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The GP38 Dash series in SMR service

Winds of Change
At the end of the 1960’s coal traffic resurgence caught the SMR, and its parent by surprise. While able to cope with the increase in haulage, the SMR knew that any failure of its locomotive fleet would see it unable to fulfil the contracts it had in place.

At this time, most of the aging, but still reliable and powerful, 10 class locomotives were either in mothballs or stored awaiting boiler or other mechanical repairs. These began immediately upon the increase in traffic but saw the power shortage last into early 1970.

The requirement to modernise for the SMR became a major factor now in their thinking. Historically they had been a steam powered railroad, sharing motive power with other member railways of the Brown’s colliery group. Times at the colliery railroads though had changed. When a colliery railroad diesel power had seemed unlikely. With the SMR and other Brown’s railroads being given their freedom from the parent company all bets on the future were off.

Strategy, tactics and modernisation
The 10 class locomotives in 1969 would be able to meet the needs of the SMR. In fact they would meet these needs until withdrawn in 1987. Their were three challenges that Chief Mechanical Engineer McDaniels saw facing the current SMR operating pattern:

All of the Brown’s railway interests would begin competing for work normally assigned them within three years.

  • Modernisation of the state owned railways would see the introduction of airbrake bogie stock in the same period of time, and
  • Block train working, where long rakes of wagons are semi-permanently coupled together, would become standard in the bulk commodity industry within 7 years.
  • In order to remain competitive, and viable in the longer term the SMR had to dieselise. How to achieve this became the project of McDaniels’ tenure.

Standards, Standards, Standards
The locomotive package that the SMR bought would need to fulfil the these attributes to satisfy short and longer term operational goals:

  • Be able to run with locomotives of other carriers who may provide motive power to the SMR, or to whom the SMR may provide motive power.
  • Have high power ratings for main line running while with a low axle loading be able to operate over lighter branch lines.
  • Be easily maintained and as modular as possible.

Evaluating Alternatives
When the CME called for tenders to supply diesel locomotive power several test locomotives were given trials. Goninans (EMD - USA) supplied a modified version of its GP38 locomotive, designed for the narrower loading gauge. From England BRCW supplied a Type 2 locomotive, similar to the class 33 locomotive of the BR. Goodwins (ALCo) provided a modified DL 531 series locomotive. It was similar in most respects to the NSWR 48 Class locomotive.

Of those trialed over the line for 6 months the GP 38 provided the SMR with the best mix of road running and shunting ability. When testing finished in late 1971 the SMR had pretty much settled on the GP38 as the locomotive to pin its future one.

Change again took hold and tested locomotive had been phased out by the time the SMR had begun to discuss purchasing the GP38. The Dash 2 version of the locomotive provided even more of what the SMR needed. A sealed carbody design, modular components that allowed failed units to be removed and new or refurbished units to be placed back in the locomotive.

Additionally this could be done on site, with little extra tooling required above that of the current workshop capability. The ability to provide its own diesel maintenance, thereby cutting costs and the high availability of the platform swung the final decision in EMD’s favour.

Powering Up
Ten units were ordered in early 1972 and arrived at Newcastle harbour in late 1973. Once mated to transshipment bogies they were transferred as an out of gauge movement to the SMR workshops. The locomotive bogies had arrived earlier and were waiting at East Greta workshops. Final assembly work, and fitting of fuel tanks was carried out were moved on flat cars along with the All three locomotives required final modification before entering service.

Final modifications included the addition of fuel tanks, air reservoirs and pilots to the buffer beams. Frame modifications included the addition of fuel tanks, not ordered from EMD with the units. New air reservoirs were added mounted behind the new fuel tanks. The fuel tanks and air reservoirs were made in the SMR workshops and in design are similar to the NSWR 48 class equipment.

Named the 100 class and Numbered 101 to 110 the units were released to traffic from January 1974.

Class Details


Date in service:



Cut Up

Current Status


Jan 29, 1974

Oct 23, 1988

Nov 28, 1988



Feb 7, 1974

In service


Feb 28, 1974

Dec 7, 1997



March 21, 1974

In Service


April 6, 1974

Dec 7, 1997



April 15, 1974

Dec 7, 1997



April 28, 1974

In Service


May 12, 1974

In Service


May 20, 1974

Dec 7, 1997



May 30, 1974

In Service

Table 1: - 100 Class locomotive details

In Service

Of the 10 units purchased five remain in service. 101 was written off after a level crossing accident in October of 1988.

Unit 101 collided with a loaded cement truck at an unmanned crossing descending the Hunter Hills late in the afternoon. The cement had tried to cross before the train and was destroyed. 101 left the rails and after travelling 100 meters before plowing into the soft mud of Waller creek.

An coronial inquest held into the accident found that damage caused by the truck while severe would not have caused the unit to be condemned. The damage caused after leaving the rails did seal its fate.

The inquest reported that 101 had, after hitting the truck, come off the rails before toppling to the left and sliding along between the running rails on its side for over 100 meters. With the momentum of its train pushing it onward it had continued until just before the Waller creek culvert, hit the bridge check rails and crashed against the south face of the abutment.

The first 14 coal trucks had followed number 101 off the rails. The result of their added weight bent the frame and pushed the locomotive into the soft mud of the creek bottom.

Incidentally, while hurt both crewmen survived the accident, jumping from the locomotive after setting the emergency brakes, upon determining that the truck would not clear the crossing.

Apart from this one incident the class has been free from mechanical or electrical problems.


In the mid 1990s the 100 class were restricted to running second unit behind the companies 200 class (DL531) units. The restriction, placed by the Locomotive Enginemen’s Union, was lifted after the 1998 GP38-3 upgrade program was complete. Not all units received the modifications. Units 103, 105, 106, and 109 were stored in December of 1997 in their unmodified state. The decision to store four locomotives was caused by economic recession and the associated downturn in motive power requirements by clients.

The Dash 3 upgrade pack provided better crew protection from the elements. Draught-proof seals to cab doors and windows, air conditioning, a microwave, CD player and a mini-bar fridge were all made standard. Additionally Dash 3 models have updated electrical, electronic and engineering packages.

The SMR had planned to modify all of the Dash 3 cabs to a design resembling the Canadian National Railways GP 38-2 comfort cab. While intriguing the plan was never carried out and all of the 100 class retain their original style cabs.

All of the upgrades were performed by the engineering staff at the SMR’s East Greta headquarters.

All of the Dash 3 units have a new paint job. Modifications to trucks have taken place to bring the ride quality of the units up to acceptable standards.

The Future

With the opening of the rail networks to carriers now taking place it is expected that all remaining units will be back to operational status by March 2001. The GP38 is ideally suited to the task of light line/branch line operations and with the Dash 3 pack meet the strictest environmental standards required by most areas.

The SMR plans to use these machines for at least another ten years, with plans extending the life of the locomotive again to provide a further 5 years after that.


While only a short history of the GP38 Dash units in SMR service this provides a rare look into a fairly hard to see operational locomotive in Australian service. To date the locos have not traveled outside of NSW. But surely this can only be a matter of time.


October 21, 1999 - SMR made its first high speed freight movement using their GP38s into Victoria. Hauling a pulp-wood train from Bairnsdale, Vic to Port Kembla, NSW.

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