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Redhen railcar

The Redhen Railcars were a self-propelled railcar built by the South Australian RailwaysIslington Railway Workshops between 1955 and 1971.

Redhen railcar
Two 400 class Redhens working a
Belair line service in 1990
SAR 400 class railcar ('Redhen') interior.jpg
Interior of a Redhen railcar
Manufacturer South Australian Railways
Built at Islington Railway Workshops
Replaced Brill railcars
Entered service 1955-1971
Number built 111
Number preserved 6
Formation 2/3 carriages
Fleet numbers 300-373, 400-436
Capacity 300-341: 91
362-373: 89
400-419: 80
420-436: 78
Operator(s) South Australian Railways
State Transport Authority
Car length 20.00 m (65 ft 7 in)
Width 3.05 m (10 ft 0 in)
Height 4.27 m (14 ft 0 in)
Wheel diameter 914 millimetres
Maximum speed 88 km/h
Prime mover(s) 2 x GM model 6/71: 300-341, 362-373, 400-436
2 x Rolls Royce C6SFLH: 362-371
Braking system(s) Westinghouse
Track gauge 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in)



The Redhen railcars were the backbone of Adelaide’s metropolitan rail system between the late 1950s and the early 1990s.[1][2][3]

The first Redhens were introduced by the South Australian Railways in October 1955 to replace ageing suburban steam locomotive hauled trains in Adelaide.[4][5] Construction of Redhen vehicles continued until 1971, when the latest examples were built to supersede 1920s-era diesel railcars.[6]

TransAdelaide withdrew the last Redhens from regular service in December 1996, following delivery of a new fleet of 3000 class railcars. A number of Redhens have been preserved and are now operated by heritage and tourist railways.

Fleet detailsEdit

The Redhens comprised two designs:[1][6]

  • 300 class had a driving cab at one end of each railcar. These needed to run in two-car formations.
  • 400 class had driving cabs at both ends, and could be used as a single car when needed, or in multiple with other railcars to make up longer trains.

In addition, there were a number of unpowered trailer cars, the 820 and 860 classes. These had been modified from steam-era suburban carriages and were used with the Redhens between 1955 and 1987.[2][6]


The Redhens were built in three batches. The overall design of the railcars was very similar, but there were differences in detail between the batches. Several railcars in the 300 class were re-numbered later in life, taking on the numbers of written-off or modified units.

The exterior of the units was always painted red, with variations in the colour of roofs and bogies over the years. The interior design and layout remained largely unchanged throughout their life. Some 300 class units were modified to provide guard’s accommodation or space for bikes when the 860 class trailers were withdrawn in 1987. This slightly reduced the seating capacity of these modified cars.

300 class
Dates introduced Weight
Seating capacity
300–341 1955–58 40.7 91
342–361 1959–61 42.7 91
362–373 1968–70 41.9 84
400 class
Dates introduced Weight
Seating capacity
400–419 1959–61 42.5 80
420–436 1968–71 42.5 78



Cab of 402 at the South Gippsland Railway

When first introduced, all the 300 class Redhens were formed as 3-car consists, comprising an 820 or 860 class trailer sandwiched between two powered 300 class railcars. In peak hours, two sets were coupled together to form 6-car trains. On rare occasions, at times of heavy traffic demand, trains of Redhens could be up to nine cars long.[1][7]

Instead of building trailer cars to work with the 300 class cars, the South Australian Railways chose to convert existing rolling stock. To operate with 300 to 347, five 800 class and nineteen 850 class carriages were converted, becoming the 860 class. These steel cars had been built at Islington Railway Workshops between 1944 and 1946 as part of a plan to electrify Adelaide's suburban railways.[2]

For use with 348 to 373, thirteen wooden end loading suburban baggage cars were converted, becoming the 820 class trailers. These had been built between 1912 and 1924.[2]

The 400 class were used as single cars on the main lines during the evenings and at most other times on lightly patronised services such as the Grange, Tonsley and Northfield lines. They were also used in multiple with other 300 or 400 class units.

Super ChooksEdit

Following the introduction of the 2000 class railcars in 1980, two 300 class Redhens and an 860 class trailer were chosen for an experimental rebuild at STA's Regency Park workshops. Nos 300, 337 and 862 were modified in 1983 with new interiors, elevated cabs and stainless steel panelling similar to the 2000 class. The rebuilt cars were re-numbered 2301, 2302 and 2501 and nicknamed Super Chooks (a chook is a chicken in Australian vernacular) entering service in June 1983.[2][8][9]. The exercise was not successful and no more were modified. The Super Chooks saw only limited passenger service and often 2301-2302 was sandwiched in between two 400 class Redhens before they were withdrawn in 1992.[10]


Preserved Redhens (January 2018)
Unit Numbers Location
National Railway Museum, Port Adelaide
875 gifted to SteamRanger, Pending Movement
SteamRanger, Mount Barker
Coolac, New South Wales
Wallaroo currently for sale
432 Hunter Valley, New South Wales
406 Big Orange tourist park, Berri[11]
Mornington Railway
Stored in various locations in South Australia
Victoria & New South Wales
368 is an information car
436 had its interior burnt out
373 For sale at Australian Train & Railway Services[12]

All thirteen of the 820 class trailers were retired by December 1976. The corresponding 300 class Redhens were then coupled to a 400 class railcar to form 2-car trains (designated 300/400 class).[2] In 1987, the steel-bodied 860 class trailers were withdrawn and all the 300 class Redhens were reconfigured as 2-car trains, usually consecutively numbered pairs.

In 1987/88 the State Transport Authority introduced the first of its new fleet of 3000 class railcars, which were intended to replace the Redhens. As more 3000 class were delivered through the early 1990s, the Redhens began to be withdrawn and were gradually restricted to operating only during weekday peak hours. This was especially the case when driver only operation (DOO) was introduced in the early 1990s. The manual sliding doors made Redhens unsuitable for DOO and guards had to be retained to supervise passenger boarding and alighting.

By January 1996, only 16 remained in service, confined to peak-hour Gawler, Outer Harbor and Tonsley services.[13] The last were withdrawn on 15 December 1996.[14][15]


402 at Leongatha on the South Gippsland Railway in December 2008

Whilst in service the Redhens were mechanically robust and reasonably reliable; they were attractive options for use on heritage and tourist railways after retirement. However, their age, and the increasing service time since overhaul, has affected their reliability in preservation. Some continue to operate on broad gauge lines in south-eastern Australia. Many have been broken up, but the first and last units and a few others still exist.[16][17][18][19]

The National Railway Museum have 321, 400 and 875 in preservation.[20][21]

The South Gippsland Tourist Railway (SGR) purchased Redhens 311, 402 and 416 in 1993 but after it closed in 2015 they passed to the Mornington Railway in 2016.


  1. ^ a b c "The 300-400 Class Railcars and 829-860 Class Trailer of the South Australian Railways" Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin issue 576 October 1985 pages 219-242
  2. ^ a b c d e f "The 300-400 Class Railcars and 829-860 Class Trailer of the South Australian Railways" Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin issue 577 November 1985 pages 243-261
  3. ^ "The 300-400 Class Railcars and 829-860 Class Trailer of the South Australian Railways" Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin issue 578 December 1985 pages 279-283
  4. ^ "Multiple-Unit Diesel Trains" Railway Gazette 30 July 1954 page 120
  5. ^ "Australasia" Diesel Railway Traction April 1956 page 134
  6. ^ a b c McNicol, Steve (1981). STA Railcars. Elzabeth: Railmac Publications. ISBN 0 949817 01 5. 
  7. ^ "STA Happenings" Catch Point issue 69 January 1989 page 24
  8. ^ "Metropolitan Area - Broad Gauge Lines" Catch Point issue 36 July 1983 page 17
  9. ^ "Here & There" Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin issue 552 October 1983 page 114
  10. ^ "STA Railcars to be Saved" Catch Point issue 102 July 1994 page 11
  11. ^ "Yorke Peninsula Rail Disposals" Catch Point issue 195 January 2010 page 42
  12. ^ 342 Australian Train & Railway Services
  13. ^ "Red Hen's Indian Summer" Railway Digest March 1996 page 17
  14. ^ "Farewell Red Hens" Railway Digest February 1997 page 16
  15. ^ "TransAdelaide Redhe Disposal - The Final Chapter" Catch Point issue 119 May 1997 page 14
  16. ^ Redhen Railcars 300 to 373 Chris' Commonwealth Railways Pages
  17. ^ Redhen Railcars 400 to 436 Chris' Commonwealth Railways Pages
  18. ^ SAR 820 Class Wooden Railcar Trailers Chris' Commonwealth Railways Pages
  19. ^ 860 Class Steel Railcar Trailer Cars Chris' Commonwealth Railways Pages
  20. ^ "Where Did All the Red Hens Go?" Catch Point issue 168 July 2005 page 16
  21. ^ Red Hens return for a special weekend ABC News 29 November 2013

External linksEdit

  Media related to Redhen railcar at Wikimedia Commons