The BRCW/Parkinson Crompton Sulzer of Commonwealth Railways

© Nic Doncaster

First Published in "The Partyline"

NSU58 and NT 74 await departure from Orroroo in the early eighties: Steve McNicol Railmac Publications.

NSU 58 went on to work from Gladstone until 1988 (with NT67 and 76) whilst NT74 went west to Port Lincoln where she worked with NT69 and NT73. NT74 was cut up in 1988. NSU 58 remains active in Alice Springs.

The NSUs were powered by a Sulzer 6LDA28 engine, the newer NTs by a 6LDA28A engine. These were the only locomotives in Australia to use Sulzer power.

The track in front of the camera was torn up in the late eighties, and the goods shed was knocked down in November 1997. The railway was managed by Steamtown, Peterborough, who last ran a train in 2001. They are no longer operating.

Following World War 2, The Commonwealth Railways, like every other operator, were surviving on a ragged and worn out collection of rollingstock on their Central, Northern and Trans Australian lines. Some of the narrow gauge locomotives were fifty or more years old, and the rolling stock not much the younger.

In 1950, George McLeay, then Federal Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport, made recommendations to Cabinet for the approval of some £4,7000,000 for upgrading the CR's fleet of both narrow and standard gauge locomotives and rollingstock.

The CR called for tenders, to be submitted by November 15, 1950, for the manufacture, delivery and handing over, in running order, of 14 locomotives on the narrow, 1067mm, gauge.

The specifications called for certain requirements, the main four being;

Other specification s called for a machine that was able to withstand the rigours of the hostile Central Australian environment, including temperatures upwards of 45°c, not only for one day, but up to nine at a time, cooling systems able to cope with poor quality water,and dust laden air.They were expected to have a range of 850 miles (6).

Thirteen companies submitted over thirty designs. However as the specifications were rigid, most did not get past the first stage of the selection procedure.

The CR's Mechanical Branch also seemed to take preference for slower revving engines. The Sulzer plant finally selected ran at 750rpm at idle, whereas one design submitted by A E Goodwin ran at 1500rpm. Finlay (4),noted the "CR Mechanical Branch appeared not to have been overly excited about high revving engines, as it feared they would lead to high repair bills. 1000rpm was considered fast enough". Finlay also notes that the seemed preference for slower speed engines, as well as the requirement of an electrical transmission resulted in the failure of many of the submitted tenders.

It was initially planned to run the new locomotive from Oodnadatta to the Alice and back without having to refill, hence the range of 850 miles. This later proved to be impractical and a 20,000 gallon tank was installed at the Alice. (4)

In 1951, the CR departed from their apparent tradition of using "well proven" designs, and awarded to contract to built the class of locomotives, later to be known as the NSU, to the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company (BRCW). The Sulzer/BRCW design had won over the English Electric Company's submission.

Whilst EE were obviously a better known company (in Australia), having built many other pioneering Diesel Electrics, šSulzer plants had been used widely in Europe and other exported units, and would go on to power some 690 BR machines, using both the 6LDA plant, and later and larger in line and V units(7).

The BRCW tendered a design using a Sulzer 6LDA-28 engine (a six cylinder, in line, pressure charged unit) that had been derated from 1035hp/hr at 750 rpm to 955hp/hr at 750 rpm, powering Crompton Parkinson Electrics set in an A-1-A - A-1-A pattern.The engines used in the NSU class were amongst the last engines built built by Sulzer at their Winterthur plant, for use outside of Europe. Later engines were (bar a few exceptions) built under Contract by Vickers Armstrong, Burrow-in-Furness, England (7)

In addition to the fourteen units for the CR the BRCW also built an eventual total of six identical units for the Sierra Leone Development Co., West Africa. Five were built with the CR units, and an additional unit was commissioned in 1962 (7).

Part of the Contract with BRCW stipulated that, in view of its 42 years of experience in loco design, Sulzer were to accept full responsibility for the design and performance of the completed Loco (6). The CR had knowledge of Sulzer since the appointment of Deane as its Engineer in Chief of Construction of the Trans line. Deane had proposed in the early days of the TAR that dieselisation was the way to go, and had considered early Sulzer designs then (8). Deane was a generation ahead of his time.

"Modern Technology" abounded in the unit; including chrome connecting rods in the engine, the use of the Sulzer Load Regulating system ("which always ensures that the engine operates....under the most favourable conditions"(6)), Sulzer Anti-slip Brakes, Serck cooling system elements, dust resistant engine room and filtered air fed traction motors as well as the usual safety systems.

The CR had hoped to have the locomotives in service by late 1952, but various problems did not see the first of the class operational until 1954. The class were first to work over the nationalised metals of the BR, on the Standard Gauge, on February 24, 1954 (this, incidentally, was the same time the the WAGR X class were being unloaded at Fremantle).

NSU52 was accepted by the CR on May 26, 1954 and was soon pushed into service for crew training. At the same time, NSU51 was being transferred via the SAR's Broad gauge line after being unloaded at Port Adelaide May 26, 1954.

Following on with the tradition of naming locomotives after famous people (usually a politician) NSU51 was unveiled with a pair of plates bearing the name of the then Transport Minister. The locomotive then worked several trips to Bookaloo and return for those dignitaries and guests who wished to go.

NSU's 51 and 52 worked the first Northbound diesel hauled Ghan into the Alice on June 26, 1954 conveniently timed to coincide with a visit of the Prime Minister, Mr Menzies. The last of the class to be commissioned was NSU64 during August 1955.

As with any new machine, a few bugs presented themselves when the class were first placed into service. Minor faults with voltage regulators and air and oil filtration systems were quickly rectified, and the class went on to earn a reputation as an efficient and robust unit (4).

Though NSU54 did work for some months between Port Augusta and Port Pirie during 1954, following that period the fleet worked out of Port Augusta on the Narrow gauge until 1957. Steam continued in traffic on the CAR until the Port Augusta-Marree standardisation project eliminated that section for narrow gauge working, however there were still spasmodic workings of steam.

Similar to the standard gauge experience, dieselisation of the CAR led to a reduction of 60% of operating costs over steam (6).

During November 1956, NSU63 made the overland journey from Alice Springs to the Northern Australia Railway, where she joined NSU64 (which had already been there for three months). These two locomotives were to handle the entire NAR traffic for the next 10 years.

One of the class did return to Quorn for a short period between 1958 and 59, providing motive power for the occasional Hawker goods, and shunting services in Quorn. The locomotive returned to Marree when it was replaced by the rebuilt locomotive, NB30.

1967 saw NSU53 head north during November to replace NSU63 which had burnt out after a major engine room fire.

After 53 and 64 returned south during November 1971, a period of about twelve months elapsed where the entire class were working the CAR. This would not occur again until late 1975.

Following a major derailment in Darwin Yard November 4, 1972, in which NT's 68, 70,71 and 75 were either badly damaged or written off, the ever faithful NSU's 56 and 62 were sent north to cover the motive power short fall. With the cessation of NAR ore operations in 1974, 62 returned south, to be followed a year later by 56 (1).

Some commentators considered the class to be "on their last legs" in 1976 (11) however the NSU class survived more or less intact up to just about the end of ANR operations over the now very rickety Central Australia Line. A few had the ignoble task of removing the line for which they were built.

The first of the class to be preserved was NSU51, acquired by the Pichi Richi Railway during June 1980. As the PRR recognised the historic value of the class two further units (no's 52 and 54) were later obtained in an operational state for use on that Society's tourist line (2).

Meanwhile, with the impending closure and subsequent winding down of the operations over the CAR, the aging Sulzers were moved to Peterborough and Gladstone, to release the 830 class Alco's for use on the TGR.

NSU's 56 and 58 were the first to move during February 1980, being allocated to the Gladstone Depot, for use over the Wilmington Line. After the arrival of the later Sulzer, NT76, on April 4, 1980, 58 travelled to Peterborough (9-4-80) to join 53 which had arrived there a few days earlier.

In the next year or so, 53 and 58 would run the last Government trains to Quorn (August 14, 1980) and Carrieton (July 30, 1981).

On June 9 1981, NSU's 59, 63 and 64 had travelled to Oodnadatta (with a dead NT in tow) for use by Roberts Construction on rail recovery trains (12). The return working by the NT and an NHRD brake van the following day could be considered as the last working by the Government over the CAR. These three NSU's were the first withdrawals of the class (October 1981) (3).

With the Arrival of NT73 at Gladstone late in October 1981, NSU56 returned North for use by the Goss Brothers on the southern end of the recovery contract.

53 ended her days with the arrival of NT74 at Peterborough mid October 1981 when she was returned to the Alice (Nov. 17) for use by Roberts Construction. 53 was a replacement for 59, which had failed late 1981 after a cylinder liner seal began leaking(12).

58 was "officially retired" (5) March 3, 1982 when NT69 arrived at Peterborough. In March 1984, she was recorded as "believed to be heading to Victoria" (10) however within a few weeks 58 was again mentioned ; "made serviceable and not Sold", and by April 4 1984, was working with NT74.

Roberts Construction completed its contract by the end of September 1982. During September, 1985, the engines, generator sets and associated ancillary equipment were removed from 53 and 63 and forwarded to the "East Coast" (12).

The Goss Brothers continued on the southern end contract until July 1983. 62 ran until November 1983 (13).

Whilst AN was deciding to scrap, run or sell 58, they had made NSU 61 available to the Mile End Museum. She left Port Augusta early in February, 1984, and was unveiled, replete with her CR plates a few months later. She was transferred to the National Railway Museum at Port Adelaide during 1988.

NSU 58 continued to work spasmodically from Peterborough, until she was transferred to Gladstone July 6, 1987. Her last duty on the Quorn Line was a train to Orroroo July 26, 1987.

A month prior to 58's move, NSU52 had trundled down from Quorn. The pair worked together on only a handful of occasions, as 52 had electrical problems whilst in Peterborough.After a time in the Loco depot undergoing repairs, she returned to Quorn hauling a motley collection of rollingstock belonging to both Steamtown and Pichi Richi on August 30, 1986. This was the last through movement of a train on the Quorn Line.

Back at Gladstone, the end for NSU58 finally came in August 1987. Her last task was a return from Booleroo to Gladstone August 24, 1987. Her final recorded movement for AN was made at approximately 15;30 hrs on that date.

Not yet to be put out to pasture, 58 was later acquired by the Ghan Preservation Society and moved to their McDonnell Siding depot leaving Gladstone July 7, 1988. She is currently mothballed at MacDonnell Siding, whilst the future of rail operations is decided.

Whilst the class is essentially intact, the fleet has been spread from Adelaide to Darwin, and just about everywhere in between.

The Ghan acquired those units used out of the Alice, and has 64 as a back up "if all the missing parts are returned"(9), 63 is stuffed and mounted at Wishart, in the NT, the balance of the units used by the Goss Brothers remain in Marree, and now 55 and 62 are part of Steamtown's Collection. A third unit (57) was relocated to Larrimah.


In 1993, Steamtown at Peterborough, in South Australia, purchased two of the hulks that remained at Marree following the removal of the southern Section of the Central Australia Railway.

The group recovered NSUs 55 and 62, with the aim of restoring 55 to an operational condition. The group at the time identified that they needed larger power. Many a question was raised, as the NSU's that ran the Quorn line in the 80's spent more time in the dirt (or the workshop) than running. And the track was rapidly deteriorating.

The two units were transported to Peterborough by road, arriving in Peterborough in January (16th)1994 (14). A considerable amount of work was put into making 55 operational, with major problems encountered with the liner seals.

The unit was restored and operational some time in October 1998 (15).

As best as can be determined, NSU55 never ran a revenue train. It appears she worked a number of test trains a few kilometers out of Peterborough. The two NSU's are now part of a "Steamtown Heritage Precint" at Peterborough.

As of August 2005, the only operational NSU in Australia belongings to Pichi Richi Railway in South Australia, who also happen to own the only NT, a "SAM" unit.


1 - HARVEY J Y: The Never Never Line; Hyland House Publishing, Melbourne 1987

2 - BABBAGE J ; BARRINGTON R: The History of the Pichi Richi Railway; PRRPS Quorn, 1984 (rev. Ed)

3 - OBERG, L:Locomotives of Australia. 1976 and 1984 (both Eds) Reed Books

4 - FINLAY, K:"Purchasing the NSU" Pichi Richi Patter Vol 18, No 10, pp 10-12

5 - PERRIN S (as Editor); Personal Comments: "AN Narrow gauge News" and other notes: Newsletter ;SteamTown Peterborough, various editions

6 - Railway Transportation;"Narrow gauge CR Diesel locomotives make road tests in England; Deliveries soon" April 1954

"New motive power revolutionises life in the land where time stood Still" June 1954

"Demonstration run of CR narrow gauge locomotives takes place on Standard gauge" July 1954

"From Bolivian Highlands to Australian Plains" December 1958

7 - TAYLER, A T H: Sulzer Types 2 and 3: Iann Allan Publishing Surrey 1984

8 - BURKE Adrain;Rails through the Wilderness; NSW Uni Press 1991

9 - POOLE, Charles;Personal Comment

10 - CATCHPOINT: Various Editions PDSRM/ MERM

11- Samson R/ Fluck R: Locomotives of AN Mainland; Mile End Museum 1981

12- BURTON, Terry;Personal Comments13- GOSS,Ray; Personal Comments  14 - The Partyline - Autumn 1998 SteamTown Peterborough

15 - The Partyline - Winter 1998 SteamTown Peterborough


Sulzer Home Page | Railpage NSU stuff

Port Docks NSU61 | Class 47 Site (Pommy Sulzer)

David Hills' Type 2 Site

Sulzers Big Engines

The link to David Hills' site will provide a huge amount of data on all the Sulzers.

for Oz stuff try his NSU page , or his NT page


The NC | Y82 | Port Lincoln | BHP Port Lincoln Operations | Section Cars | Crossley/X

Page last updated March 29, 2008