A. L. Beattie

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Alfred Luther Beattie JP (1852 – 2 May 1920),[1] typically referred to as A. L. Beattie,[2] was a pioneering locomotive engineer. Born in Yorkshire, England,[3] he gained fame as the Chief Mechanical Engineer of the New Zealand Railways Department (NZR) between 1900 and 1913. During this time, Beattie designed the Q class, the first 4-6-2 steam locomotive class in the world, and he was also one of the earliest people to use other wheel arrangements.

Early life[edit]

Born in 1852, his birth was registered in Hunslet as Alfred Luther Betty.[4] He arrived in New Zealand at Port Chalmers in 1876, when he joined NZR.[3] In February 1897, Beattie was given the position of Locomotive Engineer at Addington Workshops in Christchurch.[5] Unlike in some countries, where "locomotive engineer" is the title of regular train drivers, the title in New Zealand then referred to a specific position that oversaw the design and construction of new steam locomotives and the maintenance and enhancement of existing locomotives.

Career as Engineer[edit]

In April 1900, the Chief Mechanical Engineer, Thomas Forth Rotheram, left NZR to work for the Western Australian Government Railways and was succeeded by Beattie.[6] When Beattie was appointed to the position, the title was "Locomotive Superintendent", but it was restyled as Chief Mechanical Engineer early in his term, between July 1901 and April 1902.[5] During his time in the role, Beattie designed a number of innovative and original locomotives. He retired after holding the position for 13 years and was succeeded by Henry Hughlings Jackson on 13 October 1913.[7]

The Q class[edit]

Beattie was almost instantly faced with a problem upon appointment as Chief Mechanical Engineer: New Zealand's railway network was expanding, traffic volumes were growing, faster speeds were required, and accordingly, a more powerful type of locomotive was required.[8] Furthermore, although this new class was to haul the heaviest and fastest expresses, it was to burn low grade lignite coal from Canterbury and Otago. Baldwin Locomotive Works recommended a camelback design to solve the problem, but Beattie conceived the idea of an enhanced 4-6-0 UB class locomotive with a two-wheel trailing truck to support a wide Wootten firebox.[9] This created a 4-6-2 wheel arrangement under Whyte notation, and an order was placed with Baldwin for thirteen locomotives to Beattie's specifications in 1901. These locomotives became the Q class, and the first entered service on 24 December 1901[10] after being shipped across the Pacific Ocean. This voyage led to the 4-6-2 arrangement being nicknamed the Pacific type, and it became a popular arrangement worldwide.[8]

The A class[edit]

Described as the "triumph of Beattie's term in office", the A class was designed in 1905 for service on the Main South Line and the nearly-complete North Island Main Trunk Railway.[11] It was a further development of the Q class and earlier 4-6-0 designs such as the U class, seeking to rectify faults with those designs and improve efficiency and hauling power. Beattie created the initial design before passing it on to Chief Draughtsman G. A. Pearson to complete,[12] and when the first members of the A class entered service in 1906, they were considered to be the country's most handsome locomotives.[13]

The X class[edit]

After pioneering the Pacific wheel arrangement, Beattie went on to pioneer the 4-8-2 Mountain type. The A class locomotives were not sufficiently powerful to tackle the steep grades on the North Island Main Trunk, and Beattie's solution was the 4-8-2 X class.[14] Designed in 1908 for the opening of the Trunk, the first of eighteen Xs entered service on 9 January 1909,[15] and they were some of the largest and most powerful locomotives in New Zealand.[16]

Other locomotives[edit]

Beattie introduced a number of other classes during his term, though none so notable as the A, Q and X classes. These included tank locomotives such as 1903's WF class, 1910's WG class, and 1913's WW class.[17] Beattie was also one of, if not the, first to employ the 4-6-4T arrangement – the 1902 conversions of three B class locomotives into the WE class and the WG and WW are some of the earliest examples in the world of the 4-6-4T arrangement.


  1. ^ T. A. McGavin, Steam Locomotives of New Zealand, vol. 1 (Wellington: New Zealand Railway and Locomotive Society, 1987–91), pg. 53.
  2. ^ In all the literature cited in the references, almost every mention of Beattie refers to him by his initials; only once is his full name given.
  3. ^ a b The Rock, September 2010 http://www.stpeterscaversham.org.nz/The%20Rock/1009.pdf
  4. ^ http://www2.freebmd.org.uk/cgi/information.pl?scan=1&r=18142110&d=bmd_1300745953
  5. ^ a b McGavin, Steam Locomotives of New Zealand, pg. 53.
  6. ^ D. B. Leitch, Railways of New Zealand (Melbourne: Lothian Publishing, 1972), pg. 167.
  7. ^ E. J. McClare, Steam Locomotives of New Zealand, vol. 2 (Wellington: New Zealand Railway and Locomotive Society, 1987–91), pg. 113.
  8. ^ a b History of Technical Innovation in New Zealand – The Steam Railways
  9. ^ Leitch, Railways of New Zealand, pg. 167.
  10. ^ Q class 4-6-2 register
  11. ^ Leitch, Railways of New Zealand, pg. 170.
  12. ^ NZR&LS – A Historical Byline Archived 13 March 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ New Zealand Steam Locomotives – A/Ad class 4-6-2 and Eric Heath and Bob Stott, Classic Steam Locomotives of New Zealand (Wellington: Grantham House, 1993), pg. 52.
  14. ^ Leitch, Railways of New Zealand, pg. 171.
  15. ^ X class 4-8-2 register
  16. ^ X class 4-8-2
  17. ^ Leitch, Railways of New Zealand, pp. 170 and 172.