NZR RM class (88 seater)

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NZR RM class
Articulated 88-seater
Blue Streak 88-seater RM 123 at Feilding in 1974
In service 1955 - 1978
Manufacturer Drewry Car Co, England
Built at Birmingham Railway Carriage & Wagon Co, Smethwick, UK
Entered service 1955 - 1958
Scrapped 1978
Number built 35
Number in service 0
Number scrapped 34
Formation No 1 end (36 passengers & luggage compartment) articulated over a Jacobs bogie with No 2 end (52 passengers)
Fleet numbers RM 100 - RM 134
Capacity 88
Operator New Zealand Railways
Line(s) served various
Car length 105 ft (32.00 m) total
Width ft 10 in (2.69 m)
Maximum speed 65 mph (105 km/h)
Weight 63.1 long tons (64.1 t; 70.7 short tons)
Engine(s) Two Fiat 700.040, six cylinder, horizontal underfloor, 1500 rpm naturally aspirated
Power output 420 hp (310 kW) total (original)
370 hp (280 kW) (derated)
Transmission Wilson 5-speed gearbox (per engine)
Track gauge 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm)

The NZR RM class 88-seaters were a class of railcar used in New Zealand, known unofficially as 'articulateds', 'twinsets', 'Drewrys' and 'Fiats'. They were purchased to replace steam-hauled provincial passenger trains and mixed trains. New Zealand Government Railways (NZR) classed them RM (Rail Motor), the notation used for all railcars, numbering the 35 sets from RM100 to RM134.


In the early 1950s, New Zealand Railways were in the process of replacing steam traction with diesel and modernising the railways to cope with vastly increased traffic, the after-effects of wartime stringency, and increasing competition from motor vehicles and aeroplanes. As part of this modernisation process, it was decided to upgrade provincial passenger services, which were provided by a combination of steam-hauled passenger trains that operated several times a week, and "mixed" trains that carried both freight and passengers. An order was placed with the Drewry Car Company in the United Kingdom, which had supplied some smaller diesel shunters previously. They presented a design for an articulated railcar with seating for 88 passengers. The use of horizontal underfloor diesel engines allowed increased passenger capacity and a large parcels/baggage compartment. Fiat 210 hp (160 kW) units were selected. The 88-seaters were constructed by the Birmingham Railway, Carriage and Wagon Company Ltd under contract from Drewry.

After initial trials around Wellington, the 88-seaters were deployed on a wide variety of provincial services. In the North Island they ran Auckland - Okaihau, Auckland - Te Puke, Auckland - Rotorua, Auckland - New Plymouth, Wellington - Palmerston North via Masterton, and Wellington - Gisborne. In the South Island they ran Christchurch - Picton, Christchurch - Invercargill, and in conjunction with the Vulcan class, Christchurch - Greymouth and Ross.


From almost the beginning they faced mechanical problems, with cooling being the primary issue. The engines had been designed for Italian naval boats and were unsuitable for the conditions. Although modifications were made they continued to have a reputation for unreliability throughout their career, frequently having to run with one motor isolated.

Damaged NZR RM 133 88-seater modules at Pahiatua for the RM 133 Trust.

Unfortunately for NZR, the 1950s was a period of increased prosperity and saw massive increases in the numbers of private motorcars, along with improvements to roading such as tarsealing the main highways, and construction of the Auckland Harbour Bridge. These meant dramatic falls in passenger numbers, and in 1967-68 all railcar services from Auckland were cut except for the service to New Plymouth. This was cut back to operate between New Plymouth and Taumarunui in the early 1970s, with passengers making connections to North Island Main Trunk trains. All cancelled trains were replaced by New Zealand Railways Road Services buses.

Although the remaining services were to areas not well served by road, the mechanical condition of the 88-seaters meant that by the mid 1970s replacement was becoming urgent. It was decided to refurbish 14 of them, remove their engines and drivers' cabs, and convert them to what was known as AC class unpowered carriages. These were painted green with grey roofs and came to be known as 'grassgrubs'. They ran on the New Plymouth-to-Taumarunui, a newly reintroduced Napier-to-Gisborne service, Wellington-to-Palmerston North via the Wairarapa, Picton-to-Christchurch, and Christchurch-to-Greymouth services. The final run of an 88-seater railcar was in 1978 from Greymouth to Christchurch. The last trip came to an ignominious end when an engine failure and fire meant that passengers had to be taken onwards from Otira by bus.

The 'grassgrubs' were ill-fated. Their drawgear and bodies were not designed to be locomotive-hauled and they quickly wore out. By 1985 they had been withdrawn from service due to metal fatigue. Most of the passenger runs were continued after their demise, but the New Plymouth-Taumarunui service ended in 1983 (having already had its rollingstock replaced by 56 ft cars), and by the late 1980s the Wellington-Wairarapa service was abbreviated to terminate in Masterton as patronage on the Masterton - Palmerston North section was often fewer than 20 passengers per trip, due to improved highways and bus services. The AC class vehicles were replaced by NZR 56-foot carriages on the remaining Wellington-Napier, Picton-Christchurch, Wairarapa and Christchurch-Greymouth services.

The Blue Streak service[edit]

In 1968, at the suggestion of Hamilton City Council, an 88-seater was refurbished for a new fast service between Hamilton and Auckland aimed at business customers, and it started on Monday, 8 April 1968. It was fitted with carpet and re-upholstered fabric-covered seats, and was painted in a new two-tone blue colour scheme that prompted the nickname Blue Streak. The seating was reduced to 84 to accommodate a servery area from which light meals and assorted alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks could be purchased. This was notable as the first time that a regularly scheduled passenger train service in New Zealand had reinstated on board catering since dining cars had been withdrawn across the network as a World War 1 economy measure. This initial service was unsuccessful, with patronage well below the levels needed to be profitable.

It was decided to introduce the railcar to a daytime service between Auckland and Wellington. This service, which started on Monday 23 September 1968, was highly successful and prompted the conversion of two further cars to 82 seats each to accommodate larger servery areas and, later, the purchase of the Silver Fern diesel-electric railcars for this service.

Initially, the Main Trunk Blue Streak railcar ran from Wellington to Auckland on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and on Tuesdays and Thursdays from Auckland to Wellington until a second railcar was refurbished for the Christmas 1968/New Year 1969 period and a third for the 1969 Easter holidays. The service proved so popular that it was not uncommon to see two of the railcars running in multiple. On Thursday 18 December 1972, the Blue Streak services were replaced by the new Silver Fern railcars and were transferred to the Wellington-to-New Plymouth service, replacing Standard railcars. They continued in this service until Friday 30 July 1977. By that time they were no longer serviceable, patronage had continued to decline and the service was replaced with buses.

One half of RM 121 in the Railcar Storage Shed at Pahiatua Railway Station.


RM 121 being restored by the RM 133 Trust Board.

Following withdrawal from service a number of RM class were stored around the country. Several units along with Vulcan RMs were sold to the abortive Southern Rail preservation project at Christchurch where they were scrapped; the cab and baggage car section of the No.1 end of RM 119 on the leading bogie together with some engines and gearboxes were kept at this time. After the project was wound up, the partial section of RM 119 was moved to Linwood Locomotive Depot where it remained in storage for several years. Subsequently the further abbreviated RM 119 consisting of just the cab and part of the baggage compartment was stored in a Bromley scrapyard, where it was found and purchased by the RM 133 Trust Board.

By the early 1990s, the only known 'twin-set' railcar surviour was RM 133 in its grassgrub form as AC 8140,used for fire training at Auckland Airport. Fortunately in 2001 the RM 133 Trust Board was able to obtain this car, which was later found to be the No 1 end of RM 133 and the No 2 end of RM 115. Unfortunately, before the car could be removed a fire broke out in the No 2 half of the railcar, damaging the body. The RM 133 Trust decided to look for any other extant railcar halves to pair with the No 1 end of RM 133, which had been moved to the Pahiatua Railcar Society's site.

In late 2002, the trust located the No 2 end of RM 121 in a quarry at Kerikeri. Although the car was in a weathered condition and had been cut in half at some point, it was still relatively complete despite missing the seats, bogies (removed in the late 1970s at Otahuhu Workshops), and its diesel engines. This car was later purchased to become the replacement for the damaged half of RM 133, and moved to Pahiatua where restoration work began. The other half of RM 121 had been separated in the mid 1980s after the cars were used as offices at a former theme park in the Auckland area and had ended up at a holiday camp in Waitomo. The Trust negotiated with the owners to buy the car body, and were eventually able to purchase the car in 2011 in exchange for two former wooden passenger cars. The No 1 end of RM 121 was then trucked to Pahiatua to be reunited with the No 2 end at Pahiatua.[1]

The two halves of RM 121 are now being restored at Pahiatua; the two halves of the No 2 end have been welded together again and a new cab structure and cowcatcher built. The No 1 end has been stripped of any fittings from its time spent at Waitomo and various reconstruction work is taking place. The resultant car will utilise the bogies from AC 8140.

The remnants of the No 1 end of RM 133 and the No 2 end of RM 115 as AC 8140 are in covered storage at Pahiatua.

Class register[edit]

Key: In service Out of service Auckland Transport service Preserved Overhaul/Repair Scrapped
Number Entered service Withdrawn Notes
RM 100 March 1955 June 1983 Converted to AC carriage set
RM 101 May 1955 December 1968
RM 102 September 1955 June 1985 Converted to AC carriage set
RM 103 August 1955 June 1985 Converted to AC carriage set
RM 104 June 1955
RM 105 July 1955 September 1978
RM 106 September 1955 November 1967
RM 107 November 1955 September 1983 Converted to AC carriage set
RM 108 February 1956 May 1979
RM 109 February 1956 December 1971
RM 110 February 1956 April 1985 Converted to AC carriage set
RM 111 February 1956 June 1985 Converted to AC carriage set
RM 112 February 1956 April 1985 Converted to AC carriage set
RM 113 February 1956 April 1980
RM 114 February 1956 April 1975
RM 115 February 1956 September 1978
RM 116 February 1956 December 1971
RM 117 March 1956
RM 118 March 1956
RM 119 April 1956 July 1980 Blue Streak railcar
No 1 end cab and part of luggage compartment still exists, and under ownership of RM 133 Trust Board
RM 120 May 1958
RM 121 June 1956 September 1978 No 1 end was being used as a motel unit in Waitomo while No 2 end was recovered from a quarry in Kerikeri. Both ends are now under active restoration by the RM 133 Railcar Trust Board.
RM 122 June 1956 December 1971
RM 123 June 1956 August 1981 Blue Streak Railcar
RM 124 July 1956 December 1971
RM 125 July 1956
RM 126 August 1956 December 1971
RM 127 August 1956 April 1985 Converted to AC carriage set
RM 128 August 1956 December 1971
RM 129 September 1956 December 1971
RM 130 September 1956 December 1971
RM 131 October 1956 July 1980 Blue Streak Railcar
RM 132 November 1956 September 1975 Destroyed by fire near Eketahuna on 24 August 1975. Written off and scrapped at Eketahuna in September 1975.[2]
RM 133 December 1956 June 1984 Converted to AC 13 (TMS AC 8140)
In ownership of the RM 133 Railcar Trust Board and currently Stored under cover at Pahiatua.
RM 134 July 1957 October 1982 Converted to AC carriage set


  1. ^ Eastwood, Tamara (1 September 2011). "Half railcar pulls up". Wairarapa Times Age (Masterton: APN Holdings NZ). Retrieved 2 September 2011. 
  2. ^ Churchman, Geoffrey B (1992). Danger Ahead New Zealand Railway Accidents in the Modern Era. IPI Publishing Group. p. 86. ISBN 0-908876-74-2. 
  • Heath, Eric, and Stott, Bob; Classic Railcars, Electric and Diesel Locomotives Of New Zealand, Grantham House, 1993
  • Churchman, Geoffrey; The Golden Era of Fiat Railcars in New Zealand, IPL Publishing, 1989

External links[edit]