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Former Tasmanian Government Railways diesel locomotive X1, Tasmanian Transport Museum, Glenorchy, Hobart, Tasmania, 30 December 2015. X1 was the first mainline diesel locomotive to enter service in Australia.

900 Class diesel locomotive 900, the first mainline diesel locomotive to operate with South Australian Railways, National Railway Museum, Port Adelaide, 18 January 2017. 900 was the first mainline diesel locomotive to enter service on the Australian mainland.

First Mainline Diesel–electric Locomotives on Australian Government Railways

David Matheson

29 October 2018


Introduction of mainline diesel locomotives

Within the space of three and a half years from September 1950 to March 1954 all Australian Government railways began to use mainline diesel locomotives. Tasmanian Government Railways was the first, and other systems followed soon afterwards. The introduction of mainline diesel operations was considered successful, and contracts for further diesel locomotives were signed. Nevertheless, the dominance of steam power would remain for many years.


Tasmanian Government Railways

In 1950 the Tasmanian Government Railways was the first government railway system in Australia to introduce mainline diesel locomotives. X Class locomotives X1 and X2 officially entered service on 13 September 1950. They worked a goods train from Launceston to Hobart the following day, with one locomotive then operating a suburban train. A total of 32 X Class locomotives were built in England, the final two units to enter service being X30 and X31 on 11 December 1952. The X Class worked mostly along the main line between Hobart and Launceston, and also west to Stanley.


South Australian Railways

Diesel-electric locomotive number 900, Lady Norrie, the leader of the 900 Class, was the first mainline diesel unit to officially enter service with a Government railway on the Australian mainland. It commenced service on 10 September 1951. Ten of the class were delivered, with all of them operating by July 1953. Early operations of the 900 Class focused on the Adelaide-Tailem Bend section, mainly in freight service, but also on passenger trains, such as The Overland.


Commonwealth Railways

Commonwealth Railways introduced mainline diesel locomotives in 1951, around the same time as South Australian Railways. The first Commonwealth Railways unit, GM1, commenced trials before the first South Australian Railways unit, 900, but did not officially enter service until 6 October 1951, 26 days after 900. The GM Class locomotives were built by the Clyde Engineering Company at Granville in New South Wales, which had recently secured a licence to manufacture General Motors diesel-electric locomotives. GM1 ran its first trial on 24 August 1951 from Granville to Penrith and return. Subsequent trials continued on the Trans-Australian Railway following its arrival in Port Augusta on 22 September. At a ceremony at Port Pirie Junction station on 6 October 1951, locomotive GM1 was named Robert Gordon Menzies after the then Prime Minister, and officially commenced duties. All eleven members of the class were in service by 8 July 1952. By the end of June 1959, GM1 had covered more than one million miles [1609 km] in service, and by early 1965 it had completed two million miles [3219 km].


Department of Railways, New South Wales

The first mainline diesel locomotives to enter service with the Department of Railways in New South Wales were the 40 Class. Manufactured by the American Locomotive Company in Montreal, Canada, the first two units, 4001 and 4002, commenced service on 30 November 1951, and when complete the class comprised 20 members. Their initial duties involved working freight trains between Enfield and Broadmeadow. Later they operated as far as South Brisbane, Armidale, Parkes, Dubbo, Albury, Canberra and Port Kembla. Although most of the work of the 40 Class was in freight service, they were also used on long-distance passenger trains.


Victorian Railways

Victoria’s first mainline diesel-electric locomotive to enter service was B60. After it was built at Clyde Engineering it worked under its own power from Sydney to Melbourne. On 15 July 1952 it was officially named after the former Victorian Railways Chairman of Commissioners, Harold Clapp, then worked a demonstration run from Melbourne to Seymour and return. A total of 26 B Class locomotives entered service, with the last commencing operations in February 1954.


Queensland Railways

Mainline diesels commenced to operate in Queensland when the 1210 Class arrived. The first to enter service was 1213 on 6 November 1952. Seven members of class were in service by the end of the year, with a further three units operational by early February 1953. In 1956 they were renumbered as the 1300 Class and another three class members arrived. The class was later renumbered again as the 1150 Class. They saw initial service on the steeply graded line between Brisbane and Toowoomba. Here they were able to haul heavier train loads, as well as achieving faster running times, than steam engines. As more diesels entered service their range was extended.


Western Australian Government Railways

Western Australian Government Railways was the last government railway system in Australia to introduce mainline diesel locomotives. Its first mainline diesels were the X and XA Class locomotives, which commenced service from 1954 to 1956. Class leader, X1001, entered service on 8 March 1954. A total of 48 X Class units operated. They were unusual for Australian locomotives in having a 2-Do-2 wheel arrangement. Early service was working goods trains along the main line between Perth and Kalgoorlie, and the branch to Esperance. They were also used on passenger services to Kalgoorlie, Albany and Meekatharra.



The leaders of all the first mainline diesel classes on Australian Government railway systems have been preserved:

  • Tasmanian Government Railways unit X1 is at the Tasmanian Transport Museum in Glenorchy.

  • South Australian Railways locomotive 900 is at the National Railway Museum in Port Adelaide.

  • Commonwealth Railways GM1 is now owned by Rail Heritage Western Australia and is currently under restoration.

  • Department of Railways, New South Wales, locomotive 4001 is preserved at the New South Wales Rail Museum at Thirlmere.

  • Victorian Railways locomotive B60 was rebuilt in 1984 and renumbered A85; it is currently part of the Pacific National locomotive fleet and is stored at South Dynon in Melbourne.

  • The first Queensland Railways mainline diesel, 1213, was not preserved. Nevertheless, class leader 1210 - the unit with the lowest road number, although it entered service after 1213 and 1212 - is stored by the Australian Railway Historical Society in Townsville, having been renumbered 1300 and then 1150, the number it bears today.

  • Western Australian Government Railways unit X1001 is preserved at the Bassendean Railway Museum.



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       4, January 1952, p32.

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‘X1 turns 50: half a century of mainline dieselisation’, Tasmanian Rail News, issue 210, August 2000, p2.


The first mainline diesel locomotive in New South Wales, 4001, was restored to working order in 2010. It is seen leading a special train passing Beresfield, between Broadmeadow and Maitland, on 10 April 2016.


X1001 diesel locomotive, Bassendean Railway Museum, Western Australia, 11 October 2009.

Some of the information in this article previously appeared in:

Matheson, D, ‘From steam to diesel and electric: changing motive power on Australian government railways’, Australian Railway History, no. 958,

       August 2017, pp. 14-22.

Matheson, D, ‘From steam to diesel and electric: changing motive power on Australian government railways’, Australian Railway History, no. 960,

       October 2017, pp. 4-14.

Matheson, D, ‘From steam to diesel and electric: changing motive power on Australian government railways’, Australian Railway History, no. 962,

       December 2017, pp. 16-24.



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