Victorian Railways V class
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History and Description
In 1899, the Victorian Railways imported from the Baldwin Locomotive Works, Philadelphia, USA, a pattern locomotive for a new design of all-lines heavy goods engine.
This was a large locomotive, the largest that the VR system had seen at that time, and was typically American in design. It had a 2-8-0 (consolidation) wheel arrangement with four cylinders arranged on the Vauclain system of compound propulsion.
The maker’s number was 17396 and it entered service on 30 May 1900 as V Class number 499. Test runs were made with coal trains in South Gippsland between Melbourne and Nyora, where it quickly demonstrated its worth. The locomotive also made a test run to Upper Ferntree Gully where it suffered damage to the low pressure cylinder cleading and lagging after striking the platform, which in those days had an inside curve.
Resulting from the success of these tests, tenders were called for the provision of another 14 consolidation locomotives. 8 were to be built as simple expansion and the remaining 6 were to be compound. Offers were received from Baldwin, the Phoenix Foundry Co. Ltd. and Robinson Bros. & Co. Ltd. After much deliberation and negotiation, the Phoenix Foundry was awarded the contract to build an additional 15 V class 2-8-0s, and all to be built as Vauclain compounds. These 15 locomotives were delivered in monthly intervals between late 1901 and the end of 1902. These locomotives were given the road numbers 501 to 529 (odds only) and carried the Phoenix builder’s numbers 325 to 339.
The adoption of the 2-8-0 wheel arrangement was a very dramatic departure from the standard 0-6-0 goods type, so commonly used. With an engine weight of over 50 long tons (56 short tons; 51 t), the V class was 30% heavier than the previously largest goods locomotive, the X class, yet the axle load of 12 long tons 12 cwt (28,200 lb or 12.8 t) allowed them to travel on all lines around Victoria.
The V class was soon to be seen on many parts of the VR system and the heavily graded South Gippsland line seemed to be a favorite stamping ground, as too were the lines radiating from Maryborough and Bendigo. They were also employed during the holiday periods on excursion trains to the hills, and Upper Ferntree Gully would always have a fair proportion of the class running there. They were also seen in the Yarra Valley, indeed it was a V class that hauled the official train on the opening of the Warburton branch line in 1901. (see photo)
These locomotives were typical in their American design and construction, with bar frames, overhead equalized springing and very spacious steel cabs. They had an elegant look brought about by the flared copper-top chimney and large brass steam dome cover. When build they were painted in the then standard green livery and were kept in immaculate condition, in accordance with standards of the era. During the mid-20th century they were gradually painted in Canadian Pacific Red, and then in the 1920s the entire class went the standard colour of those times – all over black. The boilers were a conventional type with round-topped firebox and a working pressure of 200 psi (1,379 kPa). The barrel was 4 feet 8 inches (1,422 mm) in diameter, 13 feet (3.96 m) long between the tubeplates and there were 198 brass tubes, 2 inches (50.8 mm) in diameter. The smoke box extended well forward of the blast pipe and chimney to provide space for a spark arrester and baffle plates that were the forerunners of the self-cleaning smokebox.
The driving position was on the right hand side, the valve gear controlled by a ‘Johnson Bar’ leaver and ratchet system. The regulator was a typical American pull-out lever with notched sector plate and graduation. The regulator itself was of the balanced conically – seated type which, in later years, became the standard for locomotives from the 2-8-2 X class and onward. The regulator was changed to the rotating shaft type and British-style double-ended lever when new boilers were fitted to the class.
With their wheel 2-8-0 arrangement, the V class were Victoria’s first eight-coupled locomotives, antedating the much larger C class 2-8-0s by some 18 years. The 2-foot-6-inch (762 mm) diameter leading wheels were arranged in a Bissel truck, the springs of which were compensated to the heading pair of driving wheels. The 4-foot-6-inch (1,372 mm) driving wheels were coupled to two outside 22-inch (559 mm) diameter and 26-inch (660 mm) stroke low pressure cylinders, with two 13-inch (330 mm) diameter by 26-inch (660 mm) stroke high pressure cylinders.
For starting, a hand controlled high pressure steam valve was provided by means of which the driver could admit a proportion of high pressure steam into the low pressure cylinders. Although it was intended by its designers as a starting device only, the direct steam valve was consistently misused by drivers, at the expense of operating efficiency and their fireman, to help them over heavy grades. According to the Vauclian notes, the locomotives are to be driven on the reversing lever in such conditions. This clearly was not a practice used by VR staff at the time. It was this fact that, due to the cost in maintenance, the entire class were rebuilt as simple expansion locomotive between 1912 and 1913.
With a total wheelbase of only 48 feet 6 inches (14.78 m) the V class could be turned on the 50-foot (15.24 m) turntables at many branch line termini. The total length over the buffers was 57 feet 7 inches (17.55 m), giving the impression that they could ‘just fit’ onto the turntable.
As the original boilers came to the end of their lives, new ones were built however they were provided with a standard steam dome, with the safety valves and whistle being mounted over the firebox. The new dome covers were mild steel pressings and were identical with those of the A2 class. The new boilers were provided when each locomotive was converted to simple expansion, V513 and 515 being the last two to be converted.
The V class continued to operate until their boilers were condemned. V513 was the first to be scrapped in June 1924 and the last to be cut up, ironically, was the class leader V499 (later V200). Most of the V class lasted until the 1923 renumbering and were given the consecutive numbers 200-215.
The V class has many American design features. Even though in 1875 Thomas Higinbotham, the Engineer-in-Chief, had recognised the many good features of American designed locomotives, these were never widely adopted. Improved front end performance, bar frames, flexible suspensions and leading wheels to ‘steer’ locomotives around curves were only taken up many years after the introduction of the American imports.