The topic for today is the 900 Class DEB Set, which was a reliable and well regarded daylight Rail Car set used on the New South Wales Government Railways.
The story of rail motor development in NSW is a great story, but one for another time. Interestingly the story of the DEB Sets begins with Australia’s home front engineering throughout World War Two.
During World War Two, the Australian Government selected the New South Wales Government Railways Chullora Workshops as the site for a wartime manufacturing plant. The Chullora Railway Workshops are located adjacent to Liverpool Road in Chullora (Western Sydney) and still exist today.
The Chullora site is known as Australia’s largest secret manufacturing plant of that time, which was used for the production of various types of military weapons. During this period over 2000 men and women worked on site on a daily basis to keep our war effort moving. Chullora was responsible for parts of the Beaufort Bomber, Beau Fighter and Lincoln aircraft. General Lee and ACI Tanks were also constructed at this site, whilst turrets for the British Matilda tanks were also manufactured on site.
Post War After the end of the war, the NSWGR invested in the design of new generation rail motors to begin modernising passenger fleet, and the designers adopted the construction techniques employed in Chullora for the construction of aircraft in the previous years. Specialists used in Chullora for the construction of aircraft were absorbed back into the railway pool after aircraft construction was transferred out of Chullora to Fisherman’s Bend (Victoria). By 1946 the NSWGR hierarchy approved the construction of ten two car diesel trains to work on branch lines. These were called the 600 class rail motors.
The 600 class were the first rail motor predominantly constructed of aluminium similar to aircraft. This significantly reduced the weight whilst maintaining the integrity of the cars. They were constructed as a power car, the 600 class, and a trailer car, the 700 class. These could be operated from a cab at both ends of the set, consisting of a capacity to hold 70 passengers and eight tons of freight. Once constructed, the 600 class were deployed to country branch line rosters across NSW to a successful working career.
DEB Sets Parallel to the development of the 600 class was the 900 class coded as a DEB set. The DEB set was a main line, air conditioned daylight express service which had a unique setup including a Power Car – Trailer Car – Trailer Car – Power Car configuration (Power cars were 900 or 950, Trailer cars were 750, 800 or 850 and Parcel trailers were 350). This set was designed to work with two sets together to create a seven or eight car set. On the 2nd November, 1951, the first DEB set entered service on the North Coast Daylight Express from Sydney to Grafton. This DEB set was plagued with mechanical issues and was withdrawn from service in 1952; less than six months after its introduction. After the withdrawal of the first DEB set, construction on the remaining DEB cars were suspended pending the outcome.
The solution came from trials in Canada and America from the ‘Budd’ cars of similar heritage. The Budd cars used a GM engine, which proved more reliable than the original Hercules engines employed on the DEB’s. Construction continued and after 1955 a further 9 DEB sets were introduced onto the Canberra Monaro Express (replacing the steam hauled Federal Express), Far West Express and Northern Tablelands Express.
After previous issues were identified and corrected, the DEB sets had a reliable career and were well regarded by crews and passengers for their comfort and reliability. During 1973, the Canberra Monaro Express was reduced to a single four car set due to a fall in passenger numbers. In August that year, the spare DEB set was assigned to work the Riverina Express. This set was usually worked by new Tulloch railcars, which were proving troublesome and unreliable.
The DEB sets worked the Riverina Express until 1982 when the XPT was introduced. Slowly, the new XPT’s removed most of the DEB sets from their usual rosters. DEB sets were then used on the Junee to Griffith connecting services, and also in the Werris Creek to Moree services. The South Coast was also serviced by DEB cars during the 1980’s. Sadly, the once popular Canberra Monaro Express ceased operation in 1988, displacing a further DEB set. In April, 1989, all remaining DEB sets were reallocated to State Rail and placed on the South Coast, Moss Vale and Goulburn services. By 1995, all sets were retired due to the introduction of the Endeavour Rail Cars. DEB sets saw 50 years of service on the NSW Rail Network.
On the 5th January 1986 PF908 was totally lost due to a fire near Dombarton, as a result of the fire DEB’s were suspended from use on heavily graded the Moss Vale – Dombarton Line. PF902 was also the victim of an in service fire while in the Yerrinbool to Mittagong section during 1994 and consequently was condemned. Trailer TB802 also suffered a fire in July 1992 and was also condemned.
During the DEB’s Service life no passengers were ever involved in a fatality, but unfortunately a driver and a fitter lost their lives in PF906, as a result of a level crossing collision with a stock truck near Gunnedah Abattoirs on the 13th May 1975. PF906 was condemned as a result of the collision but was rebuilt and re-entered service as HPF959 9 years later due to a rolling stock demand at the time.
From 1995 to 1998 the remaining DEB cars remained in storage, pending a breakup of the fleet to several rail heritage societies.
The Codes for DEB sets
* PF – Power Car (901-5 and 907-10, 906 was rebuilt as 959 following a level crossing accident)
* HPF – Power Car with luggage facilities(951-959)
* TB – First Class Sitting Car (801-803)
* TFR - Second Class Sitting Car with Buffet (851-852, TFR 852 converted from TBR 852 Dec 1956)
* TBR – First Class Sitting Car with Buffet (851-857)
* TCR - Composite Sitting Car with Buffet (861-862)
* TC - Composite Sitting Car (751-753)
* TM - Second Class Sitting Car (853 & 857 were rebuilt from TBR 853 and 857 during 1990)
* TP – Parcels Trailer (351-353)
Out of 36 DEB cars built during the 1950’s (18 Power Cars, 15 Trailer Cars and 3 parcel vans) 9 have been scrapped during service or after withdrawal (Power cars 902, 908, 951 & 956 and trailer cars 801, 802, 351, 352 & 353). 2 DEB Cars are in private ownership (PF904 was last seen on a property south of Sydney and TFR851 is on display at Walcha Road)
Of the 27 remaining DEB Cars;
- 4 are with the Dorrigo Steam Railway and Museum (905, 955, 752 & 854)
- 5 are with Transport Heritage NSW at Broadmeadow Locomotive Depot (910, 952, 954, 753& 856)
- 16 are with Lachlan Valley Railway (901, 903, 906, 907, 909, 953, 957, 958, 959, 803, 751, 851, 852, 853, 855, 857, 861 & 862)
Of the original DEB Fleet almost 70% remain in preservation in some form, but none are currently in service. Lachlan Valley Railways DEB Set Collection represents 44% of the entire DEB Fleet and 64% of the preserved DEB Fleet.
The Rothbury DEB Set was secured as part of a new southern chapter of Lachlan Valley Railway in April 2014, the secured cars include - PF903, TC751, TBR855, TB803, HPF957 & HPF958. Power Car 903 ran the Final Far West Express in September 1975 and the final Cooma service in November 1988, quite fitting given that 903 was introduced onto the Canberra Monaro Express in May 1955. HPF957 entered service on the Northern Tablelands Express in November 1960 and also spent time on the Canberra Monaro Express, Riverina Express and the Orange – Lithgow – Mudgee service in the mid 1980’s. HPF958, like 957 entered service in November 1960 allocated to the Northern Tablelands Express. 958 also spent time on the Canberra Monaro Express post 1974. Trailer Car TBR855 entered service on the Northern Tablelands Express in June 1959. TB803 entered service on the Canberra Monaro Express in April 1956. TC751 entered service on the Far West Express (as it was built for) in September 1957.
In June 2014 a team of sheet metal workers, mechanics, carpenters and labourers hired a bus from Albury and travelled to Newcastle to do the first technical assessment of the 900 Class over a single weekend. Through the assessment it was identified that all Motor Cars required an aluminium reskinning around the drivers area, a result of corrosion caused by reactions with iron bars around the front of the train. Also quite a few windows were removed for safety reasons. The Thurgoona Men’s Shed in Albury have been manufacturing temporary windows that were taken to Rothbury and installed on the DEB Set cars in December of 2015 when another working bee was undertaken.
The first challenge faced by the new
southern chapter of LVR was finding new
wheels for the Power Car PF903 and
Trailer Car TC751. At the end of the DEB’s
service life the wheel sets were at a
condemnable level and inappropriate to
use for revenue passenger service. For 12
months a search was made across NSW
to locate replacement wheels, finally in
late 2015 four new sets were identified,
and through negotiations a price was
established for the wheel sets and they
were secured for the restoration.
In July 2015 an online fund raiser was
established to raise funds for the
restoration of the DEB Set and as of 6th
February 2016, over $21,000.00 has been
The interiors of the cars are close to immaculate, this is attributed to clever planning by the previous owners to cover all the windows in the train that did not allow sun light to enter the cars. At the moment we are waiting to sign an agreement on a location to restore the DEB Set closer to home on the main south. Very shortly after this agreement is signed we will look to transfer the DEB’ Set to that location.
Because on ongoing negotiations we cannot let the cat out of the bag early, but by the time you read this the DEB could be shifted and restoration underway. As I am writing this, the set is being inspected to be moved from its 20 year slumber at Rothbury. All things considered we expect the DEB set to be operational by 2018/9, servicing the Riverina and beyond on tours. Benefits of the DEB Set are a top speed of 115km/h and driveable from both ends of the train.
The set can carry up to 170 people with buffet facilities on board with a range of over 800km. With 170 Passengers on board the train will consume approximately $1.70 per head of fuel per 100km. We are continuing to fundraise and spread the message of the DEB Set restoration. We are also continuously looking for volunteers to assist, skilled or unskilled.
I would like to personally thank all the
donators and volunteers for the confidence
and effort they have given to this ambitious
project. I personally have enjoyed the
relationships created by this project, rail
preservation has some fantastic knowledge
within its ranks and also people willing to give
you their time for little return.
A few Key points on the restoration to date –
* $21,180.00 Raised.
* 2015 saw 611 volunteer hours on the project.
* Bogies and 8 new wheels secured for the set (2 with final drive equipment)
* All smashed windows replaced by temporary window frames for transfer
* Graffiti removed
* All car interiors cleaned out of waste
* Compilation of a DEB set database full of technical schematics of the DEB set
* DEB set is ready for final inspection prior to movement
* 507 members on DEB set restoration Facebook Site and growing weekly
* Every dollar raised has gone to the DEB set, no admin!
We have a Facebook site on the restoration to keep members and contributors up to date on the progress of
the restoration. This can be found at
Or search NSWGR 900/800/750 Class "DEB" Sets in Facebook.