The original line was first laid in 1893 and only extended as far as East Greta. It was built and run by the East Greta Coal Mining Company to serve its mines in the area near present-day Gillieston Heights.
This track is still in use, although the collieries it served are long gone.
A few years later, the East Greta Coal Mining Company acquired some more leases about 8km south, in the vicinity of the village of Stanford Merthyr. In 1900, the railway was extended south to the mine at Stanford Merthyr. This was further extended in November 1901 to reach the Stanford Greta No 2 Tunnel Colliery. About the same time, this mine was sold to J. and A. Brown, who were building their own railway from Hexham, the Richmond Vale Railway (RVR). When the RVR reached this mine, now renamed Pelaw Main, the connection via Stanford Merthyr fell into disuse.
From 1902 the East Greta Mining Company operated passenger services from East Greta Junction to Stanford Merthyr. Platforms were provided at East Greta Junction, East Greta, Aberdare Junction, Heddon Greta, Kurri Road and Stanford Merthyr. The following year, the service was extended to Maitland. Following an industrial dispute in 1929, passenger traffic was suspended and never resumed.
In 1934, a subsidence from the Ayrfield No 1 lease occurred next to the line. By this time, only the Stanford Merthyr and Ayrfield mines were still in operation, with the latter experiencing difficulties due to fires. It was decided to close the line from Aberdare Junction, and haul future Stanford Merthyr coal via the RVR.
Meanwhile various mining leases were being developed in the Abermain and Aberdare districts. In 1901 Aberdare Collieries and the Australian Agricultural Company commenced construction of the Aberdare Railway, when left the existing line as Aberdare Junction and eventually extended as far as the town of Cessnock. Originally laid as single track, it was duplicated between 1903 and 1912, before being converted back to single track as traffic dwindled in the 1960s and 1970s.
A number of collieries utilised this railway, either via sidings off the main line, or by longer branches which were constructed off it. In 1912 the line was extended through the town of Cessnock to the Aberdare Extended Colliery. A feature of this railway was the steep Caledonia bank, between Bellbird Junction and Caledonia, which required considerable effort for up trains to traverse.
Passenger services were provided from Cessnock from as far away as Newcastle, by both the SMR Pty Ltd and the NSWGR. From 1940, the "Cessnock Express" operated from Sydney. Platforms were provided at Bee Siding, North Kurri Kurri, Weston, Abermain, Neath, Caledonia and Cessnock. Declining patronage over the years saw services reduced until they were finally suspended on 26 May 1972.
By the early 1970s, the section beyond Bellbird Junction saw only very occasional freight or coal traffic, and at the end of 1973 this section was closed. In 1975 the station was demolished, and today there is little or no trace of the line in this section. The rest of the line is still utilised by trains from the former Pelton Colliery.
The Hebburn Coal Mining Company operated a number of mines to the south of the village of Weston, and in 1918 constructed a branch line serving the Hebburn No 1, Hebburn No 2 Tunnel and Hebburn No 2 Collieries. A decade later, this branch was extended to Elrington Colliery. The branch originated at the Hebburn Exchange Sidings, on the south side of Weston station. The Company provided their own locomotives, which operated as far as the exchange sidings, where the wagon were taken on by SMR locomotives.
The Company provided a passenger service for its miners from around 1923 to around 1930.
Most of the collieries on this branch closed in the early 1960s, with only Hebburn No 2 Colliery surviving until mid-1972. In 4 September 1972, the branch was closed. For several years afterward, the first 3 km of the line was used as a storage siding. Today the branch has been lifted, with little evidence, apart from parts of the formation, that it existed. The building at Elrington Colliery are being used by an engineering firm.
This branch was constructed by Abermain Collieries Limited, to carry coal from its Abermain Nos 1, 2 and 3 mines. It left the Aberdare Railway in a set of sidings in the yard at Abermain. After 500m it passed the sidings for Abermain No 1 Colliery. It then extended past Abermain No 3 Colliery (really just another entrance to the No 1 lease), before finishing At Abermain No 2 Colliery, on the south-east outskirts of the village of Kearsley.
Abermain Collieries Limited provided transport for its miners between the collieries using a set of steam trams.
On 10 April 1964, the last colliery (Abermain No 2) ceased production, and the line was closed. The track between Neath and Abermain was used for storage purposes at later times, until the tracks were lifted in the mid 1970s.
This branch left the Aberdare Railway at a point midway between Neath and Caledonia, known as Aberdare South Junction. Traffic to and from the branch was controlled by a signal box at this location. The branch served a single colliery, Aberdare South, located near the village of Abernethy. It was constructed by its owner, Caledonian Collieries Limited Company.
When the colliery ceased production in 1927, the line was closed although the track was not lifted until the 1970s.
This branch left the Aberdare Railway at a point about 1km before Caledonia, known as Aberdare Central Junction. Traffic to and from the branch was controlled by a signal box at this location. Like the Aberare South branch, this railway served a single colliery (Aberdare Central) and was constructed by Caledonian Collieries Limited Company.
The colliery ceased production in 1961, and the line was closed. The track was lifted in the early 1970s.
For the last few years, the SMR has been in danger of being closed for good. The only remaining track extends to the site of the Pelton Colliery. Production there has stopped, although it is used as a loading point for coal from the nearby Ellalong Colliery. This was recently re-opened and renamed Southland Colliery, and is the sole traffic over the network. When this closes for the final time, the SMR will almost certainly see no more rail traffic.
John Delaney, who worked on with the SMR mines, has written a comprehensive account of the collieries of the region. The following table contains a summary of the mines which were served by rail, and includes a link to the relevant pages in John's work.
|East Greta Railway||East Greta No 2||Jul 1896||Sep 1929||link|
|East Greta No 1||Aug 1888||Sep 1929||link|
|Stanford Merthyr Railway||Glen Ayr||Jun 1914||1930||link|
|Ayrfield No 1||1918||Apr 1933||link|
|Ayrfield No 2||1924||Oct 1928||link|
|Pelaw Main||Apr 1901||1955||link|
|Hebburn Railway||Hebburn No 1||Oct 1901||1958||link|
|Hebburn No 2 Tunnel||1902||1908|
|Hebburn No 2||1918||Jun 1972||link|
|Abermain Colliery Railway||Abermain No 1||Jan 1903||Sep 1960||link|
|Abermain No 3||1923||Sep 1960||link|
|Abermain No 2||1912||May 1964||link|
|Aberdare Railway||Greta Main||1930||1931||link|
|Neath||May 1906||Apr 1961||link|
|Aberdare||Aug 1905||Nov 1960||link|
|Aberdare Extended||Jun 1906||Mar 1963||link|
|Aberdare South Colliery Railway||Aberdare South||Jun 1913||Dec 1927||link|
|Aberdare Central Colliery Railway||Aberdare Central||1914||Mar 1961||link|
|Cessnock No 2 Railway||Cessnock No 2||Jan 1917||1955||link|
|Kalingo Railway||Cessnock No 1||1922||1964||link|
|Stanford Merthyr No 2 Railway||Stanford Main No 2||Feb 1922||Jul 1961||link|
|Greta Main and Millfield Greta Railway||Maitland Main||1921||1972||link|
|Millfield Greta||1924||Nov 1955||link|
|Hetton-Bellbird and Pelton Railway||Bellbird||1911||May 1976||link|