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R CLASS - HISTORY

The development of the 'R' class steam locomotives goes back to January 1943 when a new express passenger locomotive began to take shape on the drawing boards in the design offices of the Victorian Railways Rolling Stock Branch. The R class locomotives were designed as a replacement for the ageing 'A2' class locomotives which had faithfully served the Victorian Railways since their introduction in 1907. Due to the introduction of diesel locomotives in the early 1950's the 'R' class locomotives were to become the last and most modern steam passenger locomotives on the VR.

As the design evolved, many modern features were incorporated, such as:

  • provision of a mechanical stoker which largely eliminated hand firing with the shovel and enabled a much higher power output to be sustained (the only other VR locomotive fitted was the solitary 'H' class No.220 "Heavy Harry" which entered service in 1941 and was withdrawn in 1957)
  • SCOA-P type driving wheels with their unique U shaped spokes were fitted along with SKF type roller bearings to all axles on the locomotive and tender
  • 5” (127mm) steel bar frames were provided instead of the more traditional plate frames which were prone to cracking from fatigue
  • use of thermic syphons in the firebox for improved water evaporation
  • provision for the conversion of the locomotives from 5'3” (1600mm) broad gauge to 4'8½” (1435mm) standard gauge should the need ever arise
  • a new tender design and carried on two bogies of four wheels each and incorporating the stoker coal conveyer screw

It was intended to construct 20 'R' class locomotives at Newport Workshops and a large number of components were ordered. Due however, to a number of factors such as industrial disputes and a huge backlog of repair and maintenance work, it was not practicable to build any locomotives at Newport. Federal Government restrictions on the availability of U.S. dollars meant that diesel electric locomotives could not be purchased from the United States. In September 1949 an order for 50 locomotives placed with the North British Locomotive Company Limited of Glasgow, Scotland. This order was subsequently increased to 70 locomotives when the Newport order was cancelled in January 1950.

The engines were allocated road numbers 700 to 769.

The first engines to be delivered were R702 and R703 which arrived on 31 May 1951 and, following delays caused by repairs and adjustments, R703 became the first R to enter service on June 27 1951. Deliveries continued over the next twenty-one months with the last engine, R769, arriving on February 1953 and entering service on 23 September 1953. Several locomotives were significantly delayed entering service by the need to rectify numerous manufacturing faults and shipping damage.

Some of the 'R' class became better known than other members of the class.

  • R704 gained fame by being displayed in London at the "Festival of Britain" (a festival aimed to raise the nation's spirits whilst promoting the best in British art, design and industry after the devastation of war and years of austerity) from May to September 1951. This resulted in its entry into service being delayed by six months. The engine was highly polished and detailed with stainless steel boiler bands, chromed number plates, highly polished fittings and gold lining being added to the red band along the engine and tender.
    The locomotive was also selected to be the leading engine on the Royal train which was to have run in February and March 1952 during the planned visit of the then Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, but, due to the death of King George VI, the tour was cancelled. Two years later, the Royal Tour did run but by then the 'B' class diesel-electrics had taken over.
  • R707 was converted to Precipitated Brown Coal (PCB) dust firing, having been in storage at Newport Workshops following delivery due to damage sustained during shipment from Britain in July 1951. It entered service in August 1954 and ran until May 1956 when it was taken out of service with minor damage caused by a derailment. The PCB equipment was removed when the locomotive was repaired and it returned to service as a standard coal burner in May 1957. Although the use of PCB dust burning was a technical success, its use was not economic compared with the operation of the increasing fleet of diesel-electric locomotives.
  • R748 was converted to oil firing in June 1955 following a period of storage at Newport Workshops after it had rolled into the turntable pit at Geelong Locomotive depot in April 1954. The stoker equipment was removed and modifications included the removal of the grates, fitting a brick lined pan in the firebox and the installation of a 2,000 gallon (9080 litre) oil tank removed from one of the scrapped 'S' class locomotives (of Spirit of Progress fame). Following the success of R748 in service, R719 was converted in June 1957 but no more engines were converted because of rising oil prices.

The oil burning locomotives were regarded as the best in the fleet with their high availability and they subsequently recorded the highest mileage of any 'R' class locomotives. They were also highly regarded by their crews because of the absence of dust and cinders swirling around at high speed.

Despite their early and serious "teething" troubles, the R's began to take over the principle express passenger runs with general reductions in overall running times being achieved. But, the reign of the 'R' class was all too brief for in 1952/53, the 'B' class diesel-electrics began to arrive and very quickly took over the duties for which the 'R' class were designed. Consequently, more and more R's were being placed into storage. Many of them were suffering severe boiler damage because of inadequate boiler water treatments being applied, resulting in R715 being withdrawn on the 4th May 1956 followed the next day by R716 (which had a ridiculously short life, being in service just short of four years and never to run again), the first of many withdrawals over the next four years. minimum maintenance found them falling from favour with their crews and apart from being used on secondary passenger and freight services, most saw service during periods of motive power shortages and peak traffic flows, such as holiday periods and the bumper wheat harvests of the early 1960's.

Accidents were relatively few and far between, mostly being confined to engines rolling into turntable pits, through depot walls and the odd derailment. Some engines, due to a lack of major maintenance, caused more than a few headaches to both crews and running staff alike.

A very serious accident occurred on 14 September 1960 when R755, hauling a passenger train from Numurkah and Seymour, ploughed into the back of a stationary goods train at Broadmeadows. R755 was badly damaged an on 28 November 1960, became the first R to be scrapped.

During the 1960's, many R's were withdrawn and scrapped as more diesels entered service and 1967 was the final year of the 'R' class in general service on the Victorian Railways. The final three withdrawn were R742 on 23 June, R735 on 24 July and oil burning R748 on 10 August 1967. R749 which was set aside for use on special trains only.

Some engines did manage to continue on in service running special excursion trains. Each being replaced as boiler and mechanical conditions made them too costly to maintain. These being in order R706, R769, R749, R707 and R761.

The end of the 'R' class era in VR service finally came when in 1974 the last two engines in excursion service were withdrawn - R707 on 21 May and R761 on 5 September.

In R711 and R766 were converted to oil burning with a Lempor exhaust by West Coast Rail and used to run Saturday excursion trips to Warnambool. The first trip ran on R711 November 1998 with R711. West Coast ceased operation in 2004.

As at November 2008, the location of the seven locomotives that escaped being scrapped was as follows:

  • R700 - dismantled at Steamrail Victoria, Newport West Workshop
  • R704 - on display at AHRS Railway Museum, North Williamstown
  • R707 - operational at Seven-0-Seven Operations, Newport West Workshop
  • R711 - operational at Steamrail Victoria, Newport West Workshop
  • R753 - dismantled at Seven-0-Seven Operations, Newport West Workshop
  • R761 - operational at Steamrail Victoria, Newport West Workshop
  • R766 - converted to standard gauge with the Picnic Express based in the Hunter Valley.

The R's may have gone from the regular main line service hauling any thing from express passenger trains to the lowly roadside "pick-up" runs but the memories of the 'R' class will always remain for those who knew them. Who could forget the sights and sounds of double-headed R's struggling up the long 1 in 48 grades of the Ingliston Bank between Bacchus Marsh and Ballan with the Adelaide bound 'Overland' express and then, once over the top of the grade, the mile after mile of 70 mph (112km/h) running when the cinders really started to fly; or of double-headed R's climbing out Ballarat with another 'R' pushing valiantly at the rear to Warrenheip. Some could run like the wind, and notable perforamces were put up by R734 running from Geelong to Melbourne in 54 minutes, and R749 hauling 400 tons over 75 miles (120km) including Glenrowan bank, in 77 minutes.

R707 SERVICE HISTORY

R707 was built by the North British Locomotive Company Limited in Glasgow, Scotland and allocated the builders number 26997 (the builders plate is mounted on the smoke deflectors).

R707, together with R708 and R709, was shipped aboard the MV Rhexenor and landed at Nelson Pier, Williamstown, on 10 July 1951.

R707 was not issued to traffic due to major damage to the roller bearings on the driving wheels caused by the entry of salt water while being shipped to Australia as deck cargo. The leading driving wheel assembly (wheels, axles and roller bearings) also suffered alignment defects and repair work required the driving wheels to be pressed off the axles, replacement roller bearings fitted and re-balancing after re-assembly. The locomotive was stored at Newport Workshops.

The PCB Experiment

During the 1923 and 1924 the Victorian Railways experimented with the use of pulverised brown coal dust (PBC) on various locomotives of the A2, DD and C classes. Although the tests showed that PBC could be used as a source of fuel in locomotives, testing was discontinued as the technology at the time was not considered advanced enough to warrant widespread service application.

In 1936 developments made in Germany justified further studies. Since the very early 1930's the German Federal Railways had been operating a number of freight locomotives using brown coal dust with very successful results. This ultimately brought together representatives of the brown coal industry and locomotive manufactures to form an association known as STUG (Studiengesellschaft) which conducted research and development of the 'stug' system of PBC firing.

This led the Victorian Railways, in conjunction with the State Electricity Commission of Victoria to investigate the possibilities of using brown coal from Yallourn as fuel for locomotives. This dust was obtained from the briquette factory at Yallourn and was derived by means of electrostatic separation of the dust from the flue gases. PBC was now the abbreviation for precipitated brown coal dust.

By the late 1940's, development had advanced sufficiently to enable the VR to purchase two sets of 'stug' PBC equipment from Henschel and Sohn in Germany. The first set was fitted to an 'X' class locomotive No. 32 in July 1949.

Following successful trials with X32, in early 1952 VR decided to fit R707, which had not entered service since delivery, with the remaining set of 'stug' equipment.

Modifications to R707 included:

  • removal of the MB-1 type stoker and associated equipment
  • fitting of the 'stug' burner equipment
  • alterations to the firebox involving the re-design of the brick arch and the replacement of the grate and ash pan with a fire-brick lined firepan
  • reducing the length of the superheater elements by some 12" (305mm) due to the higher superheat temperatures experienced with the running of X32, with the resultant effects on the piston packing in the cylinders
  • reconstructing the tender with a new tank and fuel hopper fitted to the existing under frame and bogies. The fuel hopper was completely enclosed and tapered down to the fuel conveying equipment. As a result of these modifications and the addition of transmission units, etc., the water capacity was reduced from 9,000 gallons (40,900 litres) to 6,000 gallons (27,300 litres).

R707 was finally issued to traffic as a PBC equipped locomotive on 4 August 1954, just three years since its delivery. Prior to its entry into service, steaming trials were undertaken at North Melbourne Locomotive Depot and following adjustments, R707 then made a number of test runs to Bendigo.

Because if the reduced water capacity of the tender, R707 did not have sufficient margin to allow for bad weather and traffic delays while running express passenger trains to Bendigo. The expenditure which would have been required to construct new fuel handling equipment at Bendigo Locomotive depot was not justified and as these facilities already existed at North Melbourne depot along with the availability of specially trained crews, fitters and workshop facilities. R707 was therefore based at North Melbourne during its PBC service life and was confined to running passenger and freight trains from Melbourne to Geelong and to Seymour.

R707 was taken out of service in May 1956 following some major damage as a result of a derailment. Directions were issued on 7 May 1956 for repairs to be carried out at North Melbourne depot, however with further additions to the diesel fleet and the withdrawal of X32 for repair; it was decided to discontinue the PBC test program. R707 had only run 30,761 miles (49,494km) in twenty-one months of service.

The engine was stored until 28 February 1957 when it was sent back to Newport Workshops for re-conversion to black coal firing. The PBC equipment (including the pulverised fuel tender) was removed. R744, which has been shopped some months earlier for heavy mechanical and boiler repairs, was stripped of various parts and fittings and the tender to complete the re-conversion of R707. It was re-issued to traffic as a black coal burner on the 31 May 1957.

Coal Burner Service

R707 continued an uneventful career with periods of storage at Newport Workshops in April and August 1960 and again at Bendigo in August 1961, at North Melbourne on 27 November 1962 and again at Bendigo on 10 March 1664. It is interesting to note that during its overhaul, R707 was lifted by two 75 ton capacity overhead cranes but, due to problems experienced with the electric braking on one of the cranes; it was not able to be lifted sufficiently to enable a brand new set of driving wheels to be fitted.

R707 was also one of the last of its class to undergo boiler re-tubing at Bendigo. It was then allocated to Bendigo Locomotive Depot on 10 August 1964.

R707 was withdrawn from VR revenue service and stored at Bendigo on 21 July 1965, just fourteen years and eleven days since its arrival from Britain.

On 20 June 1967, R707 was steamed up for a stationary boiler test and also supplied steam for a boiler test on a 'J' class locomotive J501 on the same day.

R707 spent a short time on "display" outside the locomotive depot at Bendigo (a position previously occupied by R704 prior to its last run to Melbourne on 14 October 1967 and placement into the Railway Museum at North Williamstown). On 31 October 1967, R707 was towed into the locomotive depot for AB exams (its place then being taken by stored R766).

On 3 November 1967, R707 arrived at Newport Workshops from Bendigo under its own steam. On 9 November, it underwent minor repairs (broken spring, etc.) to enable it to be used on a special tour on 18 November 1967 (in company with R749 which was then set aside for special excursion service).

Following this trip, R707 was returned to storage at Geelong depot on 8 December 1967. It was then towed to South Dynon Diesel Depot on 4 October 1968 for inclusion in a display of locomotives and rolling stock at a VR exhibition at Spencer Street station on 5 and 6 October 1968. R707 was then transferred to Newport Workshops on 25 November 1968 for further use on special tour workings.

Many excursion trips to various destinations saw much use of R707, sometimes hauling the train on its own and at other times, double-heading with another 'R' or other steam locomotives of the 'D3', 'J' and 'K' classes and, on rare occasions, with a diesel-electric locomotive.

Perhaps the most memorable were the runs staged on the broad and standard gauge tracks which run parallel with each other from Albury to Melbourne. The first of these was on 15 April 1972 when, to commemorate the 10 Anniversary of the opening of the standard gauge in 1962, R761 and R707 ran on the broad gauge beside an X class diesel-electric hauling the Spirit of Progress on the standard gauge,.

Another parallel run, this time from Benalla with visiting New South Wales steam locomotives 3801 and 3820, was made to Melbourne on 21 April 1973. A similar parallel run took place between Wodonga and Wangaratta on 24 November 1973 with 3820 on the standard gauge and R707 double-headed with R761 on broad gauge. This occasion marked the Centenary of the opening of the North Eastern railway from Melbourne to Wodonga.

The end finally came for R707 on 21 May 1974 when it was withdrawn from service and returned to Newport Workshops to be 'set aside pending instructions' (which in those days usually meant the inevitable scrapping). Despite being the second last 'R' in service, R707 had completed only 123,572 miles (198,827km). R761, the last 'R', was withdrawn from service on 5 September 1974.

R707 “CITY OF MELBOURNE” - RESTORATION

The origin of R707's restoration goes back to 16 July 1971 when it hauled a special train, consisting of blue and gold air conditioned sitting cars and the 'Murray' dining car to Ballarat on the occasion of the 16th Annual Convention of the Legal Profession. The engine performed superbly with its 310 tons (315.0 tonne) trailing load, up the long 1 in 48 grades of the Ingliston Bank between Bacchus Marsh and Ballan. Following this trip, many favourable comments were made about the performance of R707 by the passengers, some of whom were judges from faraway England. It was these comments which eventually led, some nine years later, to the formation of 'Plan R' on 11 July 1980, six years after R707 was withdrawn from service.

'Plan R' consisted of a committee of six people to formulate the many and varied tasks which lay ahead. An inspection was made of R707 which was by then stored along side the Erecting Shop at Newport Workshops. It presented a sad and sorry sight after sitting idle for just over six years, but a closer inspection revealed this was largely superficial. On 06 October 1980 a meeting was held with the Chief Mechanical Engineer of VicRail and a proposal forwarded on to the Secretary's Branch and to the General Manager.

On 17 October 1980, a meeting was held with the Chief Workshops Manager, a date was arranged with the Workshops Manager at Newport, and on the afternoon of 28 October 1980, R707 was towed to the Erecting Shop. It was later towed to the old Tarpaulin Shop where work on the restoration of R707 by the all-volunteer workforce commenced on 7 February 1981. This initially involved the separation of the engine from its tender and the removal of all boiler fittings along with the cladding and lagging from around the boiler and firebox. Further work involved the removal of all tubes from the boiler in readiness for the inspection by the Department of Labour and Industry (DLI) boiler inspector.

On 18 December 1981, R707 was transferred over to the former V/Line Workshops at Spotswood where work continued. All cab fittings such as the hydrostatic lubricator (which supplies oil lubrication to the stoker motor and air compressor), stoker motor and associated fittings, stoker control valves, steam gauges, air pressure gauges, firebox door operating equipment and operating treadle, and all boiler fittings and associated pipe work were overhauled and re-fitted. The interior of the boiler was needle gunned and cleaned in readiness for inspection by the DLI boiler inspector who also checked the condition of the rigid and flexible stays, and the firebox including the thermic syphons. Following this inspection, repair work was carried out on the firebox and boiler barrel. New boiler tubes and flues were installed; he exterior of the boiler was needle gunned and painted to prevent rust corrosion and the cab (having been removed sometime earlier) was sandblasted and undercoated. Meanwhile, the tender was cleaned internally with protective paint work applied, and the exterior sandblasted and primed after repairs were carried out.

Mechanical overhaul involved fitting new bull, valve and piston rings in the cylinders; renewing or re-conditioning all the springs on the locomotive drive wheels, leading bogie and trailing truck as well as the tender bogies; and overhauling the mechanical lubricators and oil lines (which supply lubricating oil to the cylinders and other parts). New brass bearings were cast, filled with white metal, machined and fitted to the motion gear. The air compressor was completely overhauled and re-fitted to the engine and the turbo generator, which supplies 32v DC power to all lights and radio equipment, was overhauled and all wiring renewed.

The work required a large amount of money (around $55,000 overall). Some came from fund-raising activities of the volunteer group, but most from individual donations (about $30,000). On 20 December 1983, a grant of $18,000 was received from the State Government to assist in the final stages of restoration.

Stages of the boiler repair work were regularly inspected by the DLI inspector, who, when satisfied that all was well, gave approval for the boiler to be hydrostatically tested. This initially involved a cold water test with the regulator valve in the steam dome blanked off and the boiler completely filled with cold water pumped to a pressure of two and a half times the normal operating maximum steam pressure of 210 psi (1450 kPa). This test is used as, due to the absence of heat, there is no expansion of the boiler and tubes that might seal any small leaks.

Late in 1984, R707 was steam tested in the presence of the DLI inspector. At this time the safety valves were set and the regulator opened to blow out the steam passages through to the cylinders to clear them of any foreign matter before the installation of the piston and ring assemblies into the cylinders. All that remained was the final fitting of the various parts and fittings, boiler lagging and cladding, more steam tests and 'running in' around the yard. Last but not least, came the painting of R707 in its colours of gloss black with red engine headstocks, smoke deflectors and a band along the sides of the engine and tender. New builder's plates, in polished brass with black background, were mounted on the smoke deflectors. Cab radio equipment was fitted to enable crews to communicate with train control bases along with a 'Hasler' type speed indicator and recorder ( in addition to the existing 'Flaman' type) driven by cable from the left hand side of the trailing bogie under the cab.

In honour of the city in which R707 has been based since November 1968, the locomotive was named the 'CITY OF MELBOURNE' and as such, carries the name plates mounted on the running plates along each side of the engine,.

The big day finally came on 20 July 1985, when R707 made its triumphant return to service on its re-commissioning trip to Bacchus Marsh. During a short running in period, R707 was used to haul the 9.40 am Tottenham Yard (in Melbourne) to North Geelong goods train, a sight which has not been seen since the 1960's.

As the name 'Plan R' had outlived its original purpose and to cater for R707's future service, the name 'Seven-0-Seven Operations Inc.' was adopted.

Following the restoration and return to service, the former V/Line Workshops (located opposite the Electrical Workshops in Melbourne Road, Spotswood) became the home of R707, until our move to the Newport Railway Workshops - West Block in the 1992.

R707 SINCE RESTORATION

In early 1992, the Spotswood workshops were no longer required by the Public Transport Corporation for railway purposes with the possibility of the land being either sold or leased to outside industries. R707, along with the diesel-electric shunting locomotive F208, stored locomotives R753 and F204, and all workshop equipment including spare parts and tools, were transferred over to Roads 7 and 8 in the West Block of Newport Workshops where much better facilities existed to store and maintain the locomotives.

The Newport West Block Workshop remains the base for R707 and Seven-0-Seven Operations fleet.

Major maintenance projects completed by Seven - O - Seven Operations at Newport to maintain R707 in operational condition as a moving museum include:

  • R707 in 707 Operations Newport Woprkshop. 15/11/2006. Photographer unknown.1998 - overhaul tender bogies brake gear
  • 1999 - renew boiler tubes (flue tubes not renewed)
  • 2001 - overhaul motion gear, mechanical stoker screw and intermediate draw gear
  • 2002 - overhaul all turret valves
  • 2003 - overhaul lubrication system
  • 2004 - repair smoke box door
  • 2006 - repair firebox water cracks, replace individual flexible stays
  • 2008 - overhaul Westinghouse brake components, replace front bogie rocker pins
  • 2017 - installation of ICE radio
  • 2019-2020 - new boiler and flue tubes
  • 2021 - replacement of main steam pipe

R707 remains the star of the Seven - O - Seven Operations moving museum fleet and can be seen leading many of our day and weekend slow rail journey experiences, as well as up close with by request visit to our Newport Workshops.

R CLASS - TECHNICAL DATA

Group Numbers R700 to R769
Wheel arrangement 4-6-4 “Hudson”
Nominal coupled wheel diameter 6 feet 015/16 inches (1853 mm)
Overall length engine and tender 77 feet 3¼ inches (23.55 m)
Wheelbase Rigid Engine and tender 12 feet 10 inches (3.91 m) 67 feet (20.42 m)
Weight in working order Engine Tender Total 107 tons 12 cwt (109.3 tonne) 79 tons 16 cwt (81.1 tonne) 187 tons 8 cwt (190.4 tonne)
Adhesive weight 58 tons 10 cwt (59.4 tonne)
Maximum axle load 19 tons 10 cwt (19.8 tonne)
Boiler heating surface area Flues and tubes Firebox Superheater Total 1,958 sq. feet (181.9 m2) 285 sq. feet (26.5 m2) 462 sq. feet (42.9 m2) 2,705 sq. feet (251.3 m2)
Grate area 42 sq. feet (3.9 m2)
Working boiler pressure 210 psi (1,450 kPa)
Cylinder (2) diameter and stroke 21½ inches x 28 inches (546 mm x 711 mm)
Tractive effort at 85% boiler pressure 32,080 lbf ( 143 kN)
Maximum permissible speed 70 mph (112 km/h)
Tender capacity Water Coal 9,000 gallons (40,900 l) 6 tons (6.1 tonne)
Mechanical stoker Standard Stoker MB-1
Built by North British Locomotive Company, Glasgow, Scotland, in 1951 -1952

Last Updated: 7 June 2022