C17 Locomotive No 996

The Southport C17

When she was studying for her last piece of academic paper, the author would eat lunch in the shade of a C17 locomotive on static display in a park in Southport. As she munched on her chicken and salad sandwiches, she wondered why the loco was there, since to her knowledge no C17 had ever ventured south of the Logan River. A set research assessment offered the author an opportunity to learn more about rail history in the Gold Coast area and about the C17 locomotive in question.

This report is the result of that assignment and is divided into the following sections -

bullet Introduction
bullet Findings
bullet Brief History Of The Early Years Of The South Coast Rail Line.
bullet The South Coast Rail Line From World War II
bullet The C17 Class Locomotives
bullet The PB15 Class Locomotives
bullet 1170 Class Diesel Electric Locomotives
bullet Analysis
bullet Recommendations
bullet Continuing Display
bullet Alternative Options For Removal
bullet Bibliography

So - how did the author do in the assignment?? - she topped the class of course.


 The purpose of this research report is to examine the historical significance of the C17 996 locomotive on static display on the Southport esplanade, and to determine its suitability as a historical monument representing the rail transport history of the Gold Coast region.

Sources of Information
Information for this report has been taken from a number of books including "Destination South Brisbane" by John Kerr and John Armstrong; "Locomotives of Australia" by Leon Oberg; "Locomotives of the Tropics" Volume 1 and 2 by John Armstrong, and "Triumph of Narrow Gauge" by John Kerr. A variety of newspaper articles, Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletins, and personal communications have also been used in the research of this report.


Background Information Of The C17 Class Locomotive - Number 996

The C17 locomotive number 996 was built by Walker's Foundry at Maryborough in 1953, spent most of its working life in the Roma-Charleville area and was decommissioned in April 1970. It was placed in its current location on static display in the park at the Broadwater end of North Street sometime after this date but before 1975. This report has been unable to determine the exact date.

C17 number 996 is currently painted royal blue and yellow gold, the corporate colours of the Gold Coast City Council who maintain the park. The locomotive bears a destination board with the words "Southport Express" and is currently enclosed in a pool safety fence with a childproof gate. Appropriate signage has been including, indicating some of the history of this particular locomotive.

The locomotive itself has been modified with steps and railings welded to the cab and on to the buffer beams. The firebox door is jammed shut and many of glass gauges and pipes have been removed from the cab. A large number of children have been observed playing on and around the locomotive over a period of several days.

Brief History Of The Early Years Of The South Coast Rail Line.

The South Coast line opened on Friday, 25th January 1889 with two express Southport to Stanley Street (South Brisbane) trains timetabled to run daily. [Kerr & Armstrong, 1978:p81].

Showing a lack of foresight, the South Coast line was not built to mainline standard. Much of the country the original line ran through was low lying and this necessitated the construction of raised trestles to accommodate track. Three major rivers needed to be crossed, the Logan, Albert and Coomera rivers along with many creeks that required bridging. [ARHS Bulletin March 1965:p56]. The line's construction was not without mishap, with the original Logan River bridge being washed away in the January 1887 floods. [Kerr & Armstrong, 1978:p38] It should also be noted that while not build to recognised mainline standards, the Gold Coast rail line was built to accommodate the B15 locomotive, the heaviest steam engine, at the time, in the Queensland Government Fleet [ARHS Bulletin 1965: p56]

However, the early years of the South Coast line were positive with trains hauled by a PB15 class locomotive were reported at making the South Brisbane-Southport Journey in 1 hour and 40 minutes. [A&LN, 17/10/89:p11] These trains were known as 'Flying Fleas' as they were the fastest express trains in Brisbane during that pre-WWII era. [A&LN, 17/2/84:p10].

The South Coast Rail Line From World War II

World War II caused significant problems for the South Coast Rail line. Locomotives and carriages were directed to transport military personal to North Queensland for the war effort. [A&LN 21/11/84]. No new rollingstock was added to the Brisbane southside locomotive depot, which largely consisted of PB15 and other lighter locomotives.

Plans were made to upgrade the South Coast Rail line in the post-war years. While the Coomera River bridge base was strengthened and some sections of the South Brisbane to Kuraby line were duplicated and improved in the 1950's, other sections of the rail line were in their original single line alignment and still featured the original tight curves of the original track. Speed and weight restrictions were in force over the Logan and Albert bridges and these bridges were restricted to the lightweight engines, mostly PB15's, thus preventing heavier engines such as the C17 class locomotives from travelling this line. [Kerr & Armstrong, 1978:p7]

Diesel power made an appearance from the 1950's with the introduction of the 1800 class railcar. These were lightweight self-propelled trains featuring two diesel-powered cars at each end and one or more non-powered trailer cars between the two. However, these particular cars were not popular with passengers as they featured uncomfortable seating, poor rising qualities and inadequate ventilation [Kerr & Armstrong, 1978 p106]. The 2000 class railcars were introduced to the South Coast line only a few months prior to the closing. These were much more comfortable and passenger friendly but, combined with a lack of advertising, failed to increase passenger numbers. [ARHS Bulletin, March 1965:p56]

Elsewhere in Queensland diesel powered locomotives were replacing steam locomotives in a variety of roles. An example of this is the introduction in 1956 of the diesel electric 1170 class locomotive, which was rostered to run on lines previously the domain of PB15 and C17 locomotives. [ARHS Bulletin January 1996:p7]

The South Coast line was never a productive line when it came to goods transportation. In the period between 1891-92 only 2310 tons of freight, mostly timber and firewood, was consigned from stations south of Bethania. In comparison, railway stations at Rosewood and Laidley on the Brisbane-Toowoomba line forwarded more produce than the entire goods traffic on the South Coast line. [Kerr, 1990 p70] As the South Coast's popularity as a tourist destination increased, the outward goods traffic decreased.

The last passenger train on the South Coast line left Southport on the 30th June 1964. The line had been making a loss of 250,000 per year for a number of years [SCB:18/2/64]. The line was regarded as being unproductive and with an estimated cost of 3,000,000 to upgrade, the Southport line closed in preference to upgrading other more profitable lines, as had become railway practice. An economic study undertaken after closure revealed that placing a rostering a lightweight diesel locomotive, such as the 1170 class, on the line would have been a sound investment. [Kerr, 1990:p188]

The C17 Class Locomotives

The C17 class is a type of Queensland Railway locomotive introduced in 1920. Developed as an improved version of the C16 class; these updated engines featured a superheated boiler to improve steaming, had a tractive effort of 18,085lbs and a total weight of 79.7 tons [Oberg, 1975:p131]. With over 227 units built over a 33 year period it was regarded as a successful engine.

The design was updated in the late 1930's, when locomotive building recommenced after the Great Depression. The new design, regarded as the 1938 version, featured a top feed boiler, larger diameter piston valves, improved cab design with side windows, and a welded tender with raised coal bunker sides [Armstrong, 1994:p57]. The C17 996 is of this later class.

This updated class of locomotive featured a medium brown colour scheme with a black smokebox and red buffer beams. Locomotives featuring this colour scheme gained the nickname "Brown Bomber".

C17 locomotives were found in all parts of the state but principally worked the Central and Northern areas of the state, generally based in Rockhampton and Townsville. Due to their small driving wheels they were not ideal for passenger work [Armstrong 1994: p58]. Small driving wheels make for better goods locomotives as they give the locomotive a better pulling capacity. Larger wheels transfer the locomotives pulling power into speed. Famous express passenger steam locomotives such as the "Flying Scotsman" or New South Wales' 38 class locomotives feature large driving wheels. The 38 class featured 5'19" wheels in comparison to the 3' 9" wheels of the C17. [Oberg, 1975:p162]

In 1970, the year Queensland Rail discontinued the use of steam locomotives, a large proportion of C17 locomotives were still in service. Because of this, over 20 C17 locomotives have been "preserved" in parks around Queensland. Since then, a number of these locomotives have been removed from static display and restored to running order by rail enthusiast groups. [Armstrong 1994; pp153-154]

The PB15 Class Locomotives

The South Coast Rail Line was typically the preserve of the lightweight PB15 locomotives. The PB15's were originally built from 1899 and were a passenger variation on the 1889 B15 class locomotive. Improvements over the B15 class included a larger boiler of 160 psi, larger firebox, larger driving wheels and electric headlights. They had a tractive effort of 11,250lbs and weighed 56.3 tons. Over 230 engines were built between 1899 and 1926. The majority of these engines were scrapped after 1966 and only four locomotives where still in operation when Queensland Railways officially discontinued using steam locomotives in 1970 [Oberg, 1975:p96].

It is interesting to note that there are only 4 operational locomotives still in running condition in Queensland and only one PB15 locomotive on static display. Queensland Rail retained this locomotive, as part of their heritage display. [Armstrong, 1994:p167].

1170 Class Diesel Electric Locomotives

Even though the 1170 Class Diesel Electric Locomotives weren't ever rostered onto the South Coast Line it is interesting to compare them to the PB15 and C17 locomotives. As one of the first classes of branch line diesel locomotives, twelve 1170-class locomotives were introduced between 1956 and 1958. With a weight of just 60 tons, 1170 locomotives were specifically built for light line use, especially around the relatively more profitable western areas of the Queensland. [ARHS Bulletin January 1996:p3]




Wheel Arrangement




Coupled wheels (driving wheels)

4ft 0 in

3ft 9in


Tractive Effort




Boiler Pressure

160 psi

175 psi


Total Weight

56.3 tons

82.9 tons

60 tons

Source: Oberg: 1975 p93 & 131 & ARHS Bulletin January 1996 p5


Table 1 shows the comparative specifications between the PB15, C17 and the 1170 locomotive. It shows how the C17 is a much heavier engine than both the PB15 and 1170. This report shows that the locomotives rostered to the South Coast Line were restricted to PB15 weight because of the condition of the rail line and a number of the wooden trestle bridges, including the bridge over the Logan River.

This report suggests that updated resources in the form of newer locomotives and upgrading were not available to the South Coast line due to its unprofitably. Other profitable lines such as the Brisbane-Toowoomba line were upgraded to take heavier locomotives.

Had the line been upgraded in the late 1950's/early 1960's as proposed it is still unlikely that C17's would have been rostered on to the South Coast line as generally speaking C17's were rostered elsewhere in the state and were considered better goods engines than passenger locomotives. The introduction of diesel locomotives and modern railcars in that time period may also have meant that an upgraded South Coast line would have been serviced by non-steam trains such as the 1170 class locomotive or equivalent.

This report suggests that the C17 was placed on static display in Southport as there were large numbers of these locomotives 'spare' at the time of full dieselisation in 1970.


Continuing Display

While this report finds that C17 locomotive number 996 did not ever, nor was likely to have ever serviced the South Coast Rail line, it recommends that this locomotive continue to be displayed as a historical monument to Queensland railway transportation in general. This report also recommends that C17 number 996 continue to be kept in a safe condition suitable for static display and close inspection by the general public.

Alternative Options For Removal

However, this report would also find it acceptable if a rail preservation group proposed removal for restoration to running condition.


bullet Albert and Logan News (1984) 21 November
bullet Albert and Logan News (1989) 17 October, p11
bullet Albert and Logan News (1994) 17 February, p10
bullet Armstrong, John (1965) 'The Last Train To Southport', ARHS Bulletin, No 329, pp 56-58
bullet Armstrong, John (1985) Locomotives in the Tropics: Volume 1, Brisbane: Australian Railway Historical Society Qld. Div
bullet Armstrong, John (1994) Locomotives in the Tropics: Volume 2, Brisbane: Australian Railway Historical Society Qld. Div
bullet Burton, John (ed.) (1994) 'A Line Reborn, Gold Coast Rail Special', Gold Coast Bulletin, 30 June, pp 2-5
bullet Clark, Peter J. (1973) An Australian Diesel Locomotive Pocketbook, Sydney: Australian Railway Historical Society NSW Div.
bullet Daily News (1992) 1 April, p2
bullet Gold Coast Bulletin (1995) 18 April, pp5, 26
bullet Kerr, John (1990) Triumph of Narrow Gauge: A History of Queensland Railways, Brisbane: Boolarong Publications.
bullet Kerr, John and Armstrong, John (1978) Destination South Brisbane: An Illustrated History of the Southside Railways of Brisbane, Brisbane: Australian Railway Historical Society Qld. Div.
bullet Milne, Rod (1996) 'The 1170 Class ("PawPaw") of the Queensland Railways', ARHS Bulletin, Vol 47 No 699, pp 3-9
bullet Oberg, Leon (1975) Locomotives of Australia, Terrey Hills, NSW: Reed.
bullet South Coast Bulletin (1961) 1 March
bullet South Coast Bulletin (1964) 18 February



Page last updated on 01/01/04