R 766 was commissioned in 1952 as one of 70 members of the Victorian Railway’s R-class 4-6-4 ‘Hudson’ main line passenger locomotives. These locomotives were designed by Victorian Railways and were urgently required in post-World War 2 period, but construction had been delayed by competing priorities.
Eventually construction was outsourced to the North British Locomotive Company, Glasgow but, as with so many post-war steam locomotives orders, delivery ultimately came years after the demand had required. The R-class superseded the A2-class 4-6-0 locomotives on fast passenger turns however the simultaneous arrival of first-generation diesels reduced their usefulness and the R-class was destined for relatively short lives and low mileages.
R 766 was among the last of the class in traffic when withdrawn in 1968, many sisters having already been scrapped. It was stored at Newport Workshops for some years before being restored to operation for enthusiast railtour duties. During the 1990’s this locomotive was maintained alongside the Steamrail Victoria loco fleet at Newport Workshops and wore an attractive (but non-original) Canadian Red livery.
In May 2005 came the interesting news that R 766 had been leased to the Hunter Valley Railway Trust for movement to Branxton, NSW and conversion to standard gauge. This significant work has now been largely completed, featuring a few modifications such as the replacement of the leading bogie spoked wheel centres with those of the disc variety.
Interestingly, the main driving wheels were swapped with those of sister R700 prior to fitting on new standard-gauge axles. Photographs from Branxton in November 2014 showed R 766 generally complete and being fettled and painted in preparation for testing and certification.