1899 Narrow Gauge Recoding
It has always been assumed that the prefix 'N' on the narrow gauge
codes had been applied since the start of the narrow gauge running.
However information and inspection of official records has revealed
that this may not be the case.
This investigation also answers a question in regard to the
engines that ran on the 2'6" lines. The locomotives had number plates
with 'A' but were referred to as 'NA'. This was
alluded to in the publication 'Speed Limit 20' but no details
The information currently determined is itemized below in the hope
that more information may shed more light on the subject. Note: 'XX'
is used to represent various class letters.
- The headings given in the official 'Rolling Stock Register'
for the rolling stock show XX 2'6" Narrow Gauge where XX is
the class. The class letters given clearly show the letter N is
appended at a later date. This may be a minor point but the doubt
initially raised by the author was 'Why describe the gauge of the
stock when the class letters do so?'
- Annual Reports between 1900 and 1905 show narrow gauge codes
as either XX or NXX. This shows that a change was made
but there was confusion when information may have not been passed
on. The author raises the point that if the classes were always
known with a prefix there would be no mix-up. Broad gauge and
narrow gauge codes are represented in different
- A locomotive outline diagram for the 'NA' class was
found with a date of 1900. The diagram is headed simply 'A', no
prefix 'N'. The 'A' is centred on the page which indicates that
that was the only letter used; no letters have been removed.
- Correspondence from Victorian Railways to the New Zealand
Railways in 1902 indicates the prefix 'N' on all codes in use. New
Zealand was interested in the 2'6" gauge lines and had requested
the VR for information.
- The 1904 Diagram Books show the prefix 'N' in use on all
classes. The same 'A' diagram as mentioned above had the prefix
'N' added to the class letter. This would explain why the loco
number plates are cast with a single 'A', yet the class known as
'NA'. With knowledge of internal working, the recasting
of loco number plates to show the prefix 'N' would have been
considered expensive and not warranted. Particularly when the lines were not
profitable and the change would be cosmetic in nature. A.E.Downs in his book
'Speed Limit 20' makes passing reference to the fact that the
locomotives entered service as 'A' but "...they later became known
as the NA class...".
- Photographs of some carriage rolling stock between 1900 and
1912 show the prefix 'N' in most unusual places. This is generally
an indication of lettering being added after the main
letters have been painted on. Photographs show that this lettering
'style' was copied when the recoding was done in 1910. By unusual,
the lettering 'N1ABAB' or 1910 relettering such as
'N7B' is interpreted by the author as evidence of additional
lettering after the main lettering has been applied. As NB 7 ( N7B
) was not built until 1906, it would seem apparent that the early
'change' style has been copied. For example, the class for the
rolling stock is NABAB. No class lettering is split
with a number in the middle of the lettering. Unless the original
lettering of '1ABAB' has had the letter 'N' appended as a prefix
due to lack of space between the '1' and the 'A'.
- Correspondence for 1898 shows a derailment occurred at the
Laceby Ballast Pits during line construction to Whitfield. The
wagons mentioned were three 'QR' wagons, no prefix 'N'
- Photographs of the official first train to Whitfield, March
1899, show the use of the prefix 'N' on cars where the class and
numbers can be determined.
- Clerical records written at the time ( 1897 to about 1902 )
clearly show the vehicles being 'written up' without the
prefix 'N'. The 'N' has been added in at a later date.
From all of the above information the author proposed a theory for
the possible change and an approximate date. The date seemed to have
been about 1902. The reason is quite interesting.
The first narrow gauge line was isolated in the North East region
of Victoria. The codes adopted for the rolling stock were identical
to broad gauge equivalents. As the line was new and 'narrow gauge'
the buzz of the times it would have seemed that any call for parts or
rolling stock equipment from Wangaratta would obviously be
'narrow gauge'. The two main depots for loco and rolling stock
maintenance were Benalla and Wodonga. Only Wangaratta would be
servicing locomotives or rolling stock and narrow gauge ones at that.
The author postulated that perhaps with other narrow gauge lines
opening ( Colac, 1902 ) the terminal facilities were shared by both
broad and narrow gauge interests. A request for 'QR' parts or loco
'A' equipment would immediately draw the response 'Broad or Narrow?'.
Indeed, there are stories out of 'Puffing Billy' at Belgrave that a
mix-up did occur. No details, though.
However, the postulated date of 1902 did not hold as more data
narrowed the gap of early codes after 1897 and prefix 'N' codes
before 1902 were referenced.
The available data suggests that the prefix 'N' was not applied to
stock until the opening of the line to Whitfield and the running of
the first official train. This means that during the line
construction the rolling stock codes were as for broad gauge; ABAB,
QR, Loco A, etc. It appears that close to line opening date in March
1899, the classes of rolling stock were hastily altered to show a
prefix 'N'. It seems that mix ups or incorrect equipment deliveries
to maintain stock would have been a logical 'trigger' to generate the
Until more data comes to hand, a more accurate relettering date is
not available. On the basis that these pages are a provisional history
and a full history will never be known, a history of the NG is not complete
unless the outstanding unknowns are also mentioned. To not mention this
information is a dis-service to readers who will assume that the history
- Public Records Office, Railway correspondence 1898, 1902
- 1897 Diagram Book and amendments
- 'Speed Limit 20' by A.E.Downs, 1963 print
- 1904 Diagrams Book
- 1886 'Register' entries
- Paste up originals of Annual Reports, c1900 - 1902
- Photographs of the era
This research was started by the research efforts of Rob O'Regan
who questioned some information.
File m1899m compiled by Peter J. Vincent, updated 4/2//2007