Spot light on: The Spirit of Progress

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During the 1920 and 1930s, the Victorian Railways in Australia were improving their services with the introduction of new services, new trains, and new technology. The 1920s saw the introduction of the famed 3 cylinder ‘S’ class pacific locomotives to haul the express services between Melbourne to Albury, the break of gauge station where passengers then changed to a New South Wales railways ‘standard gauge’ train to Sydney. These, along with the introduction of the ‘automatic staff exchange’ equipment (a ‘staff’ is the token that gives permission for a train to enter a section of track), upgraded track, and the testing of air conditioning in carriages lead the way for a brand new express service to be introduced on the main line to Albury.

This new express would be of an all steel construction, and would be fully air conditioned, and streamlined, the first such train in Australia. The steel carriages were constructed at the Victorian Railway’s Newport workshops from Cor-Ten steel imported from the USA. To fill the gap between the carriages were full width ‘vestibules’ (these contained the corridor connections between each carriage), which gave the impression of the train being a single continuous vehicle, with the parlor at the tail of the consist completing the train.

To complete the consist, the four S class locomotives were to be streamlined, to have new larger tenders constructed, and painted in royal blue with gold leaf lining down the sides. The carriages were painted in the same blue, with the gold leaf lining running the entire length of the train. These locomotives would be named after prominent figures in Victorian history at the same time. S300 received the name Matthew Flinders, S301 was named Sir Thomas Mitchell, S302 was named Edward Henty, and S303 was named C. J. Latrobe.

In November 1937, the Spirit of Progress was officially launched with locomotive S302 hauling a demonstration train to Geelong, including a publicity stunt with the train ‘racing’ an aircraft. During the return leg of this journey, the train set a new official Australian rail speed record of 79.5 mph (128 km/h) between Weribee and Laverton.

The train continued in service for 15 years with very little change, the addition of a mail van (positioned behind the guards van), and the removal of a single second class carriage from the regular consist, being the main changes, along with conversion of the locomotives to burn oil rather than coal, and modifications to the streamlining for ease of maintenance.

In 1952, the Clyde/EMD ‘B’ class diesel locomotives were introduced (designed by EMD, and licensed to Clyde Engineering in Australia for construction). These were an Australian variant of the ‘bulldog’ EMD locomotives, such as the ‘F7’ locos, however many differences were evident, including the addition of a second cab at the rear, and were the first ‘CO-CO’ EMD locomotives to be constructed (a CO-CO locomotive has 2 bogies with 3 axles, all of which are driven by electric motors). These locomotives replaced the S class steam locomotives on the Spirit of Progress, with the four S class locomotives being scrapped by mid 1954.

Ten years later, in 1962, the Spirit of Progress was transferred to the newly opened Standard Gauge line, which would remove the need to ‘change gauge’ at Albury. At this time, the Spirit of Progress became the ‘secondary’ train, replaced by the new stainless steel all sleeping-car train the Souther Aurora. In 1986, the two trains were merged to form the ‘Melbourne Express’ or the ‘Sydney Express’, depending on the direction of travel. In 1993, this train was in turn replaced by the ‘XPT’, with this new train being based on the ‘HST’ trains from the United Kingdom, which is still running this service today.

The legacy of the Spirit of Progress does live on, with the last of the original 1937 carriages (later known as ‘S’ cars) being withdrawn in 2006 after almost 69 years of service. Further carriages built to the ‘S’ car design were built, and were still in use until recently. A restored consist of 8 of the original Spirit of Progress ‘S’ cars (including the parlor car, dining car, guards van, plus first and second class carriages) is operated by the Seymour Railway Heritage Centre for special events. These carriages, along with a restored B class locomotive and a restored S class diesel locomotive (number S303, also named C.J.Latrobe) marked the 70th Anniversary of the Spirit or Progress with a special run from Melbourne to Albury and return in November 2007. Sadly, none of the original S class locomotives survived to preservation, however a number of parts did survive, including the name plates, a number of tender bodies and chassis, and as well as other parts.

Updated February 15th, 2012 at 01:24 AM by Zec Murphy



  1. leeferr's Avatar
    Very interesting Zec. One of the things that's so great about this community is that it brings people together from all over the globe who have a variety of interests in trains and it introduces me to history of the rails that I would have never known otherwise.


  2. TheWaluigiKing's Avatar
    A Bit more info for you Zec when then the S class reached NSW a class 38(3801 or 3830 or whatever)would take over from there I found this info on the internet somewhere
  3. ZecMurphy's Avatar
    Hi Mike
    That's somewhat the idea of this. To bring attention to railways, and trains, from around the world.

    And Jaxonjared, the passengers had to actually leave the Spirit of Progress and change to a different train (on a different gauge), which would then go to Sydney.
  4. Euphod's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Zec Murphy
    That's somewhat the idea of this. To bring attention to railways, and trains, from around the world.
    Oh, is it? Boy is my face red! I thought it should be related to trains or Trainz, but I didn't know it should be a Trainz-a-pedia! I guess my blog posts are out of line then.
    I'll start deleting them straightaway...
  5. ZecMurphy's Avatar
    Hi Ed
    When I say the idea of this, I meant this blog post (more info on this will be in the newsletter), note the actual blog system

  6. Retro00064's Avatar
    Hi Zec:

    This is off-topic, but how did you get the comments you posted to show without your avatar? Or was that unintentional? Users' avatars are displaying on top of usernames in blog comments (perhaps a bug in the forum software?).


  7. steamboateng's Avatar
    C'mon Zec, let the guys (and gals) vent a bit. I think you'll get more spirit of the community out it!
  8. targanon's Avatar
    A wonderful Read Zec Well put together...

    I enjoyed the read.. and it brought some memories rushing back into my head after many years of collecting dust in the darker reagens of my mind...