Locomotives and rollingstock are the essential workhorses of any railway system, and for many they present the most visible public face of the railways. From an initial collection of just 5 steam locomotives and a handful of carriages and goods wagons in 1859, the Victorian Railways’ fleet grew to number 528 steam locomotives, 1,150 carriages and 10,000 goods vans and wagons in 1900, with the railways carrying 55 million passengers and 3.4 million tons of freight. After peaking in 1918 with 817 steam locomotives, the VR engine fleet was to undergo a dramatic change in the early 1950s with the introduction of diesel locomotives. Three hundred steam engines were scrapped in just 12 years and the last steam engines retired another 8 years later.
Steam locomotives have long held the fascination of young and old alike. From the sharp pant of the exhaust as a steam engine works up a steep grade, to the gentle whisper of escaping steam as it sits patiently at a platform awaiting departure, the steam locomotive appears to ‘breathe’ with a life of its own. The first S-class diesel locomotives must have been a particularly impressive spectacle to the generation born in the grit and grime of the steam age: roaring past a trackside bystander, resplendent in gleaming blue and gold VR paintwork with the throaty growl of an 1,800 horsepower V-16 engine and a thousand ton load in tow.