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.


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,[1] and carriages were designated as First or Second class until 1958, when one class travel was introduced.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3]


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 pointwork, so this equipment was removed in time for delivery of the 11th train. However, this meant a lot of slack between carriages, so acceleration and braking would be both rough and noisy.[4]

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.[4]

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.[5]


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.[6] 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.[7] 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[8] has developed a range of 3D-printed Harris carriages and components which can be purchased and assembled for standard mechanisms.[9] 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 Peter J. Vincent: T - Sliding Door Suburban Trailer
  2. ^ S.E. Dornan and R.G. Henderson: (1979) The Electric Railways of Victoria'
  3. ^ Rollingstock. Australian Railway Historical Society (Victorian Division). June 1986. p. 186. ISSN 0310-7477. 
  4. ^ a b Life on Australian Locomotives, David Barnett, ISBN 9781925078527 - pg78
  5. ^ Newsrail September 1986, p.270-271
  6. ^ Hugo Van Den Berghe (June 1991). "Harris Farewell Special". Newsrail. Australian Railway Historical Society. p. 164. 
  7. ^ "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. 
  8. ^ "Brimbank Models facebook page". www.facebook.com. Retrieved 2016-11-13. 
  9. ^ Models, Brimbank. "VR Harris M 501-590 by Brimbank Models". Shapeways.com. Retrieved 2016-11-13. 

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