New Zealand DJ class locomotive

The New Zealand DJ class locomotive is a type of diesel-electric locomotive in service on the New Zealand rail network. The class were built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and introduced from 1968 to 1969 for the New Zealand Railways Department (NZR) with a modernisation loan from the World Bank to replace steam locomotives in the South Island, where all of the class members worked most of their lives.

New Zealand DJ class locomotive
DJ 3107 on the Taieri Gorge Railway
Type and origin
Power typeDiesel-electric
BuilderMitsubishi Heavy Industries, Japan
Build date1968–1969
Gauge3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm)
Length14.1 metres (46 ft 3 in)
Axle load10.66 tonnes (10.49 long tons; 11.75 short tons)
Adhesive weight64.0 tonnes (63.0 long tons; 70.5 short tons)
Loco weight64.0 tonnes (63.0 long tons; 70.5 short tons)
Prime moverCaterpillar D398
RPM range1300 rpm
Engine typeV12 Diesel engine
Traction motorsSix
Cylinder size159 mm × 203 mm (6.3 in × 8.0 in)
Performance figures
Maximum speed97 km/h (60 mph)
Power output672 kW (901 hp)
Tractive effort128 kN (29,000 lbf)
Number in class64
Numbers1,200 - 1263 (original)
3009 - 3689 (TMS)
LocaleSouth Island
First run1968–1969
Current ownerDunedin Railways (8)
Mainline Steam Heritage Trust (2)
Disposition55 scrapped
9 preserved

They are the second class of locomotive in New Zealand to utilise the Bo-Bo-Bo wheel arrangement, the other classes being the EW class and the EF class. In both cases, this wheel arrangement was used to provide a lower axle-load due to track conditions as well, particularly in the case of the DJs, a shorter wheelbase more suited to sharp curvature on secondary or tertiary routes.


With the ongoing introduction of diesels to the New Zealand railway network, various options to replace steam traction in the South Island were investigated. The new locomotives would need to be capable of both mainline running and also be light enough to work on secondary main lines, the West Coast system, west of Otira and the Main North Line, which would not be upgraded before 1979 to support the 13-14 ton axle load of the DA/DC/DF classes[1] and on weight-restricted branch lines, particularly in Otago and Southland. The locomotives were specified to have a top speed of 62 miles (100 km) and max axle load of 10.7 tons were specified.

A World Bank modernisation loan was obtained in December 1965 for a four-year term to December 1969, allowing the Cabinet Works Committee in February 1966 to call tenders for 55 1000-1200 hp diesel locomotives for the South Island, and 34 locomotives of 1400-1600 hp to complete North Island dieselisation. The expectation was that the General Motors offering would win the tender - either its DA/DB model locomotive already in use for both islands, or its new G18LC model, which was recommended.[2] In addition, Five of the English Electric DI class locomotives were already in service with NZR at the time and were the prototype for the tender specifications.

In the event, the order was placed with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of Japan for 55 Bo-Bo-Bo diesel-electric locomotives. Mitsubishi offered tenders 25-35% lower in cost than its main rivals, at a unit cost of £44,000, compared with General Motors £72,000, English Electric £70,000 and Associated Electrical Industries £58,000.[3] Both General Motors and English Electric were shocked to lose the South Island locomotive contract.[4] The World Bank, the pressure to accept one of the low Japanese tenders,[5] was not out of any preference for a specific manufacturer, but out of growing dissatisfaction, in Washington by the administrations of Lyndon B. Johnson and later Richard Nixon for the use of the World Bank development loans for infrastructure projects in advanced nations. The Minister of Finance, Robert Muldoon, clashed with United States' officials regarding New Zealand's use of the World Bank,[6][7] the World Bank, therefore, financed only low tenders which delivered locomotives quickly to complete conversion of NZR to diesel traction at the earliest date possible.

Following further discussions, in which the New Zealand Treasury and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stressed the need to simply order more DJ class locomotives. Instead of issuing a new tender if the locomotives to be built within the time limit which the 1965-69 drawn World Bank loan had specified for delivery compliance,[8] and the fact it was known the World Bank would not extend the time limit, the order was extended to 64 locomotives on 27 November 1967, delivered between 1968 and 1969 along with twelve DSA class and three DSB class shunting locomotives. On arrival, the new locomotives received the next available classification of DJ.

The final cost of the DJ locomotives did not offer the cost advantage expected, and this was only partly due to inflation and differences in exchange rates. After delivery of all the DJ class, the cost of 69 DJ and DI was $10.204 million compared with $10.251 million for the 54 DA class locomotives delivered on average 18 months earlier.[9]

They were the first locomotives in New Zealand to employ an AC/DC transmission, all previous diesel locomotive types had DC/DC transmissions. They were also turbocharged with a 1050 hp rating, but were only safe for 5 minutes an hour at that rating, with operation at 975 hp for an hour on, and 835 hp for the next hour. The locomotives were not reliably sustainable for all trip operation such as the first passenger DJ express use on the 11-hour run, summer South Island Limited in 1969-70 when two DJ locomotives pulled up to 14 cars.

The order for the DJ was in two batches, 55 on 1 August 1966[10] and the second delayed order of 9 on 1 November 1967.[11]

It had been intended to call full tenders for the last 9 engines in mid 1967, but Treasury suggested that the offer be restricted to Mitsubishi and the best two other offers to the first tender, but after unofficial discussion with World Bank staff, the last 9 were simply ordered direct from Mitsubishi because the World Bank staff advised no other rail company would be able to deliver in the time and funding available for the remainder of the World Bank grant.[12]

Following the arrival of the full order of the DJ class locomotives, steam traction on freight ended on the East Coast in March 1969 and the West Coast in July 1969. When the DJ class were ordered, no provision was made for train heating, which prevented the class from being used on the overnight expresses. Eventually, steam heat vans were transferred from the North Island Night Limited when the Silver Star was delivered a year late in November 1971.

In service

The DJ class locomotives were designed as a versatile mixed-traffic diesel-electric locomotive capable of being used in main line service or on branch lines where their light axle loading of 10.66 tonnes gave them an advantage on lightly-laid lines over heavier types such as the DG class A1A-A1A and DI class Co-Co locomotives, which had been built for similar purposes. When working in multiple with these classes, it was common practice to have the DJ as the lead locomotive due to its superior cab conditions and visibility.

Following the introduction of the Southerner passenger train between Christchurch and Invercargill in 1970, the DJ class were chosen as the preferred locomotive for this train. Three locomotives were specifically repainted in a new blue livery dubbed "Southerner Blue" to match the train, although it was not unusual to see a red DJ locomotive hauling the Southerner on occasion. With fewer stops the DJ on the lighter, 200 ton, 8-car Southerner offered slightly higher stop to start average speed than the steam-hauled South Island Limited, with 47 miles (76 km) average speed between Ashburton and Timaru and more impressively between Ashburton to Christchurch. The most impressive passenger running of the DJ was undoubtedly on the Picton express, introduced to replace the Rangitira steam ferry between Lyttelton and Wellington. The DJ cutting running times by more than an hour, on the steep route with three 1/35 grades in 1976-8 and hauling loads of up to 250 passengers on the last old fashioned, red-livery 56 ft carriage standard New Zealand express. Other passenger duties included the Christchurch - Greymouth passenger train (rebranded as the TranzAlpine from 1987) following the end of railcar services in 1976.

Although soundly built, the locomotives were plagued initially by unreliability issues stemming from the Caterpillar D398 diesel engine which was overrated initially at 1050 hp, and unlikely to be reliable beyond 800-850 hp[13] the NZR Chief Mechanical Engineer concluded the correct rating of the DJ 797 hp,[14] and it suffered from overheating problems, turbocharger blow outs[15] unavailability and maintenance cost excesses and as advanced design and NZR management viewed it poorly compared with the well tested DAs which were as expensive at actual landed 1967 costs of $175,000 final unit cost, compared with the DJ $130,000 after currency movement. NZR did not want to re-engineer the DJ with new Caterpillar engines and actually gained Labour Government approval in 1973 to re-engine the DJ class with 1200 hp English Electric Paxman Ventura engines,[16] diesels in 1975-78. This was not ultimately financed and the solution was to fit rectangular header tanks to the locomotives roofs above the radiator, down-rate the engines, and fit additional air intakes, nicknamed 'flyswatters' by enthusiasts due to their shape. These modifications, made in the late 1970s, made the DJ class more reliable. The greatest improvement offered by the DJ over the steam JA was in hillclimbing particularly on the Greymouth-Otira section and in moving heavy slow freight.

Following arrival of more powerful locomotives such as the General Motors DF class and DX class locomotives in 1979 and 1988 respectively, the DJ class were cascaded to lesser duties on branch lines or as freight locomotives. Due to their multiple unit capabilities, the DJ class were regularly seen operating in multiple with members of the DG class, or less frequently with members of the DF, DI and DX classes. The class were also used in banker service on the West Coast, with at two locomotives at any time used to assist trains out of Reefton across the Reefton Saddle.

Although largely obsolete by this time, the DJ class received a stay of execution on the West Coast in the late 1980s following the introduction of the DC class locomotives. As the West Coast branch lines to Rapahoe and Ngakawau had not been upgraded with heavier rail to carry larger trains and the DC class were damaging the track, which precluded the use of heavier locomotives over these lines during the upgrading of these routes. Due to their light axle loading, no major track upgrades had been required to allow the DJ class to enter service in 1968, allowing these upgrades to be deferred.


The first DJ class locomotive to be withdrawn from service were DJs 1205 and 1220, which were withdrawn in April 1973 after both were involved in a collision at Balclutha on 20 December 1972. The first mainstream withdrawals of the DJ class took place in September 1986 when DJs 3073, 3165, 3263, 3355, 3361, 3447, 3453 and 3608 were withdrawn from service; five of the locomotives were placed in storage in Invercargill. Withdrawals continued until the penultimate locomotive, DJ 3159, was withdrawn in July 1992. The last remaining locomotive, DJ 3096, was retained initially in storage and later as a working locomotive as part of the New Zealand Railways Heritage Fleet.

In order to prolong the service life of the remaining locomotives as they were prepared for withdrawal, most of the DJ class locomotives had their top power notch made inoperable with the exception of DJs 3009, 3015, 3021, 3038 and 3044, which were at the time being used to haul the Southerner. The last DJ-worked Southerner service took place in June 1990 although one final instance was recorded in February 1991 when a DJ hauled the train from Invercargill to Dunedin.

One locomotive, DJ 3303 (DJ 1229) was given a reprieve on withdrawal in March 1988 after it was sold to the Ohai Railway Board (ORB) for use on their line between Wairio and Ohai. At the time the DJ was the largest industrial locomotive in New Zealand and was repainted in the ORB's yellow livery as their NO 3. After New Zealand Rail Limited took over running of the ORB line in 1991, DJ 3303 was placed in storage before being sold for preservation to Mainline Steam. A small number of DJs were also moved to Upper Hutt for storage pending possible sale to other buyers, although most were later scrapped.


Eleven DJ class locomotives survived into preservation. Five were purchased by the then Taieri Gorge Railway (now Dunedin Railways) for use in tourist train service, while another four were purchased by Mainline Steam Heritage Trust. One unit each were kept by New Zealand Railways as a heritage locomotive or made available as a display locomotive.

Taieri Gorge Railway purchased five DJ class locomotives in 1992 from New Zealand Rail Limited in order to operate their trains to Pukerangi and Middlemarch. DJs 3107, 3211, 3228, 3286 and 3424 (DJs 1210, 1221, 1222, 1227, and 1240) were purchased in operational condition and are used to haul both the Taieri Gorge Limited and Seasider trips from Dunedin to Pukerangi or Middlemarch and Palmerston respectively. All carry a modified blue scheme with two exceptions; DJ 3424 was repainted in NZR Carnation Red as DJ 1240 for the Dunedin Railway Station centenary in 2006, while DJ 3286 was repainted in the "Southerner Blue" livery in 2010 as DJ 1227. DJ 1240 was repainted into the Southerner blue livery in 2006.

New Zealand Rail Limited retained DJ 3096 (DJ 1209) as part of its Heritage Fleet in the 1990s. More latterly allocated to Whangarei to work the Dargaville Branch, DJ 3096 was sold to the Dunedin Railways by the then national rail operator Toll Rail after forty years of service. It was overhauled and repainted in the "Southerner Blue" livery as DJ 1209 and re-entered service in 2009. Following a major engine fire in April 2010, the locomotive was again withdrawn from service and was overhauled again including the fitting of a new D398 engine block to replace the terminally-damaged original, before returning to service in 2011.

The Mainline Steam Heritage Trust purchased four DJs in 1990-91. DJs 3044 and 3580 (DJs 1204 and 1254) were purchased as spare parts donors and were stored at MLST's Parnell depot, while DJs 3292 and 3303 (DJs 1228 and 1229) were purchased by Richard Head and Ian Welch respectively with the intention of having them returned to working order. With no intended use for the two Parnell locomotives, DJ 3580 was scrapped in the 1990s; DJ 3044 was removed from storage in May 2011 and was sold to the Taieri Gorge Railway after it was dismantled for spare parts.

DJ 3021 (DJ 1202) was withdrawn in April 1990 but was not scrapped. Instead, the locomotive's engine and electric equipment were removed and the locomotive was placed on static display at Ranfurly station on the former Otago Central Railway. It was later purchased by Dunedin Railways and road-hauled to storage in the Middlemarch goods shed, where it has been stored pending restoration. Despite missing the engine, electrical equipment and other parts, 3021 is the last DJ in the former New Zealand Railways Corporation blue livery as applied to the class in the 1980s.



    1. Tony Hurst.'The North line' in New Zealand Railway Observer April–May 2018, Vol 75, no 1, p9
    2. R.E Brace, General Motors (Agent) Upper Hutt, NZ correspondence with NZR General Manager, 24 May 1966 and 9 September 1966
    3. NZR General Manager Gardner to Minister of Finance 16-August 1966
    4. Modern Rail in December 1966
    5. G. Alecock. Early Diesel Electric Dev and the origins of the DI and DJ in NZ Railway Observer Vol 74, No 6, Feb 2018 pp 226-8
    6. Gustafson 2000, p. 95-6.
    7. The World Bank in Historical Perspective in American Economic Review, May 1995, p329-334
    8. Henry Lang, New Zealand Treasury Chief Executive to NZR GM, 1967, note in open, file re DJ class 67-9, National Archives, Wgtn, New Zealand
    9. 24 April 1969 Amendment(3) to December 1965 loan agreement between NZR and World Bank. Robert Mulddon and H. Lang. NZ Treasury Sec & NZ Railways loan agreement with World Bank Dec 1965. NZ Government Printer. Wellington (1966).
    10. Acting NZR GM to International Bank for Reconstruction (World Bank)1-11-67
    11. Acting NZ GM to World Bank 1-11-67
    12. NZ Treasury correspondence with NZR and NZ Treasury internal, nb re unofficial discussion with World Bank staff. DJ order files, 26–28 June 1967, NZ National Archives
    13. J. Small GM NZR 4 April 1974
    14. W.Watkins NZR, CME, 11 Nov 1969. National Archives,(DJ 1968-74) Wgtn
    15. NZR CME 24-8-1971,DJ Files. NZ National Archives
    16. J.Small, NZR GM Manager 4 April 1974, NZ National Archives. Wgtn

    Further reading

    • Barry, Colin; Brouwer, John; Dash, Colin; Dickenson, Peter; Shalders, Bruce (1988). Cavalcade 125. Ferrymead 125 Committee. Retrieved 22 March 2019.
    • Gustafson, Barry (2000). His Way: A Biography of Robert Muldoon. Auckland: Auckland University Press. ISBN 1-86940-236-7.
    • Berry, David (February 2018), "Some Memories of the New DJ Locomotives", The New Zealand Railway Observer (347): 230–232
    • McClare, E J (1980). New Zealand Railway Diesels. Wellington, New Zealand: Southern Press. ISBN 9780907769286.
    • McGavin, T A (1983). NZR Locomotives and Railcars 1983. Wellington, New Zealand: New Zealand Railway and Locomotive Society.
    • KiwiRail Locomotive and Rolling Stock Register - 2011. Mosgiel, New Zealand: Triple M Productions. 2011. ISBN 978-0-9582072-2-5.
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