The B Class are significant for many reasons, chief among them is that they represented the Victorian Railways’ first serious steps in dieselising its system. They have operated on most lines and were a successful and long-lived class of locomotives, and yet one interesting facet of their design, developed by Clyde Engineering, is that they introduced a dual streamlined cab arrangement to the EMD catalogue. From this point of view, with the B Class Clyde effectively went one better than EMD themselves. This was noticed and Swedish firm Nydqvist & Holm AB (more famously known as NoHAB) adapted the design for several locomotive classes built for operation in northern and western Europe. Although 11 were rebuilt during 1984/85 as the A Class (see below) many of the remaining 15 continued in service will into the 1990s, with the last withdrawn in around 1994. Six were purchased by the West Coast Railway and two (B61 and B76) were eventually recommissioned for that operator’s Warrnambool passenger service. Over the years, several more have been recommissioned for service with some of the small private operators of Victoria and NSW, such that four currently operate in regular service, while none of the 11 A Class have operated since September 2018.
Australia’s only streamlined electrics were bought purely to service the electrified section of the Gippsland Line between Melbourne and Traralgon. This electrification was primarily put through to enable the haulage of coal briquettes out of the Latrobe Valley mines to fuel the state’s electricity plants. The L Class thus shuttled back and forth along this corridor for over two decades, not just on coal trains but freight and passenger workings too. The Gippsland electrification became a costly and inefficient enterprise in later years, and because no other regional route had been electrified, the L Class were quickly made redundant when it was decommissioned in 1987.
It may seem odd that the single-ended S Class, which were commissioned from 1957, were a progression of the 1952-vintage, dual cabbed B Class – but that’s exactly what they were. Slightly heavier and certainly more powerful, the S Class were intended to take over the ‘crack’ express passenger and freight trains of the day, and became particularly attached to the North East Line. As newer locomotives such as X, C and G Class came onto the scene, the S Class locomotives began to fall by the wayside or were ‘stuck’ with menial tasks such as ballast trains. They did manage to outlive the B Class in V/Line service, however, and so several eventually passed into Freight Victoria and ultimately Pacific National ownership. Today, like the B Class, several still survive in commercial service, including three back on the broad gauge in Victoria, hauling grain several days a week for Southern Shorthaul Railroad.
The early 1980s plan to modernise the Victorian railway network – known as the ‘New Deal’ – called for new and reconditioned locomotives and carriages to bolster and improve outer-suburban, regional and long distance rail travel in Victoria. This was the beginnings of that is now the modern V/Line network, which is today the best regional rail service in Australia and has been for quite some time. Part of the New Deal was an initiative to upgrade and modernise the 1952-vintage B Class locomotives for passenger service. Unfortunately, the B Class frame proved a tight fit for the new equipment and the cost of the rebuild against the new, similarly spec’d N Class locomotives being assembled by Clyde at the same time, caused V/Line to opt of out the program after 11 rebuilds, and replace the 15 that were not modernised with 15 additional N Class. The 11 A Class were used extensively on V/Line services well into the 1990s – although they lacked the head-end power supply capability of the N Class, and so could not be rostered on trains without a generator car. They could also be found on freight services. The split and sale of V/Line into separate a passenger and freight business ultimately saw four remain with V/Line Passenger and the other seven pass first to Freight Victoria, and ultimately to Pacific National. The latter were withdrawn from PN service during 2014 and most have been scrapped. The V/Line foursome remain, although only A66 - nominally held on standby and used only for charters and crew training - is currently in operation. During May 2022 the unit was repainted into its original V/Line orange and grey livery.
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Last updated 28 May 2022