Thomas' newest friend is an Aussie 4-8-4

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South Australian Railways No. 520, a 4-8-4 Northern-type 520-class steam locomotive traverses track in Australia in 1994. Toy-maker Mattel is introducing "Shane," a new friend of Thomas the Tank Engine, based on the locomotive.
Courtesy: Peter Michalak
MOUNT BAKER, Australia — More promotional pictures released by Mattel reveal that one of the new characters soon to be introduced to the Thomas & Friends franchise will be based on Australia’s most successful steam locomotive classes. "Shane," a streamlined 4-8-4 painted in a green-and-gold livery, is based on the SteamRanger 520 class used by the South Australian Railways.

Australian steam enthusiasts hope that the Shane’s addition to the Thomas roster will be a shot in the arm for the SteamRanger Heritage Railway’s ongoing efforts to restore the Sir Malcolm Barclay-Harvey, the first completed locomotive in the 520's class to begin freight and passenger service in Southern Australia in 1943.”

“We are a not-for-profit, volunteer run organization, and this is the sort of public exposure a tourist railway, particularly in Australia, rarely, if ever, gets,” says Peter Michalak, the heritage railroad's marketing manager. “We hope that this will assist in our fundraising efforts, to return the engine to service, which was the image of SteamRanger during the 1980s and 90s, until severe corrosion to the locomotive's tender, smokebox, and firebox repairs sidelined the locomotive at our Mount Barker depot in the Adelaide Hills.”

The Sir Malcolm Barclay-Harvey and the eleven other locomotives in the class were noted as much for their size and elegance as for their mechanical success. The locomotives operated at maximum speeds of about 80 mph and were adaptable to the wide variety of track conditions found on the Australian network. The
SteamRanger class proved itself so successful that its members were among the last Australian steam locomotives to be withdrawn from service.

Mattel began releasing illustrations of 14 new locomotive characters recently to introduce an upcoming summer film titled "The Great Race." The company intends the movie’s expanded cast to reflect the diversity of Thomas & Friends’ global audience and to coincide with the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Shane and all the other new characters were based as closely as possible on locomotive designs used in their home countries.

“We are particularly impressed at the detail the movies artists put into creating the likeness of the locomotive, as they have done a really good job,” Michalak says.
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