ail Motors were first developed in NSW as a means of providing a low cost alternative to steam hauled passenger services on rural branch lines throughout the State. All of the early developments in this area were undertaken by the NSW Government Railways. Overseas developments influenced some of the later designs but the majority were built to meet local demand for economical and reliable transport. Early experiments started in 1919 with a converted motor lorry, followed by a converted suburban passenger carriage in 1921. These were followed by the first of the standard production vehicles introduced from December 1923 and these proved an immediate success with passenger patronage growing steadily. The 1930's saw the rail motor fleet expanded with larger and more powerful twin-engined models, while the Silver City Comet of 1937 was a ground-breaking achievement for NSW Railways, being the first lightweight air-conditioned diesel train in the southern hemisphere.
The growth of powerful lightweight diesels immediately following World War II provided the impetus for the re-engining of the older vehicles, while new construction featured diesel power from the outset. It also marked the move away from the traditional British motive power suppliers to American manufacturers. The 600 Class of 1949 made good use of lessons learnt with aircraft construction in NSWGR workshops during the War. These new items of rolling stock featured aluminium body construction on a steel underframe to produce a lightweight high performance vehicle. The value of this form of construction was amply demonstrated by the fact that 92 vehicles were built to this basic design from 1949 through to 1968.
The advent of the air-conditioned DEB Sets in 1951 moved the rail motor away from its traditional role as the supplier of branch line services and into the main line arena. As such, they provided an admirable adjunct to the heavier locomotive hauled long distance trains on services that required the inherent flexibility of rail car type operations. The 1960's and 1970's saw the early moves by NSW Railways to external design and construction with the Budd and Tulloch cars. The fuel crisis of the 1970's and economic constraints of the 1980's saw the branch line rail motor service disappear from the NSW country landscape to be replaced with more economical road coach services. However, many of the displaced country rail motors were concentrated into the Sydney metropolitan area where they continued to serve out their remaining active lives in fairly intensive suburban operations.
The Express Passenger Train (XPT) first appeared in 1981. These trains offered many advantages, the principal one being the ability to operate at higher speeds over the existing track infrastructure without the need for expensive upgrading. With the advent of the XPT and connections with road coaches, the future looked bleak for the long distance rail car. However, political pressure for direct rail services with Sydney from local communities led to the introduction of the air-conditioned high-speed Xplorer trains and their Endeavour suburban counterparts from 1993. The Xplorers still operate similar services, such as the Northern Tablelands Xplorer and the Canberra Xplorer, to those that were pioneered in the 1950's by the early DEB Sets.
The 1990's saw the last of the loco hauled passenger trains (apart from transcontinental services) disappear from the NSW metals leaving only the XPTs and Xplorers to provide all of the long distance passenger services within NSW and on the three interstate routes connecting Sydney to Brisbane, Canberra and Melbourne. The latest Hunter rail cars entered service in 2006 and replaced the last of 1960's built 620 Class rail cars. The Hunters, along with some of the Endeavour Class, provide local services in the Hunter Valley, while Endeavours also provide outer interurban services on the Main South, Main West and Illawarra lines.
A number of early rail cars survive in preservation and many see active lives supporting the growing heritage tourist market in NSW. Foremost among these are the 1923 vintage 42-Foot Rail Motors that had a resurgence of life with diesel engines in the late 1940's and it is a credit to their initial design that these vehicles are "soldiering-on" well into the 21st Century.
THE NSW RAIL MOTOR FLEET
The following table illustrates the growth of the NSW rail motor fleet from humble beginnings in the 1920's through the present day. Vehicles in heritage collections are not included.
NSW RAIL MOTOR FLEET STATISTICS
† Powered vehicles with passenger accommodation
‡ Powered vehicles without passenger accommodation