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BB18¼  locomotive 1089, the last steam locomotive to be built in Australia, The Workshops Railway Museum, Ipswich, 6 January 2008.

Although it has the number J559, this engine is actually J556. The plates were saved from J559, the last steam engine to enter service in Victoria. Australian Railway Historical Society Museum, North Williamstown, 15 January 2017.

Last Steam Locomotives to Enter Service on Australian Government Railways

David Matheson

11 November 2018


Steam locomotives hauled all train services from the beginning of heavy railway services in Australia in 1854. In later years Diesel and Electric Multiple Units formed some trains. From 1950 to 1954 all government railway systems in Australia introduced their first mainline diesel locomotives. The efficiency of diesel locomotives compared to steam engines quickly became clear. Diesels were soon seen as the future motive power and the demise of steam could be foreseen. Nevertheless, all government railways in Australia continued to receive new steam engines after their first mainline diesel locomotives entered service. There was a period of overlap where both new steam locomotives and new diesel locomotives were being delivered.


The last steam locomotives to enter service on each of the Government railway systems in Australia are outlined below.


Tasmanian Government Railways

In 1952 Tasmanian Government Railways was the first government railway system in Australia to witness its last steam engine enter service. The M Class comprised ten 4-6-2 passenger engines that were shipped from England to Hobart on the Christen Smith, which also carried two of the new X Class diesels. Most of their service was in northern Tasmania. M1, M2, M6 and M8 were rebuilt with smaller driving wheels in 1957 and renumbered as the MA Class. The last to enter service was M7 on 6 October 1952. It was later renumbered as M1 and was the first member of the class to be withdrawn, after a working life covering only 143,000 km.  All ten members of the class have been preserved in various locations, with M1 located at the Derwent Valley Railway, near Devonport.


Commonwealth Railways

Commonwealth Railways was the first mainland system to see its final steam engine enter service when L88 and L89, the last two of the ten 2-8-2 L Class engines, began operating in June 1953. The L Class steam locomotives were being built by the Clyde Engineering Company in Sydney at the same time that the Commonwealth Railways’ new GM Class diesels were also being manufactured. They had initially been part of a contract of locomotives being built for service in China, but following the Chinese Communist Revolution the Commonwealth Department of Supply sold ten to South Australian Railways and ten to Commonwealth Railways. Dieselisation resulted in the L Class seeing very little operational service, mostly shunting and standby work, and all were scrapped in the middle of the 1960s.


South Australian Railways

Ten 400 Class 4-8-2+2-8-4 Garratts were introduced by the South Australian Railways in 1953–54, primarily for working ore trains between Cockburn, on the New South Wales border, and Port Pirie. They saw some service on other lines in the Peterborough region, and also worked passenger trains at times. The last to commence service was 406 on 13 February 1954. They were in regular service until 1963, with several re-entering service briefly in 1969. Two members of the class have been preserved, although 406, the last to enter service, was scrapped. 402 is at the Zig Zag Railway near Lithgow in New South Wales, and 409 is at the National Rail Museum in Adelaide.


Victorian Railways

Victorian Railways introduced the 2-8-0 J Class engines in 1954, with all sixty members of the class being in service by the end of the year. They were built at the Vulcan Foundry in Newton-le-Willows, England, and shipped in fully assembled condition to Melbourne. The J Class was used in passenger and goods service until dieselisation saw them mostly restricted to shunting work by the late 1960s. The last to enter service was J559 on 17 December 1954. It was scrapped in 1967, but its identity plates are attached to J556 at the Railway Museum at North Williamstown in Melbourne. Numerous other members of the class are preserved.


Western Australian Government Railways

The V Class of the Western Australian Government Railways became the last type of new steam engine to be introduced on that system. The V Class were 2-8-2 engines designed for heavy freight work and all remained in service until 1971–72­­. V1224 was the last to enter service on 16 November 1956, and it was withdrawn on 17 June 1971, along with many other members of the class. It was subsequently scrapped, although several members of the class have been preserved.


Department of Railways, New South Wales

Fifty of the AD60 Class 4-8-4+4-8-4 Garratt locomotives were ordered by the Department of Railways, New South Wales, with the first entering service in 1952. After 37 engines had been delivered, an arrangement was made with the builders, Beyer Peacock and Company, to only manufacture a further five completed engines as well as five sets of spare parts. The AD60 Class engines were the largest and most powerful steam locomotives to operate in Australia, weighing 260.0 tons [264.17 tonnes] and having a length of 108.7 feet [33.1 metres]. Thirty members of the AD60 Class were rebuilt between 1958 and 1960, the rebuilt engines weighing 264.25 tons [268.49 tonnes], making them the heaviest steam locomotives to ever operate in Australia. Engine 6040 was the last of the 42 members of the class to enter service, beginning its working life on 2 January 1957. It has been preserved at the NSW Rail Museum at Thirlmere.


Queensland Railways

The last new steam locomotive to enter service on an Australian Government railway was Queensland Railways 4-6-2 BB18¼ Class engine 1089. The unusual 18¼ number in the classification refers to the diameter of the cylinders in inches. Initial service was hauling express passenger services, but they later saw a wide range of duties. 1089 was the last of 55 members of its class, and was built by Walkers Ltd at Maryborough. It was delivered on 11 March 1958, and entered service soon after this date. After a working life in regular service of only 11 years, 1089 was withdrawn in June 1969. Today it is preserved at the Workshops Rail Museum at Ipswich, and is still used on occasions for special services.



Armstrong, J, Locomotives in the tropics, vol. 2, Australian Railway Historical Society Queensland Division, Brisbane, 1994, p. 161.

Dix, A, Locomotives of the Tasmanian Transport Museum, 2nd ed., Tasmanian Transport Museum Society Inc., Hobart, 2007, p. 11.

Gunzburg, A, A history of W.A.G.R. steam locomotives, Australian Railway Historical Society, W.A. Division, Perth, 1984, p. 140.

Here and There, Supplement to Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, no. 246, April 1958, p3.

Here and There, Supplement to Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, no. 232, February 1957, p1.

Here and There, Supplement to Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, no. 248, June 1958, p2.

Marshall, B, & Wilson, J, Locomotives of the S.A.R., Mile End Railway Museum, Adelaide, 1972, p. 43.

Medlin, P, Victorian Railways locomotives by number, Peter Medlin, Melbourne, 2004, Turner, p. 170.

Port Dock Station Railway Museum, Locomotives and railcars of the Commonwealth Railways, Gresley, Adelaide, 1996, p. 48.

State Archives & Records, NSW: Department of Railways, New South Wales, NRS 15260, Locomotive officers conference, monthly report, March 1957, p2.


60 Class Garratt locomotive 6040, Thirlmere, 29 September 2015. Although it does not have the highest number, 6040 was the last member of the 60 class to enter service and the last steam engine to enter service in New South Wales. The last numbered member of the 60 Class, 6042, entered service before 6040.


400 Class steam locomotive 409, National Railway Museum, Port Adelaide, 18 January 2017. 409 is the sister engine of 406, the last steam engine to enter service with South Australian Railways.

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.



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