The New Generation of the Steam Train

By Rebekah Andrews

Full site published at

54 years.

630 months.

19,492 days.

It has been a long time since the Warragul community has seen the A2 986 Steam Train, but in May of this year, it was named the Spirit of Warragul, and returned to service once more.

“It was really good to see so many people come out to see it too.”

Like many small towns in rural Victoria, transport is central to Warragul as a township.

Train services established Warragul as a town in the 1870s. People settled under mining rights, growing along Queen Street, surrounding what was then called Warrigal Railway Station.

When the Station was to be erected in 1879, a choice had to be made between Warragul and Drouin.

Which location would serve as the principal station between Melbourne and Sale? The popular line carried people and products and was essential in carrying timber to Melbourne.

It was an important stop at the time. Warragul had pernament water and eventually was chosen above Drouin.

The first land in Warragul to go on sale happened in the same year, and finally the town could build up.

But Warragul Station was important at the time, not only to settlers possessing land over the wet marshlands of Gippsland, but also to those in Melbourne, who would not have survived without the essential timber which Gippsland provided.

The A2 class of steam locomotives remained a well-used type of Steam Train until the 1950’s, a long run for a Steam Train.

At the Opening Day festival in May of 2017, where the A2 986, ‘Spirit of Warragul’ was re-introduced to the broader public, turnout numbered in the thousands.

Conversation at the time was all about the Steam Train, coming back home.

“It was great to see. Seeing the train come back to Warragul, when I used to see it at the park when I was little, it was really great.” Said Rosemary Coster, a member of the Warragul community.
“It was really good to see so many people come out to see it too.”

The Spirit of Warragul was back in service again, after more than 30 years of restoration, and 54 years away from active service.

This history of transportation remains an integral part of what makes Warragul, Warragul.

The town is older than federated Australia and in the beginning, it became almost synonymous with freight train travel.

It could have been said that to capture the spirit of what to town is, was to tell the story of travel in and out of Warragul.

Today, not much has changed.
The A2 986’s return to the developing rural town highlights how representative train travel is to this town.

An old Steam Train built over a hundred years ago, people coming to see it who remember riding these trains as children.



History of the A2 986 Steam Locomotive

The A2 986 entered service on 14th November 1915, after assembly at Newport Workshops.

“As, you know, time went on and different locos were coming about, more horsepower and all the rest of it, the A2s ended up just sort of getting any job lying around.” Said Tim Harris, a fitter and turner for Steamrail Victoria who worked on the A2 986.

He says that steam travel was dying out by the 50s and 60s, and eventually the A2 986 was withdrawn from service.

“When you work on them and work with them, they are such unique machines and it’s a really special thing to have them operate for the younger generations to see.”

In its time away, it spent time at a park in Warragul, to be enjoyed by both adults and children in the years after steam travel.

Steamrail Victoria eventually wanted to obtain an A2 class train, and the A2 986 steam locomotive was the best maintained out there.

From Warragul, the A2 986 returned to Newport Workshops, to be tinkered with, painted and renewed by many volunteers over a 30-year period.

“It was a very, a very long project, because it was all volunteers until the last about 5 years of it.” Said Tim Harris.
“They would work about 1 day a week on it, just happily pulling it down, stripping parts, and cleaning them up, repairing them.”

In his time working on the A2 986, Tim Harris noticed some things about the locomotive and its time on the tracks.
“Victorian Railways ran it into the ground because well they had these new fancy diesels to take overs its roles once it finally decided to call the quits.”

He says the diesel locomotives took over and the A2s, K class and J class steam trains eventually disappeared from service.
They did odd jobs in their last years, trains like the A2 986 becoming ‘fan services’, until they are finally retired.

“The railways were the best way to get around. It was cheap, it was fast and everyone loved the railways. It’s not like today where it’s just public transport. Back then it was a whole new experience. It was different, and i think it, along with many other people, we think it’s just really important to keep that little part of history going.” Said Tim Harris.

It is people like him, who is still so clearly passionate about the steam trains, who are keeping these services on the ground.
His father and his grandfather worked on the train services and now he works with Steamrail Victoria to restore old trains like the A2 986, and the k 160 which they are working on at the moment.

“When you work on them and work with them, they are such unique machines and it’s a really special thing to have them operate for the younger generations to see.”

This, says Tim Harris, is why keeping steam locomotives running, is important.


So what is the A2 class of locomotives? What makes them different from the K class or J class trains?

“Then Steamrail Victoria when we restored it, felt that it was, it needed to be a coal burner, you know, because that’s really sort of how they were in their hay day.”

Tim Harris says it is their size which sets the A2 class locomotives apart.

“It’s so different to other steam locos in the way that it’s got giant six-foot-one diameter wheels… The wheels are as tall as I am.”

The bigger the wheels are on these steam trains, the higher their speed. At the same time, the bigger wheels limit the amount they can carry.

“They started building them in about 1906, but they were so popular and so brilliant, and well-designed, that they built them all the way through to 1918.”

Steamrail Victoria is now working on restoring a k 160 steam locomotive.
Their mostly volunteer-based group continue working on bringing the old steam train services to be enjoyed by the public today.

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