V/Line N class
By the start of the 1980s Victorian Railways passenger numbers had fallen to around 3 million per year, due to ageing rolling stock, stagnant timetables and competition from other forms of transport. The Lonie Report of 1980 recommended cuts to the network, with the general public responding by calling for the State Government to maintain a viable rail network. The government response in February 1981 was the New Deal for Country Passengers, a $115 million commitment to recast country rail passenger services in Victoria.
As part of the New Deal all B class locomotives were to be re-built as the A class for use on passenger services and ten new locomotives ordered. Tenders closed in 1983 for the first 10 units, with Clyde Engineering being awarded the contract. By mid-1985 the rising cost of the A class conversions saw the project abandoned after 11 locomotives were completed, and the N class order increased to 25 using the parts intended for the A class conversions.
The class entered service on the 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in) and operated on main lines all over the state, with the exception of the Gippsland line beyond Traralgon, a restriction that was later lifted. The class also saw regular use on The Overland Melbourne to Adelaide overnight service until it was withdrawn for conversion to 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) standard gauge in March 1995. As well as being operated by V/Line, class members were hired to the Warrnambool line operator West Coast Railway from 1993 until its own locomotives became available in 1995, and to Shepparton line operator Hoys Roadlines between 1993 and 2004.
In preparation for privatisation the operations of V/Line Freight and V/Line Passenger were split in 1995, with the N class allocated to the passenger operator and included in the sale to National Express in 1999. Before this time the class had also been employed on freight services with a maximum speed of 90 km/h (56 mph).
During the Regional Fast Rail project, a number of shutdowns were carried out to normal passenger services, with the N class being used to haul ballast trains on the Geelong line in 2003/04, as well as being hired to Freight Australia in January 2004 to haul log and grain services. Since 2007 class members have also been hired to heritage operator Seymour Railway Heritage Centre for use on its trains, as the provision of TPWS equipment permits running at full line speed over the Regional Fast Rail network.
Today with the VLocity diesel multiple units having entered service, the N class play a lesser role, their main use being peak hour commuter services and InterCity services beyond the Regional Fast Rail network to Bairnsdale, Swan Hill and Warrnambool on the broad gauge and Albury on the standard gauge. The class are authorised to operate at 115 km/h (71 mph), but some units have been upgraded with D77/78 traction motors and have a maximum speed of 130 km/h (81 mph). As of 5th September 2017, all engines bar 452, 456, 461, 462 and 466 had been fitted with the upgraded traction motors.
The N class feature a frame and body locally designed, but with imported Electro-Motive Division technology in the prime mover, generator and control unit, along with locally produced components such as the bogie frames by Bradford Kendall. The class was the first in the world to use the EMD D43 traction motor, similar to but smaller than that used in the C and G classes. Head end power is provided by a separate engine unit in a special compartment located at the number 1 end of the locomotive behind the electrical cabinet. The 240 kW generator provides 415 V 3-phase AC power for train lighting, air conditioning and other carriage requirements.
Fitted with 6,800 litre fuel tanks the class were capable of running from Melbourne to Adelaide without refuelling. Electrical and electronic components are modular to minimise delays after failures, and a reactive muffler system reduces the exhaust noise level. While most of them have only been used on broad gauge, three of them have been converted to 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) standard gauge by exchanging the wheelsets and repositioning the braking equipment.
The narrow carbody provides for a catwalk along each side between the cabs, with fold back body panels for maintenance access. The cab is similar to that of the contemporary G class, with an anti-climber beam to prevent upward movement should a collision occur. Twin high impact windscreens are provided, with dual blade wipers. Each cab has room for a two-person crew, as well as an instructor if required. Air conditioning is provided, as well as an air-operated retention toilet at one end accessible from the catwalk. The locos were initially provided with automatic staff exchange equipment, but this was removed in the 1990s when the use of Electric Staff ended. The space remains in the cab side today.
Compromise standard gauge wheel sets
To manufacture a compromise standard gauge wheel set one proceeds as follows: Take a raw Irish gauge length axle and machine the wheel seat at each end 82.5 mm (3.25 in) wider (or longer) along with all other machining required. The diameter of the wheel seat is slightly larger than the machined hole in the wheels in order to make for a press fit . The wheels are then pressed on at something like 20,000 psi (140,000 kPa) until they hit the raised shoulders and the wheels are now in the standard gauge position. The roller bearing seats are not modified so as to still suit the Irish gauge bogies.
The N class were delivered in the V/Line tangerine orange and grey livery, and progressively named after cities in Victoria, except for N453 which is named after the City of Albury on the other side of the Victorian/New South Wales border. The N class is, therefore, one of only three Australian locomotives where every class member is named. N465 carries an earlier spelling of the city now Ballarat, originally Ballaarat. On 3 March 1987 locomotive N470 was returned to Clyde Engineering, Somerton for a ceremony, where brass plaques were affixed at both ends under the builder’s plates, reading “N470 completing one million horsepower of diesel-electric locomotives built in Australia by Clyde Engineering Co“.
From 1995 the class members were repainted into a red and blue livery, with the V/Line logo on the side being altered after the privatisation of V/Line in 1999. As of 2008, most N Class members have received white stripes along the cab-fronts, and cowcatchers painted yellow to increase visibility at level crossings in a program started in 2007.
In May 2008 locomotive N468 was repainted into the new V/Line livery of red with grey, white and yellow. Three of the repainted locos were converted to 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) standard gauge in 2011 following the conversion of the North East line.
On the 8th of April 2017, N457 made its first revenue run to Albury in a new PTV livery of Purple and Yellow. This follows the painting of Set SN 8 into the new livery to match the V/Locity fleet and the wider fleet of Victorian trams and buses.
Locomotive Name Serial no. Entered service Owner Gauge Livery Notes N451 City of Portland 85-1219 20 September 1985 V/Line Passenger 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in) broad gauge V/Line Mk3 N452 City of Wodonga 85-1220 10 October 1985 V/Line Passenger 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in) broad gauge V/Line Mk3 N453 City of Albury 85-1221 1 November 1985 V/Line Passenger 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in) standard gauge V/Line Mk3 N454 City of Horsham 85-1222 20 November 1985 V/Line Passenger 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in) broad gauge V/Line Mk3 N455 City of Swan Hill 85-1223 19 December 1985 V/Line Passenger 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in) broad gauge V/Line Mk3 N456 City of Colac 85-1224 29 January 1986 V/Line Passenger 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in) broad gauge V/Line Mk3 N457 City of Mildura 85-1225 27 February 1986 V/Line Passenger 1,435 mm (4 ft 8½ in) standard gauge Purple/Yellow ‘PTV’ N458 City of Maryborough 85-1226 17 March 1986 V/Line Passenger 1,435 mm (4 ft 8½ in) standard gauge V/Line Mk3 N459 City of Echuca 85-1227 15 April 1986 V/Line Passenger 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in) broad gauge Purple/Yellow ’PTV’ N460 City of Castlemaine 85-1228 15 May 1986 V/Line Passenger 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in) broad gauge V/Line Mk3 N461 City of Ararat 85-1190 25 July 1986 V/Line Passenger 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in) broad gauge V/Line Mk3 N462 City of Shepparton 86-1191 14 August 1986 V/Line Passenger 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in) broad gauge V/Line Mk3 N463 City of Bendigo 86-1192 4 September 1986 V/Line Passenger 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in) broad gauge Purple/Yellow ‘PTV’ N464 City of Geelong 86-1193 29 September 1986 V/Line Passenger 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in) broad gauge Purple/Yellow ‘PTV’ N465 City of Ballarat 86-1194 20 October 1986 V/Line Passenger 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in) broad gauge V/Line Mk3 N466 City of Warrnambool 86-1195 31 October 1986 V/Line Passenger 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in) broad gauge V/Line Mk3 N467 City of Stawell 86-1196 26 November 1986 V/Line Passenger 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in) broad gauge V/Line Mk3 N468 City of Bairnsdale 86-1197 19 December 1986 V/Line Passenger 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in) broad gauge V/Line Mk3 N469 City of Morwell 86-1198 29 January 1987 V/Line Passenger 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in) broad gauge V/Line Mk3 N470 City of Wangaratta 86-1199 17 February 1987 V/Line Passenger 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in) broad gauge V/Line Mk3 N471 City of Benalla 87-1200 28 February 1987 V/Line Passenger 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in) broad gauge V/Line Mk3 N472 City of Sale 87-1201 27 March 1987 V/Line Passenger 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in) broad gauge V/Line Mk3 N473 City of Warragul 87-1202 28 April 1987 V/Line Passenger 1,435 mm (4 ft 8½ in) standard gauge V/Line Mk3 N474 City of Traralgon 87-1203 28 May 1987 V/Line Passenger 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in) broad gauge V/Line Mk3 Minor damage in April 2016 – crossing accident N475 City of Moe 87-1204 6 July 1987 V/Line Passenger 1,435 mm (4 ft 8½ in) standard gauge Purple/Yellow ‘PTV’
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- N Class Railpage
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Media related to V/Line N class at Wikimedia Commons