B15 No.290

Stored at ‘The Workshops’ museum, Ipswich


No.290 stored at the rear of ‘The Workshops’ railway museum, Ipswich on 8 October 2004.

The class designation on the front buffer proclaims “Class B15 Con.” to show it has been converted with larger driving wheels.

The connecting rods have been removed to facilitate shunting.



Yorkshire Engine Co. Ltd,




Builder’s Number & Year

532 of 1896



Wheel Arrangement




No. in class

98 (including 6 originally built for the Chillagoe Railway & Mining Co)


Following the successful B13 class mixed traffic locomotives, the B15 class locomotives used the same 4-6-0 wheel arrangement but were designed for freight service and provided with small 3’ driving wheels. The initial order was for 15 locomotives and supplied by Nasmyth Wilson & Co. of Patricroft in 1889. Judged a success, the class grew to 92 examples via further orders from Yorkshire Engine Co (10), Evans, Anderson & Phelan (21) and Walkers Limited of Maryborough (46). Interestingly the private Chillagoe Railway & Mining Co also ordered 6 of these locomotives from Walkers for their Atherton tableland operations, and these locomotives also came into Queensland Railway’s stock when the government took control of their line in 1919.

Apparently the small 3’ driving wheels of the original design caused damage to the track and accordingly B15s were unpopular with the Queensland Railway’s civil engineering department. The small driving wheels are evident in early photos of B15’s and presumably these locos were not noted for high speed! In modern times, track ride and other complex engineering problems can be assessed by computer modelling and design, but in earlier times trial & error was required! In an attempt to overcome track damage problems, Queensland Railways purchased three sets of 3’ 9” wheels from the South Australian Railways; this trial proved successful – and also improved the overall proportions and appearance! All but five of the B15 class were progressively updated with 3’ 9” driving wheels from the 1900’s through to the 1920s, being redesignated ‘B15 Con’ (ie. converted). The remaining five non-converted B15’s were written off together in November 1934. The original 15 Nasmyth Wilson & Co. locos were supplied with 120psi iron boilers while subsequent engines were supplied with 140psi steel boilers, and most B15’s also received replacement 160psi boilers during overhauls and rebuilding over the years.

B15 Con. withdrawals began with 26 written off in 1935 and proceeded gradually thereafter, with only 18 remaining on the books into the 1960s. They retained usefulness in light lines and shunting roles, and B15’s were principal motive power in the tropical far north of Queensland, particularly the Cairns – Main Range – Atherton Tablelands lines, owing to the light rails in the area. No double the class were extremely busy during the World War 2 years, when many military facilities were established around Cairns and the Atherton Tableland as a staging point for Pacific operations, leveraging the rail and port facilities in the area.

The service history for preserved example No.290 shows it began duties in March 1897, was converted in June 1923 and was the last B15 in service when withdrawn in May 1968; its last duties were shunting at Rockhampton. Upon withdrawal, No.290 was transferred to the south of the state and prepared for static display at the Redbank Railway Museum. It was displayed among the locomotives exhibits at Redbank from 1970 until the museum’s closure in 1992. The Redbank exhibits were then stored prior to relocation to the new ‘The Workshops’ museum at Ipswich Railway Workshops, but alas No.290 is among six ex-Redbank exhibits that were instead placed in storage at the rear of Ipswich Workshops; I believe it awaits removal of dangerous old boiler lagging. Hopefully funds will be found to carefully prepare this fascinating survivor for public display within the museum. Alternatively, a suitable future home might be a regional museum in the far north of the state, relating themes of the famous Cairns-Kuranda ‘Main Range’ railway and light lines of the Atherton tableland, together with the wartime activities in Australia’s north. (Given the humid tropical environment, any such home would need to be a suitable enclosed and atmosphere controlled museum display area!)

The Wikipedia page for the B15 class contains useful technical data for these locomotives.

The builder’s plate for No.290 attached to the cabside. Photo dated 8 October 2004.



Armstrong, J. 'Locomotives in the Tropics - Volume 1

(Queensland Railways 1864 – 1910)’,

published by the ARHS Queensland Division, 1985.


‘Locomotives of Australia’ by Leon Oberg,

published by J. W. Books Pty Ltd


Wikipedia page for B15 class, retrieved 28 September 2020.

Page updated: 26 October 2020

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