
Goods and passengers
Camden station and good yards were located adjacent to Edward Street, with a siding to the Camden Vale milk factory. Coal from the Burragorang Valley mines was loaded at Camden yard from 1937, although this was transferred to Narellan in 1941 and eventually the Main Southern Line at Glenlee into the late 1950s. But even by the 1940s, the limitations of the line for caring freight were showing cracks.
From its enthusiastic opening the branch line never really lived up to its predictions. The mixed goods and passenger service was of limited value. Its light gauge restricted the loads and the grade of the line, particularly over Kenny Hill, severely limited its capabilities. Even in 1939, there were already signs of the eventual demise of the branch line with more coal leaving the district by road than rail.
The end is nigh
Its days were numbered, and the writing was on the wall. It was delivered a death blow by the Heffron ALP Government in 1963 as a cost-cutting exercise. There was a drive from the modernization of the railway system across the state. Diesel was the new god.
For current enthusiasts with a keen eye, there are remnants of the embankments and cuttings for the standard gauge line still visible in the area. As visitors leave the Camden township travelling north along Camden Valley Way (old Hume Highway) embankments, culverts and earthworks are still visible in the farm paddocks on the Nepean River floodplain.
What’s left to see?
You can make out the right of way as it crosses Kirkham Lane and heads towards Narellan before disappearing into a housing estate. For those with a sharp eye, a railway cutting is still evident on the northern side of Narellan Road at Kenny Hill just as you take then entry ramp onto the freeway going to Sydney. It appears as a bench above the roadway and is evident for a short distance. (for details see Peter Mylrea, ‘Camden-Campbelltown Railway’, Camden History March 2009, p. 254-263).
Several streets in Curran’s Hill are connected to the history of Pansy. Tramway Drive is close to the route of the train, and some other streets are named after past railway employees, for example, Paddy Miller.
The music of the Camden branch line
The Camden Community Band has added the tune ‘The Camden Train’ to its repertoire. The lyrics tell an interesting story about Pansy, the locomotive. It was written by Camden local Buddy Williams about the time of the last run on of the train in 1963.
Trainworks Railway Museum, Thirlmere
Do you want to see the real deal for yourself? Go and inspect one of the locomotives on display at Trainworks Railway Museum, Barbour Rd Thirlmere NSW 2572 (02) 4681 8001.
Watch a DVD about the Camden Branch Line next time you call into the Camden Museum.
Read more on Wikipedia,
Watch a short DVD on the Camden Branch Line on British Pathe Films.
Read more about the Camden Branch Line in this book
Updated 28 April 2020; Originally published 3 January 2020