A 428 was built for the New Zealand Railways in Thames, New Zealand in 1909. In their heyday, the A class were the pride of the North Island Main Trunk working predominately on express trains around Auckland. A 428 was built as a compound locomotive, meaning that it had two additional cylinders and associated valve gear systems between the frames, but due to maintenance costs and troubles, she was rebuilt to a conventional (simple) two cylinder steam locomotive in early 1943. Superheating made up for the power lost as a result of the conversion.
In her later years, once more modern locomotives were introduced in the North Island, A 428 was sent to the South Island’s West Coast, where she worked alongside many other elderly engines on the Ross Branch, up to Reefton, and occasionally up the hilly mainline to Otira. 428 proved useful, however in early June 1969, her fire was dropped symbolising the demise of one of the last great Pacifics. She was sent inside the Elmer Lane roundhouse in Greymouth alongside other withdrawn locomotives to cool off before setting off over the hills for one last time – to the Pacific Steel scrap yard in Christchurch. J 1209 left on the 12th November 1969. Ab 706, 10 days later. J 1208 in early December. In the following months, a few survivors were steamed to preservation societies throughout the country. By Christmas 1970, there was only one…
A 428 was ‘saved form the torch’ by the West Coast Preservation Society (later the A 428 Preservation Society). In 1983, after a lengthy and uncertain period of storage, A 428 finally arrived at her new home, the Weka Pass Railway. She returned to service in September 1993 after an extensive overhaul, and has since served us well for 25 glorious years!
Dg 770, an ex-New Zealand Railways Dg class locomotive was built by the English Electric Company Ltd. in England in 1956. These bulky locos, weighing over 65 tons for only 750 hp, are in the true British ‘built like a brick out-house’ fashion. But this means they were built to last, most of the body panels are galvanized!
Dg 770 worked predominantly on South Island mainlines throughout it’s working life and was a common sight on The Cabbage Train, the overnight Christchurch – Picton express mixed train which carried fresh South Island produce to the ferry for early-morning Wellington trade. These engines were notoriously cramped and got very hot while climbing the gradients north of Waipara.
770 was involved in a major tunnel incident in the Dashwood Pass on the 19th of May 1966 which resulted with a heavily damaged body and a bent frame. Fortunately, 770 was rebuilt and continued to operate until 1983 when it was purchased by the newly established Weka Pass Railway. Purchased ready-to-run, Dg 770 was quickly put to work once the Weka Pass Railway began operating trains in 1984.
Like Dg 770, Dg 791 is also an ex-New Zealand Railways Dg class locomotive that was built in England in 1956. Dg 791 also worked predominantly on South Island mainlines throughout it’s working life and was a common sight on The Cabbage Train.
Dg 791 had a somewhat uneventful working life with the NZR, and it too continued to operate until 1983 when it was purchased by the Weka Pass Railway. Dg 791 was quickly put to work once the Weka Pass Railway began operating trains in 1984, and is currently in the process of being repainted.
Dsa 276, an ex-New Zealand Railways shunting locomotive was built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Japan, in 1967. The class was used for heavy shunting work throughout New Zealand. The Mitsubishi Dsa’s were the most modern and best equipped of the Dsa family, with 315 hp Caterpillar diesel engines and Twin Disc torque converters. 276 operated in various locations around the South Island (notably Timaru) from 1967 to 1988, so the sight of it shunting and running on a rural Canterbury preserved line is entirely justified.
Of note, Dsa 276 was leased to a private firm (Rail Base Systems) in 1988 who had been contracted to lift up the abandoned Otago Central Railway after its closure. Repainted by R.B.S. in a highly visible pink livery, the locomotive quickly became known as “The Pink Panther”, and this was very soon stencilled onto the side of the locomotive! Needless to say, that repugnant remark was quickly removed once ownership was granted to the WPR in 1992, and the engine was returned to the much more aesthetically pleasing NZR Red colour scheme.
276 proved ideal for the Weka Pass Railway Work Train due to its moderate size, good fuel efficiency and effective torque converter system allowing for sustained high speed running. However, in 2015, the locomotive was hauled out of service and is undergoing a major engine overhaul.
We are also very privileged to host the Diesel Traction Group’s DE 1429. 1429 is on a short-term loan as a substitute for Dsa 276, and is used extensively on our Work Trains and on shunts at Waipara yard.
DE 1429 played the starring role in a Day and Night Photographers Special fundraising event in May 2017.