Locomotive 3801 was built in 1943 by Clyde Engineering as the first of 30, 38 class locomotives built to haul express trains. It first entered service on 22 January 1943 and became known at the time as the Grey Nurse due to its drab, all grey colour which acted as a wartime camouflage. Over the years, 3801 has undergone many paint works going from grey to green to black and back to green again.
On 25 February 1943, 3801 worked the Newcastle Flyer for the first time. The Newcastle Flyer was an passenger express train that operated from November 1929 until April 1988 connecting Sydney and Newcastle.
3801 was often used on special services operated by railway heritage organisations, the most famous being a non-stop run from Sydney to Newcastle in June 1964. 3801 just missed breaking the two hour barrier, however remained the fastest journey from Sydney to Newcastle by rail (2 hours 1 minute 51 seconds) until XPT came along in 1988.
3801 was withdrawn in 2007, it was decided to replace the original boiler with a new welded one. This was expected to be complete by the end of 2010. The contract for the construction of the new boiler was let to Dampflokwerk Meiningen in Germany, while the tender tank was transferred to the Hunter Valley Training Company at Maitland for repair.
The new boiler was shipped to Australia from Germany in 2010 however a number of technical issues were identified with the new boiler, which meant it did not comply with Australian Standards. It was returned to Germany in 2011.
In November 2014, Transport for NSW announced that the boiler for the 3801 steam locomotive would be brought back to Australia so that local experts can get the locomotive back on the track and by September 2015, Transport Heritage NSW announced that 3801 would return to service in 2017.
In July 2019 the boiler was completed and mounted to the frame and in early September 2019 the locomotive passed its first steam test. The locomotive was scheduled to have its first mainline test on the 9th of December 2019 but due to fire bans and work not being finished in time the trial was postponed to January 2020. Even though the mainline trial could not go ahead, on the 7th of January 2020 the locomotive fired up for the first time in more than 12 years and did a couple of trials in Chullora yard.
The locomotive has now undergone various trials and will now be returning to heritage service in 2020.
For more information on the Locomotive 3801 project visit Transport Heritage NSW.