Thanks to Chris Walters for this great info on the Westrail Alcos.
N / NA / NB classes
History: By 1977 US firm, the American Locomotive Company (ALCO) had collapsed, its catalogue of designs acquired by the Montreal Locomotive Works (MLW) of Canada. Similarly ALCOs original Australian licensee, A.E. Goodwin Ltd. had also ceased trading. Thus the now MLW owned designs were being marketed locally by Commonwealth Engineering Ltd. (Comeng). It was under these conditions that the N class locomotives were built for Westrail, formerly Western Australian Government Railways. Numbering eleven units in all, the Ns were a Comeng model CE618, or an Australianised version of the US model C624. They were the most powerful narrow gauge (1067 mm) units in the country on delivery and remained so until the arrival in 1989 of the Westrail Goninan/GE P class locos. With their 1790 kW/2400 hp available for traction, the N class was an impressive engine. Unique too, for they were the most powerful locomotives of ALCO heritage in Government service in Australia. They were also to remain Westrails only ALCOs. Unfortunately, they were also one of the most notorious designs in Australia, rivalling the NSW 47 class for unreliability. In point of fact, they in their later years acquired the nickname AIF class - Always In Forrestfield (workshops), such was their tendency to fail in traffic. This was unfortunate as otherwise the class was regarded as a good performer. As far as aesthetics go, the locos have a distinctive tall, narrow appearance and are set out similarly to Westrails standard gauge L class diesels. They never seemed as massive as the Ls, though they didnt lose any appeal because of this.
Delivery & Service: When the class leader, N1871, rolled out of Comengs Bassendean plant on August 1st 1977, it was to be a short honeymoon. The unit was trialed only to be withdrawn again quickly for weight modifications as the initial design was deemed to be too light. Ballasted up to 103 tonnes from the original 96, N1871 was eventually to become the fourth class member to enter service proper in December 1977 (the others were modified prior to delivery). By mid 1979 all eleven were in traffic. Westrails decision to go with the Comeng/MLW design was a curious and ultimately unsuccessful one. The following year, the Public Transport Commission of NSW took delivery of the first of its first Comeng/MLW 80 class diesels, and debate still rages as to the merit of that purchase. In the NSW case, the main concern was the decision was to go with a 1491 kW/2000 hp loco when all of the other standard gauge systems were in the process of operating or introducing units of 2237 kW/3000 hp. The argument put forward in defence of the 80 class was that the design was just the latest in a long line of similar types (the 44, 45 and 442 classes) and thus spare parts and staff familiarisation were seen as practical and cost efficient vindication of the decision. However, the N class were an altogether different case. As mentioned above, the Ns were Westrails only ALCOs and also a unique design in the Australian catalogue - they had no precedent and were non-standard in a fleet of Clyde/GMs and English Electrics. Whatever Westrails reasoning behind buying ALCO, the class ended up having a relatively short working life of only twenty years (and it was only due to extensive maintenance and modifications that they lasted that long). The locomotives electrical systems were a particular thorn in the side, and it wasnt long before the class had landed and abysmal reputation amongst Westrail staff. Despite this their impressive haulage capabilities and ride held them in good stead, when the locomotives actually worked! Obtained for mineral haulage in the states south east, this is the area in which the Ns spent most of the working life. The locomotives were able to work in multiple with the A, AA, AB, D, DA, DB and P classes, though mostly worked either as a coupled pair with other members of their own class, or as a single unit. This was by no means the rule however. In 1982, N1873, the first of an eventual four members of the class (N1871-N1874) were modified in that their vacuum brake systems were removed and replaced with Westinghouse air brakes. This modification saw the effected locomotives recoded NA. More recently, members of the P class have been similarly modified, though without any recoding of individual locomotives. During the latter half of the 1980s, Westrail made a concerted effort to fit air conditioning to certain classes that werent already fitted, the N/NAs were among those treated (the Ns were in fact the last locomotives built new for Westrail that did not have air-conditioning fitted as standard). This was a particularly welcomed addition to the class as a union ban on the class long-end leading for several years. This was attributed to fumes entering the cab when operating No.2 end first. The fitting of a/c to the class effectively solved this problem, despite an earlier attempt to rectify the situation that saw N1878 fitted with an experimental, yet short lived exhaust system. By the end of 1994, the future of these long suffering machines looked bleak. Five of the eleven had been scrapped (due mostly to either serious breakdowns, or accident damage), while three more were in storage awaiting dismantling. A second chance of sorts arrived in the form of a dire locomotive shortage on Westrails standard gauge network. The decision was then made that three remaining NAs would be gauge converted to assist in alleviating the situation. Employing bogies that were once used under some of Mount Newman/BHP Iron Ores huge ALCO M636s, the first unit NA1873, was released from the A. Goninan & Co. factory in Bassendean (the former Comeng plant) as NB1873 in December 1994. Followed by NB1872 a month later, the pair were promptly banned due to allegations that the new bogies were out-of-gauge! Meanwhile, plans to treat NA1874 also, were shelved due to the apparent poor condition of this unit. As a result, it saw out its last few years of Westrail service on the narrow gauge working out of Picton depot. The situation with NB1872 and NB1873 was rectified and the units soon found a plethora of work around Perth and Kwinana, with occasional excursions east into the Avon Valley on limestone and grain workings. The units even made it as far east as Merredin on grain workings. It is not known if they made it as far as Kalgoorlie and thus onto either the Leonora or Esperance branches. It is also not known if the two ever worked in multiple with the L class, though this would have been possible if the need arose .
Withdrawal & Disposal: With the arrival in 1997/98 of the 1435 mm gauge Q and the 1067 mm S classes, the remaining life span of these three survivors was never going to be long. NA1874 was withdrawn in mid 1997 following a major failure, while tenders were called for the purchase of all three (along with an assortment of spare parts) in late September 1997. The two NBs were used to a limited extent following this until it was announced that NSW private operator Austrac was the surprise buyer.
NB1872 and NB1873 were transferred east in February 1998, details are listed below:
10.02.98 - Depart Perth as ALF22+ALF25+CLP9+ALF20 hauling NB1872+NB1873 (dead attached) as part of SCT freight No.3PM9 to Adelaide.
13.02.98 - Depart Adelaide as G531+705 hauling NB1872+NB1873 (dead attached) as part of SCT freight No.3PM9 to Melbourne (705 detached at Tailem Bend).
15.02.98 - Depart Melbourne as NB1872+NB1873 light engine (with Great Northern Railway Services crews as far as Albury) to Junee. NB1873 was trialed on 15.04.98 when it ran light engine from Austracs base of operations at Junee to Yerong Creek and return. Later that same day it was involved in two load trials to Harefield and return. The first was run under dry conditions, the second was a wet weather simulation with water being sprayed onto the track ahead of the locomotive. On both of these tests NB1872+4503+4820+4816+4498+4472+ST35+4836 were the load, rated at approx 905 tonnes. While the trials highlighted some problems with unit operating over 90 km/h, the test was successful. During late May and early June 1998, NB1873 was repainted in Austracs maroon, white, yellow, black and silver livery and officially reclassified as an 18 class unit with the road number of 1873. It appeared on Austracs Sydney - Griffith freight service for the first time later in June.
Austrac commenced operating a new Sydney - Melbourne freight service from the end of August 1998 in conjunction with V/Line Freight and 1873, joined by 1872 (also in Austrac livery) in September, began to operate into Victoria (though initially as trailing units). This saw the units working with V/Line units X38 and X45, as well as Austracs two operational 48s, 4814 and 4836. Soon after Austrac began conveying block loads of logs from Junee to Port Kembla for export, and the two 18 class units began to be concentrated on this working.
|ROAD NUMBERS||N1871 - N1881 -NA1871 - NA1874 -NB1872, NB1873|
|DESIGN||Narrow body/full width cab with low nose, diesel/electric mainline locomotive|
|BUILDER||Commonwealth Engineering Ltd., Bassendean|
|WA OWNER/OPERATORS||Westrail -Austrac|
|FIRST UNIT DELIVERED||1977|
|LAST UNIT WITHDRAWN||Still in revenue service|
|ENGINE||Alco 251E turbo-supercharged 4 stroke|
|V12 POWER (GROSS)||1939 kW / 2600 hp|
|POWER (TRACTION)||1790 kW / 2400 hp|
|STARTING TRACTIVE EFFORT||282 kN / 63399 lb|
|CONTINUOUS TRACTIVE EFFORT||240 kN / 53956 lb|
|WHEEL ARRANGEMENT||Co - Co|
|LENGTH (OVER COUPLER CENTRES)||7.890 m / 58 8 1/4|
|LENGTH (OVER HEADSTOCKS)||17.094 m / 56 1|
|HEIGHT||3.990 m / 13 1 1/10|
|WIDTH||2.900 m / 9 6 1/4|
|MAXIMUM WEIGHT||103.00 tonnes / 101.37 tons|
|MAXIMUM AXLE LOAD||17.70 tonnes / 17.20 tons|
|MAXIMUM SPEED||105 km/h / 65 mph|
|FUEL CAPACITY: - - -||4000 litres / 880 gallons|
|GAUGE: -N/NA||1067 mm / 3 6|
|NB/18||1485 mm / 4 8 1/2|
|LOCO #||BUILDERS #||IN SERVICE||LIVERY||OWNER||STATUS||NOTES|
|N1872||C-6099-02||20.08.77||E||Austrac NSW||in service 1872||2|
|N1873||C-6099-03||17.11.77||E||Austrac NSW||in service 1873||3|
1) N1871. Converted to air brakes and re-entered service as NA1871 20.12.82. Severely damaged when it derailed and rolled over at Pinjarra on 18.07.88. Repaired and returned to service 29.12.89. Scrapped 1994, Forrestfield.
2) N1872. Converted to air brakes and re-entered service as NA1872 14.06.83. To A.Goninan & Co. 04.07.94 for conversion to 1435 mm gauge. Commenced 1435 mm gauge trials in November 1994. Re-entered service as NB1872 in January 1995. Sold to Austrac, Junee NSW in December 1997 (delivered February 1998). In Austrac service as 1872.
3) N1873. Converted to air brakes and re-entered service as NA1873 09.11.82. To A.Goninan & Co. 04.07.94 for conversion to 1435 mm gauge. Commenced 1435 mm gauge trials in November 1994. Re-entered service as NB1873 in December 1994. Sold to Austrac, Junee NSW in December 1997 (delivered February 1998). In Austrac service as 1873.
4) N1874. Converted to air brakes and re-entered service as NA1874 15.07.82. To A.Goninan & Co. 12.07.94 for conversion to 1435 mm gauge - conversion cancelled due to poor condition. Sold to Austrac, Junee NSW in 1997. Having spent the better part of the latter nineties in store at the A.Goninan compound in Bassendean, and having been subject to much speculation and rumour, NA1874 was finally disposed of by Austrac in late 2001. The successful purchaser was soon revealed to be South Spur Rail Services based in Perth. By this time SSRS had made a bit of a name for themselves by providing hook n' pull and maintenance services in WA utilising a small second hand fleet of former Westrail English Electric locomotives (three 'K' and one 'KA' class on the standard gauge, and one 'R' class on the narrow). NA1874 was moved into the ARHS area at Bassendean and quickly prepared for service, joining R1902 on SSRS narrow gauge duties in early 2002. SSRS have restored both K206 and K210 to the original WAGR two-tone blue livery (with SSRS lettering of course) that adorned the standard gauge diesel fleet from the 1960s through to the 1980s, and it will be interesting to see if NA1874 receives this livery at some point
5) N1875, N1878, N1879, N1881. Scrapped 1994 (location unknown).
6) N1876, N1877, N1880. Scrapped 1997, Southside Engineering, Kewdale.
A - 1977 Westrail - orange body with blue/white lining; blue Westrail pennant logo, numbering and valance; black underframe; orange pilots: N1871 - N1881, NA1871 - NA1874
B - As for A except Westrail name absent from pennant logo: NA1871
C - As for B except with small sized blue/white Westrail lettering on sides: N1877, N1880
D - As for B except with large sized blue/white Westrail lettering on sides: NA1874, NB1872, NB1873
E - 1998 Austrac - maroon body; silver/yellow/red lining, marking and Austrac lettering; silver bogies; black underframe; maroon pilots with diagonal yellow stripes, deep maroon roof; white handrails; yellow numbering: 1872, 1873
Updated 09 March 2002