Sentinel Steam Locomotives in Australia

The company that built the Sentinel steam locomotives and railcars that came to Australia in the 20thCentury can trace its beginnings back to Alley & MacLellan.

This company was founded in Glasgow in 1875 and it produced a range of valves and compressors for steam engines. In 1903 the company acquired Simpson and Bibby a company that made steam powered road vehicles.

By 1906 the company was producing a 5-ton truck powered by a 2-cylinder steam powered engine that transferred power to the axles via a chain drive. Steam was supplied by a vertical boiler located adjacent to the driver while the engine was located beneath the vehicle.

In 1915 the company opened a new factory in Shrewsbury, England, and transferred the manufacture of its steam trucks to the new site. That site was operated by a new company known as Sentinel Waggon Works Limited. In 1917 ownership of the new company passed to William Beardmore & Co. Ltd.

The name of the company was changed in 1920 to Sentinel Waggon Works (1920) Ltd. And this company produced the first steam powered locomotive in 1923.

In 1925 a separate company, Sentinel Industrial Locomotives Ltd was formed to concentrate production on steam locomotives and railcar.

In 1947 the name of the company was changed once more to Sentinel (Shrewsbury) Ltd and in 1956 ownership of the company passed to Rolls Royce Ltd.

The last two Sentinel steam locomotives left the factory in 1958 and production moved on to diesel shunters.

Builders photo of the Koondrook Tramway locomotive – Photo from John Hutchings collection.

Steam Locomotives
The first Sentinel steam locomotive was built in 1923 using what was known as the Super Sentinel engine … the same engine that was fitted to Sentinel steam lorries.

Steam was supplied by a vertical boiler and used to drive two cylinders that transferred power to the axles via a chain drive and gearbox and, while the whole system was unconventional, just about all the locomotive designs produced by Sentinel were successful … and rather unique looking.

You can catch a glimpse of the chain drive at the end of this short video:

Production of steam locomotives continued until 1958 by which time the company had built 505 steam locomotives for customers spread across the world from the United Kingdom to South America and Australia.

While the vast majority of Sentinel steam locomotives were powered by a single two-cylinder engine the final locomotive to leave the works, built to the order of a Brazilian company, was a much larger locomotive that was powered by two engines.

Who bought them
Many of the Sentinel steam locomotives were built for private industries that ranged from chocolate manufacturers to coal mines and gas works but some even went to mainline railway companies in the UK.

Over 50 were built in two batches for the London & North Eastern Railway and all of them passed to British Rail when nationalisation occurred.

Sentinel steam powered locomotives in Australia
The two Sentinel steam locomotives that are known to have come to Australia were two-cylinder, 100 horsepower units. One went to the South Australian Gas Co. in 1926 and the other was purchased by the Kerang and Koondrook Tramway in northern Victoria in 1928.

While it is believed that only two Sentinel steam powered locomotives came to Australia it is known that other Sentinel steam powered locomotives were built locally using parts from Sentinel steam trucks.

Steam Railcars
In 1923, in conjunction with and Cammell, Laird, and Co., Limited, Sentinel produced a steam powered railcar that used the same Super Sentinel steam engine that the company used in its lorries and its steam locomotives.

The coach body was built by Cammell and included a large area, adjacent to the front driver’s cabin that housed the boiler, water tanks and fuel supplies.

The 2-cylinder engine was located under the floor of the railcar and supplied power to the leading bogie via Sentinel’s standard chain drive system.

By 1928 Sentinel was fitting a 6-cylinder engine to some railcars and two years later the first Sentinel Cammell railcar fitted with twin 6-cylinder engines appeared.

From 1923 to 1951 a total of 292 railcars were built for buyers across the globe. Designs varied from rigid units to single articulated units and several orders that featured multiple carriage bodies articulated over three or four bogies.

An order from the Egyptian National Railways for 10 steam powered railcars that featured 3 coach bodies articulated over 4 bogies were the last to leave the plant and no further steam-powered railcars were built by the company after 1951.

Sentinel steam powered railcars in Australia
The first Sentinel-Cammell steam railcar to see use in Australia entered service on the North Australia Railway in December 1924. It featured an articulated design and, while it was popular with management it was far from popular with the travelling public.

Another Sentinel-Cammell steam powered railcar entered service in Western Australia in 1931 and that year also saw the first of nine Sentinel-Cammell railcars enter service in Tasmania

How the Sentinel vertical boiler worked?
If you were wondering how anyone could fire a Sentinel locomotive … there wasn’t much room to swing a shovel … this video will show you.

It really is quite different to firing a conventional steam locomotive.


My thanks to John Hutchings, Richard Horne and John Browning for the help and advice they gave … it was invaluable.


Cooley, Thomas C T. Railroading in Tasmania. L G Shea, Government Printer, Tasmania

Cooper G & Goss G. Tasmanian Railways 1871 – 1996, 125 Years. 1996. C.G. Publishing Company. Regal Press, Launceston Tasmania

Fluck, R, Marshall, B, Wilson, J. Locomotives and Railcars of the Commonwealth Railways, 1996. Port Dock Station Railway Museum. Gresley Publishing, Welland, South Australia

Horne, R, 1999, ‘The Sentinel Patent Steam Locomotive’, Light Railways, April, p. 13

Lockyer, A, 1999, ‘”Uncle Jim’s” Engine’, Light Railways, April, pp. 10-12

Australian Steam Website:

Industrial Railway Society Website:

Shropshire History Website:

Wikipedia Website:

Youtube Website:

Youtube Website:

Private correspondence with John Hutchings and Richard Horne