Commonwealth Railways NSU class
Preserved NSU58 at The Old Ghan Museum in Alice Springs in September 2006
By the end of World War II, the Commonwealth Railways were operating a ragged and worn out collection of rollingstock on their Central and North and Trans-Australian lines. Some of the narrow gauge locomotives were fifty or more years old, and the rolling stock not much the younger. Federal Minister for Fuel, Shipping & Transport George McLeay, made recommendations to Cabinet in 1950, to upgrade the Commonwealth Railway's fleet of both narrow and standard gauge locomotives and rollingstock.
In 1950 a tender was issued for 14 diesel locomotives for the 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) narrow gauge lines.Thirteen companies submitted over thirty designs. However, as the specifications were rigid, most did not get past the first stage of the selection procedure.
The CR's Mechanical Branch also seemed to take preference for slower revving engines. The Sulzer plant finally selected ran at 750 rpm at idle, whereas one design submitted by AE Goodwin ran at 1500 rpm. Finlay  noted the "CR Mechanical Branch appeared not to have been overly excited about high revving engines, as it feared they would lead to high repair bills. 1000 rpm was considered fast enough". Finlay also notes that the seemed preference for slower speed engines, as well as the requirement of an electrical transmission resulted in the failure of many of the submitted tenders.
In 1951, the CR departed from their apparent tradition of using "well proven" designs, and awarded to contract to build the class of locomotives, later to be known as the NSU, to the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company Ltd (BRCW). The Sulzer/BRCW design had won over the English Electric Company's (EE) submission. Whilst EE were obviously a better known company (in Australia), having built many other pioneering Diesel Electrics, Sulzer plants had been used widely in the UK (the earliest UK Sulzer diesels were the Armstrong-Withworth "Universal's" of the 1930s,) and Europe and other exported units, and would go on to power some 690 British Railways machines, using both the 6LDA plant, and later and larger in-line and V- units.
Part of the Contract with BRCW stipulated that, in view of its 42 years of experience in loco design, Sulzer were to accept full responsibility for the design and performance of the completed loco (6). The CR had knowledge of Sulzer since the appointment of Deane[who?] as its Engineer in Chief of Construction of the Trans-Australian line. Deane had proposed in the early days of the TAR that dieselisation was the way to go, and had considered early Sulzer designs then. (Some have suggested that the CR worked with the South Australian Railways to trial diesel traction)., However, the technology was not developed enough to be reliable. Deane was a generation ahead of his time.
The Sulzer Engine
The engines used in the NSU class were amongst the last engines built by Sulzer at their Winterthur plant, for use outside of Europe. Later engines were (bar a few exceptions) built under contract by Vickers-Armstrongs, Barrow-in-Furness, England.
The LDA series engine had its origins in the 1920s and was specifically designed for use in railway applications. Some sources suggest, similar to the WAGR X Class, a heritage in sub maritime application. There is no link. Perhaps similar to Crossley, Sulzer has had, and continues to have, a significant involvement in maritime work.
The first to arrive was NSU52 on 10 May 1954 at Port Adelaide, it was used for crew training. It was followed by NSU51 on 20 May 1954. Still temporarily mounted on standard gauge bogies, on 12 June 1954 NSU51 was unveiled at Port Augusta with a pair of plates bearing the name of the then Federal Minister for Fuel, Shipping & Transport George McLeay. The locomotive then worked a trip to Bookaloo (68 kilometres) and return for dignitaries and guests.
On 26 June 1954 NSUs 51 and 52 worked the first northbound diesel hauled Ghan into Alice Springs conveniently timed to coincide with a visit of Prime Minister, Robert Menzies. The last of the class was commissioned in August 1955.
Minor faults with voltage regulators and air and oil filtration systems were quickly rectified, and the class went on to earn a reputation as an efficient and robust unit. It was initially planned to the new locomotives would be able to complete a 1,370 kilometre round trip from Oodnadatta to Alice Springs on one tank of fuel. This proved to be impractical and a 91,000 litre fuel tank was installed at Alice Springs.
Though NSU54 did work on the standard gauge for some months between Port Augusta and Port Pirie during 1954, following that period the fleet worked out of Port Augusta on the narrow gauge. Following the conversion of the Central Australia Railway from Port Augusta to Marree to standard gauge in 1957, two were transferred to the North Australia Railway operating out of Darwin. Over the next 17 years locomotives would be periodically swapped between the two lines.
Similar to the standard gauge experience, dieselisation of the CAR led to a reduction of 60% of operating costs over steam.
In July 1975 all were included in the transfer of Commonwealth Railways to Australian National. The NSU class remained intact until the replacement of the narrow gauge Central Australian Railway in 1980 with two transferred to Gladstone for use on the Wilmington line and one to Peterborough for use on the Quorn line. A few saw service with contractors removing the closed Central Australian Railway. The last was withdrawn in 1987.
All of the class have survived. However, only two are currently operational, NSU52 and 58.
The class spent their entire lives in Commonwealth Railways maroon and silver.
- NSU51 - (DEL1) "George McLeay" Worked to Bookaloo and return on naming day 12 August 1954: Worked first northbound diesel hauled Ghan with NSU52 26 June 1954: Preserved by Pichi Richi Railway
- NSU52 - (DEL2) - First of class through Pichi Richi Pass: Worked first northbound diesel hauled Ghan with NSU51 26 June 1954:to Pichi Richi Railway Preservation Society 24 April 1982: On Loan to Australian National July 1986 (failed at Orroroo and underwent extensive repairs at Peterborough) Returned to Quorn (last movement on line) 30 August 1986. Operational.
- NSU53 - (DEL3): Transferred to North Australia Railway November 1967 : To Marree November 1971: Noted to have been operational as Port Augusta Yard Shunter 31 March 1980: To Peterborough in Goods 172 15 April 1980; First trip to Orroroo 17 April 1980  Worked last Peterborough to Quorn and return train 14 December 1980: Last train to Carrieton 30 July 1981: To Alice Springs 17 November 1981 (to replace failed NSU59): Engines removed and sent to "East Coast" September 1985  Shell on display on Stuart Highway, Alice Springs
- NSU54 - (DEL4) Worked on standard gauge between Port Pirie and Port Augusta (1954): Based in Quorn for Hawker line duties 1954-1961  To Pichi Richi Railway late 1983
- NSU55 - (DEL5) Used by Goss Brothers for the removal of the southern part of the Central Australia Railway: Transferred from Marree to Peterborough January 1994: Recommissioned 1998 Steamtown, Peterborough. Unable to confirm if it worked a revenue train - most reliable information suggests it never worked more than a few kilometres from Peterborough. Currently on static Display
- NSU56 - (DEL6) Transferred to North Australia Railway November 1972: To Marree 1974: Last working on CAR was as Train 674 29 December 1979: To Gladstone 30 January 1980: First trip to Wilmington 1 February 1980: To Marree October 1981: Used by Goss Brothers for the removal of the narrow gauge Central Australia railway: Static Display- Marree South Australia
- NSU57 - (DEL7) on display Marree South Australia
- NSU58 - (DEL8) Last used at Marree 4 December 1978: To Gladstone 8 January 1980: First trip to Booleroo Centre 14 January 1980: To Peterborough 9 April 1980: First trip with NSU53 to Orroroo 17 April 1980: Worked last Peterborough to Quorn and return train 14 December 1980: Last train to Carrieton 30 July 1981:"officially retired" 3 March 1982: last worked to Orroroo 26 June 1987: To Gladstone 27 July 1987: Worked Wilmington line Last train 24 August 1987: transferred to Ghan Preservation Society 7 July 1988: Named "Don Williams" (then General Manager Australian National) Currently on display but is in full working order.
- NSU59 - (DEL9) To Roberts Construction (Northern Section of CAR removal) 9 June 1981 last used 23 September 1982 (did not complete project a/c cylinder liner seal failure (replaced by NSU53): Ghan Preservation Society: Not Operational
- NSU60 - (DEL10) Worked last diesel-hauled freight (by a CR locomotive) to Hawker 6 January 1961  Used by Goss Brothers for the removal of the narrow gauge Central Australia railway: Static Display- Marree South Australia
- NSU61 - (DEL11) To Mile End Railway Museum January 1984: moved to National Railway Museum, Port Adelaide 1988: Static Display
- NSU62 - (DEL12) Transferred to North Australia Railway November 1972: To Marree 1975  Used by Goss Brothers for the removal of the southern part of the Central Australia Railway: Transferred from Marree to Steamtown Peterborough January 1994: used for spare parts May 2009 Proposal for it to be "cut-up" to create an interactive "cab display" 
- NSU63 - (DEL13) Transferred to North Australia Railway November 1956: To Port Augusta November 1967 following major fire: To Roberts Construction (Northern Section of CAR removal) 9 June 1981:Engines removed and sent to "East Coast" September 1985  Shell on display at Adelaide River, Northern Territory.
- NSU64 - (DEL14) Last to be commissioned August 1954: Transferred to North Australia Railway September 1956: To Marree November 1971:To Roberts Construction (Northern Section of CAR removal) 9 June 1981 Used by Ghan Preservation Society Alice Springs
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- "Demonstration run of CR narrow gauge locomotives takes place on Standard gauge" Railway Transportation July 1954
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- Commonwealth Railways NSU class locomotives Pichi Rich Railway
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- NSU Class Railpage
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- The Partyline - Autumn 1994 Steamtown Peterborough Railway Preservation Society
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- Harvey J Y 1987: The Never Never Line; Hyland House Publishing, Melbourne
- Steamtown Management Committee Meeting May 2009 Accessed 23 July 2010
Media related to Commonwealth Railways NSU class locomotives at Wikimedia Commons