The Main North Line (also known as the Great Northern Railway) is a major railway in New South Wales, Australia. It runs through the Central Coast, Hunter and the New England regions. The line was the original main line between Sydney and Brisbane, however this required a change of gauge at Wallangarra. The line is now closed north of Dumaresq, and the main route between Brisbane and Sydney is now the North Coast line.
At Fassifern, a former branch line to Toronto divides off in an eastwards direction. The line continues north to Broadmeadow in the inner western suburbs of Newcastle. North of Broadmeadow is the junction with the Newcastle Branch Line. Electrification of the main line ends at Broadmeadow but continues along the Newcastle branch line.
The line then swings westwards as four tracks (two main line and two coal roads) through the outer suburbs of Newcastle to Maitland. Maitland is the junction of the North Coast line which continues to Brisbane. The line becomes double track immediately west of Maitland and heads through the Upper Hunter Valley through the townships of Branxton and Singleton before reaching Muswellbrook. The line is presently single track from Antienne to Muswellbrook, but Australian Rail Track Corporation are altering the layout of the Muswellbrook yard in preparation for duplication of this section.
Muswellbrook is the junction point for the cross country goods line to Sandy Hollow and Gulgong. The Main North continues northwards to Werris Creek, where the Mungindi Line branches off northwest to Moree, and a cross country branch continues to Binnaway and ultimately Dubbo.
The line continues north, but sees limited traffic from Werris Creek northwards. The line reaches the major New England towns of Tamworth and Armidale. Dumaresq, a township north of Armidale, is the current limit of goods traffic. The line is essentially closed beyond Dumaresq to Glen Innes and in poor state of repair beyond to Wallangarra.
The first section of the Main North Line was built from the port of Newcastle to Victoria Street, Maitland in 1857 and extended to Singleton in 1863, Muswellbrook and Murrurundi in 1872, Werris Creek and west Tamworth in 1878, Armidale in 1883 and Wallangarra, Queensland in 1888. The Sydney to Newcastle section was started significantly later due to the difficult topography, including the need to cross the Hawkesbury River. The line was opened to Hornsby in 1886 and Hawkesbury River station at Brooklyn in 1887. The line also opened from Newcastle to Gosford in 1887. The Hawkesbury River bridge and the line to Gosford were opened in 1889. The bridge was built on pylons that failed to reach bed rock and it had to be replaced in the 1940s but due to the war the new bridge was not opened until 1 July 1946. The section between Hornsby and Gosford was electrified in the 1960s, and to Broadmeadow (and Newcastle) in 1984.
The line was hampered by the rugged terrain and a change of gauge at Wallangarra for traffic to Queensland. The line was supplanted as the principal route to Brisbane by the completion of the North Coast Line in 1930. Despite being bypassed, the line remained busy for many years afterwards, with the line instead becoming the major freight link to the wheat and wool regions of northern and north-west New South Wales.
In 1988, the New South Wales government abandoned the line between Tenterfield and Wallangarra. The line was later abandoned to as far south as Tamworth before services were returned to Armidale in 1993. Since that time, there have been attempts to revive freight or tourist traffic to as far as Glen Innes, although these plans have not yet succeeded.
Today, the line is used for both freight and passenger traffic. The busiest sections are in the Hunter Valley and Central Coast regions, with services to the New England being less frequent. Passenger services are provided by CountryLink, with daily Xplorer services running from Sydney to Armidale and Moree. Freight services are provided by a number of companies, with Pacific National being the largest user on the line.
Much of the line in the Hunter Valley has 4 tracks. North of Sandgate, the western pair of tracks are used exclusively for coal trains within the Hunter Valley Coal Chain and the eastern pair of tracks are used for passenger trains and general freight. The Sandgate Flyover was constructed in 2006 to allow the two passenger/freight lines to rise and pass over the coal lines in order to eliminate a capacity restriction caused by the long coal trains crossing the other tracks at grade.