R 174

The Railway Museum, Bassendean


The webmaster visited the Midland Centrepoint Shopping Centre in search of R 174 on 9 May 2002.

Here is a scanned photo view of the loco as I found her lazing in the car park.

The loco exhibits beautiful period details such as a copper-top chimney, and polished brass on the steam dome cover and safety valve bonnet.


Dubs & Co,

Glasgow, Scotland

Builder’s Number & Year

3674 of 1898

Wheel Arrangement



R 174 is the survivor of 24 R-class locomotives supplied by Dubs & Co., Glasgow to the Western Australian Government Railways (WAGR) for express passenger duties, entering service between 1897 and 1899. The 4-4-0 configuration for passenger work was already proven to the WAGR by the smaller T-class locomotives of 10 years earlier, the first 6 examples built by Beyer Peacock & Co. in 1887 and a further 4 from Kitson & Co. built in 1888. The WAGR also operated 2 P-class 4-4-0 locos built by James Martin & Co. of Gawler in 1896 as copies of the South Australian Railways Z-class.

From 1909 onwards, a total of 14 R-class locomotives (including preserved example R 174) were converted to 4-4-2 ‘Atlantic’ wheel arrangement to reduce their axle-load, thus permitting use on routes with lighter rails. These modified engines were classed ‘Ra’. It seems this modification must have relatively straightforward because several locos reverted to 4-4-0, only to be later converted to 4-4-2 for a second time!

R 174 achieved a degree of fame in 1907 as one of three locomotives engaged to haul an emergency express conveying divers and rescue equipment from Fremantle to Coolgardie, following a miner becoming trapped in the Westralia mine at Bonnievale which had flooded following a sudden storm. Using a long air hose rushed from Perth, the divers successfully rescued the man - Modesto ‘Charlie’ Varischetti - after 6 days trapped in an underground air pocket. History records that Varischetti survived his ordeal and the WAGR was recognised for quickly organising the ‘cannonball run’ to Coolgardie.

While most R-class locos were withdrawn in the mid-1920’s, six examples survived into the 1940’s. R 174 was among these and running in 4-4-2 configuration when first withdrawn in 1947. It was reinstated in 1948 and was the last class member in traffic when finally retired in 1953. While many other wonderful steam locomotive designs became extinct throughout Australia in the 1950’s, fortunately R 174 was saved for posterity, ostensibly due to its role in the 1907 mine disaster and reflecting WAGR pride in their response. The loco was rebuilt from 4-4-2 to 4-4-0 configuration, restored to original condition, and then plinthed outside the Railway Institute Library at Midland Junction. At some stage commemorative brass plaques were mounted on each sandbox recording the loco’s service history and role in the 1907 mine rescue.

In 1972 the loco moved to a new plinth at the Midland Centrepoint Shopping Centre. (I believe this shopping precinct was built on former Midland Railway land at Midland Junction, so perhaps the loco’s movement was necessary due to redevelopment of its former site.) Photos on this page show R 174 as I found her at the Midland Centrepoint Shopping Centre on 9 May 2002; it was difficult to photograph from some angles as it was positioned close to the shop building. In those days I used a film SLR camera and only took 3 shots to preserve expensive film, whereas nowadays I would take many digital shots from all angles!

The Midland Centrepoint Shopping Centre has itself since been redeveloped. Fortunately, R 174 was donated to Rail Heritage WA for display at The Railway Museum, Bassendean, where it arrived on 13 March 2011 - a very fitting home for this important historic relic and survivor.

Passenger 4-4-0 locomotives were once a significant part of the Australian railway scene, represented by various UK builders across narrow, standard and broad gauges, together with classic American examples from Baldwin. Alas most of these locos did not last long enough to pass into the preservation era. From a ferroequinology point of view, surviving examples include:

·        Midland Railway Company (WA) B 6

·        South Australian Railways Z-class replica Z 199

·        Tasmanian Government Railways A-class A 4

·        NSWGR 12 & 13-class, including 1210

Among the 4-4-0 types consigned to history are the beautiful and elegant A and AA classes of the Victorian broad gauge, the high-stepping SAR S-class (last two scrapped in September 1961 and spurring formation of the Mile End Railway Museum) and American types such as the QGR A12-class with their classic Baldwin ‘wild west’ styling.

Detail of R 174's driving wheels, splasher & builder's plate. 9 May 2002.

The plaque on the sandbox provides the loco’s service details together with a description of the 1907 mine rescue train.

A picture containing text

Description automatically generated

Detail of the Dubs & Co builder’s plate, from scanned print photo dated 9 May 2002.

(Alas the historical plaque details on the sandbox were not legible upon post-processing.)

R 174 plinthed at the Railways Institute, Midland, as seen on 22 September 1962.

At that stage the loco was displayed in a garden setting under a weather roof, but the brass plaque on the sandbox is not evident.

Image used with permission of the wonderful Rail Heritage WA archive:


(Image reference T01927, original photographer E. Woodland.)

A later photo of R 174, plinthed at the Midland Railway Institute in 1972 and freshly repainted in lined blue livery.

It appears to be in the same location as the photo above, but the weather roof, tree and garden setting has been replaced by a car park.

Image used with permission of the Rail Heritage WA archive:


(Image reference T06745, original photographer N. Pusenjak.)

R 174 displayed in unlined black livery at the Railway Museum, Bassendean on 21 July 2013.

It had recently been restored and repainted for a documentary by an Italian company about the rescue of the entrapped miner Varischetti.

The brass plaque is no longer displayed on the sandbox.

Image used with permission of the Rail Heritage WA archive:


(Image reference P13330, original photographer Graham Watson.)

T 170 ‘The Gordon’ (Kitson b/n 3106 of 1888, from a Beyer Peacock design) stored at Midland Workshops, 05 September 1955.

Withdrawn in 1948, the veteran 4-4-0 is prominently marked “Not to be cut up” on the cabside, but alas it did not escape that fate.

A change of plans, or perhaps the Midland Workshops scrap crew just had trouble following instructions?

Image used with permission of the Rail Heritage WA archive:


(Image reference P15663, original photographer R. Taylor.)



A. Gunzburg 'A history of WAGR steam locomotives',

published by ARHS (Western Australian Division) 1984.

Pages 63 – 65.


Gray. W. K., 'Guide to Rail Transport Museum, Bassendean, Western Australia',

Australian Railway Historical Society W. A. Division, First Edition November 1999.


Rail Heritage WA website www.railheritagewa.org.au,

'What's New’ page,

retrieved 12 February 2015.


Rail Heritage WA website, Exhibits page: ‘R class’:


retrieved 6 January 2023


Western Australian Museum website, ‘A Miraculous Rescue’ page:


retrieved 5 January 2023.

Page updated: 7 March 2023

Government Railways:











Private & Industrial Railways: