The first locomotives used on the Port Augusta and Government Gums Railway were known as the W class. They were built in England at the Gorton Foundry of Beyer, Peacock and Co. They were of the 2-6-0 wheel arrangement and generally similar to the earlier U class locomotives built by the same firm. An innovation was the sloping arrangement of the cylinders that permitted a redesigned leading pony truck to swing freely. The South Australian Railways (SAR) owned eight U class locomotives and thirty-five W class locomotives.

A W class locomotive hauls a train consisting of four-wheel goods wagons, a blue brake and a six-wheel Cleminson carriage across Woolshed Flat bridge, ca. 1911-1914. Photograph courtesy of the State Library of South Australia. SLSA: B 9354

It is believed that thirteen W class locomotives were landed at Port Augusta wharf over the years 1878-80, however this has been difficult to confirm as a number were immediately sold to the contractors Barry, Brookes and Fraser for use on construction trains. The first three of these were not numbered by the SAR until they were repurchased from the contractors in 1882 and became 53, 54 and 55. Also the contractors later purchased W22 and 23, and when they were repurchased by the SAR in 1882 W22 had to be renumbered W56 as in meantime the number 22 had been re-applied to a second locomotive. (This second W22 was later sold to another railway contractor in 1886 and the number was again applied to a new locomotive; this time a Y class.)

When the railway was opened to Quorn in December 1879 two locomotives, W19 and 23, were in use by the SAR, and eventually W19 to 23 and 25 to 28 were at work on the Great Northern Division. They were frequently double-headed through the Pass on the heavier trains, and sometimes piloted (double-headed) with the American X class locomotives.

When the larger Y class became available,  the W class locomotives were reduced to shunting tasks and standby duties, one being kept at William Creek for many years. By the turn of the century they were no longer seen on the Great Northern Division, as they were all transferred to other divisions.

The W class remained in use elsewhere on the SAR system for many years however. Three of the locomotives seen on the Great Northern Division, W21, 53 and 54, appeared on the Northern Territory Railway, W21 as early as 1888. Others worked variously on the Eyre Peninsula, Port Pirie, Port Wakefield and South-East lines. Eventually when the Commonwealth took over the Northern Territory Railway, a total of seven locomotives were accumulated in Darwin, three being purchased from contractors. The CR designated them as the NF class.

The useful life of sixteen of the original locomotives was extended by rebuilding them with higher pressure boilers, and they were designated Wx class. Wx56 and Wx18 saw their last days of service on the Naracoorte to Kingston line in the South-East as recently as 1959.

A Wx class locomotive decorated for a special occasion, probably at Mount Gambier between 1911 and 1914. Photograph courtesy of the State Library of South Australia. SLSA: PRG 280/1/15/513

Technical specifications

W class

Wheel arrangement 2-6-0
Weight in working order 29 tons 18 cwt 30.4 t
Length 35 ft 1¾ in 10.71 m
Tractive effort 8,159 lbs 36.3 kN
Boiler pressure 130 psi 896 kPa
Driving wheels 3 ft 3 in 990 mm
Cylinders 12 x 20 in 305 x 508 mm
Valve gear Stephenson
Grate area 9.76 ft² 0.906 m²
Coal capacity 2 tons 6 cwt 2.4 t
Water capacity 850 gal 3864 L

Wx class

Wheel arrangement 2-6-0
Weight in working order 31 tons 5 cwt 31.8 t
Length 35 ft 1¾ in 10.71 m
Tractive effort 9,101 lbs 40.5 kN
Boiler pressure 145 psi 1000 kPa
Driving wheels 3 ft 3 in 990 mm
Cylinders 12 x 20 in 305 x 508 mm
Valve gear Stephenson
Grate area 9.76 ft² 0.906 m²
Coal capacity 2 tons 6 cwt 2.4 t
Water capacity 850 gal 3864 L

Representatives in the Pichi Richi Railway collection

Wx18

Wx18 arrived in Australia on the ship Dosford.

It worked the last narrow gauge good train from Kingston to Naracoorte on the SAR's South-East Division on 12 March 1959 after which it was condemned.

Builder Beyer, Peacock & Co.
Entered service July 1879
Builder’s number 1820
Withdrawn from service 17 March 1959
Distance travelled in service  
Acquired by PRRPS July 1985 (from Naracoorte)
Notes Rebuilt as Wx class 12 June 1911
Acquired by the town of Naracoorte 17 April 1959 for preservation at Pioneer Park
PRRPS operational status Disassembled. Restoration project on hold since ca. 2000.