Waranga News

Steam Trains


Steam Trains image

Hey Kids! In this edition of the Waranga News we are taking a look at steam trains! The train depicted on the Colbinabbin Silo by Tim Bowtell is an ‘R’ Class.

The ‘R’ class was an express passenger steam locomotive that ran on Victorian Railways (VR) from 1951 to 1974. The ‘R’ class locomotives were to become the last and most modern steam passenger locomotives on the VR.

There are three ‘R’ class locomotives in operation in Victoria, based at the Newport West Workshop. The ‘R704’ is on display at AHRS Railway Museum in North Williamstown.

  • A train is made up of carriages (also known as wagons or cars) pulled by an engine (or locomotive). A steam engine also pulls a tender (a wagon containing fuel).
  • Steam trains were first built (in the early 1800s) to carry goods and materials, but they soon were used to transport passengers, too.
  • Diesel trains started to replace steam trains in the middle of the 20th century.
  • The fastest trains in the world are powered by electricity. The electricity is transmitted to the train, either by overhead cables or through special rails running alongside the track.

Steam Engine Facts

  • The first ever steam train was built by Richard Trevithick in 1804. This train was too heavy and broke the track, so Trevithick built a new engine, called Catch Me Who Can. This was lighter and worked well on a circular track.
  • In 1825, George Stephenson opened a railway in the north of England. He designed a steam train called Locomotion, and used it to pull wagons full of coal.
  • George Stephenson’s son Robert designed the most famous steam engine called the Rocket. The Rocket was both fast (for 1829) and reliable.
  • From the 1830s, railways started to spread throughout the world. To begin with, British built trains were used in foreign countries, but then countries like France and Germany started to manufacture their own steam locomotives.
  • Many individuals made lots of money in the railway industry. George Hudson, an English businessman, for example, was known as the ‘Railway King’.
  • The oldest working steam locomotive is in India. The Fairy Queen was built in Britain in 1855 and shipped to India. It still runs today.
  • Steam locomotives have three types of wheels. The largest wheels are known as the ‘driving wheels’. These are turned by pistons and make the locomotive move. Small wheels at the front are called ‘leading wheels’. These help to guide the engine forward. Small wheels at the back of the locomotive are called trailing wheels, and these help to support the weight of the firebox and driver’s cab.
  • The first passenger trains had three classes of carriage. First class carriages had many windows and were beautifully decorated and furnished. Second class carriages were designed in much more simple fashion. They had fewer windows than the first class carriages. Third class carriages were very rough and ready. They weren’t decorated at all, and, before 1840, they didn’t even have a roof.
  • The very richest travellers really did travel in luxury in the 19th century. Queen Victoria’s coaches had walls padded with silk, and Emperor Napoleon III of France had a private train with a balcony and an extensive wine collection.
  • Steam trains were also used in city railways, but it soon became apparent that they weren’t ideally suited for this purpose – the locomotive’s smoke covered everything in soot. Electricity powered trains started to be introduced in cities as an alternative to steam in the 1880s.
  • One of the world’s fastest steam locomotives was called The Flying Scotsman. It was built in Britain and went non-stop between London and Edinburgh. In 1934 it become the first locomotive to travel faster than 100 mph (160.9 kph).
  • In 1938, the Mallard set a new steam locomotive speed record when it hit 138 mph (222kph) in 1938.
  • The largest steam engines were built in the 1940s. The Union Pacific Big Boy locomotives, for example, were massive and could haul 100 full wagons, reaching speeds of 70 mph (112.6kph).
  • Steam trains are still used in some parts of the world. China, for example, still uses steam locomotives, but no new Chinese steam trains have been designed since 1982.
  • In Australia, Europe and the US, groups of steam enthusiasts restore and run steam locomotives, ensuring that steam trains will never disappear completely. Some lines run steam locomotives purely for the tourist industry.