Spirit of Progress

The "Spirit of Progress" was the premier express train passenger service on the Victorian Railways in Australia, running from Melbourne to the Victorian border, and later through to Sydney.


From its introduction in November, 1937 until April, 1962 the train service ran on 5 ft 3 in (1600 mm) broad gauge tracks out of Melbourne's Spencer Street Station and terminated at Albury, on the New South Wales - Victorian border, where passengers changed to a New South Wales Government Railways train (the Melbourne Limited Express), running on RailGauge|ussg standard gauge track to complete their journey to Sydney. From the introduction of standard gauge passenger services between Melbourne & Sydney in April, 1962 until the demise of the "Spirit of Progress" in 1986, the service ran the complete distance between the two capital cities.

Broad Gauge service (1937-62)

The Spirit of Progress ushered in a standard of passenger train speed and comfort not previously seen in Australia. Its introduction in November, 1937 marked the culmination of many years of preparatory work by Victorian Railways, from the laying of heavier rail on the North Eastern line, introduction of Automatic Staff Exchange apparatus to allow continuous high speed running between track sections, introduction of high-powered three cylinder Pacific locomotives, and the testing of air conditioning plant in passenger rolling stock. Such was the commitment of VR Chief Commissioner Harold W Clapp to introducing a world-class train service to Victorian Railways, virtually no detail was overlooked. Legend has it that VR engineers went as far as road testing the new dining car by placing a full bowl of soup on one of the tables and checking that none spilt as the train took curves along the route at over 60 mph (96 km/h). [cite book| author=Carroll, Brian| title=Australia's railway days: milestones in railway history| publisher=Macmillan| year=1976| id=ISBN 0-333-21055-7 ]

Design & Innovation

When introduced, the train featured many innovations new to Australian railway practice, such as streamlining, full air-conditioning, and all-steel carriage construction. Its overall exterior and interior design reflected the latest Art Deco style, and interior fittings used materials such as stainless steel and native Australian blackwood veneers. [http://www.slv.vic.gov.au/programs/exhibitions/kmg/2004/austmodern/austmodern7.html Australian Modern - Keith Murdoch Gallery - State Library of Victoria] A Spirit of Progress - retrieved 9th October 2006 ] The luxurious new train also featured a dining car [ [http://www.victorianrailways.net/pass%20cars/pass%20car%20pages/murray.html victorianrailways.net - Murray Dining Car] retrieved 9th October 2006] with a modern galley kitchen modelled after the most up-to-date hospital kitchens of the period [http://www.slv.vic.gov.au/programs/exhibitions/kmg/2004/austmodern/austmodern7.html Australian Modern - Keith Murdoch Gallery - State Library of Victoria] A Spirit of Progress - retrieved 9th October 2006 ] and, at the rear, a round-ended parlour/observation car [ [http://www.slv.vic.gov.au/programs/exhibitions/kmg/2004/austmodern/austmodern7a.html Australian Modern - Keith Murdoch Gallery - State Library of Victoria] Photograph of Parlour Car interior - retrieved 9th October 2006] offering panoramic views of the Victorian countryside as it disappeared into the distance.

Motive Power

VR's three cylinder S class 4-6-2 steam locomotives were assigned to haul the train, which could have a trailing load of up to convert|600|LT|t|lk=on, [Dunn et al, p. 25, 27] over the 1 in 50 gradients between Melbourne and Albury. Although these locomotives had been in service since 1928, their appearance was dramatically altered with the addition of streamlining and royal blue and gold livery designed to seamlessly match the train carriages. [ [http://www.victorianrailways.net/motive%20power/ssteam.html victorianrailways.net S class steam locomotives] retrieved 9th October 2006] The locomotives were also equipped with enormous tenders with enough water and coal capacity to enable the train to travel the entire 191 mile journey between Albury and Melbourne non-stop at an average speed of 52 mph, [Dunn et al, p. 3] which was the fastest (and longest non-stop) regularly scheduled train journey in Australia. Until the conversion of the S class locomotives to oil firing (which commenced from February 1951) the locomotive fireman was charged with the formidable task of shovelling six to seven tons of coal into the firebox during the course of each journey in order to generate enough power to maintain the schedule.


The Spirit of Progress was launched on November 17, 1937 in a blaze of publicity, which included dramatic footage being taken of the new train racing Airco DH.4 aeroplane VH-UBZ "Spirit of Melbourne" on its demonstration run to the Victorian city of Geelong. [Dunn et al, p. 26] Citation | title = Latest in trains and veteran of planes race along together | newspaper = The Sun News-Pictorial | pages = p.1 | publication-place = Melbourne | publisher = The Herald and Weekly Times Ltd |year = 1937 | date = 1937-11-18] In an elaborate launch ceremony at Spencer Street Station, Premier Albert Dunstan opened the Parlor Car with a gold key.

300 invited guests joined the train for the inaugural run, ranging from Attorney-General of Australia former Railways Minister Robert Gordon Menzies to Mr. A O Henty, descendant of Edward Henty, the Victorian pioneer after whom the train's locomotive was named. During the return leg of its journey, the train reached a new official Australian rail speed record of 79.5 mph (128 km/h) between Werribee and at Laverton before speed was cut to avoid stray livestock on an unprotected level crossing.Citation | title = New luxury train makes triumphant debut | newspaper = The Sun News-Pictorial | pages = p.9 | publication-place = Melbourne | publisher = The Herald and Weekly Times Ltd |year = 1937 | date = 1937-11-18]

(While not officially acknowledged, the steam-hauled "Spirit of Progress" is reported on occasion to have reached speeds as high as 86 mph (138 km/h) while in regular service. [cite newsgroup | title = Steam Speed in Australia | author = Roderick B Smith, Rail News Victoria Editor | date = 2000-03-18 | newsgroup = aus.rail | id = msg01062 | url = http://www.railpage.org.au/ausrail/00march/msg01062.html | accessdate = 2008-05-12] Flaman speed recorder paper tape records were taken for every journey.)

Regular Service

After the successful launch of the service, the train settled into a routine that remained relatively unchanged for the next fifteen years. It departed Spencer Street Station at 6:30pm each evening, arriving at Albury at 10:20pm. As well as cleaning of carriages and servicing of the locomotive, staff would also reverse the train back across the Murray River bridge to a turning triangle at Wodonga. This ensured that the locomotive and parlour car were facing their correct respective directions for the return trip to Melbourne, which departed at 7:55am the following morning and arrived at Spencer Street Station at 11:35am.

Typical Consist of steam-hauled "Spirit of Progress"

When the "Spirit of Progress" began service in November 1937, it ran the following consist:
* S class 4-6-2 steam locomotive
* guard's van (later classed "CS")
* four second class cars (later classed "BS")
* dining car (later named "Murray")
* four first class cars (later classed "AS")
* parlor car (later named "Norman")

An additional first class car and a bulk mail van (later classed "DS") were built in April 1938. One second class car was removed from the standard consist to make way for the mail van. This left one spare sitting car of each class.

From 1941, the "Spirit" was occasionally hauled by VR's H class 4-8-4 in the event of one of the S class locomotives not being available. [Pearce et al, p. 19] [ [http://www.railwaymuseum.org.au/whattosee_h220.html ARHS Railway Museum: What to see - H220] - retrieved 15th October 2006] Although the H class was limited to a maximum 60 mph (96km/h) top speed, its superior performance climbing steep gradients along the route reportedly compensated for its reduced top speed and allowed it to maintain the timetable. [Graham, N, "Class S - Victorian Railways Finest?", "Australian Model Engineering", May/June 1994, Canberra, p 17, ISSN 0819-4734]

Conversion to diesel-electric power

From 1952, the S class steam locomotives were replaced by 1,500 hp B class (EMD ML2) diesel electric locomotives. None of the iconic S class steam locomotives were saved for preservation. All were scrapped by September, 1954.

From 1956, some key changes to the consist occurred. The VR and NSWGR introduced a new daylight connecting service between Melbourne and Sydney, the "Daylight", [cite book|author= Lee, Robert |title=The Railways of Victoria 1854-2004 |publisher=Melbourne University Publishing Ltd |location=Melbourne |isbn=9780522851342] and the Parlor Car was removed from the "Spirit" and transferred to the new daylight train. [cite web| url=http://www.pjv101.net/cd/pages/c160v18.htm |title=Special Stock - 'Norman' Car |accessdate=2008-08-24 |publisher=pjv101.net] At the same time, the VR introduced open, 'saloon' style 'Z' class carriages which later began to supplement the original compartment carriages of 1937 in the "Spirit" consist. [ [http://www.victorianrailways.net/pass%20cars/pass%20car%20pages/az.html victorianrailways.net AZ passenger cars] retrieved 9th October 2006]

From 1957 onwards, the "Spirit of Progress" was also hauled by a new S class of 1,800 hp diesel electric locomotives (EMD A7) which inherited the class designation and also carried over the names and numbers of the former S class steam locomotives.

Standard Gauge service (1962-86)

In April 1962, the "Spirit of Progress" moved to the newly built Albury-Melbourne standard gauge line and began through running to Sydney. In the process two (2) train consists were formed to provide the overnight service in each direction.

The final run of the broad gauge "Spirit of Progress" and the inaugural run of the standard gauge service saw a brief return of steam power on the train. Veteran A2 class locomotives A2 995 and A2 996 hauled the final broad gauge "Spirit" from Seymour to Melbourne on 16th April 1962. [Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, December, 1962 pp188-189] [Pearce et al, p. 12] When the inaugural standard gauge "Spirit of Progress" from Melbourne reached Albury, the VR diesel locomotive was detached and NSWGR C38 class 4-6-2s 3813 and 3830 completed the journey from Albury to Sydney. [cite journal | title = The First Standard Gauge Spirit of Progress: April 1962| author = Budd, Dale | journal = ARHS Bulletin | publisher = Australian Railway Historical Society | volume = | issue = | pages = pp. 125-135 | date = April, 2002]

Secondary Role

From April 1962, the "Spirit"'s role as the premier train on the route was usurped by the new, stainless steel, all-sleeping car limited express, the "Southern Aurora". The "Spirit of Progress" now stopped at intermediate stations not served by the "Aurora", such as Goulburn, New South Wales.

The "Spirit of Progress" conveyed a through car between Melbourne and Canberra, three days per week in each direction from 1962 to 1974. The through car was detached at Goulburn and conveyed to Canberra attached to a mixed train.

The "Spirit" could no longer be considered a high-speed train service, with a timetabled 13 hour 45 minute journey from Sydney to Melbourne. It had also effectively ceased being a streamliner when hood unit X class diesel electrics began hauling it after 1966, and rolling stock such as sleeping cars and power vans from other trains with different liveries began to appear in consists. [ [http://www.victorianrailways.net/photogallery/northeast/x51sop.html victorianrailways.net Somerton] - photograph of X-class hauled Spirit of Progress with various rolling stock, 1981 - retrieved 19th October 2006]

The sitting car compartment style accommodation offered by the "Spirit of Progress", while exceptionally comfortable by 1937 standards for a 3¾ hour journey to Albury, was less than luxurious by 1962 standards for a 13¾ overnight journey to Sydney. Key features of the original "Spirit of Progress" consist, including the dining car and observation car, were not included in the new standard gauge service, arguably decreasing its amenity and prestige.

Typical Consist of 1970s "Spirit of Progress"

The following consist was recorded for a "Spirit of Progress" service that arrived in Melbourne on 30th April 1977: [ [http://www.victorianrailways.net/pass%20cars/pass%20car%20pages/consists01.html victorianrailways.net Snapshot of VR passenger consists at Spencer St. April 30 1977] retrieved 15th October 2006]
* X 50 (EMD G26C Co-Co diesel electric locomotive)
* VP 110 (VR freight louvre van)
* PHN 2361 (V&NSWGR joint stock power/brakevan)
* LAN 2344 (V & NSWGR joint stock roomette sleeping car)
* NAM 2375 (NSWGR twinette sleeping car)
* VBK 4 (VR first class saloon sitting car)
* VFS 1, VFX 2 (VR second class compartment sitting cars)
* VRS 1 (VR 27 seat buffet car)
* VFK 3, VFK 5, VFK 4 (VR second class saloon sitting cars)
* VFR 1 (VR second class sitting compartment car with auxiliary buffet compartment)
* VHN 1 (VR guard's van)


On the 3rd August 1986, in the face of declining passenger numbers due to increased competition from road and air travel, the "Spirit of Progress" and "Southern Aurora" ran for the last time. Rolling stock from both services was merged into a single train service, simply referred to as the "Sydney Express" or "Melbourne Express" according to destination. This service was subsequently replaced in 1993 by a faster CountryLink XPT service using new locomotives and rolling stock based on the British Rail InterCity 125.

It is interesting to note that according to the 2007 timetable, [ [http://www.countrylink.info/timetables/southern_summer/melbourne_to CountryLink: Melbourne to ] timetable - retrieved 19th October 2006] the XPT service between Albury and Melbourne is, at 3 hours 23 minutes, only 17 minutes faster than the timetabled 3 hour 40 minute journey time of the 1937 "Spirit of Progress" steam hauled service.

Much of the original "Spirit of Progress" rolling stock remained in use on regular long distance intrastate service for VR and its successor, V/Line, and for a period of time the private rail operator West Coast Railway. It is perhaps a measure of the high standard of the "Spirit of Progress" rolling stock that the last of the "BS" class of compartment cars was only retired by V/Line in July 2006, [ [http://www.vlinecars.com/bscars.htm V/Line Cars.com - BS Carriages] - retrieved 19th October 2006] almost 69 years after their introduction, and with a boom in V/Line patronage a set comprising five BS carriages was re-introduced to service from late September, 2007. [ [http://www.railpage.com.au/f-t11333769-0-asc-s0.htm Railpage Australia: Car Set SN7 to enter service this week] ]

Commemorative services

A number of special commemorative runs of the "Spirit of Progress" have operated since the end of the train. The first, on 14 November 1987 marking the 50th anniversary of the first train, was organised by the Australian Railway Historical Society and consisted of the last remaining set of air-conditioned blue and gold E cars then operated by V/Line, hauled by Victorian Railways R class R 707, with Parlor Car "Norman" the only vehicle in the train from the original "Spirit of Progress". For the 60th anniversary, on 22 November 1997 a second commemorative service ran, running in a mix of liveries with nine S type carriages from West Coast Railway and V/Line, and two S class diesels hauling the train. [ [http://www.railpage.com.au/f-p926996.htm#926996 Railpage Australia: Spirit of Progress] "Newsrail front cover of January 1998"]

For the 70th anniversary VicTrack, the Department of Infrastructure, and the Victorian Government funded the restoration of the remaining carriages for use on a special train. Eight original carriages were assembled; and Parlor Car, Dining Car, brake van 1 CS, and diesel locomotives S303 and B74 were repainted into the original liveries. [ [http://www.srhc.org.au/tours.php?action=display&id=26 Seymour Railway Heritage Centre: The Official 70th Anniversary of the first run of the Spirit of Progress Tour] ] The Seymour Railway Heritage Centre operated train ran from Melbourne to Albury on 25 November 2007.


* Dunn et al, "Super Power on the VR", Train Hobby Publications, 2006 ISBN 1-876249-94-3
* Pearce et al, "North Williamstown Railway Museum", ARHS, Melbourne, 1980, ISBN 0-85849-018-8;Specific

ee also

* History of Victoria
*"Southern Aurora"
*"Intercapital Daylight"
*"Sydney/Melbourne Express"
*"The Overland"

External links

* [http://www.victorianrailways.net/pass%20cars/pass%20car%20pages/as.html victorianrailways.net AS first class air con. pass. car] Details of Spirit of Progress rolling stock - retrieved 9th October 2006
* [http://nla.gov.au/nla.pic-vn3411313 "Spirit of Progress" demonstration trip to Geelong, at South Kensington, Melbourne, November, 1937] (National Library of Australia, John L. Buckland collection)
* [http://www.prov.vic.gov.au/images/12800/12800-00001-000159-290.asp "Spirit of Progress" demonstration trip to Geelong, at Newport] (Public Record Office Victoria)
* [http://nla.gov.au/nla.pic-an24211772 Locomotive S300 "Matthew Flinders" leads southbound "Spirit of Progress" out of Albury in 1939] (National Library of Australia, John L. Buckland collection)
* [http://nla.gov.au/nla.pic-vn3523802 The "Spirit of Progress" being hauled by Victorian locomotive S301 "Sir Thomas Mitchell", departing Albury, early 1940s] (National Library of Australia, John L. Buckland collection)

Further reading

"Half a Century of Spirit of Progress", Buckland, John Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, November, 1987 pp241-247

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