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The Redhen, An Adelaide Train

Redhen Railcars bring back many great memories of train travel around Adelaide from the 1950s when they first started to appear until they were finally dropped from our city’s transport system in the early 1990s. They weren’t the most comfortable trains, without any airconditioning and with vynil seats that stuck to your skin on a hot summer’s day, and yet when we posted an article and a photo on the Redhen last year on the Facebook page, many people commented that they had wonderful memories of travelling on the train.

Photo; Wikipedia Commons. Remember the Redhen, holding the doors open to get some air on a hot summers day

Photo; Wikipedia Commons. Remember the Redhen, holding the doors open to get some air on a hot summers day

Redhens were really the backbone of the rail system for over 40 years. Built at the Islington Railways Workshops, back in the day when we built things ourselves, they operated on all the STA routes and replaced the steam engines that were still rattling around Adelaide until the early 50s.

Poster Darren Wintulich recalled that “Tickets were 40 cents for peak & 20 cents off peak. You could take your bike & have the doors open with the wind in your hair on a hot day!! You could also always have a chat with the friendly driver . The ticket man would punch your paper ticket with a ticket punch & if you didn’t have a ticket he would always sell you one with no fuss! Carole Roberts had fond memories too! “As kids we used to ride this train in the baggage car with our bikes. We would board at Mitcham, get off at Belair, then ride downhill, screaming down Belair Road back home. It was so much fun! No helmets or gears on the bike in those days! I remember it cost 15c for the fare and 10c for the bike.

Photo from Wikipedia Commons. The vynil seats that used to stck to your skin

Photo from Wikipedia Commons. The vynil seats that used to stck to your skin

Jason Tan contributed; “I used to love riding with those doors wide open in the “baggage” car with my pushie. And in those days the rush hour trains were 7 cars long – you could actually get a seat!! And the platforms at Adelaide were about 50 miles long (or so it seemed!) and I think there were 10 or 12 of them. And the “Ask the man in blue in the timetable box thing (its a coffee stand now). Aaaah, the good’ol days”!

Like Darren I remember the trains were very hot in summer and of course cold in winter. I’m not a train buff so my memory of the train is more to do with appearance, comfort and memories but here’s a few notes from Wikipedia;

“The Redhens comprised two designs:-

  • 300 class had a driving cab at one end of each railcar. These needed to run in 2-car formations.
  • 400 class had driving cabs at both ends, and could be used as a single car when needed, or in multiple with other railcars to make up longer trains.


The Redhens were built in three batches. The overall design of the railcars was very similar, the exterior was always painted red, with variations in the colour of roofs and bogies over the years. The interior design and layout remained largely unchanged throughout their life. Some 300 class units were modified to provide guard’s accommodation or space for bikes when the 860 class trailers were withdrawn in 1987.

Super Chooks

Following the introduction of the State Transport Authirity’s new 2000 class rail cars in 1980, two 300 class Redhens and an 860 class trailer were chosen for an experimental rebuild nicknamed Super Chooks (a chook is a chicken inAustralian vernacular). The exercise was not successful and no more Redhens were modified. The Super Chooks saw only limited passenger service before they were withdrawn in 1992.

One of our AWR posters took this photo of one of the preserved Redhens last year (2013)

One of our AWR posters took this photo of one of the preserved Redhens last year (2013)

Whilst in service the Redhens were mechanically robust and reasonably reliable; they were attractive options for use on heritage and tourist railways after retirement. However, their age, and the increasing service time since overhaul, has affected their reliability in preservation. Some continue to operate on lines in south-eastern Australia. Many have been broken up, but the first and last units and a few others still exist”.

What memories do you have of the Redhen trains?

20 Responses to The Redhen, An Adelaide Train

  1. Dave Hudson September 25, 2014 at 10:23 pm #

    I remember smoking on the train!! omg!

    • Marilyn Griffiths April 23, 2018 at 7:16 pm #

      My uncle was Robert Murdoch. He was an engineer and I was told he was instrumental im the design of the Red Hen.

  2. Samuel of Kadina October 4, 2014 at 5:41 am #

    And if you want to ride them in the Adelaide Metro Area this weekend (Sun Oct 5 & Mon Oct 6) ,, they will be running Sunday and Monday between Adelaide Railway Station and the National Railway Museum at Port Adelaide for $10 return trips. It’s a part of the festival of Vintage Boats, Planes and Trains.

    • Heather December 25, 2018 at 9:32 pm #

      Why called red hen

  3. Adrian Biggles Fax October 6, 2014 at 7:37 pm #

    I have four Redhen seats sitting on my front porch. I love to sit on them on a nice summer day watching the world go by. It is great way to remember the good old days of travelling on the train to work all those years ago.

    • Robert krawczuk January 1, 2019 at 6:20 am #

      Still got those red hen seats? If u have,i’m interested in buying one.thank you.

  4. Peter November 19, 2014 at 2:23 pm #

    Used to live almost opposite the Marion railway station and the Redhen railcars used to pass by regulary. When I first moved there the old steam locos were still running and then replaced by the Redhen railcars.

  5. voula young June 14, 2015 at 11:31 am #

    Looking for a redhen train model to buy?? Where can i find one?? In Ade

    • Poxbox August 21, 2015 at 8:23 am #

      voula young – If you go to you can find redhen model kits available for sale. Be aware though they come as kits and need to be built.

    • Brian Jonas January 20, 2019 at 11:24 pm #

      G’day mate not sure if you have been answered about this already but I have a friend his name is Brian owns junction models in Gepps cross s.a he is the man you are looking for to obtain these gems as he is the only maker in Adelaide that owns the rights to them when you go there tell him Brian Jonas sent you mate

  6. Lyndon Bushnell May 26, 2016 at 12:26 am #

    the best trains & i miss them, would love to see them on the rails again.

  7. Dane March 20, 2017 at 1:59 pm #

    The great old days the old RedHen Railcars

  8. franz chong April 8, 2018 at 9:35 am #

    a couple of years in my nineties were my times on them except on fridays when i was going to school in the inner city on the gawler central(i was living in salisbury in those days).fridays is when i caught the 4pm 224f home.that all changed in 1993 when i moved to a north eastern adelaide private coeducational school in wynn vale.

  9. Ben June 30, 2018 at 2:40 pm #

    I used to ride on these trains all day, wag school, dodge the conductors by jumping off at platforms and catching the next one. Many a day spent with the door held open with my foot, cigarette in hand enjoying the view up to Belair (Or even Bridgewater, showing my age), Noarlunga Centre, Outer Harbor or Gawler. I remember getting on a real long one about 6 or more carriages long, late at night at Bowden station just for fun, leaving Skyshow. We went all stops to Outer Harbor and once we got there, to our horror the driver came through and said it was the last train, and that we had to get off. It was after midnight. The driver saw the look on our faces and asked where we needed to get off, we said, back to Bowden please! He turned all the internal lights off, we opened all the doors and he wound this train up to probably 140 km/h! We were flying through level crossings! He hit the brakes about 1km out from Bowden and the usual clouds of asbestos from the brakes flew in the windows and doors. He let us off at Bowden and honked the horn a few times. The transit police didn’t care, they just stood up the front talking to the driver. Good times. These still run out of Strathalbyn or Mt Barker as The Bugle Ranger on the SteamRanger website. I’m gonna get on a red rattler soon. I wonder if they’ll let me ride with the door open…

  10. Sandria March 28, 2019 at 6:23 am #

    When I first travelled on a “Red hen”, in the 1970s, on the Belair line, I was so amazed that we had the door open! It was a very hot day, and of course, no air conditioning! It was quite exciting!

  11. Nick December 1, 2020 at 9:23 am #

    Yes, the door open – can you imagine that today with occ. health and safety! I remember the foul smell from the tanneries around the Dry Creek area wafting through the open doors. I can also recall a funny story on a stinking hot day in the 1970s. I was on the way home from work – Adelaide to Broadmeadows – and was sitting opposite a lady who was knitting. We were next to an open door. The train was leaving Tubemakers station (I think) when her ball of blue wool rolled off her lap and was sucked out the open door. I immediately grabbed hold of the wool strand and started pulling it in. After a minute or so the wool was retrieved, albeit in a large pile for the lady to unravel. That brought plenty of chuckles from people and the very grateful knitter!

  12. Rolf Joy July 12, 2021 at 1:00 pm #

    Smoking – haha how times have changed.
    Just talking to someone now, haha he tells me there was something on TV recently and stated that the red hen’s bodies were used on the 3000 class jumbos.

    Can anyone clarify this?

    • Alex March 9, 2022 at 10:05 am #

      This is somewhat true mate, they trailed upgrading them to look like 3000 class with the jumbo cabin but it was not cost effective. They were nicknamed Super Chooks but they should probably have been called Ugly Duckings! Very few built and even less information available on the topic.

  13. margaret dunger March 2, 2023 at 4:08 pm #

    Wow memories. A trip to town from Seacliff on the steam train was fun especially when you stuck your head out of the windows and got soot in your eyes, then came the Red Rattlers. Loved sitting by the open sliding door. The trip always came with lunch at John Martins. Those were the days.

  14. Janette November 25, 2023 at 12:19 pm #

    The red hens, door being held open by your foot on the way to college. April fools day, I cut up cubes of soap, rolled them in chocolate and coconut ( my parents did not know) gave them to my friends on the train. Most spent the day in sick bay at school.

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