A guide to W.A.G.RYS Wagon liveries

What follows is my understanding of the changes to WAGR wagon liveries over the years. It is not by any means a definitive description and if anyone has access to further official livery documentation to improve this page I would be grateful to see it.

Early Years

Prior to the 1900 reclassification, wagons were painted grey with black ironwork and white lettering. There were some exceptions to this. The horseboxes were painted in the passenger livery of Indian red whilst the GB (later V) class bogie covered goods wagons were initially varnished wood. Cold storage vans were white with black ironwork. Roofs were painted white lead which discoloured with age. However, it might not have been that straightforward. The picture below was taken before the 1900 renumbering. J~3913 is clearly in grey with black ironwork. I.163 is a bit more difficult. It might be grey that has darkened with age (white lead in the paint turned darker with age) or it could be a darker grey or even black. Note also that the separator between class and number is inconsistent between the two wagons.

An enlargement of State Library of WA 1458B/18 at Wokalup Junction just before 1900

The builders photo of IB2929 below shows off the grey livery nicely with the black painted ironwork. As a livery it is not complete though, in service wagons also carried their number at the left hand end of the bodywork.

Bristol Wagon and Carriage works builder's photo of IB2929 later R2929 (RHWA collection)

Initially at least Horseboxes seem to have been painted in the Indian red passenger livery and they were numbered separately as class E. Although not shown in the builders photo below it can be seen further down that they also carried W.A.G RYS in the lower panels of the upper doors.

Builder's photo of NZR type horsebox

The GB class vans also carried the W.A.G RYS lettering. In the case of the photo below, on the left hand door. Initially the GBs were varnished rather than painted but this didn't wear well and it was decided to paint them "slate" colour. I think that the van in the photo below is still varnished wood.

Blown up from State Library of WA 3542B/35 showing GB3423

The photo below shows F1068. a 1312 gallon iron tank on a MRCWCo 15' underframe. The iron tank appears to be black whilst the rest of the wagon is grey with black ironwork. Wooden tanks were grey with black ironwork and there is photographic evidence of grey painted iron tanks as well.

F1068. a 1312 gallon iron tank on a MRCWCo 15' underframe.

Another builder's photo so not to be completely trusted. In this case we have cool storage van 12, later QB4514. This appears to be white with black ironwork.

Ashbury Carriage and Wagon Co builders photo (RHWA collection)

The photo below is an interesting one. Both wagons are former NZR M class wagons imported from New Zealand. T~313 was one of the early imports and is in grey livery. JW 3081 is more interesting. It appears to be relatively newly painted and in a darker colour. I suspect it is still wearing its NZR red. It also has its number at the right hand end as used after 1900 but has its pre 1900 class letters. It might be that it was importing these wagons that triggered the shift to red after 1900. The need for the 1900 reclassification exercise is made clear by the fact that these two, otherwise identical, wagons were in different classes.

Blown up from State Library of WA BA533/184

1900 and after

During the 1900 reclassification process the class letters were painted out and replaced by the new ones. This can be seen in the photo below where traces of the old letter (I) are apparent on G-3788. Both 3788 and 1139 have their numbers at the left hand end and so are both presumably grey although 1139 looks a lot darker. G-4060 is in the then new Indian red with the number at the right hand end.

Blown up from State Library of WA 013470PD

"Indian Red"

A few words on “Indian red” are necessary. Before the establishment of colour standards in the 1930s some of the terms used for colours covered a variety of shades that were labelled in later standards as distinct colours. The British Colour Council “Dictionary of Colour Standards” 1934 under “Oxide red” sums this up by saying:

“A great number of names have been used for pigments slightly varying but having oxide of iron as the colouring matter. The terms Indian Red and Venetian Red were originally synonymous terms applying to oxide reds, and were not intended to restrict the colour to any specific tone. It is not only that the colours from different makers will vary, but, owing to the nature of the substance, different batches from the same maker will vary.”

There are a total of 22 synonyms listed in that source including “Horse chestnut, Red oxide, Red Ochre, Berlin Red, Venetian red, etc.”. Ultimately, they are all preparations of Fe2O3 (Ferric Oxide) derived from the ore Haematite or by chemical reaction. Ferric Oxide is also commonly called rust, and as everyone knows, this exists in a variety of shades. These colours are all shades of "Red Oxide" - other Iron oxides are black.

The earliest reference that I have seen to what I think that the WAGR was using in the early 20th century comes from a contract with Westralia Ironworks in the RHWA archive for a batch of GC type wagons which specifies the paint as “New Zealand Thames Red Haematite paint”. The one problem with this specification is that it is for wagons to be built for the MRWA! I think that this specification must be a direct copy of a WAGR contract with Westralia Ironworks for GCs as otherwise the colour is hard to explain because grey was the usual MRWA colour. The use of paint from New Zealand is interesting and more than likely due to the connections at the time between WAGR and NZR personnel which I don’t think that the MRWA had but WAGR certainly did. I think that “New Zealand Thames Red Haematite paint” is what WAGR was using at the time but I would welcome more evidence one way or the other. Using the loose terminology of the time this would be an "Indian Red" although without a sample of paint from this time the shade is impossible to know. A CME document from May 1939 uses the term "hematite" to describe the colour and is thus consistent with the NZ paint description.  An experiment had been carried out with enamel paint in 1924 and from 1932 enamel paint was used as standard.  By 1939, if not before, this enamel paint came from Dulux so by then the New Zealand paint had been discarded. 

In later years WAGR paint colours are explicitly listed in terms of British Standard 381C and its Australian equivalent in some internal documentation. It appears that the decision to specify colours in terms of standards didn't happen until as late as 1970. However it is unclear if the paint that was supplied to WAGR did comply with standards.This is important as the standard was revised from time to time. BS381C containing 67 colours was originally issued in 1931 and included several Ferric Oxide based pigments. Those of interest here were, from lightest to darkest, called: 45 Venetian red, 46 Red Oxide, 47 Light Indian Red, 48 Deep Indian red. It was revised in 1949 as BS381C with 91 colours. This standard omitted 47 Light Indian Red and renumbered the others as 445 Venetian red, 446 Red Oxide, 448 Deep Indian red. Later 447 was reused for Salmon pink. It is difficult to portray these colours accurately online but the image below may help, even though it probably won't appear correctly on your screen. Venetian red is the lightest of the four.

An internal document from 1978 shows that the WAGR was actually using BS381C 445 Venetian Red at that time. Another document from 1970 about the cost of Golden Yellow talks about "Red oxide enamel" without giving a standard number for either so might be using "red Oxide" as a catch all term rather than a specific shade. I’m also not sure how different (if at all) it was from the "hematite" paint from New Zealand and the later Dulux paint used before standardisation but the BCC’s wise words about variations between batches suggest that it was probably somewhere in the mix. The only way to be sure would be to test known, unfaded samples of paint from the time. There was a definite, if subtle change, in the early 1980s when the colour for the DE and FDP vans was specified as BS381C 446 Red Oxide. There is probably more internal documentation to be uncovered on this subject.

Even today the terminology of paint colours can be loose and Winsor & Newton's "Indian red" is an almost exact match to a chip in my possession from a WAGR wagon...

Standard Livery

The State Library of WA image below shows three open wagons at Wagin c1907 in the early Indian Red livery which was to remain more or less standard until the depression years. Only the ironwork below the solebars was black, everything else was Indian Red. GB-6773 would have been only about a year old at the time. The photo cannot be later than 1909 as 6773 was transferred to Hopetoun then.

Blown up from State Library of WA 009484PD

State Library of WA photo 010006PD (below) has a nice clear view of B-6293 in front of Fremantle power house in 1905 in Indian Red. This wagon was nearly new at the time. It has stencilled numbers on both body and solebar. On D vans and cattle wagons the number was placed in the centre of the side rather than at the right hand end. On D vans this meant on the door.

Blown up from State Library of WA 010006PD

J-2845 below shows the typical lettering for a wooden water tank in the Indian red colour scheme. Number on the solebar, capacity in small letters on the tank (1390 GALS in this case).

Above J2845 blown up from an image in the RHWA collection

In the first decade of the 20th century W.A.G RYS lettering was applied to some vehicles. Horseboxes, some cattle wagons and brakevans seem to have got it but it doesn't seem to have lasted beyond about the first decade. It definitely isn't just vehicles retaining the pre 1900 livery as the cattle van at right is clearly in Indian Red rather than grey. I'm fairly sure that this lettering was no longer being applied by the time of the First World War.

The image at right is from State Library of WA 5323B/1060 and shows an ex GSR cattle wagon at Fremantle in about 1905.

By the first decade of the 20th century louvre vans were being painted white as shown by the SLWA collection photo of FA-18 below. I am not sure what colour the early ones were originally.

The picture above shows FA18. It is a blow up of a small part of State Library of WA 5323B/284

For a short period in the early 20th century, cast numberplates were fitted to the solebars of some wagons. It is not always easy to spot these as the numbers on the solebars are usually in shadow and I'm not sure which classes were involved. The numbers are in a similar typeface to that used on locomotive numberplates and quite different to the plainer, painted style. GA-6070 below has them in this 1934 photo.

GA 6070 at Dumberning in 1934 (RHWA collection)

Wagons with Vacuum cylinders were marked with a white disc towards the right hand end of the lower side from around the time that the GC class were being built (1911 is the earliest I have seen so far). The slightly earlier GBs didn't have it when new.

WAGR official photo of GC8031 when brand new in 1912

C8238 when brand new in 1912 (WAGR official 193 RHWA collection)

Interwar years

I'm not completely clear to me when the next change took place. This was a shift away from the large letters and numbers to a much smaller size on the body sides, although the solebar numbers remained the same. There were relatively few new types built during the 1920s so it's a bit difficult to date. IM class coalbox wagon conversions from 1920-2 seem to have had the large numbers. I have never seen a photo of a BD from that era so they are no help and the only HB shot I have seen is from the 1940s. Certainly by the time that the first RBs were being built in 1930 the small letters were being used and it is possible that the K class of 1927 might have had them from new. I'm leaning towards the idea that this was brought on by the depression as an economy measure. I believe that the photo below of K10616 and G2592 was taken in the 1930s.

K 10616 and G 2592 (RHWA collection)

This 1932 view of E5226 below shows us that, some types retained the larger letters and numbers. It was also during the interwar period that Advertising vans first put in an appearance and these also had the larger numbers.

WAGR official photo of E-5226 at Geraldton in 1932 (RHWA collection)

At some point between the wars meat and fruit vans lost their white paint in favour of Stone Colour. This livery is shown in the picture of FA4555 at right. I'm not clear if this also applied to vans used for fish.

F4555 painted in "stone" coloured livery. Photo by Norman Drake

Some louvre vans also seem to have been red again and certainly were by the time that FC1381 was photographed in 1944. 

What I'm not clear about is when the changes from white to stone and to red happened.

In the inter-war years the colour of the roofs of most vans was changed from white to stone colour.

FC 1381 at Armadale in 1944 (Photo by Wal Larsen, RHWA collection)

When they were first introduced in the inter-war years, fuel tankers were painted in colourful liveries to reflect their owners branding. JD8 below was one of the kerosene tankers in its early days. It is shown here in original livery with silver tank and possibly green or red letters shaded black. The smaller letters appear to be plain black.

JD8 (RHWA Collection photo)

JD6 was one of the petrol tankers in its early days. It is shown here in original livery. I'm guessing that the "SHELL" letters are black with shading, probably in red. That leaves the colour of the tank which might be a buff colour (Buff was a pre-war requirement for petrol tanks in Britain and this wagon might reflect British practice of the time) but could just as easily be something else. The other lettering on the tank appears to be plain black.

JD6 (Fremantle City Library photo 3914)

The photo below shows GN-1160 when new in 1943. The small lettering at the right hand end is as before but as there is no solebar on a GN the number is also painted on the side sill at the left hand end. This foreshadows the postwar shift in number position. This layout of lettering was still in use when the 1948 batch of GE were delivered by Tomlinsons although on those the "E" was now the same size as the "G".

WAGR official builders photo of GN 1160 (RHWA Collection)

After the Second World War

The State Library of WA image below (275444PD) taken at Bunjil in 1949 shows another intermediate style with both class letters full size but still with small numbers at the right hand end of the wagon.

Blown up from State Library of WA 275444PD

The following three photos below show the standard post second world war layout of lettering for WAGR wagons which came in around about 1950. The body numbers were now at the left hand end, including on vans. The hyphen between class and number has also been omitted.

WAGR official photo of GC 2072 (RHWA Collection)

WAGR official photo of D28 (RHWA collection)

The new postwar standard types could take a higher load than the maximum axleloading of some lines permitted. On these wagons there were two maximum load weights shown on the wagon side ("light" and "heavy").

WAGR official photo of GM14501 (RHWA collection)

Brakevans alone retained the number on the sliding door. I'm not sure why but it may have been to do with the dog box and guard's door being problems with a number at the end of the van.

Z542 (RHWA collection)

Metrification of measurements from 1971 meant a change to the weight information on the side of wagons. I'm not sure how long this took to take effect but the new weights in tonnes were applied in signal red with a white coloured background. I suspect that this started as patch painting to distinguish metric weights from imperial ones but it became the standard.

GS 5060 The "IY" lettering indicates "Improved Yoke" couplers.

The White livery for cool storage vans continued after the war but with markings in the postwar positions as shown in this WAGR builders photo of EB 15301. By this point (1961) we are also starting to see a shift in typeface of the lettering to a more condensed style although this never seems to have been complete. In later years the cold storage vans had grey roofs.

WAGR builders photo of EB 15301 (RHWA collection)

The service vehicles in classes DW, VW and VS (at least) were also painted white (although some seem to have retained carriage green) after the Second World War until the 1970s when Golden Yellow started to appear. VS5077 below managed to get a very late repaint in white (including the Westrail logo) and lasted until 1991. A directive from 1984 lists class VS and VW sleeping vans to be painted white but photographic evidence from this period shows VW sleeping vans in Golden Yellow.

On all types up until the second world war solebars were Indian red but on the brakevan above the solebars are painted black. Again I'm not quite sure when this came in but it did create a problem for those wagons which didn't have a body or a conventional solebar. In this case, some at least were painted black for a period as in the NO class wagon below in 1967. This also happened with the QU class bogie flats which were turned out in all black from 1963. The following QUA reverted to red during the production run.

WAGR official photo of NO 21464 (RHWA collection)

WAGR adopted an overall green livery for its carriages in 1951 (later, probably only after 1970, this was BS 381C 267 "Traffic Green" also known as "Deep Chrome Green") but was originally Dulux Larch Green (019). This had no effect at first on the wagon stock but ZJ class brakevans, at least, were being painted green soon afterwards. From the early sixties the ZJs started to transition to Green & Cream. Some workmen's vans converted from carriages also remained in green. Brakevans seem to have become green in the 1950s. I think that from the mid sixties brakevans were being turned out in Red again (there are records of both colours being used in 1965). In particular I don't think that any former MRWA brakevans were ever green.

Z117 in 1966 (RHWA collection)

Green and cream was properly a passenger livery, so its use amongst the wagon stock was limited. There were exceptions. The early postwar version was on four ZJs, 362, 367, 427 and 429 (presumably one each for the two Westland sets & the Australind plus a spare) but it also featured on P788 and ZB 208 and 214. The still of ZJ427 at right shows the Eau-de-nil treatment of the gutter and the completely cream guard's door on the early scheme.

Track recorder car VT4998 also carried the early postwar version of green and cream for a short time in 1951 before being reclassified as a carriage.



VT4998 RHWA collection

The far more familiar use of green and cream was on the ZJ class brakevans from the early 1960s onwards (Z9 also got this colour scheme because of its use on tour trains). ZJ266 below was one of the last survivors and got this repaint in the 1980s. The guard's door was all green in the later version. One van (ZJA 433) was painted "Red and Ivory" for the "Midlander" service between 1964 and 1967.

By the 1970s the colours were defined as BS381C 267 Traffic Green, 384 Light Straw and 358 Light Buff (roof).

Golden Yellow

From the start in 1964 most WAGR standard gauge wagons were painted Golden Yellow (there were exceptions amongst the service fleet). This is recorded as BS381C 356 Golden Yellow in WAGR documentation. Unlike the narrow gauge fleet the big yellow wagons also carried "W.A.G.R." lettering. Originally they had the lettering at the left hand end of the body stencilled in relatively modest letters. Bogies of standard gauge wagons were originally black but were yellow by the 1980s. They remained black on narrow gauge wagons in the Golden Yellow livery. From 1968 Australian Standard AS-K185 is mentioned both in the documentation and drawings. This is an identical Australian copy of BS 381C 1964 using the same names and numbers for the colours.

WW32036 and 32037 showing the original lettering style (RHWA collection)

This livery was succeeded by the much more "shouty" version in very 1970s letters shown on WW32104 below. This style was certainly in use by 1972.

WAGR official photo of WW32104 (RHWA collection)

On 2.10.70 the Minister, R.J. O'Connor announced that narrow gauge rollingstock would be painted yellow. A trial of narrow gauge wagons in 'Golden Yellow' was begun to test client response and durability of the paint from 6.10.70. Despite 'Golden Yellow' being roughly twice as expensive as the red, the WAGR painted narrow gauge stock in yellow from 10.3.71. The last new wagons to be issued in red were the HE class. The interior of some open wagons was painted white although this may have just been undercoat with no topcoat..

Very few narrow gauge wagons had been repainted yellow before the end of steam. Indeed there were some which went right through to the end of wagonload freight in the mid 1980s without being repainted yellow. Initially, at least, they did not carry any ownership lettering. From the 1980s (1984?) the roofs of narrow gauge wagons were painted aluminium. This paint also seems to have applied to some hopper wagons which should have been unpainted. The only wagons to retain red on a permanent basis were the DE class explosive vans and the FDP class poison vans.

From 1975 WAGR adopted the trading name "Westrail" and the new blue logo started to replace the earlier WAGR lettering. Its also started to make an appearance on narrow gauge wagons which had not been lettered WAGR previously (presumably because, as there was no means of them travelling inter-state, they didn't need it).

WAGR official photo of WW32017 (RHWA collection)

Some, at least of the smaller narrow gauge wagons got a small version of the logo as seen with GHB 21539 below. The blue diagonal line indicates a wagon fitted with end doors.

At this stage the interior was a pale creamy colour as shown in KA 19029 below.  Again this may just have been undercoat.

Eventually the logo was joined by "Westrail" in large blue letters but missing the "Westrail" within the logo.

WAGR official photo of XY25701 (RHWA collection)

Practical concerns meant that some types escaped the conventional liveries. In particular some ballast hoppers and cement wagons were turned out in grey as were the JK class caustic soda tankers. However they were not painted the same shade of light grey. The JK were BS381C 627 Light aircraft grey whilst the WNC, WK and XR were BS381C 630 French Grey.

WAGR official photo of WSH class ballast hoppers (RHWA collection)

WAGR official photo of JK9902.  The class letters and number are 125mm high. The end lettering is 75mm high. The smaller lettering is variously 50mm or 25mm high.  (RHWA collection)

The XB class hoppers of 1963 started a shift towards unpainted metal aluminium bodied for wagons. Originally these had a yellow painted underframe but this seems to have been overpainted with aluminium paint when they were converted to class XBC.

WAGR official photo of XB class wagon on exhibition at Geraldton when new. (RHWA collection)

An XBC in the 1980s, still with 1960s era WAGR lettering.  The WAGR letters are 15" tall at 60" centres. The vehicle class and number are 5" high. the smaller lettering is 2" high.

The WAGR official photo of XF21217 from 1972 below shows that the lettering style changes on the yellow wagons were repeated on the bare metal ones.

WAGR official photo of XF21217 (RHWA collection)

Later batches of WWAs were turned out with the Westrail logo from new. The first three WWAs had a large wheat symbol in yellow on the side. A later change was the use of larger digits for the last two or three numbers in a wagon number (presumably to make identification within a train easier)

WAGR official photo of WWA 32359 (RHWA collection)

The Westrail orange and blue livery was applied to locomotives and railcars but only rarely to other vehicles. One ARM class coach (356) got it as did Inspection cars AL2 and ALT5. The only goods stock vehicles that I am aware of that had it were VW 5083 and 5100, used on the weedkilling train. The colours used in this livery were B381C/AS K185 557 Light Orange, 166 French Blue and, I think, 412 Dark Brown for the roof (it isn't quite clear to me whether this is 412 or 411).

In 1985 a new Australian colour standard, AS2700, appeared. This had different names and according to some sources slightly different shades to some of the old BS381C/AS-K185 colours (you can do comparisons here). In particular the blue and orange shades are very slightly different between BS381C and AS2700. I'm not sure how long it was before WAGR adopted this new standard but it was certainly in use in the early 1990s.

In 1979 the railways of Australia collectively agreed to a new 4 letter class code system for standard gauge wagons used on interstate traffic. From that point on some WAGR standard gauge types started to get the new codes in exchange for the previous 3 letter class codes. It didn't apply to those classes used purely within WA and so new 3 letter code still came into existence after 1979.

Another change which happened from 1983 was the introduction of a computer check digit after the number. There is an online calculator for this here. It was applied to all types of WAGR wagons and can be seen in some of the photos on this page.

Some of the XG class built from 1977 were owned by the State Energy Commission of WA. These wagons and their derivative classes had their own livery which included another shade of blue. This was BS4800/AS 1433 18 E 53 variously called Tartan blue/Cobalt blue/Regatta. Some wagons were blue overall, others just had a panel.

Tankers and Dangerous Goods

In later years most fuel tankers had either plain black or silver tanks although some did have yellow solebars after about 1980.

The big exception was the "Golden Fleece" vehicles owned by H.C. Sleigh. Later, at least one of the former Mobil tankers taken over by BP got the full BP corporate green and yellow livery around about 1990/1.

WJK541 at North Fremantle. Photo John Kent

Although most were black, some W.A.G.R. fuel tankers were painted in plain yellow as were most of the remaining J class water tanks.

And finally there were always some oddities. J2413 may have been painted green to match the crane of the breakdown train.

The explosives and poison vans stayed Red to indicate a dangerous load. In the case of the FDPs that included getting the Westrail logo on the late repaints. The colour was BS381C 446 Red Oxide not the BS381C 445 Venetian Red used earlier. I don't know why they made this subtle change in colour. A late document from 1984 shows that it was intended to repaint these wagons in BS381C 537 Signal Red but I don't think that any of them got this change before they were written off.

JGH 6620 was, however, painted BS381C 537 Signal red because of its dangerous load. The previous JGH (8726) had ended its days in a light grey colour as was 6620 until what was probably its last repaint. This light grey was a special protective coating to prevent damage from the acid load.

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