Victorian Railways J class

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Victorian Railways J class
J 515 Victorian Goldfields Railway, January 2007.
Type and origin
Power type Steam
Builder Vulcan Foundry
Serial number 6046–6095, 6146–6155
Build date 1953–1954
Total produced 60
Configuration 2-8-0
UIC class 1′D h2
Gauge 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm)
Driver diameter 55 in (1,397 mm)
Length 60 ft 5 12 in (18.43 m)
Axle load 14.5 long tons (14.7 t; 16.2 short tons)
Adhesive weight 57.35 long tons (58.27 t; 64.23 short tons)
Loco weight 66.95 long tons (68.02 t; 74.98 short tons)
Tender weight 45.8 long tons (46.5 t; 51.3 short tons)
Loco & tender weight 112.75 long tons (114.56 t; 126.28 short tons)
Fuel type Coal (30), Fuel oil (30)
Tender cap 5 long tons (5.1 t; 5.6 short tons) coal, 4,200 imp gal (19,000 l) water (coal burners); 1,500 imp gal (6,800 l) oil, 4,100 imp gal (19,000 l) water (oil burners)
 • Firegrate area
31 sq ft (2.9 m2)
Boiler pressure 175 lbf/in2 (1.21 MPa), later 180 lbf/in2 (1.24 MPa)
Heating surface 1,682 sq ft (156.3 m2)
Cylinders Two, outside
Cylinder size 20 in × 26 in (508 mm × 660 mm)
Performance figures
Tractive effort 28,650 lbf (127.4 kN) at 85% boiler pressure, later 29,500 lbf (131 kN)
Operators Victorian Railways
Numbers 500–559
Withdrawn ? – May 1972
Scrapped November 1967 – June 1978
Disposition 11 preserved, remainder scrapped

The J class was a branch line steam locomotive that ran on Victorian Railways from 1954 to 1972. A development of the successful Victorian Railways K class 2-8-0, it was the last new class of steam locomotive introduced on the VR. Introduced almost concurrently with the diesel-electric locomotives that ultimately superseded them, these locomotives were only in service on the VR for a relatively short time.


During the early 1950s, Victorian Railways embarked on a massive upgrading of its ageing locomotive fleet as part of 'Operation Phoenix', an £80 million program to rebuild a network badly run down by years of Depression-era underinvestment and wartime overutilisation.[1]

Victoria's branch line railway network, laid with 60 lb/yd (29.8 kg/m) rail and featuring gradients of up to 1 in 30 (3.33%), was still largely served by the D1, D2 and D3 variants of the once 261-strong 1902-era Dd class 4-6-0, which by the early 1950s was at the end of its life.[2] These were supplemented by 53 K class 2-8-0 locomotives, some of which had been built as recently as 1946. Although highly successful, the K was unsuitable for potential conversion from 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm) to 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge in the event of the Victorian network being standardised, and VR policy was for all new locomotives to be engineered for easy conversion.[3] As such, the building of further K class was not a desirable option.

With mainline electric and diesel-electric locomotives already on order, Victorian Railways' design team opted for an updated, gauge-convertible K class as what would turn out to be their final steam locomotive design.

Design features[edit]

Firebox and boiler, in storage
J class 'SCOA-P' pattern driving wheel centres

The key problem with the K class design was the placement of the firebox between the locomotive's frames and rear driving wheels, making conversion to a narrower gauge impossible without radical redesign of the firebox. A previous attempt to develop a gauge convertible K class, the N class, utilised a 2-8-2 wheel arrangement and positioned the firebox above the frames and behind the driving wheels. However, the extra length of these locomotives (they were a total 67 ft or 20.42 m long) made them unsuitable for a number of branch lines where only a 50-or-53-foot (15.24 or 16.15 m) turntable was available.

The J class adopted an alternative approach to the problem by utilising a high-set boiler (with the boiler centre 9 ft 2 12 in (2.807 m) above rail level,[4] compared with 8 ft 4 in (2.54 m) for the K class[5]) setting the firebox above the frames and driving wheels, and retaining the K class' short wheelbase.

The J class also featured a number of other design advances over the K class. It had a larger grate, enabling grate sections to be compatible with those of the N class and permitting an increase in firebox volume sufficient to allow two arch tubes to be installed.[6] Another innovation was the use of a regulator valve incorporating a centrifugal steam separator (to draw away any water and thus provide the driest steam), rather than the simpler (though extremely reliable) D regulator valve used in the K class.[6] The J class also featured substantially redesigned cylinder porting to improve steam flow and efficiency.[7] The innovative SCOA-P type driving wheel centre developed for the Victorian Railways R class was adapted for the 55 in (1,397 mm) diameter J class drivers.

The high-set boiler, together with the German-style smoke deflectors, gave the J class a distinctly European appearance.[3]


A total of fifty J class locomotives were initially ordered from the Vulcan Foundry in Lancashire, England. However, VR reassessed its motive power requirements and opted to sell ten of its brand-new, second generation N class locomotives to the South Australian Railways, and increased the J class order to sixty locomotives.[8] At the time of order, the per-unit cost of the locomotives was £36,000 ($72,000) each.[9]

With fluctuating oil prices and an unreliable supply of coal in the early 1950s, the VR appeared to take something of a bet either way, ordering thirty of the class as coal burners and thirty as oil burners.[3]

By the time the contract for the J class had been awarded, the VR had already begun to receive deliveries of the B class mainline diesel-electric locomotives from GM-EMD licensee Clyde Engineering. The B class locomotives proved to be a great success, such that the VR unsuccessfully attempted to cancel the J class contract in favour of an order for EMD branch line diesel locomotives.[6]

Regular Service[edit]

The J class was introduced for both passenger and goods traffic on Victoria's branch line network, with a maximum permissible speed of 45 mph (72 km/h), later raised to 50 mph (80 km/h). Dynamometer tests showed the locomotive developed 930 hp (694 kW) at the drawbar at around 20-25 mph (32–40 km/h), which suited the relatively low speed limits of much of the Victorian branch line network.[6]

Coal-fired J class locomotives were the regular engine on the 9:00am Melbourne to Yarram passenger service, with other duties being from Lilydale to Warburton and local services from Spencer Street to Werribee. The oil-fired J was also pressed into service hauling the final leg of The Gippslander express from Sale to Bairnsdale. In their later years J class locomotives also ran the Horsham to Dimboola leg of the morning service from Melbourne, among the last regular steam-hauled passenger trains in Victoria.[6]

Although the J class produced the same nominal tractive effort as the K or N class, they had a slightly higher adhesive weight (and as such a better factor of adhesion) and were permitted to haul heavier loads on gradients.[10] They could be found in goods service on branch lines across the state, but were also found on mainlines running roadside goods services.[6]

However, within a year of the J's introduction, the T class (EMD G8) diesel electric locomotive was also introduced. Although VR did not publicly indicate the T was intended to replace the J class,[11] it proved to be such a successful design that further orders of this locomotive class were made during the late 1950s and 1960s, gradually displacing the J class from many of its normal duties.

Design Improvements[edit]

Together with the K and N classes, the J class had its boiler pressure raised in the early 1960s from 175 to 180 psi (1,207 to 1,241 kPa),[6] which raised their nominal tractive effort to 29,500 lbf (131 kN).

Locomotive J 546 was selected for installation of a Laidlaw Drew oil firing system in place of the convention weir-type burner following recommendations from the 1957 Australian and New Zealand Railway Conference. However, the locomotive was found to steam poorly under load using the system and was converted back to weir burner operation, with no further locomotives converted.[6]


By the late 1960s the J class was largely relegated to shunting at various country yards, with many losing their cowcatchers and gaining shunter's steps on the tender sides. The introduction of the Y class (EMD G6B) diesel electrics saw the J class superseded in this role, and in November 1967, J 523 became the first J class to be scrapped.[12] Scrappings continued until June 1978, with J 538 the last to go.[12] J 550 holds the distinction of being the very last steam of locomotive in normal revenue service on Victorian Railways, being rostered on the 6:00am Bendigo pilot on 25 May 1972.[8]


The J class lasted as a complete class later than any other VR steam locomotive. By the time that scrapping commenced, interest in railway preservation was sufficient for eleven examples to be preserved.[13]


J515: Currently on long term loan to the Victorian Goldfields Railway in Maldon, Victoria from Seymour Railway Heritage Centre and has been since December 2006. Returned to service mid April 2012 after two years out of traffic due to boiler repairs. 515 is now back at the Seymour Railway Heritage Centre as of June 2015.

J541: Mid April 2012, 541 was transferred to Newport Workshops after its lease to Victorian Goldfields Railway ended. Whilst at Newport Workshops repairs and maintenance will be carried out by Steamrail Victoria prior to transfer to its new home at Yarra Valley Tourist Railway. 541 is owned by a private syndicate, which includes Yarra Valley Railway members as well as the railway itself.

J549: Owned and operated by the Victorian Goldfields Railway, the locomotive was out of service between March 2004 and October 2013, undergoing a major overhaul. 549 underwent load trials along the Maldon branchline on the 21st of October, 2013. Its first public outing was on the 26th of October, 2013. The official re-launch of the engine was held on January 27, 2014.[14]


  • J 556 (wearing the historically significant plates of scrapped J 559, the last steam locomotive to enter service on the VR) is preserved at the ARHS North Williamstown Railway Museum.
  • J 507 is on public display at Mulwala, New South Wales.
  • J 512 is owned by Seymour Railway Heritage Centre and is pending restoration. As part of the restoration, it has converted from broad to standard gauge. As of March 2010, the engine frames have been converted.[15]
  • J 516 is owned by the Yarra Valley Tourist Railway and in June 2009 was being stripped down for a restoration assessment.
  • J 524 is on public display at Donald, Victoria.
  • J 536 was until 1998, on public display at Colac, Victoria. It was acquired by West Coast Railway for restoration. Following the demise of WCR, the loco was sold to heritage group 707 Operations Incorporated for eventual restoration to operating service.[16]
  • J 539 is on public display at Dimboola, Victoria.
  • J 550 is on public display at Noojee, Victoria ahead of a planned restoration to working order. The train was on display at Warragul until 24 March 2013.[17]

Model Railways[edit]

HO scale[edit]

Steam Era Models has produced a brass and whitemetal kit for the J Class steam locomotive, items L9C and L9O for coal and oil-burning models respectively.[18][19]

Trainbuilder has released a ready-to-run brass model of the series, featuring numbers J500, 502, 508, 510, 518, 520, 523 as coal burners, and 531, 535, 538, 541, 544, 552, 555 and 558 as oil burners.[20][21]



  1. ^ "ARHS Railway Museum: History 1950 - 2000". Retrieved 2006-12-31. 
  2. ^ "Victorian Goldfields Railway Steam Locomotives". Retrieved 2006-11-11. 
  3. ^ a b c Pearce; et al. (1980). North Williamstown Railway Museum (Third ed.). Melbourne: ARHS. p. 14. ISBN 0-85849-018-8. 
  4. ^ "DIAGRAM J CLASS STEAM LOCOMOTIVE (VPRS 12903/P1 Box 470/01)". Public Record Office Victoria. Retrieved 2006-12-31. 
  5. ^ "DRAWING OF K CLASS STEAM LOCOMOTIVE (VPRS 12903/P1 Box 85/03)". Public Record Office Victoria. Retrieved 2006-12-31. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h David Barnett (November 2008). "J Class in Profile". Victorian Goldfields Railway Members Newsletter (Victorian Goldfields Railway): 3–6. 
  7. ^ "The New J Class". The Victorian Railways Newsletter: 4–5. May 1954. Retrieved 2006-12-31. 
  8. ^ a b "J class steam locomotives". Retrieved 2006-12-31. 
  9. ^ "REPORT FROM THE COMMITTEE OF PUBLIC ACCOUNTS UPON DERAILMENTS ON THE VICTORIAN RAILWAY SYSTEM" (PDF). Parliament of Victoria. 1964-12-08. p. 27. Retrieved 2015-12-17. 
  10. ^ Carlisle, R M & Abbott, R L (1985). Hudson Power. ARHS. p. 36. ISBN 0-85849-028-5. 
  11. ^ "And now the T's". The Victorian Railways Newsletter: 3. October 1955. Retrieved 2007-01-01. 
  12. ^ a b Dee; et al. (1981). Power Parade. Melbourne: VicRail Public Relations Division. p. 35. ISBN 0-7241-3323-2. 
  13. ^ "VICSIG - Locomotives - J Class Steam". Retrieved 2006-12-31. 
  14. ^ "VGR Thread". 
  15. ^ "GIVING MORE STEAM TO VICTORIA’S RAILWAYS" (pdf) (Press release). MINISTER FOR TRANSPORT. 2001-02-08. Retrieved 2007-04-29. 
  16. ^ "SPECIAL COUNCIL MEETING OF THE COLAC-OTWAY SHIRE COUNCIL" (PDF). 2004-08-31. Archived from the original (pdf) on 2007-09-03. Retrieved 2007-04-29. 
  17. ^ "Warragul’s steam train move ‘a dream come true’". Retrieved 2013-04-01. 
  18. ^
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  20. ^
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