CPH Class
Photo: Bruce Agland


After the construction of the Sydney-Parramatta Railway in 1855, the expansion of the NSW rail network proceeded along the three principal trunk routes to the north, south and west from Sydney. Branches were constructed to major towns and all of these lines necessitated loco hauled services. After 1895 there was a proliferation of light "pioneer" branch lines connecting to these main routes, especially in the south and west of the State. One of the many difficulties confronting the New South Wales Government Railways was the provision of adequate services for passengers and parcels over this growing network of branch lines on which traffic was very limited. A way out of the problem was sought by running goods trains with passenger accommodation, perhaps several times a week. This was not a very satisfactory service and another method tried was alternating goods trains with mixed trains but the overall speed of the mixed was too slow to give satisfaction to the passengers.

The solution appeared to be a light vehicle with small seating capacity and able to carry a limited amount of perishable or other light goods and parcels while leaving the general freight business to the regular goods trains. Other states had experimented with various types of such vehicles from as early as 1879 but they met with little success. However, it was not until the post World War I period that the internal combustion engine had reached a sufficient degree of development to enable it to be reliably deployed in railway vehicles.

In 1924, a Royal Commission into the operation of the NSW Railways severely criticised the services provided by the mixed trains. The lines that were serviced by mixed trains were generally non-paying and the few trains that were run did not give those lines the opportunity of realising their full value. The Commission also observed that while a number of rail motors had been built, the engine design proved faulty except for the one working at Lismore (Rail Motor No.1). It also commented on the operational success of similar vehicles in many countries, particularly in the United States and set the expectation that well-designed cars should prove successful in NSW.


The first NSW experiment was Rail Motor No.1, based on an obsolete truck chassis that was fitted with a passenger carrying body and railway wheels. No.1 entered service in 1919 and proved successful, working over the isolated Casino to Lismore section. No.1 was withdrawn from revenue service in 1925, but continued in service as an Inspection Car for the Signals Branch until 1929 after which it was dismantled.

The next experimental vehicle, Rail Motor No.2, was converted from an FA end platform suburban passenger carriage and featured a 6-cylinder reversible petrol engine designed and built by Eveleigh Workshops. No.2 was not successful in early working on the undulating Barraba Branch, but proved a little better on the more easily graded Pokataroo Branch.

The experience gained with operating these two experimental vehicles enabled NSWGR to design and construct the first of the 42-Foot production vehicles to enter service in 1923.


The first of new series of 42-foot Rail Motors was designed and built at the Eveleigh Carriage Works and the first unit (No.3) entered service in December 1923. Rail Motor No.3 was the first of a class of 37 (numbered 1 to 37) that provided reliable service to NSW Railways for over sixty years.

The 42-Foot Rail Motors, or CPH Class as they later became known, were powered by a 6-cylinder petrol engine with a 4-speed manual gearbox. Double-ended operation was achieved by using a reversing final drive and proved that that petrol-mechanical rail motor was indeed a practical and reliable solution. This class used the traditional carriage building construction techniques of the period with a separate wooden carriage body fitted to a lightweight steel underframe. The underframe utilised steel Modified Warren Trusses and made extensive use of electric arc welding to reduce weight. The initial batch of Thornycroft Z6 engines were not as reliable as expected (as observed by the 1924 Royal Commission). However, following the adoption of the 15-litre Leyland power plant in 1924, their service reliability increased significantly.

As the popularity of Rail Motor services grew, a series of five bogie passenger trailers and five 4-wheel parcels trailers were produced to meet the demand for additional passenger and light goods capacity in the Rail Motor fleet. The passenger trailers (built 1926-27) were essentially a modified 42-Foot Rail Motor body built onto a lightweight steel channel underframe, while the parcels trailers (built in 1929) were modified goods wagons fitted with the Rail Motor braking system. The passenger trailer fleet was augmented by the conversion of three old Redfern type passenger carriages (converted 1928-30) into Rail Motor trailers and by conversion of a bogie parcels trailer to passenger work in 1942. Seven additional 4-wheel trailers were modified or newly constructed in the period 1939-42 to meet service demands.

Due to the increased demand for passenger capacity, steam hauled trains were often substituted for Rail Motor services. This led to the requirement for a Rail Motor with a larger seating capacity. An engine of sufficient power to handle the size of this larger vehicle would have seriously reduced the power to weight advantage of the Rail Motor and a twin-engine solution was therefore the only economical method of providing the required power. This was possible due to the availability of a more powerful 10 litre 6-cylinder petrol engine from Leyland allied to a hydraulic torque converter transmission.


The wooden body 55-Foot Rail Motor (No.38) and its companion trailer No.81 entered service in 1934. No.38 featured a dual installation of the 150 hp Leyland engine and hydraulic torque converter transmission. Trailer No.81 was built on the underframe of a BX passenger carriage damaged in a derailment and was of similar dimensions to No.38. The limited parcel and luggage capacity on No.38 led to the conversion of CPH No.9, that had been damaged in a collision, into a parcels trailer numbered HT 76.

As result of overseas developments, a lightweight diesel train was designed to provide fast services to the outback centres of Broken Hill and Bourke. To ensure passenger comfort air-conditioning was provided. The design consisted of a small locomotive (or power van) and a number of passenger trailers. The train was painted in silver with blue lining and given the name Silver City Comet. The 100 Class power vans were constructed of steel and were powered by two 8-cylinder 330 hp Harland and Wolff diesel engines driving through hydraulic torque converter transmissions. Two National 4-cylinder diesel engines were used to power the auxiliaries. To reduce the weight, extensive use was made of aluminium in the construction of the 200 Class trailer cars. These were based on a steel underframe with the upper frame and roof of timber construction. External sheeting and much of the internal trims were made from aluminium alloy. The Silver City Comet became the first lightweight, air-conditioned, diesel train to operate in Australia, entering service in 1937.

In 1937, the Rail Bus was introduced for branch lines where patronage did not warrant the use of a larger rail motor. The first service introduced was Koorawatha to Grenfell in the Central West but the vehicles did not meet passenger expectations and the six members of the class were all withdrawn and converted to mobile pay offices by 1939. Pay Bus FP 5 achieved some notoriety when it was dynamited off the tracks during an attempted payroll robbery at Yanderra (between Bargo and Mittagong) in December 1941. The vehicle was destroyed and the crew of 3 killed during this incident.

Additional branch line rail motors were also required and the design and construction criteria of the Comet was applied to the four 51-Foot Rail Motors (400 Class). These units were powered by the same engine and transmission combination that was used in No.38. The cars were double-ended and had a large central luggage compartment with a small passenger compartment located at one end. Eight 500 Class trailers were also constructed to the same design as the Comet trailers, but without air-conditioning. These units entered service in 1938.

During this pre-war period, a number of experimental installations of petrol and diesel engines and various transmissions were made in CPH Class units. Other than the fitting of the 150 hp Leyland petrol engine and transmission, used in No.38 and the 400 Class, to a limited number of the CPH Class, there was no firm direction by NSW Railways to further deploy this experimental equipment across the rest of the Rail Motor fleet.


Following on from the pre-war diesel engine trials, a 6-cylinder, 2-stroke Detroit Diesel 6/71 series engine and a Twin Disc torque converter were installed in CPH 14 in April 1945. This combination proved to be very successful and between 1948 and 1956 was fitted to the surviving CPH and 400 Classes and to No.38. This also enabled multiple unit control (MU) to be provided for the CPH Class. This feature enabled up to five units to be worked together in multiple. Driverís cabs were also installed in one end of the five CTH trailers and multiple unit controls provided. This enabled them to also work in multiple with the CPH Class. This work also commenced a long association between NSWGR and Detroit Diesel engines. The Comet power vans were re-engined with four larger Detroit Diesel 6/110 series engines for traction and two 4/71 series Detroit engines for auxiliaries during the same period. Subsequently diesel engines and hydraulic torque converter transmissions were to become the standard equipment for all future NSW rail car construction.

During World War II, the Railwaysí Workshops at Chullora were used to construct Beaufort aircraft. At the conclusion of the War, aircraft production was curtailed and transferred to Fishermanís Bend in Victoria. The NSWGR absorbed a number of the former aircraft production staff with the view to utilising them for rolling stock construction. In 1946, the NSWGR approved the construction of 10 two-car diesel trains for branch line work and 10 air-conditioned trailers for main line daylight express services. This was followed by a further approval in 1947 for 20 mainline air-conditioned power cars. The aircraft construction techniques learned during the War were applied to this new railway rolling stock construction. The first production type was the ten 600 Class two-car units for branch line services that entered service in 1949. These cars were constructed on a steel underframe and made extensive use of aluminium and aircraft construction methods in the production of the carriage body. These were the first of a series of 92 vehicles built to the same basic design. The 600 Class featured the 6/71 Detroit Diesel engines, but were fitted with Allison transmissions. This transmission did not have a neutral position and required the engines to be shut down to reverse direction. This was not a problem in branch line service, but later became an issue during their deployment on suburban services.

The first of the main line vehicles of the 900 Class entered service in November 1951 on the Sydney to Grafton North Coast Daylight Express. Due to problems with the Hercules engines and Torcon transmissions used in these cars, they were withdrawn in 1952 until the problems could be rectified. The solution was the fitting of the more powerful 250 hp Detroit Diesel 6/110 series engines and Allison transmissions. This combination again proved highly successful for NSWGR and was deployed in all eighteen 900/950 Class power cars.

A requirement to replace steam suburban services in Newcastle and the outer metropolitan areas led to the construction of the 620 Class two-car units. These generally followed the 600 Class layout but were made compatible electrically with the 900 Class and used the same Detroit Diesel 6/110 engines and Allison transmissions. Some units were fitted with an 8-cylinder Rolls Royce diesel and a licence built Twin Disc transmission, which also proved reliable in service and were extremely popular with crews. The last unit of the class 638 was intended to haul a parcel trailer over the heavily graded Casino to Murwillumbah line. This unit was fitted with more powerful 6-cylinder Cummins diesels and Twin Disc transmissions.

Due to the incompatibility of the 600 Class with the later 900 and 620 Classes it was proposed to re-engine the entire class and make them compatible. An order was placed with Cummins for 22 6-cylinder engines and Twin Disc transmissions. However, continued failures of over age equipment in the 620 Class resulted in some engines being used in the 620 units and in the end only five of the 600 Class were converted. These converted units were called the 660 Class.


In the late 1950ís the NSWGR had ordered ten duplex sleeping cars from Commonwealth Engineering (Comeng). Comeng had accumulated a large stock of stainless steel for the construction of these cars when the contract was cancelled. In order to use this material an order was placed with Comeng for five stainless steel rail cars based on the of designs of the Budd Corporation of Philadelphia, USA. These five 1100 Class or Budd cars, as they were generally known, entered service on the South Coast Daylight Express in 1961. There were four powered cars and one trailer, the only Budd trailer built. The successful Detroit Diesel 6/110 series engine and Allison transmission from the 900 and 620 Classes were used in these cars.

1961 also saw the introduction of the first privately owned rail cars in NSW - the Tulloch built vehicles for South Maitland Railways (SMR). These three units replaced NSWGR services between Maitland and Cessnock on SMR's private line. While reasonably successful they fell victim to declining patronage on the line and were withdrawn from service in 1971. Despite many failed attempts to sell them they had deteriorated to such an extent in storage that they were finally scrapped in 1977.

In 1968, a further batch of pay buses were designed and built by Commonwealth Engineering to replace the aging 1930's built vehicles. These proved successful and a further unit, FP 13, was built to carry passengers on the Cooma to Bombala line. Again this unit did not meet passenger demands and was converted to a pay bus in the 1970's.

A requirement to release air-conditioned loco hauled rolling stock for new North Coast services led to the design and construction of ten 1200 Class rail cars for the Riverina Express service. These cars were built by Tulloch Limited at Rhodes and generally followed the Budd layout. They were compatible with the 1100 Class cars electrically but differed in that the body was primarily constructed of aluminium on a steel underframe. Cummins NT-855-R2 6-cylinder diesel engines and Voith transmissions (T113r type) were used for the first time in NSW rail cars. Air bag suspension was also used for the first time. Two similar cars were also constructed for Victorian Railways at the same time. In service, numerous problems with their complex electrical systems were encountered when amalgamating the cars at junction stations and they were withdrawn in 1976. Three were pooled with the Budd cars on the Illawarra services, while two were sold to Victorian Railways and the remainder were stored. The stored units were later used on the Queen's Silver Jubilee Travelling Exhibition train in 1977 after which they were returned to storage. After continuing mechanical failures of the Budd and Tulloch cars on the South Coast Daylight Express service, their engines and transmissions were removed and they were converted to loco hauled stock. The mothballed Tulloch's were later reclaimed from storage and converted to loco hauled stock to bolster the need for more interurban rolling stock in the early 1980's.


During the mid 1970ís, the existing country rolling stock was nearing the end of its economic life and one of the major issues of 1976 NSW Election was better public transport. Amongst the election promises was new long distance passenger rolling stock. In September 1977 a tender was issued for loco-hauled country rolling stock and was followed in November by a tender for 16 two-car non air-conditioned rail cars. In January 1978 a further tender was called for 25 high-speed rail cars. An option in this last tender allowed bidders to submit an alternative proposal if they so desired.

Commonwealth Engineering, builder of the high performance Western Australian Prospector rail cars, considered by a rail car and in accordance with the tender documents proposed an alternative, based on the British Railways High Speed Train (HST). In February 1979 it was announced that new rolling stock would be acquired and in March 1980 a contract was signed with Comeng. The initial order was placed for 10 power cars and 20 trailers cars to provide four 7-car sets with two spare power cars. The power cars were based on the British HST power car and were essentially a diesel electric locomotive. The HST Paxman Valenta V-12 engine and Brush traction equipment were used, however, the Valenta diesel engine was detuned to meet NSW requirements.

The first XPT entered service in April 1984 on the Central West Express, providing a day return service to Orange. The XPT services proved popular with the travelling public and three subsequent orders were placed for additional power and trailer cars. The XPTís were worked to tight rosters and by the mid-1990ís the Valenta engines were beginning to show signs of aging. Again the British developments were followed and the Valenta engines were replaced with the lighter and more powerful Paxman VP185 V-12 engine.

A Melbourne service was introduced in 1993 by extending the Riverina XPT to the Victorian capital. There was considerable public pressure for the reintroduction of sleeping cars on the long-distance overnight services and eight XAM sleepers were ordered as part of the fourth rolling stock contract. These cars entered service in late 1993 on the existing Brisbane and Murwillumbah services and their introduction also enabled an overnight Melbourne XPT service to be introduced.

THE 1980íS

Other than the XPT, no other rail cars were built during the 1980ís. The CPH Class, No.38 and the 400 Class were all nearing the end of their economic lives and were withdrawn following the slashing of country branch line services in late 1983. This was the first wholesale withdrawal of NSW rail cars and a number of these withdrawn units are now preserved in heritage railway museum collections throughout NSW.

The 620 and 900 Classes were also becoming mechanically unreliable due to overage equipment. In 1978, Japanese Niigata transmissions were fitted to MPF 638. These proved to be successful and a replacement program with Cummins engines and Niigata transmissions was implemented throughout the 900 Class power cars. Due to operational problems being experienced, the Niigata transmission was later discontinued and the Voith T211r transmission was substituted. These installations were later extended to the surviving 620 and 660 Class units. The Cummins and Voith combination then became the standard fitting for all future NSW rail cars.

THE 1990íS

In 1990, the NSW Government announced the withdrawal of loco hauled passenger services to Armidale and Moree. This left only an XPT and road coaches servicing the northern tablelands and north west of the State. As a result of strong pressure from local lobby groups and senior National Party MPís the NSW Government announced in June 1990 that it would purchase new high-speed Explorer rail cars (later changed to Xplorer to build on the success of the XPT) to service northern NSW and Canberra.

Tenders were released in August 1990 and called for the new vehicles to operate in multiples up to 8 cars and be capable of operating at XPT speeds. The contract also included a specification for suburban cars to replace the aging 620 and 660 Classes. In February 1991, the Transport Minister announced that that a contract had been let to ABB Transportation Pty. Ltd. to construct 17 long-distance rail cars at the former Commonwealth Engineering works at Dandenong, Victoria. In April 1992 the Government announced that 14 two-car rail cars would also be purchased to replace loco-hauled and rail car services to the Southern Highlands, the Illawarra and the Hunter Valley. In a similar fashion to the earlier 600, 620 and 900 classes, the new vehicles were to be of common design and construction for both variants. The new interurban cars were to be marketed as Endeavour cars. A subsequent order in November 1994 would see four Xplorer intermediate cars and a two-car Endeavour set added to the fleet. Xplorer services were later extended to provide a weekly service to Griffith and to Broken Hill and a third daily service to Canberra. The cars were constructed of stainless steel and were powered by a single Cummins KTA19R diesel engine and Voith T311r hydraulic turbo transmission driving both axles on one bogie. A separate Cummins LT10R(G) diesel was provided to generate power for air-conditioning and lighting. These cars also featured air bag suspension on the bogies.

During this decade, all of the remaining 600, 660 and 900 Classes along with a number of 620 Class units were withdrawn from service due to the extension of the metropolitan electrification to Richmond and to Dapto on the Illawarra line and the introduction of the new Xplorer and Endeavour units.


The turn of the century saw the NSW rail car fleet reduced to XPTís, Endeavours, Xplorers and the few remaining 620 Class units. Tenders were called in 2001 for the replacement of the aging 620ís. The extension of metropolitan electrification on the Illawarra Line to Kiama displaced a number of Endeavour rail cars and one set was converted to an Xplorer for a new Broken Hill service while the others were used to bolster Southern Highlands services.

During 2001 the State Rail Authority called tenders for additional rail cars for the Hunter Valley (Newcastle to Maitland/Telarah, Dungog and Scone services). The requirement called for seven 2-car sets that would be compatible with the existing Endeavour class vehicles. A contract was let to United Goninan of Broadmeadow on 9 December 2002 for seven sets. The first of the Hunter rail cars entered service in late 2006 and the last of the 620 Class were withdrawn by June 2007. These new cars followed the basic Endeavour design of a single-ended driving power car with each car having a separate traction engine and auxiliary engine. Upgraded Cummins diesel engines and Voith hydraulic transmissions were again deployed on these cars.

In 2012, a day return service from Bathurst to Sydney was introduced using an Endeavour rail car.


In 2019, Transport for NSW announced the purchase of new rolling stock to replace its aging XPT, Explorer and Endeavour fleet. The new fleet is due into service from 2023. The new trains will be the first fleet of trains in Australia to use bi-mode technology. Bi-mode is a diesel-electric hybrid which will allow the fleet to run on overhead power when operating on the electrified section of the train network. When operating outside of the electrified network, the train uses on-board diesel-electric technology to generate its own electricity.

The proposed new regional fleet will comprise 117 carriages in the following consists:

  • 10 regional intercity trains (30 carriages in 3-car sets)
  • 9 short regional trains (27 carriages in 3-car sets)
  • 10 long regional trains (60 carriages in 6-car sets)

The trains will be built by a multinational consortium - Momentum Trains at a cost of $1.26 billion. Under the contract, Momentum Trains will finance the project, design, build and maintain the new fleet as well as design, build, maintain and operate a new, purpose-built train maintenance facility in Dubbo. The contract also covers upgrading, operating and maintaining the Sydenham Maintenance Centre to use as a metropolitan base for refuelling, provisioning and corrective maintenance. Construction will be in Spain by Construcciones y Auxillar de Ferrocarriles (CAF), with completion works being carried at the new Dubbo maintenance facility. More information can be found on the Transport for NSW web site NSW Regional Rail Fleet Project.




Through the efforts of a number of heritage groups, representatives of most of the rail car classes have been preserved. Unfortunately, the experimental No.1 and No.2 along with the production 1100 Class have not survived. Tables of units in preservation are given under the technical details of each class in the Rail Motor Pages.


Click the link below to access information pages on each individual class of NSW rail motor. These class pages will allow you to navigate through the chronological development of NSW Rail Motors from 1919 to the present day.

Click to go to the Rail Motor Class Index





First prototype rail motor - No.1


Second prototype rail motor - No.2


First production rail motor - No.3 of the CPH Class


First use of Leyland petrol engines


First twin-engine rail motor No.38


First use of hydraulic torque converter transmissions in No.38


Trial of Winton petrol engines in CPH Class in CPH 25 and CPH 30


First use of diesel engines in Silver City Comet power cars


First use of air-conditioning in Silver City Comet trailer cars


First use of all steel body construction in Silver City Comet power cars


First use of composite steel and timber construction in 200 Class


First use of Ford engines in the Rail Buses


Trial of AEC petrol engines in CPH Class in CPH 35 and CPH 6


Trial of Leyland diesel engine in CPH Class


Detroit Diesel engines introduced for CPH Class in CPH 14


Twin Disc transmissions used in CPH Class


Aluminium construction used on 600 Class


Multiple unit control (MU) introduced in 600 Class


Allison transmissions used in 600 Class


First use of automatic couplers (half size) in NSW railcars


Hercules diesel engines and Torcon transmissions used in 900 and 951


Detroit Diesel 110 Series introduced in Silver City Comet


Rolls Royce diesel engines introduced in 620 Class


First move to external rail car designs


Stainless steel body introduced on 1100 Class


Full size automatic couplers introduced on 1100 Class


First privately owned rail cars in NSW for South Maitland Railways


Cummins diesel engines introduced in MPF 638


Voith transmissions introduced in 1200 Class


Air-bag suspension introduced in 1200 Class


Japanese Niigata transmissions introduced on MPF 638


High speed Express Passenger Train (XPT) enters service with Paxman engines


First high speed railcars with introduction of Xplorer series


First use of Scharfenberg couplers in NSW railcars


First use of Dellner couplers in NSW railcars