The 44 Class – The Original Stalwart

4471 departing Yennora with a Qube Logistics/P&O Trans Australia container trip train to Port Botany.

With the news that Qube Logistics have set aside a number of their 44 Class fleet in Goulburn, it seemed as good a time as any to reflect on the diverse life that the surviving units have had since they were withdrawn from government service.

By 1956, The New South Wales Government Railways (NSWGR) had made their first tentative steps into dieselisation, having introduced no less than five different classes, each ranging from six to twenty class members. Each class had come from a different manufacturer, and featured different braking systems and non-interchangeable spare parts.

An Elegant Solution

Diesel locomotives of British origin were getting a poor reputation in Australia – railwaymen were heard to remark that the 41 Class were “blowflies”, as in “the worst pest to be brought into the country”. This was in strong contrast to those locomotives with North American origins (the 40, 42 and 43 Classes), which were getting a good reputation for their reliability and pulling power.

Three firms in Australia had been licensed to build products from North American companies. Clyde Engineering had supplied the six members of the 42 Class, under license from General Motors, whilst A. Goninan & Co in Newcastle were aligned with General Electric and had delivered the six members of the 43 Class. The third firm, A.E. Goodwin was a licensee for American Locomotive Company (ALCo) products, and was based in St Marys and Auburn in western Sydney.

A.E. Goodwin was already in the process of supplying locomotives to the South Australian Railways (SAR) based on the ALCo “World” series design – a double ended 1800hp unit, model DL500B (The DL500A was a single-ended version rated at 1600hp, also delivered to the SAR). The SAR units had undertaken their load and speed trials on NSWGR metals, including a run with 931 on the front of The Brisbane Limited on March 10th, 1956. These trials had been keenly observed by NSWGR officials, leading to an initial order being placed for ten DL500B units — 4401 to 4410 in March 1957.

4401 entered service on July 8th, 1957, and it was an immediate success, as the order was increased to forty units before the end of the year. By the end of 1958, the 44 Class were dominating interstate and express passenger traffic, including Brisbane expresses, The Melbourne Limited, The Intercapital Daylight and The Newcastle Flyer. By 1959, the order had increased to sixty units.

Another order for forty additional 44 Class was placed in December 1964. 44100 would be the final member of the class delivered, entering service in December 1967. Being such a numerous class, there were few parts of the state that the 44 Class did not work, although they were nominally based at DELEC and Broadmeadow for use on the Southern and Northern divisions.

4405 and 42204 in Canberra. Photo by Chris Walters.
4470 in SRA “Red Terror” livery. Photo by Chris Walters.

 All Good Things…

Even a class as well liked and dependable as the 44 Class will come due for replacement. The introduction of the 81 and 82 Classes would prove to be their downfall, with numerous 44 Class set aside during the early 1990’s. By mid-1994, the last members of the class were stopped and placed into storage. Despite many of them being in working order, these units were surplus to requirements, a reminder of an age long passed. Maintenance was becoming more intensive and expensive compared to modern locomotives. The last unit to be used in government service would be 4458 on a wheat train from Werris Creek to Newcastle on July 26th, 1994. Meanwhile, 4403 and 4468 were used on a New South Wales Rail Transport Museum (NSWRTM) tour to farewell the class on July 31st, 1994.

The NSWRTM had requested that 4401 be allocated for preservation, however this unit was initially earmarked for The Powerhouse Museum so 4490 was allocated instead, as it was in good working order at the time of withdrawal.

The now-famous great locomotive auction at Cardiff on December 6th, 1994 saw the majority of the class sold for scrap, with others passing into preservation or private ownership. 4401 was not preserved by The Powerhouse Museum, it was instead retained by The State Rail Authority (later passing to FreightCorp) as an official heritage unit. As appropriate, 4401 was repainted into the original NSWGR Indian Red livery that it was delivered in, and was used on infrastructure trains around the Sydney metropolitan area. With the sale of FreightCorp to Toll/Patrick to form Pacific National, 4401 was retained by The Office of Rail Heritage, and is allocated to 3801ltd. It is, at the time of writing, stored at Eveleigh, in need of new wheels.

The State Rail Authority initially retained four stored 44 Class — 4468, 4471, 4477 and 4483. These were nominally allocated to Rail Services Australia (RSA) for infrastructure and ballast train working, although all four were later sold in 2000 to Silverton and Great Northern (see below).

4403 leads 4807 through Exeter with an AHRS ACT special from Moss Vale.

A Quiet Retirement

A number of 44 Class locomotives that were purchased at the auctions would end up in private ownership, destined for preservation, much like 4401 and 4490.

4403 was withdrawn and condemned alongside the rest of the class, although it was later gifted to the Junee Roundhouse Museum for display. It would eventually be returned to running order and reallocated to The Australian Railway Historical Society (ARHS) ACT Division. Whilst at Junee, the locomotive retained a one-off blue and yellow livery, although it has since been painted into NSWGR “Indian Red” as delivered.

4420 was purchased by the Dorrigo Steam Railway & Museum, and remains stored, unserviceable.

4464, 4473 and 4486 were purchased by Lachlan ALCo group. All have been returned to service, and are leased to 3801ltd, at Eveleigh. 3801ltd often use these locomotives for their heritage passenger trains, although they have also been used in commercial service. 3801ltd have often used them to haul RailCorp maintenance trains to and from worksites, as well as for haulage of the RailCorp/ARTC AK Track Inspection Cars. More recently, the trio have been used for the delivery of the Reliance Rail Waratah trains from Cardiff to Auburn.

During 2006, 4473 and 4486 were hired to the Australian Railroad Group for use on their Manildra Group contract trains. At the time, ARG were suffering from a locomotive shortage that required the lease of a number of heritage units to ensure that operations could continue unabated.

4465 was purchased by a private owner, and is stored undercover in a private compound inside Werris Creek locomotive depot.

4468 was initially to be set aside as a heritage unit (having worked the last locomotive hauled passenger train from Goulburn to Central on July 10, 1994), although it was initially retained by State Rail, allocated to the infrastructure division (Rail Services Australia). 4468 would later be on-sold to Great Northern in 2000. With the demise of Great Northern in 2003, 4468 passed into the hands of CFCL Australia (see below), until it was withdrawn in 2007. 4468 was then sold to ARHS ACT, with the loco now under restoration in Canberra.

4472 was purchased along with a number of sister units by the Hunter Valley Railway Trust (Rothbury, NSW). Whilst the balance of HVRT’s fleet would be leased and later sold to Independent Rail (see below), they did retain 4472, which is painted in a silver livery with mustard stripe along the body.

4490, was allocated to the NSWRTM for preservation (see above). It continues in service there today, hauling heritage passenger trains on the mainline to various destinations. Like most of the other 44 Class in preservation, 4490 wears the NSWGR Indian Red scheme that it entered service in.


Lachlan Valley Rail Freight – Independent Railways of Australia – Qube Logistics

Whilst most of the class were sold to scrap metal dealers and subsequently cut up, a number of 44 Class found themselves sold into private ownership. This was the case for 4458, 4461, 4463, 4472, 4488, 4497 and 4498 – all purchased by the Hunter Valley Railway Trust (see above). All of their new purchases would spend time on lease to Lachlan Valley Rail Freight (LVRF) from 2003, for use on their Sydney trip train workings, as well as further afield to Newcastle, and North-West NSW. A number of these 44 Class carried remnants of their former colour schemes, often faded and hidden under graffiti, whilst others were repainted into one-off colour schemes by HVRT. 4458 was painted in a dark green/white scheme, whilst 4461 was red with an off-white stripe along the body.

LVRF would later become Independent Railways of Australia, and the new company opted to purchase these units outright for continued service, mostly on Sydney based trip train working, as the imported MZIII Class locomotives took over main line duties alongside leased motive power from CFCL Australia.

The Independent Rail 44 Class locomotives settled into a pattern of working between the container terminal at Minto (known as the Macarthur Intermodal Shipping Terminal, or MIST), Cooks River and Port Botany. 4497 would be overhauled and painted in the all-over silver livery that the refurbished MZIII class were introduced in, with 4458 and 4488 later painted in this scheme after overhauls.

Independent Rail also purchased former CFCL Australia lease unit 4483 (see below) for spare parts. This former member of the CFCL Australia lease fleet had been stored at Lithgow from 2007 unserviceable.

Later, 4461, 4463 and 4498 would have their graffiti-covered State Rail liveries repainted with an all-over red and white scheme, reminiscent of the former State Rail Authority “Red Terror” scheme.

When Qube Logistics purchased Macarthur Intermodal Shipping Terminal (The parent company of Independent Rail) in June 2012, their fleet of 44 Class was absorbed by Qube Logistics, joining 4471 and 4477 (see below).
4461 and 4463 were painted red whilst in service with Independent Rail. 4461 is seen shunting at Mascot in the company of 4458.

Silverton Rail – CFCL Australia – Qube Logistics

Silverton Rail purchased two 44 Class, 4471 and 4477 from Rail Services Australia in 2000. They were renumbered to 44s2 and 44s3 respectively (The number 44s1 was allocated to 961 from South Australia), and pressed into service wearing the colours they were withdrawn in.

The pair would later be sold to CFCL Australia and overhauled at Braemar (near Mittagong) by Bradken, emerging in the CFCL Australia corporate livery of blue, silver and yellow. During overhaul, the pair reverted to their original numbers, joining 4468 and 4483 in CFCLAs lease pool. Whilst owned by CFCL Australia, the pair were used on a number of different operators’ trains, including QRNational and Patrick PortLink.

In early 2009, P&O (joint operators of the Yennora container terminal with CRT, a division of QRNational) opted to run their own trains between Yennora and Port Botany (previously these trains had been operated by Interail/QRNational, Patrick PortLink and LVRF). P&O Trans Australia was created as a joint venture between P&O/DP World and Qube Logistics. To operate the trip trains between Port Botany and Yennora, 4471 and 4477 were purchased from CFCL Australia, re-entering service with their CFCLA logos removed, but the livery otherwise unchanged. Initially, the 44’s spent more time in the workshops than actually hauling trains, often supplemented or completely replaced by other hired CFCLA motive power, including members of the 442 and KL (49) classes.

By April 2011, Qube had acquired outright control of P&O Trans Australia, as well as majority ownership. When Qube purchased Independent Rail in June 2012, they brought their 44 Class fleet up to nine units (in varying states of readiness, see above). It would prove to be business as usual for the 44 Class, as they continued to be used for trip trains between Minto, Yennora, Cooks River and Port Botany well into 2013. The class continued to be supplemented by a wide range of motive power, from the diminutive 48 and 830 classes, to the larger 442 and 80 classes.

4488 and 4471 were the final two members of the class in service with Qube Logistics. Taken during happier times, 4488 leads leased locomotive 603 towards the port with a container trip train from Yennora.

Great Northern – CFCL Australia

In addition to 4471 and 4477, CFCL Australia also acquired 4468 and 4483 when they purchased the assets of defunct rail operator Great Northern in 2003. Both units were leased to various operators during their life (with 4483 painted in the SSR yellow/black livery for long term lease), until they were stored unserviceable at Lithgow in 2007. 4468 would later be sold to ARHS ACT (see above), whilst 4483 was sold to Independent Rail as a source of parts for their operational locomotives.

(Insert photo of 44’s in Goulburn from Ben)

End of the Line

As with anything, this short lived renaissance of vintage motive power was bound to come to an end sooner or later. By 2013, even the youngest member of the class in commercial use was over forty years of age, whilst 4458 (the only first series 44 Class in commercial ownership) is 52 years old! Given that the majority of the government operated 44 Class were withdrawn after 25-30 years of service, this is quite an achievement!

Those 44 Class still in commercial service during the first half of 2013 would spend more time inside the workshops than out running trains, whilst other units were set aside indefinitely, requiring major work. 4498 remains in long term storage at Cooks River, whilst 4461 was set aside at Minto requiring new wheels —the repair cost would be deemed uneconomical.

July 2013 saw the axe fall, with 4458, 4461, 4463, 4477 and 4497 relocated to long term storage in Goulburn. By the end of the month, 4471 and 4488 had joined them. With 4498 already stored at Cooks River and 4483 stripped for parts at Minto, this leaves no 44 Class left in commercial service.

With more and more modern motive power being brought online by the big operators and leasing companies alike, older locomotives like the 442 and 80 classes are being cascaded down from mainline service to take over the 44 Class primary role – trip train working. A number of 14 Class locomotives (previously used on main line duties with Independent Rail) have been noted working trip trains in ever increasing numbers, further hastening the demise of the veteran ALCo locomotives.

As they say, it’s not over until the fat lady sings. Perhaps there is a chance that these veterans will continue to defy the odds and once again roam the rails of NSW, belching out their characteristic smoke clouds. However unlikely it may seem, they have defied the odds once before. Another possibility is that one or more of these withdrawn stalwarts will be sold into preservation.

At least we’ll have the memories.

44 Class Photo Gallery

44 Class Database (on Railpage Australia)

Preserved 4490 leads 4001 northbound through Pennant Hills with a NSW Rail Transport Museum tour to Newcastle.

Further Reading & References:

Early Diesel & Electric Locomotives of the NSWGR, M. Morahan

A Guide To Australian Locomotion (2009 Edition), C. Walters, B. Baker & B. Peadon

A Guide to Australasian Locomotion (2011 Edition), C. Walters, B. Baker & B. Peadon

Locomotives of Australia (Fifth Edition), L. Oberg

Motive Power magazine (various issues).

Railway Digest magazine (various issues).

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