After the cessation of World War II hostilities the New South Government Railways embarked on a program of passenger fleet modernisation using aluminium construction skills developed to support wartime demand for aircraft components. Having successfully constructed aluminium bodied 2 car 600/700 and long distance air conditioned DEB set cars from 1949, an order for an additional five 2 car sets was placed in 1960 to displace steam hauled suburban services in Newcastle. During the next 8 years a total of 18 new sets were constructed.
Classified as 620/720 DAB sets, construction of the initial order of cars was undertaken during 1961 and 1962 at the NSWGR Departmental Rolling stock workshops Chullora. The overall design of the earlier 61ft 3in cars was retained however several variations to the propulsion and control equipment were made to improve their operation. Departmental records list GM engines being initially chosen to propel the sets however units 621 and 624 - 628 were delivered carrying 2 Supercharged Rolls Royce eight cylinder 250 HP CS8FH diesel engines and Twin disc 11500DFR torque convertors.
As with the earlier diesel trains the bogies first fitted were of the 2PE (power) and 2TE (non powered) leaf spring type built by Ritchie Brothers and were later replaced by 2PG (power) and 2TG (non powered) coil spring types built by A.E. Goodwin. Records show that 621 received new 2PG bogies for the first time on 29/5/64 and 721 was fitted with 2TG bogies on 30/9/65.
A similar body configuration to that used in the earlier cars was retained using steel underframes with welded Pratt trusses forming the body side structure below the window sills and with the upper body sides and the roof being of aluminium fabricated framing. As the cars were built for suburban service, 56 maroon vinyl second class seats were provided in both the power and trailer cars.
To denote their configuration and intended use the new cars were coded NPF & NTF, being N – Newcastle, P – Power, F – Second class, T – Trailer.
Class leader set 621/721 commenced trials on the 8/8/61 with a run to Penrith and return and following a second trial to Katoomba 2 days later was delivered to Newcastle on 21/8/61. The Newcastle Morning Herald of the following day announced the arrival of the ”New Diesel Train” quoting District Superintendant Mr Jones who said “The diesel would go into service after drivers had been trained. It would be used on all runs.” The unit entered service at Newcastle on 4/9/61 but use on Belmont line services were not permitted due to clearance problems in the Fernleigh tunnel. Construction costs are listed as being $170,884 for 621 and $121,104 for 721.
No luggage compartments were originally provided in these cars however as with the previous 600/700 sets, continuous luggage racks were installed throughout the passenger saloons above the seats. To accommodate increased capacity for the conveyance of additional luggage, parcels and other commodities, 621 and the other NPF power cars were all eventually fitted with 2 ton luggage compartments from 1969.
During overhauls after 1968 the trailer cars were modified to include composite seating with the toilet compartments then separating 28 green covered First class seats from 28 Maroon covered seats. At this time the trailer cars had their code changed to NTC to denote the composite now accommodation arrangement. When the decision was made to provide gas heaters for the comfort of passengers, the installation of gas cylinder cabinets required the removal of 2 seats from the trailer cars.
During their service career the external configurations of 621/721 changed little however small variations included the fitting of roof mounted air horns to replace the single throat original which was recessed above the drivers cab, twin sealed beam headlights in place of the original single bulb units and dummy receptacles fitted to the left hand lower end of the cars for the securing of jumper cables. Fog lights were also placed on the ends of some units including car 621 and the CityRail liveried units had external stainless steel bars fitted to restrict the protrusion of appendages from window openings . Internally the passenger saloons also received few changes other than for the seat & luggage area reconfiguration, provision of gas heaters and the removal of window blinds in their final days. In contrast the driving compartments underwent repeated modification during attempts to improve driver comfort. The original bench seats were replaced with sprung models and recessed into the rear cab wall to provide more space between the seats and controls, changes to the compartment entry arrangements saw the hanging of doors first reversed and then removed along with part of the inner wall, the fitting of gas heaters and ultimately the air conditioning of the entire end of car compartment . Whilst the passenger saloons also benefitted from the fitting of gas heaters, even in their final operating days passengers only option to seek cooler air was to open the windows.
From the mid 1960’s reoccurring water leak problems saw the Rolls Royce engines having their superchargers removed thus reducing them to a rating of 205 BHP @ 1800 RPM. After years of engine problems 621 received new Cummins NTA855-R4 engines and Voith T211R transmissions during a visit to Chullora workshops on 6/8/86.
As delivered, 621/721 was painted in the Indian red and yellow whisker lined livery of its earlier railcar relations. Thin yellow lines were originally applied above and below the side windows however economy initiatives in the 1970’s saw the upper yellow line omitted from the car sides and white “L7” logos were applied in the middle of car sides. Missing out on the “reverse” era, 621 & 721 received their first major livery change in the 1980’s when the popular Phil Belbin designed candy striped colours of Red, Yellow, Orange, White and black were applied. In 1992 an attempt to cheaply tidy up the ageing Newcastle railcar saw a new body colour of Deep brown/red introduced with small reliefs of Orange highlight strips and white numbers applied on the car ends. The final change of livery saw the application of the CityRail “Prong” grey livery in 1999 with yellow lower ends intended to lift the appearance of the sets but also to blend them with the newer Endeavour car fleets.
621/721 continued in its intended service role serving the people of the Hunter for over 45 years only straying away for brief periods of maintenance in Sydney. During its service career it performed thousands of runs to destinations including Telarah, Dungog, Scone, Cessnock, Gosford, Taree and Sandgate Cemetery.
621 was rostered to perform the last regular 620/720 service to Dungog mismatched with car 725 on 2/6/07 whilst a special RailCorp run to Paterson officially farewelling the sets with invited guests on October 29 of the same year saw it reunited with trailer 721.
After a period of storage at Broadmeadow 621 & 721 were nominated as RailCorp core collection heritage units and allocated to The Rail Motor Society under a custodial agreement. The units operated a special trip for members to deliver them to Paterson on 5th October 2008.
621/721 now awaits the next chapter of its service career in preservation at Paterson and hopefully its story will continue to be told for many years.
This passage was prepared for and published in The Rail Motor Societies publication "The Tin Hare Gazette" Edition No45 in September 2009.