Harris (train)

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The Harris trains were the first steel-bodied Electric Multiple Unit train to operate on the suburban railway network of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. They were introduced in 1956, by the Victorian Railways, and last operated in 1988, although a number of the carriages were converted for other uses and are still operating. They were named after Norman Charles Harris, Chairman of Commissioners of the Victorian Railways, between 1940 and 1950.

North Melbourne Station, 1959.jpg
Harris train in 1959, soon after entry to service
Harris Interior.jpg
The interior of a refurbished motor car at North Williamstown railway museum
ManufacturerGloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company (early M cars)
Martin & King (later M and T cars)
Victorian Railways Newport Workshops (later M and T cars)[1]
Replaced'Swing Door'
Entered service1956
Scrapped1988, some converted to other uses
Number built60 seven-car sets (30 first series, 30 second series), plus ten motor cars 791M-800M and six long trailer cars 891-896T (total 436)
Number in service2 stored 'M' cars, formerly used on the 'Greaser' train, currently awaiting restoration as passenger carriages by Steamrail Victoria.
Number preserved2 motors at the ARHS Newport museum
Number scrapped373
FormationM-T-T-M "Blocks" and BT-T-M "Units"
Fleet numbers501M-590M (1st series motors),
701M-800M (2nd series motors),
501-560BT (backing trailers),
601-690T and 801-890T (trailers),
891-896T (long trailers)[1]
Capacity501M-590M: 59 seated, 172 crush[2]

701M-781M: 65 seated, 164 crush[3]
782M-790M: 71 seated, 155 crush[4]
799M: 64 seated, 175 crush[5]
601T-690T: 72 seated, 198 crush[6]
632T: 60 seated, 216 crush[7]
673T: 64 seated, 205 crush[8]
801T-861T: 80 seated, 183 crush[9]
862T: 64 seated, 209 crush[10]
863T-875T: 80 seated, 183 crush[11]
876T-889T: 82 seated, 179 crush[12]
890T: 72 seated, ??? crush[13]
891T-896T: 92 seated, 263 crush [14]

560BT: 68 seated, 212 crush[15]
Operator(s)Victorian Railways
Depot(s)Jolimont Yard
Line(s) servedAll Melbourne Suburban
Car body constructionPainted steel
Car length61 ft 1 1116 in (18.64 m) over body,
some 75 ft (22.86 m) trailers
Width9 ft 8 34 in (2.97 m) over body panels, 9 ft 9 in (2.97 m) over window rivets, 10 ft (3.05 m) over grab rails[16]
Height12 ft 4 in (3.76 m) over body, 12 ft 8.75 in (3.88 m) over flettner vents
Floor height4 ft (1.22 m)[17]
Articulated sectionsOpen gangway (added later)
Wheelbase8 ft (2.44 m) bogies at 43 ft (13.11 m) centres, total per carriage 51 ft (15.54 m); long trailers 53 ft (16.15 m) centres for total 61 ft (18.59 m) wheelbase
Maximum speed70 mph (110 km/h) in service, 80 mph (130 km/h) design maximum[18]
Weight701M-790M & 799M: 46 long tons 0 cwt 3 qtr (46.78 t)[19][20][21]

560T & 801T-889T: 30 LT 16 cwt 2 qtr (31.32 t)[22][23][24]
632T & 673T: 32 LT 6 cwt 2 qtr (32.84 t)[25][26]

891T-896T: 37 LT 8 cwt 2 qtr (38.03 t)[27] (est.)
Traction system4 x 151 kW (202 hp) EE528A (first series),
4 x 113 kW (152 hp) EE539 (second series)
Electric system(s)1.5 kV DC Overhead lines
Multiple workingWithin own fleet only
Track gauge5 ft 3 in (1 600 mm)


The Harris trains were commonly referred to as "Blue Trains" due to their deep blue colour, with only a yellow band about halfway up the body. Royal blue and yellow were common colours for the Victorian Railways rolling stock.

The trains had a saloon seating layout, divided into smaller sections by full height partitions. They were provided with either two or three sets of hand operated dual sliding doors per carriage side. Later sets were fitted with power doors. Interiors were split into smoking and no-smoking compartments until late 1978, with the abolition of smoking on trains,[28] and carriages were designated as First or Second class until 1958, when one class travel was introduced.[28] The trains were initially delivered without end gangways between carriages, this being a later addition.

The Harris trains were originally run as 7-carriage (M-T-T-M-BT-T-M) sets, reduced to 4-carriage (M-T-T-M) sets for off-peak and weekend services. The M-T-T-M sets were known as "Blocks", while the BT-T-M sets were called "Units". The extra motor carriages, built from 1968, allowed for some BT-T-M units to be converted to M-T-T-M sets, to provide for trains to be run in M-T-T-M-M-T-T-M configurations.

Carriages were connected by semi-permanent drawbars, except for the driving ends of motor carriages, and one end of BT carriages, which were provided with automatic couplers.


The first 30 7-carriage trains, known as the first series, were constructed in the United Kingdom by Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company, and delivered between 1956 and 1959. Another 30, the second series, were built by Martin & King in Melbourne, and delivered between 1961 and 1967. From 1966, these were delivered with end doors and gangways between carriages, allowing passengers to change carriages.

The first series of "T" and "BT" trailers were built by Comeng (the first 10 in Sydney, the rest in Melbourne), and finished by Martin & King, with the remainder built at the Newport Workshops.[1] Between 1968 and 1970, ten additional motor carriages, built by the Victorian Railways' Newport Workshops, were delivered to provide for some Harris trains to be lengthened to eight carriages.

In 1970 and 1971, six new trailer carriages were built as prototypes for the next fleet (the Hitachi trains). These carriages were 75 feet (22.86 m) long, compared to 63 feet (19.20 m) of the earlier carriages, and were equipped with the mechanisms for power-closing doors, the first such use in Melbourne. However, it was not until the following year that a complete (4-carriage) train was used this way, after conversion of some motor carriages. These carriages were converted into H type carriages, for use in LH sets with V/Line, in the mid 1980s.[29]


By the time the first ten 7-car sets had been delivered, it was found that the buffing plates between carriages would bind when going around tight curves or through complicated point-work, so this equipment was removed in time for delivery of the 11th train. However, this left a lot of slack between carriages, so acceleration and braking would be both rough and noisy.[30]

Around the same time, the Victorian Railways was experimenting with replacing cast-iron brake blocks with a non-metallic compound (probably asbestos), so Set 11 was fitted with these, and tested between Seaford and Frankston, in 5 mph increments up to line speed, in both directions. Four tests were made - first using the non-metallic brake blocks with empty and later loaded with cast-iron blocks, equal in weight to a crush load of passengers, and then with the cast iron brake blocks fitted to the train, as well as simulating the load, and finally the empty train with cast iron brake blocks. It was found that the new type of brake blocks performed better at higher speeds, but worse at lower speeds, so on average they gave similar performance and were approved for use. A similar test was later conducted with the Walker railmotors between Laverton and Werribee.[30]

In the 1960's the fleet was fitted with Guard-to-Driver bell communication circuits.

Wheel slip was found to be a problem with the more powerful 500-series motors, so in the late 1960s through early 1970s the "weak field" power generation, which used the back-EMF from the motors) was disconnected. 547M was fitted with an experimental wheel-slip solution, but the final implementation as applied across the fleet would close off the power supply, then re-open it bypassing the acceleration control when wheel-slip was detected, with limited success. The Weak-Field system was reconnected in the late 1970s to early 1980s in order to keep up with amended timetables, but this brought back the wheel slip issues.

By the time the second series (700+) Harris cars were being delivered, the design had been improved somewhat. A second window was fitted at the front of the Motor carriages for the guard and/or instructor driver to view the track, along with a window from the Guard's compartment into the passenger saloon, and walkways were added between all carriages within each Block or Unit. These latter changes were retrofitted to many of the 500-series carriages as well, following concerns about safety. While the 500-series trains had rotary flettner ventillators fitted, these were mounted on the curve of the roof and spun off-centre, causing a grinding noise. This was fixed in the second series with the units fitted level to the carriage floor. These units were also later fitted to the clerestory-roofed Tait stock, with their opening ceiling-windows being sealed to reduce maintenance costs.

The last few vehicles constructed were used as test-beds for features in the upcoming Hitachi train design. 560BT, when issued to service, had a short stainless steel exterior panel between the centre windows. [1] Similar stainless steel panels were placed around bridgeworks at East Richmond, the purpose of both to check for weathering and cleaning methods. The last six trailer vehicles, 891-896T, were 75ft long over body instead of 60ft to test clearances at platforms and junctions along with passenger flows. However, the cars were significantly heavier and when coupled to 700-series motors already featuring weaker acceleration further impacting timekeeping.

While the last ten motors (791M-800M) were issued without asbestos insulation, only the last three had additional insulation in the ceiling. 799M was a further modification of the type with a forced draught ventilation system, shared with the long trailers, while 798M and 800M used the normal flettner ventilators. Similarly, 556-560BT and the long trailers were not fitted with asbestos.

Conversions and disposal[edit]

One of the two 'Greasers' at Newport Workshops

With the exceptions of the last few carriages built, all Harris trains contained asbestos insulation. The first sets contained blue asbestos, and the later sets contained white asbestos. Due to the presence of asbestos, most were disposed of in the 1990s, by being buried in an old quarry in Clayton, a south-eastern suburb of Melbourne, some having been wrapped in plastic.

No original Harris trailer cars remain, with all trailers having been converted to locomotive-hauled H cars or scrapped. Additionally, no first series motor units were preserved, the three remaining unmodified cars being high-numbered second series M cars.

Ozride set[edit]

In the mid 1980s three cars were painted pink on the ends and one side for a railway safety video. The set was 780M-674T-1555M, and operated with locomotive T334, with filming taking place primarily on the Geelong-Gheringhap line. The motor cars had their pantographs removed for the duration of filming.[31]


A program to refurbish the Harris trains began in 1982. The interior of the refurbished cars resembled a Comeng interior, having individual vinyl foam type seat cushions on an integrated plastic frame, replacing the former more traditional vinyl sprung seats. The refurbished cars also had air conditioning, and a new colour scheme. Due to their predominantly grey livery, the refurbished trains were known as "Grey Ghosts".

The motor units were originally numbered in the 601-608M range, though these numbers later came into conflict with the Comeng fleet, and so in mid-late 1984, the cars were renumbered into the 901-908M range. The trailers were released to service in the 101-108T range, becoming 1501-1508T in 1983, and then 3501-3508T in 1984.

Industrial and other problems with the refurbished trains meant that only 16 carriages were converted before the program was stopped, and the refurbished trains were withdrawn in 1991, with five motor units (901M and 904-907M) cut up for scrap. One refurbished carriage, 903M, has been preserved, and is on display at the Australian Railway Historical Society Museum at North Williamstown. All eight refurbished trailer cars were converted to standard H type passenger cars, along with motors 902M and 908M which were converted to the BCH sub-class.

The four refurbished trains ran initially in an M-T-T-M configuration, but three of the trains were later remarshalled to M-T-M-M-T-M configuration.

The refurbished trains generally ran on the Port Melbourne, St Kilda and Sandringham lines. They never ran in the City Loop, except for a farewell tour on 6 April 1991.[32] The restriction to these three lines was due to the additional weight of the refurbished carriages; while the passenger areas were upgraded and included two air conditioning units per car, the mechanical components were still unmodified, and still using the 1960s-era second series motors, which were in fact less powerful than the first series cars of 1956.

Locomotive-hauled services[edit]

55 carriages, including the 75 ft (23 m) carriages, were converted to H type carriages for interurban service and are still in operation with V/Line as of May 2016. These trains are currently being refurbished, and will continue in service until at least 2016.

Similarly, four carriages were converted to MTH carriages, which were used as trailer cars behind DERM and DRC railmotors for many years. In later years, they were used on the Stony Point line, behind A class diesel locomotives until 26 April 2008, when Sprinter trains were introduced on the route.[33] MTH102 was converted to a special overhead inspection car for Metro Trains Melbourne, and is now numbered IEV102.


With most of the fleet being buried due to asbestos or converted to H type carriages, only four have survived.

Motor cars 795M and refurbished 903M (both pictured below) are at the Australian Railway Historical Society Museum.

Greaser cars 794M and 797M are owned by VicTrack, and are stored at Newport Workshops.


N Scale 1:160[edit]

Brimbank Models[34] has developed a range of 3D-printed Harris carriages and components which can be purchased and assembled for standard mechanisms.[35] The carriages will be available as complete-body kits, or as a range of parts. The cost is generally around $80 per carriage plus mechanisms for motor cars, which the purchaser must source separately.



  1. ^ a b c S.E. Dornan and R.G. Henderson: (1979) The Electric Railways of Victoria'
  2. ^ http://pjv101.net/fts/u01/au664.gif
  3. ^ http://pjv101.net/fts/u01/as875.gif
  4. ^ http://pjv101.net/fts/u01/as876.gif
  5. ^ http://pjv101.net/fts/u01/as877.gif
  6. ^ http://pjv101.net/fts/u01/au668.gif
  7. ^ http://pjv101.net/fts/u01/as480.gif
  8. ^ http://pjv101.net/fts/u01/as884.gif
  9. ^ http://pjv101.net/fts/u01/as880.gif
  10. ^ http://pjv101.net/fts/u01/as882.gif
  11. ^ http://pjv101.net/fts/u01/as880.gif
  12. ^ http://pjv101.net/fts/u01/as881.gif
  13. ^ http://pjv101.net/fts/u01/as883.gif
  14. ^ http://pjv101.net/fts/u01/as479.gif
  15. ^ http://pjv101.net/fts/u01/ak628.jpg
  16. ^ http://pjv101.net/fts/u01/as877.gif
  17. ^ http://pjv101.net/fts/u01/as875.gif
  18. ^ http://pjv101.net/fts/u01/au664.gif
  19. ^ http://pjv101.net/fts/u01/as875.gif
  20. ^ http://pjv101.net/fts/u01/as876.gif
  21. ^ http://pjv101.net/fts/u01/as877.gif
  22. ^ http://pjv101.net/fts/u01/as880.gif
  23. ^ http://pjv101.net/fts/u01/as882.gif
  24. ^ http://pjv101.net/fts/u01/as880.gif
  25. ^ http://pjv101.net/fts/u01/as480.gif
  26. ^ http://pjv101.net/fts/u01/as884.gif
  27. ^ http://pjv101.net/fts/u01/as479.gif
  28. ^ a b Peter J. Vincent: T - Sliding Door Suburban Trailer
  29. ^ Rollingstock. Australian Railway Historical Society (Victorian Division). June 1986. p. 186. ISSN 0310-7477.
  30. ^ a b Life on Australian Locomotives, David Barnett, ISBN 9781925078527 - pg78
  31. ^ Newsrail September 1986, p.270-271
  32. ^ Hugo Van Den Berghe (June 1991). "Harris Farewell Special". Newsrail. Australian Railway Historical Society. p. 164.
  33. ^ "Train timetable changes: from Sunday, 27 April 2008 - Metlink - Your guide to public transport in Melbourne and Victoria". www.metlinkmelbourne.com.au. Archived from the original on 22 August 2008. Retrieved 2008-04-27.
  34. ^ "Brimbank Models facebook page". www.facebook.com. Retrieved 2016-11-13.
  35. ^ Models, Brimbank. "VR Harris M 501-590 by Brimbank Models". Shapeways.com. Retrieved 2016-11-13.

External links[edit]