Home About SETS SETS Fleet Library Links Contact SETS Site Map
Tours and Events Train Charters Gallery SETS Shop Under the Wires

SETS Library - The Sputnik Cars

By Stephen Halgren
(with additional material from Hugh Burns)

 All photographs taken by the author

Sputnik set W6

Set W6, with lead car C 3716 approaches platform 4 at Strathfield. The white marker lights on the front indicate it has come from Liverpool. Different combinations of lights informed signalmen and observant commuters of the trains destination. The smooth appearance of the cars sides is apparent. As can be seen, two double-decker cars were featured in a four-car "W" Set. The pantograph on the roof collects 1500 volts DC.

The majority of the large Sydney suburban rail network was electrified between 1926 and 1929, with modest additions taking place during the 1932 - 1939 period.

In 1950, it was decided to electrify the difficult double-track section of line over the Blue Mountains to the west of Sydney to allow for the more efficient haulage and expansion of coal from the rich western coal fields. Long grades of 1 in 33 made for difficult operations of steam-hauled coal, wheat, general goods and passenger trains. The western line as far as the pioneer suburb of Parramatta had been electrified in 1929 and the next 20 miles to Penrith, at the foot of the Blue Mountains, originally opened in 1858, was electrified in 1954/55, allowing suburban electric trains to serve this route. To cater for this added strain on the electric train fleet of some 1200 cars, and also to accommodate future expansion both in electrified lines elsewhere in Sydney and also increasing passenger demand (presently 268 million passengers per annum in Sydney), a need for additional cars was realised.

Accordingly, a contract was placed with the Commonwealth Engineering Co. of Granville (Sydney) for 80 steel suburban cars (40 motor and 40 matching trailers). In addition, this company also received a contract for a similar number of stainless steel "inter-urban" cars to provide services over the Blue Mountains when that line was eventually electrified to Lithgow (98 miles west of Sydney) in 1957.

Like previous Sydney electric cars, the new Commonwealth Engineering suburban cars were fitted with Metropolitan-Vickers electrical equipment. Traction motors were again controlled by the "Unit Switch" electro-pneumatic contactor system, using the latest "1955 type" equipment, with switchgroups mounted under-floor. However these cars also featured new MV222 motors, rated at 197 horsepower (147kW), on all four axles of the motor cars. Previous Sydney cars featured MV172 motors, rated at 360 horsepower (269kW), on two axles of one bogie per motor car. Low voltage supply was obtained from an under-floor mounted MG51 motor generator set, with standby batteries. But these cars also had a different lighting and electrical control system voltage (120V), compared to the earlier cars (36V).

Again, like previous Sydney electric cars they were equipped with the Westinghouse automatic brake system, but with the addition of a full electro-pneumatic brake system. Air supply was from an underfloor mounted Westinghouse DHC3 compressor, driven by an (MV) AY61 motor, delivering 35.5 cubic feet per minute (16.8L/s). These Sydney suburban cars were distinctive in featuring power operated doors controlled by the guard. This was in lieu of the traditional manual doors on the cars previously built between 1920 and 1957 for electric service in Sydney. (Excepting one experimental power door set in service from December 1955, made by Tulloch Limited, designated set F39.) The four sliding passenger doors on each side of the cars were operated by electro-pneumatic door motors, with Guard's controls for each side of the train.

The carriages were also constructed of a lighter steel than the previous cars and were of a clean finish, with a greater use of welded fabrication - in particular there was an absence of rivets on side panels. However, due to the different control voltage, traction equipment and EP brake systems, the new sets were incompatible with the earlier cars and were thus made up into nine 8-car sets. The remaining 8 cars were held as spare cars to replace defective cars in sets. They were given numbers as follows: C3701 to C3740 for the motor/control cars; and T4701 to T4740 for the trailers.
Sputnik set W2

Class leader C3701 on Set W2 at Campsie on the Bankstown Line on 12th November, 1991. Car C3701 received a major overhaul during 1978 and was fitted with the Beclawat style aluminium windows, apparent in this photo. In connection with the Bi-centenary celebrations of European settlement in Australia in January 1988, all cars in service received a full exterior repaint, hence the presentable condition of the cars, especially their roofs.

All 8-car sets in Sydney bore a set number on a square plate (called a "target") for identification purposes. These were originally based on the four main depots for electric trains and featured a letter corresponding to the depot, followed by a number to account for the number of 8-car sets allocated to the depot. For example - Hornsby depot in Sydney's north had thirty 8-car sets allocated to it and these were accordingly numbered H1 to H30. The other depots were at Flemington (F); Punchbowl (B) and Mortdale (M). By the time the Commonwealth Engineering cars entered service, the practice of allocating trains to a specific depot had ceased, although trains still carried the same identifying "targets" for administrative purposes. To identify the new sets and also to make it known they were different and non-compatible with the old sets, they were given the "targets" S1 to S9. Because their introduction to service coincided with the launch of Russia's Sputnik craft into space, the new trains, because of their "S" targets, quickly acquired the name "Sputnik Sets", a term they retained until withdrawal.

These sets eventually entered service between 1957 and 1960 and they were the same composition as all earlier electric trains in Sydney, being:

Motor - trailer - trailer - motor: motor - trailer - trailer - motor.

Although specifically built with the electrification to Penrith in mind, the nine sets roamed the entire Sydney network on a daily basis.

In February 1964, the local Sydney engineering firm of Tulloch Limited delivered the first of 120 double-decker trailer cars for use in Sydney. These ingenious cars, constructed of aluminium on a steel underframe and riding on bogies featuring air bag suspension, were actually lighter than the steel trailer cars then in service. The first 40 of these double-deckers, T4801 to T4840, replaced the 40 trailer cars (T4701 to T4740) in the Sputnik Sets. Accordingly, when built, T4801 to T4840 were equipped with power-operated doors, had Sputnik set compatible lighting and control voltage and Sputnik set compatible jumper coupling receptacles. (The balance of the order, T4841 to T4920, were equipped with manual doors and pooled with the older sets, although initially, only one double-deck trailer was featured in a four car set, whereas the Sputnik sets had two double-deckers per four car set.).
Trailer car T 4772

Trailer car T4772 at Carlingford on 12th September, 1990. When introduced on 23rd December, 1958, it was car T4722. As can be seen, it has had the power operated doors removed and is a manual door car. In earlier days, the round, red light visible between the doors at the top of the panel, indicated to the guard that the power operated doors were open. Car T4772 forms part of a 4-car train (the maximum length allowed on the short, steeply graded Carlingford Line), and has been mingled with older cars. The substantial trailer bogies fitted to these cars can be seen, as can the "jumper cables" between the cars, that allow power for lighting etc. and various electrical commands to be transmitted throughout the train.

The 40 single-deck Sputnik trailers so displaced were taken into the Electric Car Workshops and given a medium overhaul, at the same time having their power operated door equipment disconnected and door locks fitted, to allow manual door operation. Similarly their electrical lighting and control voltage and jumper coupling receptacles were changed, to allow them to operate with the older cars. As converted, they were given numbers 50 higher than original ie. T4701 became T4751 and T4740 became T4790.

In 1968, an experimental all double decker electric train was produced by Tulloch Limited, based on their double deck trailer design, and it was designated set S10. In 1972, complete 8-car double decker production trains began entering service in Sydney. They initially carried the "targets" S11 onwards. However, to save confusion, the "Sputnik" sets carrying the targets "S" were re-designated "W".

From November 1972 to November 1976, a new administration, the Public Transport Commission, assumed control over Sydney's train, bus and ferry fleets. They introduced a blue and white colour scheme which was applied to several hundred electric train carriages, including several "Sputnik" motor, double-deck and single deck trailer cars. From 1976, those cars so painted were progressively repainted in the more conservative, traditional and better wearing red colour scheme.

During 1977 to 1978, several motor and former trailer cars had new style windows fitted during major overhauls, these being aluminium framed sliding windows in lieu of the traditional upward lifting type. These new fittings tended to drastically alter the appearance of the car, many would say to the detriment of the cars.

In 1983, the concept of allocating specific cars to a depot was reintroduced and the nine "W" Sets were allocated to Punchbowl Depot.

During 1990, Set "W2" had all 8 cars decorated in various motifs and colours to commemorate the Sesqui-Centenary (150 years) of the declaration of Sydney as a city. In 1992, Set "W1" was similarly decorated on behalf of Sydney's Taronga Zoo, with cars featuring colourful foliage and Oran-outangs to promote their new enclosure and display. This was the second train to be decorated in the Zoo theme and was completed after the first had been withdrawn earlier in 1992.

The "W" Sets remained in service until November 1993 when the last 8-car set was withdrawn, replaced by a new Tangara 8-car double deck set. From 1975, the gradual introduction of complete double-deck trains in Sydney saw the progressive replacement of single deck stock. The complete withdrawal of manual door single deck cars was achieved by January 1992, with only the "W" and also seven sets featuring manual door motor cars and manual door double deck trailers (T 4896 to T 4920) remaining in service. These latter sets were progressively withdrawn during 1992, leaving only the "W" Sets in service until they too were withdrawn during 1993 from Punchbowl, with Set "W1", the (second) Zoo Train, having the honour of being the last.

During 1992 and 1993, hundreds of single-deck cars were sold privately for purposes such as additional buildings at schools, hotel/caravan park accommodation or for private accommodation or farm sheds. Out of the 40 Sputnik motor cars, 30 were sold, 5 were scrapped, while 5 have been held for preservation. The five retained motor cars are 3702, 3708, 3714, and 3725, with 3717 as a spare. C 3714 and C 3725 are the two motor cars from the (second) Zoo Train which retained their original lift up windows. Of the 40 trailers displaced in 1963-65 and subsequently pooled with the older steel 1924 - 1957 cars, 30 were sold, 7 were scrapped and 3 are held for preservation. The retained trailer cars are 4768, 4771, and 4790. One of these, T 4790, was the last single-deck car introduced into Sydney, in 1960.

In 1960, models of the Sputnik cars were released under the English brand name Tri-ang, made by the associated Australian firm Moldex Ltd. (a member of the Lines Brothers Group). The motor cars featured a working pantograph, drivers cab visor and marker lights on the front end, and should have been numbered C3701 to C3740. The trailer car model had correct roof and body sides, but some incorrect motor car features including driving end detail, full underframe and motor bogies. Although now long out of production, the models were available to the mid 1960s as a two-car or three-car boxed "NSW Suburban Set". Two-car sets (R3YA) contained one motorised motor car (R450), one trailer car (R451) and circle of track. Three cars sets (R4Y) contained the two previous cars, with the addition of one non-motorised (dummy) motor car (R452).

Tri-ang Sputnik Model
Tri-ang OO/HO Sputnik Motor Car model by Moldex Ltd. of Fairfield Victoria.
(Illustration from The Hornby Book of Trains - 1979 Edition, p13)

© Copyright 2015
Sydney Electric Train Society