Friday, June 13, 2014

The WAGR and Being Mellow Yellow.... (Updated)

Most modellers of the Western Australian Government Railways know that the yellow livery was introduced by the WAGR for its standard gauge rolling stock commencing in 1965 but most also believe that yellow was introduced for its narrow gauge wagons with the Westrail era of 1975, this however is far from the truth. So for a bit of clarity, Golden Yellow livery for the narrow gauge stock predated the Westrail era by four and a half years and here is its story.

Y1114 and train crossing Bindiup Creek with a newly painted Golden Yellow GE amongst the consist.
The locomotive, GE wagon and bridge were built by Gavin Stallard,
The Bindiup layout was Built and Owned by Graham Watson.  
The yellow livery started as noted earlier with the introduction of the standard gauge rollingstock, they were bright, clean and easier to see compared to the earthy brown livery used on the narrow gauge system. The earliest correspondence I found was a letter from the convention of Apex clubs held in Kojonup in 1967 to the Minister of Railways recommending that the current livery be changed to yellow and that yellow tarpaulins also be introduced to replace the green canvas type. The railways were at this time trialling yellow PVC tarpaulins so they were moving this way anyway but the change of livery was rejected. It was seen that the red livery (Red Oxide) was very serviceable and that the yellow would not stand up as well to the elements as it was not lead based.

Yellow was seen on the narrow gauge between 1967 and 1969 with the temporary running of standard gauge covered vans (VWV) on narrow gauge bogies however yellow was only adopted for the standard gauge at this time.   
In February 1970, the subject of a uniform colour was once again put on the table, as a result of this the Commissioner for Railways asked for a comparison in price between applying the current Red Oxide and the Golden Yellow paint to the fleet. By June 1970 the figures were in and it showed that the cost to paint a wagon yellow would be double to that of a red wagon resulting in a difference of $11,800 per year based on 2000 four wheel wagons (bogie wagons were classed as two four wheel wagons) being painted per annum. It was also considered that all standard gauge wagons be painted red as a cost saving exercise.
By the end of July, 1970 the Commissioner requested further information to enable a decision on the introduction of yellow for the NG fleet, this included extended weather exposure tests be conducted. The cost difference did not deter the Commissioner as it as seen that the SG fleet was already being maintained in this livery. The advantages he saw was the safety aspect as the yellow tarpaulins were receiving positive feedback and that it would be seen as improving the WAGR's image.
The Minister for Railways in September 1970 advised that all rollingstock was to adopt Golden Yellow as the standard livery, this however was not communicated to the Foreman Painter until November 1970. A short trial was conducted (number of wagons unknown), with full implementation commencing in March 1971.

Yellow Wagons Start to Make an Appearance
TA class, East Perth Terminal, on goods train from Subiaco.
D.Beazley, Photo 1971
Rail Heritage T2038
New Red Oxide wagons however continued with the HE class, these were being converted in Claremont yard from CXA sheep wagons. It was found that the contract was already in place and the Red Oxide paint procured by the contractor, these wagons were issued in 1971 and would be the last in the red livery apart from explosives and poison vans.
Not all classes of wagons would see a coat of yellow paint, the likes of fuel tankers, freezer vans and some others would retain their individual liveries.

It was originally planned to paint 1500 to 2000 four wheel wagons per annum. Based on a fleet size of 15,322 it would take between 7-1/2 and 10 years to complete. We however know that some wagons remained in their red livery a lot longer than this.

Steam locomotive operations had not ceased when yellow was fully implemented to the narrow gauge fleet (VWV wagons excluded) in March 1971. The WAGR was fully dieselized from Monday, 26 July 1971 but it only lasted one day in Collie, V1206, V1217 & S549 would continue to work out of this depot until November for the V's and December for the S class. A photo taken by Nick Pusenjak in published in the December 1991 edition of the Westland magazine shows X1023 and S549 hauling DC wagons at Bowelling in October 1971 of which two of the six wagons in the photo are yellow.

The brand name of Westrail was adopted by the WAGR in September 1975. The freight stock retained the yellow livery however the Westrail tooth symbol and name was an addition to their sides.
So from a modelling perspective, if you base your modelling from 1971 onwards there is a good chance that a yellow wagon should be in the train consist, obviously the later into the 70's you go the higher the amount of yellow wagons make up the fleet size. 


  1. Great article Rob - good to see some info regarding the transition period between the stark livery changes.

  2. The orange livery for diesel locos was introduced around 1974, a year or so before the adoption of the Westrail name. The original colour was "International Orange" with a single yellow stripe for narrow gauge locos and two yellow stripes for standard gauge locos. Some standard gauge locos received a later scheme with one yellow stripe and small, diagonal black stripes inside the yellow stripe. Searching the RHWA photo archive for "international" will reveal some examples.