The S.A.R. steel carriages were all built at the Islington workshops between 1936 and 1942. The "500" and "600" class cars bogies were all fitted with plain bearings, all the others had roller bearings. All cars were painted green and cream with a black roof until the late 1960s when they were repainted maroon and silver to match the air conditioned rollingstock.
During the 30's, the South Australian Railway's began an extensive program of upgrading passenger accommodation. Part of this program involved the construction of "all steel" first and second class passenger carriages. The first of these new carriages entered in service 1936, painted in the new SAR colours of green and gold and classified as 500 and 600 class "main line corridor passenger cars". Built completely at the Islington workshops, each car measured 21.875m (71ft.9in.) long and 2.890m (9ft.6in.) wide, with a height of 4.025m (13ft.2in.) above the rail.
The 4 x first class cars were numbered 500-503 and had seating accommodation for 42 passengers in 7 compartments. The 8 x second class cars were numbered 600-608 and accomodated 64 passengers in 8 compartments. Toilets and vestibules were located at each end, with all compartments leading off a full length side corridor. The interior of each car was fitted out with polished timber panelling, chrome fittings. First class compartments additionally being fitted with mirrors and arm rests between each seat. Each compartment had a single external window and twin wooden sliding doors fitted with large etched glass panels. All windows were originally designed to drop down into the body of the car, but later, due to maintenance problems, these were replaced by half drop windows.
Following excellent public reaction to the new 500 and 600 class cars, the South Australian Railways commenced construction of a modified design, which became the 700, 750 and 780 class. These cars externally were of similar appearance, except for modified window spacings and being only 19.120m (62ft.9in.) in length. The interior design called for a centre aisle with an open plan of passenger seating. Toilets were located in the centre of the carriage, dividing it into a smoking and non-smoking compartment.
The 700 class (700-715) were issued to service as second class cars seating 56 passengers, arranged in groups of 4 (twin seats facing each other). As with the earlier cars, the interiors were panelled in fine timbers with chrome fittings. During the late 1940's, several of the 700 class cars were upgraded for first class service, being fitted with carpet and higher quality seating.
The 750 and 780 class were identical to the 700 class except that the 750 class were composite first/second class cars accommodating 46 passengers (22 first, 24 second), and the 780 class were all first class seating 38 passengers. The first class compartments had 2 seats facing each other to one side of the aisle and 4 in two pairs on the other. The advantage of this arrangement was, a first class passenger travelling alone, did not have to sit along side someone they did not know. At the ends of each compartment, a single seat was provided either side of the doorway, facing a twin seat one side and a single the other. The second class seating arrangement was identical to the 700 class. The 750 class were numbered 750-753 and 780 class 780-783.
Car 783 was converted to a "Departmental car" in 1973. This involved fitting the vehicle out with a kitchen and sleeping compartments for up to 8 people. During refitting a 3-phase power generator was fitted under the car which was used to supply power to the "Commissioners Train" when in railway service. Once modified, the car was painted red and coded "DC 783".
The SteamAge "500", "600" and "700" steel carriages that were refurbished for Melbourne Limited were all given the names of Victorian lakes. These cars initially departed Adelaide on 3.12.1981 with all 14 purchased carriages in a single consists. The inaugural Melbourne Limited trip was on Saturday 15.6.1985 to Swan Hill. At the time only some of the carriages had been updated, the rest being scheduled for refurbishment at a later date.
After SteamAge collapsed, the carriages were resold in 1987 to Australian Vintage Travel and used to form a standard gauge train called The Southern Cross Express. Some additional cars were refurbished to provide Dining and a Power car, with the new service being launched on a special to Seymour on Friday 11.12.1987 and a promotional tour to Canberra on Friday 22 to Sunday 24.1.1988. Australian Vintage Travel went into receivership July 1988, and all the rollingstock was put up for tender.
Late 1989 two of the carriages were sold to a private individual in Sydney, who intended to use them for private trips, the rest where sold to the Northern Rivers Scenic Railway (NRSR)in NSW who intended to operate them at Murwillumbah. On 29.12.1989 all the cars on standard gauge were transferred to Goulburn Roundhouse, the rest being stored at SteamRail's depot at Newport. The Goulburn based cars were eventually transferred further north, but do not seem to have been placed into any regular passenger service. The four stored at SteamRail's depot were eventually sold to West Coast Railway who restored some to service. Following the sale of West Coast Railway the cars returned to SteamRail.
The last four broad gauge carriages in Australian National service were leased to V/LINE from 1983 to 1992, at which time they returned to South Australia were they were put into storage. Eventually they were returned to service for use on a short lived train called The Explorer, before being returned to storage until sold to Great Southern Railway on 1.11.1997. Great Southern sold the four Explorer cars plus two others on standard gauge to SteamRail in June 1998.
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