NZR RM class (88 seater)

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NZR RM class
Articulated 88-seater
Railcar, Feilding, Manawatu, New Zealand, 1974.jpg
Blue Streak 88-seater RM 125 at Feilding in 1974
In service1955 - 1978
ManufacturerDrewry Car Co, England
Built atBirmingham Railway Carriage & Wagon Co, Smethwick, UK
Entered service1955 - 1958
Number built35
Number in service0
Number scrapped33.5
FormationNo 1 end (36 passengers & luggage compartment) articulated over a Jacobs bogie with No 2 end (52 passengers)
Fleet numbersRM 100 - RM 134
Capacity88 passengers
Operator(s)New Zealand Railways
Line(s) servedMany main and branch lines
Train length105 ft (32.00 m) total
Widthft 10 in (2.69 m)
Maximum speed65 mph (105 km/h)
Weight63.1 long tons (64.1 t; 70.7 short tons)
Prime mover(s)Two Fiat 700.040, six cylinder, horizontal underfloor, 1500 rpm naturally aspirated
Power output420 hp (310 kW) total (original)
370 hp (280 kW) (derated)
TransmissionWilson 5-speed gearbox (per engine)
UIC classificationBo–2–Bo
Track gauge3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm)

The NZR RM class 88-seaters were a class of railcar used in New Zealand, known unofficially as 'Articulateds', 'Twinsets', 'Drewrys' or 'Fiats'. They were purchased to replace steam-hauled provincial passenger trains and mixed trains. New Zealand Government Railways (NZR) classed them RM (Rail Motor), the notation used for all railcars, numbering the 35 sets from RM100 to RM134.


In the early 1950s, New Zealand Railways were in the process of replacing steam traction with diesel and modernising the railways to cope with vastly increased traffic, the after-effects of wartime stringency, and increasing competition from motor vehicles and aeroplanes.

As part of this modernisation process, it was decided to upgrade provincial passenger services, which were provided by a combination of steam-hauled passenger trains that operated several times a week, and "mixed" trains that carried both freight and passengers. An order was placed with the Drewry Car Company in the United Kingdom, which had supplied some smaller diesel shunters previously. They presented a design for an articulated railcar with seating for 88 passengers. The use of horizontal underfloor diesel engines allowed increased passenger capacity and a large parcels/baggage compartment. Fiat 210 hp (160 kW) units were selected.

The design offered the promise of fast intercity and provincial services with high curve speed and were somewhat marginally engineered, with lightweight steel, seats and fittings and everything done to keep down weight, which at about 11 tons on the loaded bogies could only support about 1.5 tons of luggage and 20 standing passengers, without stressing and wearing lightweight NZR track. The 88-seaters were constructed by the Birmingham Railway, Carriage and Wagon Company Ltd under contract from Drewry.

The first was delivered in January 1955 and the last in mid 1957. The bogie and running gear design had been closely supervised by NZR CME J.Black and were excellent,[1] and while there was significant sway at speed, it was nowhere as bad as the ugly movement of the older Vulcan and Standard railcars cornering at speed. Unfortunately the design of the power train could not be supervised [2] and while initially in 1955, the Fiat engines were not considered a problem, by early 1957 it was obvious that the Fiat engines were flawed and unsuited to the fast intercity and steeply graded New Zealand routes.

They were suffering overheating and engine failure which led to railcars 20 to 30 minute late every 2 or 3 days and frequent internal fires and external fires on surrounding farmland and foliage, due to excessive carbon in the exhaust emissions (notably on the steep West Coast lines and the 1/35 Elevation, Scargill and Dashwood banks [3] on the Picton line) and they suffered from faults of poor manufacture by sub contractors. The crankcases were not strong enough to absorb the power of the two 210 hp Fiat engines that drove the railcars. Ten of the Drewry railcars had wrecked crankcases [4] and blown motors a number of extra replacement motors and crankcases had to ordered in 1956-7 and in 1958-59 Fiat staff and fitters from Italy came to New Zealand and essentially rebuilt the engines and power systems of all the railcars.[5]

After initial trials around Wellington, the 88-seaters were deployed on a wide variety of provincial services. In the North Island they ran Auckland - Okaihau, Auckland - Te Puke, Auckland - Rotorua, Auckland - New Plymouth, Wellington - Palmerston North via Masterton, and Wellington - Gisborne.

In the South Island they ran Christchurch - Picton, Christchurch - Invercargill, and in conjunction with the Vulcan class, Christchurch - Greymouth and Ross. The plan in the mid 1950s was a second batch of 15, extra Fiat railcars would be ordered to provide for multiple unit operation on the provincial services and the new daylight express service recommended by the 1952 Royal Commission between Auckland and Wellington and replace the daylight stopping train on the Christchurch-Dunedin route (which supplemented the South Island limited and other fast express services) leaving Dunedin at 8.05am and Christchurch at 9.40 am on M W F and replace local trains between Auckland and Hamilton, Wellington and Palmerston North, Christchurch and Ashburton.[6]

The second batch of railcars were effectively authorised by the government in October 1955,[7] but cancelled in 1957 due to the unsatisfactory performance of the Fiats and their high cost in repairs and skilled labour diverted, particularly in Auckland [8] and also because, Budd in the US would not adapt the alternative Budd RDC railcar design favoured by NZR to narrow gauge specifications.[9]

RM 114 at Kaikoura during the 1960's.


From almost the beginning they faced mechanical problems, with cooling being the primary issue. The engines had been designed for Italian naval boats and were unsuitable for the conditions. Although modifications were made they continued to have a reputation for unreliability throughout their career, frequently having to run with one motor isolated.

Damaged NZR RM 133 88-seater modules at Pahiatua for the RM 133 Trust.

Unfortunately for NZR, the 1950s was a period of increased prosperity and saw massive increases in the numbers of private motorcars, along with improvements to roading such as tarsealing the main highways, and construction of the Auckland Harbour Bridge. However while the delay in introducing the railcars on the Rotorua route(1959) and the difficult geography of the Northland and Bay of Plenty service meant poor patronage, the Railcars stabilised Railways long distance rail patronage at 3 million annually from 1959-1964. But by the mid 1960s the Fiats were dated and patronage fell. However at the time the Railways still believed there was potential for intercity rail services, there were strong licensing restrictions on bus competition and while 737 jets entered New Zealand service in 1967, low airfares and second hand Japanese car imports did not occur until deregulation in the mid 1980s and potential for rail passenger profits remained and NZR therefore requested the calling of tenders for new engines and crankshafts for all 35 twinsets plus spares for 1.05 million pounds in July 1966.[10] In January 1967 the Cabinet approved only replacement crankshafts to continue the twin sets for 5 years on the Waiarapa, Wellington- Napier-Gisborne and Auckland-New Plymouth routes [11] and to conduct trials of fast upgraded railcar service between Auckland and Hamilton and Wellington and Palmerston North. At the time it was intended to scrap all twinset operation in the South Island using Vulcans on the Picton and West Coast services. In 1967-68 all railcar services from Auckland were cut except for the service to New Plymouth. This was cut back to operate between New Plymouth and Taumarunui in the early 1970s, with passengers making connections to North Island Main Trunk trains. All cancelled trains were replaced by New Zealand Railways Road Services buses.


Although the remaining services were to areas not well served by road, the mechanical condition of the 88-seaters meant that by the mid 1970s replacement was becoming urgent. It was decided to refurbish 14 of them, remove their engines and drivers' cabs, and convert them to what was known as AC class unpowered carriages. These were painted green with grey roofs and came to be known as 'grassgrubs'. They ran on the New Plymouth-to-Taumarunui, a newly reintroduced Napier-to-Gisborne service, Wellington-to-Palmerston North via the Wairarapa, Picton-to-Christchurch, and Christchurch-to-Greymouth services. The final run of an 88-seater railcar was in 1978 from Greymouth to Christchurch. The last trip came to an ignominious end when an engine failure and fire meant that passengers had to be taken onwards from Otira by bus.

The 'grassgrubs' were ill-fated. Their drawgear and bodies were not designed to be locomotive-hauled and they quickly wore out. By 1985 they had been withdrawn from service due to metal fatigue. Most of the passenger runs were continued after their demise, but the New Plymouth-Taumarunui service ended in 1983 (having already had its rolling-stock replaced by 56 ft cars), and Minister of Rail, Richard Prebble ended the Gisborne service in 1985 because of even lower patronage and by the late 1980s the Wellington-Wairarapa service was abbreviated to terminate in Masterton as patronage on the Masterton - Palmerston North section was often fewer than 20 passengers per trip, due to improved highways and bus services. The AC class vehicles were replaced by NZR 56-foot carriages on the remaining Wellington-Napier, Picton-Christchurch, Wairarapa and Christchurch-Greymouth services.

The Blue Streak service[edit]

In 1968, at the suggestion of Hamilton City Council, an 88-seater was refurbished for a new fast service between Hamilton and Auckland aimed at business customers, and it started on Monday, 8 April 1968. It was fitted with carpet and re-upholstered fabric-covered seats, and was painted in a new two-tone blue colour scheme that prompted the nickname Blue Streak. The seating was reduced to 84 to accommodate a servery area from which light meals and assorted alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks could be purchased. This was notable as the first time that a regularly scheduled passenger train service in New Zealand had reinstated on board catering since dining cars had been withdrawn across the network as a World War 1 economy measure. This initial service was unsuccessful, with patronage well below the levels needed to be profitable. The service might have been successful if run the other way round from Hamilton to Auckland in the morning but in 1968 the Wellington-Auckland Limited and Express were still timetabled to cater for the early morning commuter market from Hamilton and Huntly or in the other direction from Palmerston North and Levin and those leaving Auckland or Wellington in the evening for the Waikato or Manawatu or Horewhenua, while the NZR long term desire to maintain the New Plymouth- Auckland twinset service was much more because it brought people into Auckland in the morning, leaving Taurmaranu at 6.30 am and Hamilton at 9.30am and returned in the afternoon rather than for its night social and paper service through the King Country which Government cabinets saw as essential. Therefore, the Hamilton commuter market was served by many other services at lower second class fare cost in 1968 and the Blue Streak experiment was simply in the wrong direction at the wrong time.

It was decided to introduce the railcar to a daytime service between Auckland and Wellington. This service, which started on Monday 23 September 1968, was highly successful and prompted the conversion of two further cars to 82 seats each to accommodate larger servery areas and, later, the purchase of the Silver Fern diesel-electric railcars for this service.

Initially, the Main Trunk Blue Streak railcar ran from Wellington to Auckland on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and on Tuesdays and Thursdays from Auckland to Wellington until a second railcar was refurbished for the Christmas 1968/New Year 1969 period and a third for the 1969 Easter holidays. The service proved so popular that it was not uncommon to see two of the railcars running in multiple. On Thursday 18 December 1972, the Blue Streak services were replaced by the new Silver Fern railcars and were transferred to the Wellington-to-New Plymouth service, replacing Standard railcars. They continued in this service until Friday 30 July 1977. By that time they were no longer serviceable, patronage had continued to decline and the service was replaced with buses.

One half of RM 121 in the Railcar Storage Shed at Pahiatua Railway Station.


RM 121 being restored by the RM 133 Trust Board.

Following withdrawal from service a number of RM class were stored around the country. Several units along with Vulcan RMs were sold to the abortive Southern Rail preservation project at Christchurch where they were scrapped; the cab and baggage car section of the No.1 end of RM 119 on the leading bogie together with some engines and gearboxes were kept at this time. After the project was wound up, the partial section of RM 119 was moved to Linwood Locomotive Depot where it remained in storage for several years. Subsequently, the further abbreviated RM 119 consisting of just the cab and part of the baggage compartment was stored in a Bromley scrapyard, where it was found and purchased by the RM 133 Trust Board.

By the early 1990s, the only known 'twin-set' railcar surviour was RM 133 in its grassgrub form as AC 8140, used for fire training at Auckland Airport. Fortunately in 2001 the RM 133 Trust Board was able to obtain this car, which was later found to be the No 1 end of RM 133 and the No 2 end of RM 115. Unfortunately, before the car could be removed a fire broke out in the No 2 half of the railcar, damaging the body. The RM 133 Trust decided to look for any other extant railcar halves to pair with the No 1 end of RM 133, which had been moved to the Pahiatua Railcar Society's site.

In late 2002, the trust located the No 2 end of RM 121 in a quarry at Kerikeri. Although the car was in a weathered condition and had been cut in half at some point, it was still relatively complete despite missing the seats, bogies (removed in the late 1970s at Otahuhu Workshops), and its diesel engines. This car was later purchased to become the replacement for the damaged half of RM 133, and moved to Pahiatua where restoration work began. The other half of RM 121 had been separated in the mid 1980s after the cars were used as offices at a former theme park in the Auckland area and had ended up at a holiday camp in Waitomo. The Trust negotiated with the owners to buy the car body, and were eventually able to purchase the car in 2011 in exchange for two former wooden passenger cars. The No 1 end of RM 121 was then trucked to Pahiatua to be reunited with the No 2 end at Pahiatua.[12]

The two halves of RM 121 are now being restored at Pahiatua; the two halves of the No 2 end have been welded together again and a new cab structure and cowcatcher built. The No 1 end has been stripped of any fittings from its time spent at Waitomo and various reconstruction work is taking place. The resultant car will utilise the bogies from AC 8140.

The remnants of the No 1 end of RM 133 and the No 2 end of RM 115 as AC 8140 are in covered storage at Pahiatua.

Class register[edit]

Key: In service On lease Out of service Preserved Overhaul or repair Scrapped
Number Entered service Withdrawn Notes
RM 100 March 1955 June 1983 Converted to AC carriage set
RM 101 May 1955 December 1968 Destroyed by fire at Wellington depot on 11 November 1968
RM 102 September 1955 June 1985 Converted to AC carriage set
RM 103 August 1955 June 1985 Converted to AC carriage set
RM 104 June 1955
RM 105 July 1955 September 1978 Damaged by fire at Te Wera 7 January 1978
RM 106 September 1955 November 1967 Collision with Da 1468 at Wairoa 23 March 1967
RM 107 November 1955 September 1983 Converted to AC carriage set
RM 108 February 1956 May 1979
RM 109 February 1956 December 1971
RM 110 February 1956 April 1985 Converted to AC carriage set
RM 111 February 1956 June 1985 Converted to AC carriage set
RM 112 February 1956 April 1985 Converted to AC carriage set
RM 113 February 1956 April 1980
RM 114 February 1956 April 1975
RM 115 February 1956 September 1978
RM 116 February 1956 December 1971 Damaged by fire at Raupunga 9 August 1971
RM 117 March 1956
RM 118 March 1956
RM 119 April 1956 July 1980 Blue Streak railcar
No 1 end cab and part of luggage compartment still exists, and under ownership of RM 133 Trust Board
RM 120 May 1958
RM 121 June 1956 September 1978 No 1 end was being used as a motel unit in Waitomo while No 2 end was recovered from a quarry in Kerikeri. Both ends are now under active restoration by the RM 133 Railcar Trust Board.
RM 122 June 1956 December 1971
RM 123 June 1956 August 1981 Blue Streak Railcar
RM 124 July 1956 December 1971
RM 125 July 1956
RM 126 August 1956 December 1971
RM 127 August 1956 April 1985 Converted to AC carriage set
RM 128 August 1956 December 1971
RM 129 September 1956 December 1971
RM 130 September 1956 December 1971
RM 131 October 1956 July 1980 Blue Streak Railcar
RM 132 November 1956 September 1975 Destroyed by fire near Eketahuna on 24 August 1975 after debris collected in the inter-carriage bellows. Written off and scrapped at Eketahuna in September 1975.[13][14]
RM 133 December 1956 June 1984 Converted to AC 13 (TMS AC 8140)
In ownership of the RM 133 Railcar Trust Board and currently Stored under cover at Pahiatua.
RM 134 July 1957 October 1982 Converted to AC carriage set


  1. ^ NZR CME Black to NZR GM 8-3-1957
  2. ^ CME J.Black
  3. ^ Acting DME Christchurch to CME 11/2/1957
  4. ^ CME J.Black 8-3-1957
  5. ^ G. T. Gandell, NZR GM to Min of Railways, MacAlpine. 28-7-1966. National Archives
  6. ^ Christchurch DME and DTM to CME and Transport Superintendent 18-7-55 and 22-9-55 decided on 2 return runs Christchurch to Ashburton and rejected planned extension of local railcar service to Timaru on basis of historical patronage and size and distribution of SC population
  7. ^ CME J. Black 7/10/55 NZ National Archives- file twin set railcars 1955 34/280 A
  8. ^ Acting CME 8-3-1966 noted that 20% of the fitters at Auckland Rail Workshop were employed on railcar servicing, while the railcars were only 7.5% of the fleet and 2.5% of the available traction hp. NZR GM Gandell in the 28-7-66 paper( National Archives-Mulgrave St, Wgtn) arguing for ordering different engines for the twinsets said Twinset/Fiat, A overhauls took 40 days in Auckland, 26/27 days in Wellington and Christchurch
  9. ^ R.Miles. The End of the NZ Passenger Train. 1995 ISBN 0473033208. Sourced on Jan 1981 interview with J.K McAlpine Minister of Rail 1962-1966,
  10. ^ A.T. Gandell NZR GM to Min of Railways 28-7-1966 and CME NZR 5-12-1966 to Adv Engineer, NZ High Comm London and reply 7/12/66 CME to RR on proposal of using Rolls Royce 6 cylinder supercharged engines to reengine Fiat railcars
  11. ^ I. Thomas NZR GM on 13-3-1967 releases Cabinet 30/1/67 decision to reject the global calling of tenders to reengine the twinsets and schedule of progressive route abandonment to phase them out over 5 years
  12. ^ Eastwood, Tamara (1 September 2011). "Half railcar pulls up". Wairarapa Times Age. Masterton: APN Holdings NZ. Retrieved 2 September 2011.
  13. ^ Churchman, Geoffrey B (1992). Danger Ahead New Zealand Railway Accidents in the Modern Era. IPI Publishing Group. p. 86. ISBN 0-908876-74-2.
  14. ^ Wright, Matthew (2003). Rails across New Zealand. Wellington: Whitcoulls. p. 100.
  • Heath, Eric, and Stott, Bob; Classic Railcars, Electric and Diesel Locomotives Of New Zealand, Grantham House, 1993
  • Churchman, Geoffrey; The Golden Era of Fiat Railcars in New Zealand, IPL Publishing, 1989

External links[edit]