Victorian Railways Z vans

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Z van
Victorian Railways ZD van.jpg
Van 611 ZD, in storage at the Seymour Railway Heritage Centre
Manufacturer Victorian Railways
Built at Newport Workshops, others
Replaced Each other
Constructed From 1851
Refurbishment Each other
Fleet numbers About 750
Operator various heritage operators, previously VR and V/Line
Line(s) served All
Car length 24 feet (7.32 m), except the DH/ZH
Track gauge 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm)

The Victorian Railways has had many types of guard's vans over the years, ranging from the four-wheeled 'D' vans of the 19th century, to the power vans of today, such as the PCJ's.

D Vans[edit]

These four-wheelers were the first Guard's Vans built for the Victorian Railways. They were built nearly continuously, from 1858 to 1891. The code 'D' was applied on a van, as late as 1907.

These vans were attached at the rear of trains. As there was no continuous brake, the guard at the rear assisted stopping by using the handbrake.

When construction of the 'D' vans stopped, the number group was from 1D to 265D. However, there were far more vans that this in total, because many of the earlier vans had been scrapped and replaced by new vans which took the same numbers.

In the 1890s some vans were rebuilt from four to six wheels.

DH, ZH vans[edit]

By 1886, there were four shorter guards vans in service. They were D 25, 27, 33 and 34. The vans had a 19'6" long body, despite that the rest of the class were 24' long. Peter J. Vincent's theory is that they may have been intended as short haul vans in suburban service, before electrification.

During 1890/1891 all four were fitted with Booking Offices. The Booking Offices on trains were to save on lineside staff, a necessity because of the economic depression of the 1890s.

Around 1895, the vans were recoded to DH. The 'H' was used to denote carriages stored and used during peak times, generally 'Holidays'. The 'H' originally was a description painted on the carriage and was not part of the code.

In the recoding of 1910, the DH code was altered to ZH. From the records, only 27, 33 and 34 became ZH. DH 25 was recoded to Z, the quickly scrapped in 1911.

In 1911, ZH 34 became a van on the Breakdown Train at Ballarat. It stayed at Ballarat until scrapped in 1956. The body was moved to a shop in Lismore, where the van can still be see, albeit in altered condition.

ZH 34 at Lismore, Victoria. 1/1/1978

ZH 27 and 33 were scrapped in 1919.

DMS, ZDS[edit]

In early 1909, five D vans were modified to include a mail sorting section, for traffic between Melbourne and Bendigo. They were numbered DMS 1 to 5.

In the 1910 recoding the class was altered to ZDS.

In March 1911 the vans were returned to the standard guard van design. They took the number group Z243 to Z247, in that order.

Z Vans[edit]

In the 1910 recoding, the 'D' vans took on the letter 'Z', setting a pattern for the next seventy years. D vans 1 through 265 were renumbered to 1 through 242, intended to fill the gaps in between.

All vans built to this style from 1911 onwards, were lettered 'Z' and numbered from 243 up. By 1960, there were 746 'Z' vans, not including the hundreds that had been scrapped as 'D' vans. Conversions from four-wheel vans to six-wheel vans continued, so that by 1960, vans numbered 1 to 626 were six wheeled and 627 to 746 were four-wheelers.

In 1924, the VR took control of the Deniliquin and Moama Railway, and acquired three Z vans previously purchased from the VR. They scrapped one van, but the other two lasted to the 1970s.

As buffers were phased out of all trains in the late 50's to early 60's, the Z vans began to develop riding quality issues, with many guards being thrown around by the rough riding. As a result, Z vans were gradually upgraded to ZB, ZL, ZP and ZD vans from 1959 to the mid-1960s.

The few remaining Z vans were located at major loco depots and were used in breakdown trains.


By 1958, trains were marshalled longer and average speeds faster thanks to the introduction of diesels. The final chapter in the autocoupler conversion program ( which had beginnings back in 1923) was the removal of buffers from freight vehicles in the late 1950s. This had the effect of causing rough riding at the rear of trains.

By 1957, the guards on the trains and unions were complaining about the hazard of slack action at the rear of the trains. Stories abounded of guards or travelling crews knocked to the floor.

The ZZ Van[edit]

In an effort to find a solution, the VR converted 742Z from a four-wheeler to a bogie guards van. It featured cast bogies with outside spring dampers. The van entered service as 742ZZ.

The van ran on experimental trains from December 1958. Departmental officers rode other trains as well to gauge the difference in riding qualities across different van types.

ZL Vans[edit]

By mid 1959, ZZ 742 was in storage at Newport Workshops. By January 1960, the van had been converted back to a four-wheeler and was fitted with a long shank coupler; the solution to the slack action problem. The van re-entered service as ZL 742, January 1960.

The long-shank coupler was another option that was tried, and this was a success, probably in part due to cost (new couplers are cheaper than new bogies). A lengthened auto coupler shank with larger draft gear was fitted to vans and these vans recoded to ZL; the 'L' for long shank coupler. About 300 vans were modified.

The conversion began in 1959 with ZL 719 and progressed through to about 1965. To achieve a speedy turnover, most of the underframes were rotated allowing work to be done on the underframes first. When a van came in for service, the body was lifted off and placed onto a modified underframe. The old underframe was then modified and placed on the next van in.

ZB Vans[edit]

To improve the riding qualities of fixed wheel brakevans, twenty vans were 'ballasted' with three tons of rail. The rail was placed along the floor of the van area and a new floor placed over the top.

Vans of the type Z/ZL type were modified in 1971 and reclassed to ZB, numbers 1 to 20. The class didn't last long, with the first scrapping in 1973.

ZP Vans[edit]

By the mid-1950s, many passenger trains were still screw coupled. The new diesels in service were equipped with auto couplers only. A group of vans were fitted with steam loco swivel couplers which allowed the vans to act as transition vehicles between the engine and screw coupled carriages.

Railway records do not date the modifications. To indicate the dual coupling arrangement, the vans remained coded as Z but were lettered with a 'P' in the corner to denote 'Plural' couplings. The vans were ballasted with 3 tons of rail, no doubt to improve the riding quality. The ballast was lengths of rail along the floor with a false floor covering the rails.

From 1956 the vans were recoded to ZP. Despite the 'P' in the corners (which normally indicated 'Passenger'), the vans were only authorised for a maximum speed of 60 mph (WTT Addenda 28/6/1971).

With limited traffic in the 1970s, the vans had the ballast removed, speed derated and were recoded to ZD.

The ZP numbers were: 19, 31, 33, 56, 85, 153, 181-182, 184, 187, 190, 194, 197-198, 206, 211-212, 215, 222, 224, 227, 237, 239-240, 253, 260, 468-471, 494, 498-500, 585, 599-601, 603-604, 611 & 619

During the autocoupler conversion project Z vans fitted with auto-couplers were externally marked with an 'A' in the diagonal corners.

ZD Vans[edit]

By about 1978, the ZP vans saw little traffic. They were originally used as transition vehicles between autocoupled locomotives and screw coupled carriages from the mid-1950s with the introduction of diesel locomotives replacing steam engines fitted with dual screw/auto couplings.

For conversion to ZD ( D for dual coupled ), the rail ballast was removed, the code letters altered but with the dual couplings retained.

The ZD numbers were: 19, 31, 211, 237, 239, 260, 468 - 471, 494, 500, 600, 604, 611, 619.

Clearance Van[edit]

In 1961, the remnants of van Z218 (ex D241) were modified such that it could be used to test clearances for clearances for special loads going to Gippsland, for the Hazelwood Power Station project.

A pantograph was fitted with a graphing device which recorded the height of the overhead contact wire.

The vehicle was stored at Newport Workshops when not in use. It is thought that the vehicle was not used beyond 1974; it was later sold to Simsmetal and scrapped on 22 December 1979.


After about a century of service to the Victorian Railways, guard's vans began to get phased out around the mid-1980s. By the end of the decade they were gone, replaced by 'electronic guards' - red lights that flash - on the end of the train.


Compared to the huge number of vans that were constructed, only a handful have survived with preservation railways (not counting the plethora of privately owned bodies used on barns around country Victoria).

The Australian Railway Historical Society museum at Newport has Z 174 reserved, though it is currently held in outside Newport East Block. The group also has possession of ZL 220.

At Bright railway station a display of rollingstock, representative of the trains which would have visited the station in its heydey, includes ZL 488. Similarly, a display at Coal Creek, Korumburra, includes ZL 334 along with some passenger cars, K 169, a pair of QR open wagons and the frame from Oil Tank 45.

The Central Highlands Tourist Railway in Daylesford has ZL 544, and it is used on the end of works trains as a crew carriage.

Southeast of Melbourne, the Mornington Railway Preservation Society has custody of ZB 20, ZL 582, ZL 586 and ZD 604.

ZD 470, ZD 471 and Z 590 is kept by Steamrail. The ZD vans were previously used to link between autocoupled and screw-coupled rollingstock; these days the vans are only ever used for shunting displays on open days. Steamrail may also be the custodians of ZD 600, which was a support van for steam locomotive Y 112 when West Coast Railway was operating.

The Seymour Rail Heritage Centre controls ZL 2 and 395, and ZD 611. It is thought that they are used as mobile tool storage facilities.

ZD 468 is kept at Trentham, as part of a collection of rollingstock thatg may one day be amalgamated into the CHTR collection.

The Yarra Valley Tourist Railway has ZD 619, and has recently acquired both ZD 19 from Steamrail Ballarat and ZL 594's underframe from Huon. It is thought that Z 58 still resides at Huon.

Finally, the Victorian Goldfields Railway has ZL numbers 333, 456 and 518.

Model Railways[edit]

Steam Era Models makes an HO scale plastic kit of the Z vans, which is designed for the ZP vans, but can be kitbashed to the any of the other variations. The ZL would be the easiest conversion, because the only 1:87 scale change would be the "L" in the code.


External links[edit]