Tait (train)

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Four car Tait train at the Spring Vale Cemetery platform

The Tait trains, also referred to as the "Red Rattlers", were a wooden bodied Electric Multiple Unit train that operated on the suburban railway network of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. They were introduced in 1910 by the Victorian Railways as steam locomotive hauled cars, and converted to electric traction from 1919 when the Melbourne electrification project was underway.[1] The trains derived their name from Sir Thomas James Tait, the chairman of commissioners of the Victorian Railways from 1903 to 1910.[2] The first cars were built during 1909 with the last entering service in 1951.[3]

The trains were initially known as "Sliding Door" trains, as opposed to the Swing Door then in service. They were later known as "Reds" or "Red rattlers" from the 1950s when the blue-painted Harris trains were introduced.[1]

A Tait at Newport Workshops in 2014
Tait Interior Elecrail 2014.jpg
The interior of a tait restored by ElecRail.
Manufacturer Victorian Railways
Built at Newport Workshops
Replaced Steam hauled carriages
Constructed 1910-1953
Entered service 1910 (as locomotive-hauled carriages)
1919 (as EMU cars)
Scrapped last in 1984
Fleet numbers 201-461M (motor cars),
470-473M (double ended motor cars)
201-265D (driving trailers),
201-372T & 380-442T (trailer cars)
1-103G (dual lighting trailers)
Operator(s) Victorian Railways (1910-1983)
Metropolitan Transit Authority (1983-1984)
Line(s) served All Melbourne Suburban
Articulated sections None
Maximum speed 80 km/h (50 mph)
Traction system 4 x 105 kW (141 hp) GE239
Electric system(s) 1500 V DC overhead lines
Track gauge 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in)


First set of Tait suburban passenger carriages hauled by steam locomotive Dde 750, 1913.

Tait trains had a partly open saloon layout, with bench seats running across the train, the saloon being divided by partitions into a number of smaller areas. Each seating aisle was provided with its own exterior sliding door.

Incandescent lighting, a ceiling with pressed tin patterns, luggage racks above head height, and beautifully stained woodgrain walls were fitted inside each compartment. Interiors were split into smoking and no-smoking compartments until late 1978 with the abolition of smoking on trains,[3] and carriages were designated as first or second class until 1958 when one class suburban travel was introduced.[3]

The exterior of the trains were of two main styles: the original cars had a clerestory roof, and those built from the late 1920s onward had a simpler arched roof.[3]

From 1971 the interior was simplified to cut maintenance costs, with some doorway windows being replaced by metal and plywood, and the wooden latticed sun blinds being removed.[4] The motor bogies on the trains were originally of pressed steel construction, being changed for a new design in cast steel in the 1930s.[4]

In service[edit]


The carriages were constructed before electrification, with the intention of later retrofitting of equipment.

The carriages were grouped as the P type, with codes like ACP indicating the passageway connecting most of the compartments, rather than the older carriage style with each compartment isolated from its neighbours. In the 1910 recoding project the P was changed to a normal-size, normal-font letter, i.e. ACP. However, most diagrams show the raised letter with the newer code, perhaps because they were drawn during the construction phase, around the same time as the recoding was being planned out.[5][6]

All carriages were roughly 62 ft (19 m) over buffers, 19 ft (5.8 m)[dubious ] tall and 9 ft 6 in (2.90 m) across, though there was some variation. All compartments were linked with a through-corridor, though internal sliding doors were placed every three compartments from one end. The carriages were not initially marked for Smoking or Non-Smoking.

ACP, AP, BCP, BP[edit]

Initial construction saw 48 ACP cars, 62 AP, 18 BCP and 62 BP carriages built in the period 1910 to 1913. The AP and 62 BP carriages were of identical design with capacity for 92 passengers each across nine compartments, except that the second class BP carriages had lower-quality seating. Similarly, the ACP and BCP cars shared a design in every way other than the seating; these carriages were fitted with eight compartments for 82 passengers, and the ninth compartment was repurposed for a train guard. This last compartment was fitted with a raised cupola for sighting of signals.

From 1915 more carriages were constructed as the electrification project gathered pace and requirements were locked in.[7] Further ACP carriages 49–106, and BCP carriages 19–80 were constructed in 1915-1916. However, these did not have the standard carriage bogies; instead they were fitted with plate-framed bogies intended for later fitting of traction motors. The cars also varied in having a well in the roof designed for later provision of electrical equipment - motors, pantographs etc. This gives a rough indication of when the decision was made to proceed with 1500vDC overhead wiring for Melbourne's electrification, as against earlier proposals for third-rail equipment.

In 1917 the first fourteen ACP cars were recoded to BCP, new numbers 121-134. It is not known whether or not the seating was downgraded.

Conversions for electrification[edit]

Conversions started in 1917, in preparation for electrification trials and driver training on the Flemington Racecourse line and later the Sandringham line.

Some carriages were stored after conversion, awaiting traffic requirements. It is thought that these vehicles were held until around 1919/1920.[7]

Carriages converted kept their existing codes, but with D, M or T appended indicating Driver's compartment, Motor car (with drivers compartment) or Trailer. However, in 1921 the system was regarded as too complex, and coding was simplified with all motored and driving carriages becoming second class, and all trailers becoming first class.

The conversion project was completed in 1922.

Driving motors - ACPM, BCPM, M[edit]

From 1917 through 1921, ACP and BCP carriages were withdrawn from steam service in preparation for electrification. The carriages taken for motor conversion had been pre-built with this in mind, with heavier underframes, bogies designed with traction motors in mind and a well in the roof for a pantograph to be fitted.

Seventeen of the ACP 49-106 range were recoded to ACPM. From 1916 on, a further 26 ACPM cars were built, bringing the fleet to 45. But in 1922 the entire class was recoded M, taking on numbers 201M-284M.

Similarly, 28 of the BCP cars in the range 19-80 were recoded to BCPM, and in 1916 the class grew by 30 units. In the 1921 renumbering the ex-BCP/BCPM class became 294M-385M.

Additional M cars 285-293 and 386-411 were built new in 1922. Further cars were built from 1925-1926 with curved roofs, taking numbers 412M-441M. 442M and 443M were rebuilt from 18M and 44M, formerly Swing-door motors. These carriages ended up having the thinner Swing-door underframe with the larger Tait body, giving a rather unbalanced look. The carriages entered service in 1936. Following this, 444M through 461M were built in the period 1944-1949, and the last of these entered service in 1951.

In 1968 four motors, 300M, 398M, 244M and 397M were modified with cabs at both ends, taking on new numbers 470M-473M. These were mainly used on the Eltham/Hurstbridge and Alamein lines, where even a two-car set could not be justified in offpeak times.

In 1979 the new deliveries of the Hitachi fleet were catching up with the Tait numbering block, so some carriages were renumbered into free sections of the roster. This started with the gap 462M-469M and 474M-499M, and later cars took numbers of Tait motor cars previously scrapped. By 1983 deliveries of the Comeng fleet made even this measure insufficient, so the 19x remaining Motors simply had a 1 prefix added to their numbers, i.e. 383M became 1383M.

Parcel motors CM[edit]

In 1921 a decision was made to supplement the mail/newspaper distribution fleet with double-ended motor cars, with the interior organised like a typical bogie guards' van of the CE/CW/CV types.

Coaches 1CM and 2CM entered service in 1921, with a capacity of 25 tons each. In 1923 they were joined by a third vehicle, 3CM. This was partially paid for by the Electrical Engineering Branch, with a modification to the design by addition of a centre cupola for viewing of overhead wires. This van was run with the normal fleet, but was made available for overhead wire inspection if and when required. CM's 4 and 5 entered service in 1925 and 1926 respectively, both using the new arch/curved roof style between their two cupolas.

The fleet was used for cash transport and as a staff-only taxi service, for the use of crew members scheduled to start work between 3am and 5am (before the regular services started operating).

Extra coaches were built from the mid 1950s using Swing Door carriages.

The parcels coach traffic dried up in 1988 when a railways' policy change saw a change to road transport. Correspondence to stations is now delivered on a few select trains per week, noted in advance.

Driving trailers - ACPD, BCPD, D[edit]

When planning the initial electrification project, it was expected that some lines could be operated with single-carriage or two-carriage trains instead of requiring a full consist. The single-carriage, double-ended motors were sourced from the Swingdoor fleet. However, some Driving Trailer carriages were sourced from the Tait fleet. While it was initially thought that around twenty of these carriages would be needed for service, only eleven were converted in the early stages of the electrification project.

Six ACP carriages (16-17, 23, 92-93 and 52) and five BCP carriages (2-3, 8-9 and 18) were rewired and recoded with a "D" appended in the first half of 1921. New identities for the ACPD series were 1-2, 8, 10-12, while the BCPD cars kept their old numbers of 2-3, 8-9 and 18.

In 1922 with the class simplification, the last of the three ACPD cars were converted to M motorised carriages 244, 245 and 204 in 1922. These three had previously been heavier-underframe carriages. The remaining eight driving trailers were recoded to D 201-202 and 208 (ex ACPD) and 211, 204-207 (ex BCPD) respectively. Further conversions direct from ACP and BCP carriages saw the class rise to eighteen D carriages, numbers 201-218.

In 1940 carriage 244T, originally 44AP, was converted to driving trailer 225D.

"Ringer" Trailers, T[edit]

The 48 remaining, lighter-framed ACP and BCP carriages not converted to driving trailers were classed as "ringer" trailer cars, with the guard's compartment equipment removed and that slightly larger compartment being made available to passengers. This compartment was identifiable by the lack of the word "GUARD" and a white circle painted on the door; the circle indicated to crew members that the vans were not fitted with the handbrake and emergency brake taps normally found in carriages with the guards' raised profile. Because of the larger area available, passengers tended to store prams and luggage in these areas.

The Ringer trailers had formerly been ACP 15, 19-22, 24-48 and BCP 1, 4-7 and 121-133 (ex. ACP 1-13). They took the number range 263T to 286T (ex ACP 25-48), 349T to 361T (ex ACP 1-13, later BCP 121-143), 362T to 367T (ex ACP 15, 19-22, 24) and 368T-372T (ex BCP 1 and 4-7).

Between 1926-27 the first batch of Ringer Trailer to Driving Trailer conversions were made, with trailers 365 and 368-372 converted to 224D, 219D, 220D, 221D, 222D and 223D.

Then from 1965 to 1972 all bar two of the remaining Ringer trailers (349T and 350T) were converted to full Driving Trailers and coded randomly into in the range 226D-265D.

Trailers - APT, BPT, T[edit]

The plain trailer carriages were converted between 1919 and 1922 for electric traction. This involved removal of the then-standard gas lighting and refitting with electric lighting, as well as through-jumper cable connections for the driving and motor cars expected to operate on each end.

The T fleet comprised the original 124 AP and BP carriages.

The AP fleet was initially relettered to APT, and the BP fleet to BPT. When the classes were simplified in 1921, only 39 APT and 28 BPT cars had been refitted with the required electrical equipment. Further conversions were straight from AP/BP to T. From 1922 on, ex-AP cars had 200 added to their numbers to indicate the Tait/Sliding door fleet; for example 37AP became 37APT then 237T. The ex-BP cars were renumbered into the range 287-348, keeping the sequence i.e. 1BP became 287T and 62BP became 348T.

Additional carriages were built, numbers T380 to T400 in 1922, T401-424 in 1926, and T427-T442 between 1944 and 1952.

As noted above, trailer 244T was converted to driving trailer 225D. This happened in 1940.

288T was temporarily recoded to second class, with a G car's shunting/braking equipment, in 1954.

Experimental Trailer 201BT[edit]

As a testbed for the new Harris cars then being developed, the body of incomplete 441T was reworked to a more modern design and released into service in 1950, with three sets of doors per side. The car was coded 201BT, and lasted in service until 1984.

Internally, the car was divided into three second-class compartments; the outer two at a little under 17 ft across and the middle compartment at a little under 23 ft. One compartment was reserved for smokers until 1976, when smoking was abolished on the suburban network.

The car went through a number of changes in seating arrangements and door types (and post-76, internal partitions), with seated capacity ranging from 70 to 90 (73 being the most commonly quoted figure) and 164-175 standing passengers in crush load conditions.

It was intended that the car be preserved, but it is thought to have been scrapped in 1994. Photographs of the carriage and its interior can be found here[1].

A replacement 441T to the regular design was built and entered service in 1952.

Gas-lit trailers - G[edit]

Additional to the regular trailers, a project was undertaken to recycle older carriage underframes from the Swing Door conversion project. Some of these frames went to the PL carriages, but others were used to create the very similar G type cars. These were initially numbered 1G-97G, built 1923-1926 with clerestory roofs, identical passenger facilities to the T series trailers 380-400 with nine compartments and a seating capacity of 82. Externally the cars were fitted with handrails and shunters brake equipment at the west end. This was a temporary provision until the planned conversion of these carriages to driving trailers, but eventually the equipment proved safe enough for daily use and the cars were left as-is. The brake equipment was used when shunting an M-T-G unit onto an M-T-T-M block (usually at Jolimont) for building up of trains for the peak hours.

During Easter and for the three weeks around Christmas and New Years', the G cars were withdrawn from suburban service and used to boost the country rail network's capacity. This was justified by the fewer commuters at the time. The carriages had been specially fitted with alternate gas-lighting equipment (hence the G code).

Additional carriages 98G to 103G were built as part of new sets in 1944, with pairs entering service in 1944, 1947 and 1950. These cars were identical to their predecessors except that they were fitted with the more modern curved roofs.

Set configuration[edit]

The Tait trains originally entered service as six-car sets, the majority made up of three "M" cars and three trailers. From the 1920s sets were extended to seven-car sets, with the introduction of the "G" trailer cars.[4] These sets were made up of a four-car "block" and a three-car "unit", usually operating as an M-T-T-M+G-T-M set during peak hours. On quieter lines the three-car unit would be uncoupled and stored at Jolimont sidings between peaks.[8]

As noted above, in peak traffic periods like Easter and the Christmas holiday season, the G type carriages were withdrawn from suburban service and repurposed in country trains as required.

The "D" type cars were the least common of the car types; only 18 cars were fitted with control equipment and coded "D" by 1923.[4] The rest were known as "ringer" trailers, having a white ring on the door indicating the compartment was available for the use of passengers.[4] These cars were paired with M cars and run either in pairs, i.e. M-D-M-D replacing an M-T-T-M set, or in some cases M-T-D sets ran on particularly flat, short-distance lines where late running, while annoying to the passengers, would not disrupt the entire system. One such example as the Altona Beach to Newport shuttle service, running hourly as of 1939.

The M-D+M-D sets became much more common when the fleet ballooned in 1964, with a "block" of cars made up M-D-M-D that could be split as required.[4]

Motor cars were sometimes paired back-to-back for what was known as "E" trains. These were formed with two M cars acting as locomotives, hauling a train of typical outer-suburban or country stock. These ran to Frankston, where the train would split and two steam engines would take portions on to Mornington and Stony Point, and to Lilydale where the train would split and two steam engines would take portions on to Healesville and Warburton. These runs were abolished in 1958 with the arrival of the Walker railmotors, and operational practice changed to connecting trains instead of through-carriages. A number of swing-door motor cars had been specially altered for E train use, but in practice they weren't always available and so Tait motors may have been required as a substitute.

One car operation commenced in 1968, after the conversion of 470M the previous year and the end of union disputes over their introduction.[4]

In May 1968 an eight-car Tait train was tested on the Frankston line, made up of three motor cars and five trailers, entering service under the new timetable in August 1968.[4] After 1973 these eight-car sets were reconfigured with a 50:50 motor–trailer mix to avoid special rosters restricting three motor car sets to flatter lines.[4]

From 1973 three-car sets were also reintroduced, as M-T-D consists, or occasionally M-T-M sets.[4] Six-car M-T-T-T-T-M consists were also formed for peak hour use.[4] Both of these were restricted to the flatter lines, where the lack of power would not be a major issue.

The Boat Train[edit]

In 1936 a short-lived experiment involved the exclusive use of six Tait carriages on a special train running from Flinders Street to Port Melboourne, to meet passengers off international ships. Called The Boat Train, the train was assembled using three M motor cars (242, 268, 380) and three T trailer cars (226, 321 and 330), in an M-T-M-T-T-M formation, likely as 242M-226T-268M-321T-330T-380M.

The consist was painted mid-blue, with silver roofs and black undergear. Red capital lettering was affixed to the roofs of the three M cars, above the middle compartments, with the name of the train. Floodlighting with incandescent globes was run along the sides of the carriage roofs, such that the entire train body was illuminated.[2]

After final inspections by the three Railway Commissioners H. W. Clapp, N. C. Harris and M. J. Canny, and the architect A. V. Stephenson and the workshops manager H. V. James, the first run was scheduled for 7 March 1936. The consist departed Flinders Street station at 9:10am for Station Pier, to meet the Italian liner Esquilino. The return trip departed station pier at 10:15am. Following this, the train ran three return trips on the following Sunday night, to meet the Oronsay. These trains left Flinders Street at 10:30pm, 11:09pm and 11:32pm. [3]

Shipping companies would publish in newspapers their six-monthly planned departures from Port Melbourne (P&O, Orient, Shaw Savill, Aberdeen & Commonwealth to England and Matson to the USA); ships to be met by The Boat Train would have an additional comment that the train was to leave Flinders St Platform 10, about 90 minutes prior to the vessel's departure time.

The train ran as required until October 1939, when disappointing patronage and the outbreak of World War II caused the service to be withdrawn. The six carriages were restored to normal service, and continued until the general withdrawal of the Tait fleet.

Photos of the train are noted as PTC collection H 1792 and 1793. A copy of the train is available in Microsoft Train Simulator - link & photo

Overhead Inspection Train[edit]

For the purposes of inspection of overhead wiring, carriage 3CM was constructed to a modified design with an overhead compartment for inspectors to watch the way that the overhead wiring reacted to contact with pantographs.

Later, 10CM was constructed with similar modifications from the normal design.

Inspection trains would often run with two randomly selected motor carriages, one either side of the inspection car which would have its own pantographs locked down.

On 6 October 1980 carriage 447M had a similar fitting added, and it was renamed the Greasing Car. It was painted bright yellow with most windows boarded over, and large black letters declaring "OVERHEAD INSPECTION" were painted on both sides. Internally thew car was fitted with a power generator and hydraulic equipment to lubricate the overhead wiring. The car was renumbered 1447M in 1983, and after a graffiti attack around 1995 it was painted all-over yellow.

Sometime in that period, 1447M was coupled with Harris motors 794M and 797M, with transition vans 320 and 329D (as 797-320-1447-329-794). The two Harris cars were fitted with rail greasing equipment for tight curves, and the five-piece train made regular runs around the electrified network. While 1447M was in all-over yellow and the two Harris cars in similar livery but with green/yellow Met stickers along the sides, the two D vans were in normal V/Line orange livery; the only alteration was the fitting of screw couplers at one end each to allow coupling to the Tait carriage.

In later years the Greaser train was withdrawn, and now small automatic greasing pots are attached to the rails at tight curves.


General Electric traction equipment was fitted to the trains, of the same type as that in the Swing Door trains and enabling the trains to be operated in mixed sets using multiple-unit train control.[4]

Conversions and alterations[edit]

Incomplete trailer car 441T was converted to experimental trailer car 201BT in 1950 with double width sliding doors to test design features for the Harris train. Later, a new 441T was constructed.

In 1958 class designation on the suburban network was abolished, with all painted indications of former First- and Second-class ticketing requirements painted over within two days; it took a little while longer to standardise all seating, and until that happened there were stories of passengers rushing to the former first-class trailer cars for the more comfortable seating.

Four motor cars were converted to double ended motors in 1968-1970 and renumbered 470M to 473M. These were mainly used on the Hurstbridge and Alamein routes.

From the mid 1970s the cost of replacing damaged glass windows was becoming prohibitive, and so one in three windows was sheeted over, with plywood on the inside and painted steel on the outside. Some carriages were also fitted with communication doors and/or diaphragms allowing staff and passengers to walk between carriages, particularly on two-carriage trains.

Smoking was abolished in 1978.

447M was converted to an overhead inspection car in 1980.


The Tait trains were replaced from 1974 by the Hitachi trains sets, and the later Comeng trains.[1]

From 1981 the last 37 of them began to be replaced by 50 Comeng trains. Tait trains were not allowed in the City Loop due to fire hazard presented by their wooden bodies, so they spent most of their final years on the Port Melbourne, St Kilda and Sandringham lines. However, on 30 May 2015, when a news report aired about the 30th anniversary since the completion of the City Loop, a Tait train can be seen pulling into Museum station behind a news reporter at the beginning of the video.[9]

A large number of carriages were burned for scrap at Kingston. However, the large number of complaints from local residents ended the practice and a program of public sales followed.

Due to industrial problems the last Tait trains were withdrawn from service in 1984.[1]


The Elecrail division of Steamrail Victoria restored 470M to working order. It also has 341T under restoration. 327M, 472M and 2CM are stored.

Carriages 317M, 381M, 208T and 230D were retained by the then Public Transport Corporation as an operational heritage set, plus 201BT was stored for possible restoration. They are now owned by VicTrack and in the care of Elecrail.

Overhead inspection/greaser car 1447M is owned by VicTrack and stored.

The Mornington Railway has 98G.

The Daylesford Spa Country Railway has 4CM.

Many Tait car bodies were sold privately. Several have been converted to railway-themed restaurants and many others are on private properties.

Model Railways[edit]

Trainbuilder[10] has released a series of brass Tait carriages. The cars are all fitted with internal lighting, marker lights and headlights, but no interiors.

All models are correctly fitted with arch or clerestory roofs, per prototype.

Double-ended motor carriages, $1100 each:

  • 472M - Double-ended M carriage, marked "ALAMEIN"
  • 473M - Double-ended M carriage, marked "HURSTBRIDGE"

Parcels carriages, $1100 each:

  • 1CM, 4CM (Blue and yellow)
  • 3CM (Blue and yellow, with raised cupola in centre)
  • 2CM, 5CM (Crimson)

Interurban carriages, $550 each:

  • 28G - Interurban carriage
  • 92G - Interurban carriage
  • 94G - Interurban carriage

Pairs, ($1650 each?):

  • 371M & 228D, marked "PORT MELBOURNE"
  • 411M & 253D, marked "NEWPORT"

Three-car packs, $2300 each:

  • 327M-89G-400M, marked "ST. KILDA" (note 327M is not fitted with a motor)

Four-car Blocks, $2950 each:

  • 243M-405T-301T-354M, marked "FLINDERS STREET" and painted in post-50's bright red with moonstone window frames.
  • 282M-346T-204T-470M, marked "SPENCER STREET"
  • 436M-423T-414T-439M, marked "SPENCER STREET"
  • 426M-214D-15G-371M, marked "PRINCES BRIDGE"


External links[edit]