Built by Beyer Peacock and Company Ltd of Manchester, England, 60 W class locomotives were ordered to replace the various obsolete steam locomotives then used on branch line services.
Class leader W 901 was placed in traffic in April 1951. Designed with a maximum axle load of 10 tons, for operation on the WAGR's (Western Australian Government Railways) extensive system of light lines, special features on the W class included the provision of roller bearings and compensated springing on all carrying axles, self cleaning smoke box, self emptying hopper type ash pan, thermic syphons and power-operated reversing gear.
A special boiler was designed with a wide firebox and large combustion chamber suitable for burning efficiently, the readily available low grade Collie coal. The last 20 locomotives were fitted with tenders of larger water capacity. The loco's have retained the same livery throughout their working life of larch green lined in black with red buffer beams.
The load over a 1 in 80 grade for these engines was 435 tons. Because of their versatile design it was not long before the W class were introduced to the passenger roster and performed admirably as passenger locomotives until the advent of diesel-electrics in 1954.
Complete dieselisation of the WAGR. in 1971 brought about the premature retirement of the W class after a relatively short working life of about 20 years. However during 1970, a number of this class (together with some larger V and S class locomotives) were overhauled and stored at Collie for possible future use in the event of an oil crisis, but this never eventuated.
Hotham Valley purchased four W class because they were the only available steam locomotives permitted to operate on the Hotham Valley branch with its restrictive 13 ton axle load and six chain curves. Three came from Collie; W920 in July 1976 and W's 945 and 903 in July 1977. The fourth, W908 was hauled to Midland Workshops from Collie in 1974 and had rested derelict at the former Midland Steam Depot until February 1979. Purchased by Hotham Valley she was hauled to Pinjarra by one of her sisters W 945, which had just completed 5 weekends of "Festival Flyer" operation on Perth's suburban rail network.
Although the W class never carried names in WAGR service, since restoration the Hotham Valley Railway W Class locomotives have been given the following names :-
The WAGR was not the only system in Australia to operate W class locomotives. The Silverton Tramway Co of Broken Hill NSW. selected the WAGR design and placed an order with Beyer Peacock at the same time as the WA. order. Their four locomotives arrived in Australia in October of 1951. The Silverton engines differed in appearance because of a streamlined cowling which was fitted along the full length of the boiler.
The Mixed Traffic W class was undoubtedly one of the most successful steam locomotive designs in Australia. Because of their success , comparatively young age and excellent route availability, eighteen of the class found their way into preservation, with no fewer than 6 being operational in Australia in 1993.
The W class locomotives existing today are preserved at :
As can be seen from the above list the Western Australian W class has ventured to many other areas of Australia and is actually one of the most preserved locomotives in the world with only a few U.K. locomotives preserved in greater numbers.
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