Last weekend, the Labour Day long weekend here in Victoria, was for those of us interested in railways a special weekend, Steamrail’s open weekend. Thousands of visitors made the journey to Newport to see Steamrail’s operational steam locos in steam (and much else beside).
Between 1902 and 1919 Victorian Railways took delivery of 261 Dd locomotives, but something a little more powerful yet able to run on light lines was needed.
Alfred Smith, VR Chief Mechanical Engineer from 1919, oversaw the design of a new 2-8-0 locomotive, designated the K class. During 1922-23 ten were built, making this year the K’s centenary. None of this batch survive but Steamrail’s 2022 ‘surprise’ was displaying K153 as ‘K100’ without smoke deflectors and with an oil lamp instead of electric.
Following the 1921 Royal Commission on the matter of uniform railway gauge the policy was set that all new locomotives should be capable of being converted from broad/Irish gauge (5’3”, 1600mm) to standard gauge (4’8½”, 1435mm). The K’s firebox, set between the frames, made gauge conversion impossible. The solution was to use the K as the basis for a new locomotive, the 2-8-2 N class, its grate above the frames being supported by a trailing truck. 30 were built between 1925 and 1931, more later bringing the total to 83. And that might have left the K as a small and forgotten class.
But no. The N-class had one serious drawback. The trailing truck made it too long to turn the loco+tender on the small 53 foot diameter turntables found on many rural lines (the loco and tender would each need to be turned separately, something crews did not enjoy).
The K’s might have been few in number but they were liked by their crews. During the mid-1930s they were equipped with VR’s ‘Modified Front End’ giving improved performance but necessitating the addition of smoke deflectors. The provision of a steam powered generator and electric headlamp was another welcome improvement.
By the end of the 1930s more motive power was necessary. The gauge conversion requirement was put to one side. 43 more K’s were built between 1940 and 1946.
During the 1950s K class locos were progressively withdrawn, T class diesels replacing them. Many were sold to local councils for display in parks. The lower weight of the K made it a popular choice as VR offered locomotives for the price of their scrap value plus freight. Happy carefree days when children could scramble all over them with no thought of health and safety!
Just one N class loco survives, N 432, the last steam locomotive built by VR’s Newport Workshops, now in the Newport Railway Museum. In contrast 21 of the original 53 K class survive, four in operational condition. Want to ride behind one? Check out Steamrail’s tours.
By way of background: In 1853 an Act was passed making it compulsory for all railways in New South Wales to be of 5 ft 3 in track gauge. The Governors of Victoria and South Australia accepted this as the standard gauge for Australia. The following year the Sydney-Parramatta railway company revised the proposed gauge and succeeded in having the 1852 Act repealed and a new Act passed setting the gauge for New South Wales at 4 ft 8½ in. This step was taken without reference to either South Australia or Victoria where various private companies had placed large orders for 5 ft 3 in gauge rolling stock. Both these Colonies decided to adhere to the 5ft 3 in gauge. Unfortunately!^