The International Steam Pages

An Introduction to New Zealand Mainline Steam

There is no space here to document the full range of steam locomotives which worked in the country. Instead I have highlighted a few types with special reference to those which are likely to be found working on the main line with special trains.

The pictures are used with permission of David Cross, son of the photographer, the late Derek Cross. They all show 'working steam' in the 1950s.

The Baldwin Q class 4-6-2s are generally considered to be the first class with such a wheel arrangement. 343 was working on the Bluff branch on South Island on 24th January 1956:

Pacific 343

Between 1899 and 1913, the railway  took delivery of a number of 4-8-0s. Here Ba class 552 shunts empty stock at Dundedin on South Island on 6th January 1956:

Bb 552

The numerous mixed traffic Ab class Pacifics were 'go anywhere' locomotives. 831 was working a short train on the Moutohora branch from Gisborne on North Island in 1958.

Ab 831

The Wab 4-6-4T were the tank engine equivalent of the Abs. Here 686 tackles the stiff grade out of Putaruru with a mixed goods for Kinleith on North Island in August 1955.

Wab 686

On July 16th 1955, K class 4-8-4 921 heads south out of Waiouru with a mixed from Taumaruni to Taihape - snow rarely being seen in quantity along the North Island railways. The Ks were a massive class for their gauge at the time of their introduction in 1930.

K 921

The Ka (and later Kb rebuilds) class 4-8-4 were introduced from 1939 as a further development. The full majesty of these locomotives is apparent in this 1953 picture of 945 storming up the grade out of Mangaaweka with a goods train from Wellington to Taihape on North Island.

Ka 945

To operate on lighter secondary mainlines, the J Class 4-8-2s appeared in 1939. One of them climbs below Tarukenga with a Rotorua to Auckland express on North island  in June 1955.


The Ja class were to be the last steam class to enter traffic on the NZR. On 30th December 1956, 1268 heads a Greymouth bound express near Cass climbing to the Arthur Pass on South Island.

Ja 1268

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Rob Dickinson