56' Express Guards Van

  • Running number:F609 (TMS F2391)
  • Designed by:New Zealand Railways
  • Built at:NZR Addington Railway Workshops
  • Date built:1944
  • Date withdrawn from revenue service:1986
  • Downgraded to : EA7207
  • Arrived at Paekakariki: Nov 1990
  • Current condition: Stored. 
F609 stored at Addington

Image: F609 stored at Addington

  • Weight in working order: 23 tonne
  • Distributed load: 15 tonne
  • Overall length:58 feet 9 1/4 inches
  • Bogies:25330 with roller bearing axleboxes. 


This vehicle was purchased by Steam Inc from NZR in August 1990.

Coming at the tail end of the large scale 56 foot main trunk carriage building programme that commenced in late 1937 at the Railway’s Otahuhu and Addington Workshops the nineteen strong class of 56’ main trunk vans was literally the swan song of carriage building by the Government Railways Workshops in New Zealand.  Built to a common plan 14 of the vans were out shopped by Otahuhu in 1943-44, while another 5 were constructed during the same period at the Addington shops.  Sharing many of the construction and design features of the contemporary 56 foot first, second and sleeping cars, the new vans were also equipped with 25330 Timken bogies.  To facilitate ease of use the vans were fitted with an Alliance type coupler at the vestibule end, while a conventional NZR chopper coupler was installed the blind end for ready connections to locomotives, goods wagons, etc.   They carried their original (“birth”) numbers of F592-F605, and F606-F610 respectively, right up to the introduction of the TMS numbering system in the mid-1970’s.  Our van was one of the Addington built vans, built in 1944 during the waning years of the Second World War.

Not too surprisingly the Otahuhu built vans were assigned to Auckland and Wellington, while the Addington constructed vans were assigned to their home town. Such allocations seem to have been very stable with records showing the  same home base assignments being kept for a twenty plus year period during the fifties and sixties.  Although records are sketchy, F609 appears to have led a fairly uneventful life, although the van was used on at least one of the South Island Royal trains during the visit of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh in January 1954. Some years later F609 was part of the consist of the August 1962 Christchurch to Dunedin and return Royal Train put on for the visit of the King and Queen of Thailand.

Thai Royal Train consist

F609 on Thai Royal Train at Dunedin. Photo G.W.Emerson Collection

With the close of regular steam workings on the South Island Expresses, and the introduction of the refurbished “Southerner” Express during 1971 between Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill F609 was repainted in the new blue colours and took on a new lease of life acquiring TMS number F2391 along the way.  However after forty plus years of service to New Zealand Railways was finally displaced by much newer FM vans and in 1986 downgraded to non-revenue maintenance service as EA7207.

In her twilight yearsF609/F2391/EA7207 was assigned to the Addington IPW Depot and outfitted with workbenches in the luggage compartment and was used by track maintenance gangs for a few more years until being finally retired to Addington where she was rediscovered by long time Steam Inc member Reid McNaught in April 1990.  Arrangements were made to purchase the vehicle and she arrived at Paekakariki in 1990.  The van has been stored since then and is still on the list of future restorations.


Sister van F1397 in Wellington in 1979

Sister van F1397 in Wellington in 1979



model of F609

9mm scale model of F609


  56' van drawing

The 56' vans have changed very little since being built. F609 still looks essentially the same as depicted in this line drawing reproduced from an old NZGR blueprint. The few obvious changes include modern wedge shaped guards lookouts, removal of the mail box hardware and the addition of small widows to the left of the lookouts.

These notes are based on an article in our “Steamline” newsletter that was prepared by Reid McNaught.

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