Restoration to main line running condition of First World War memorial locomotive AB608 "Passchendaele".
In 1925 the minister of railways, Gordon Coates, agreed to a proposal to name a steam locomotive ‘in memory of those members of the New Zealand Railways who fell in the Great War’. More than 5000 railwaymen served overseas between 1914 and 1918 (out of a total workforce of 14,000), and 447 were killed. After considering the names Somme, Le Quesnoy and Ypres, Coates chose Passchendaele.
The locomotive selected to carry the name was AB 608. Built at Christchurch’s Addington railway workshops in 1915, this was the first of the famed class of AB ‘Pacifics’ – probably the most successful and versatile locomotives ever to run on New Zealand railways. More than 140 of these engines were produced between 1915 and 1926.
The gleaming Passchendaele was one of the stars of the show at the New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition in Dunedin in the summer of 1925-26. In 1927 it was chosen to haul the Duke and Duchess of York’s royal train in the South Island (a role it had also performed, unnamed, during the Prince of Wales’s tour in 1920).
The memorial nameplates fitted to the engine’s flanks were removed during the Second World War. Copies of the plates were later put on display at Christchurch and Dunedin railway stations, where they have remained ever since.
By the time it was withdrawn from service in 1967, AB 608 had steamed more than 2.4 million kilometres. After being withdrawn from service the locomotive was donated to the New Zealand Railway and Locomotive Society. Later it was leased to Steam Incorporated at Paekakariki for its restoration and eventual operation.
Currently the locomotive is on long term lease to Steam Incorporated and in the final stages of a major restoration project. The extensive rebuilding of the locomotive to main line operating standards has taken many years and excluding untold volunteer hours will have cost over $500,000 when completed.
The objective has been to have the restoration completed in time for it to be available to participate in First World War commemorative activities. A small dedication ceremony for Ab608 is being held on Anzac Day 2014 and the expectation is that the locomotive will be ready for main service by end of June 2014.