A de­light­ful way to let off steam

The new Train­works is fun for puff buffs of all ages

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - PETER NEED­HAM

WHENit comes to gen­er­at­ing de­light, you can’t beat steam en­gines. Since re­tir­ing from just about ev­ery pas­sen­ger ser­vice in the world, steam trains boast a fan club that newer sys­tems of trans­port strug­gle to match.

That’s part of the ap­peal of Train­works, the big new train­re­lated at­trac­tion next to his­toric Thirlmere sta­tion about 90km south­west of Syd­ney. For years the site has housed a col­lec­tion of steam and diesel trains and rail her­itage items. It has been re­born and pro­vided with fine new mu­seum fa­cil­i­ties, in­clud­ing a cafe, small the­atre, chil­dren’s ar­eas and re­tail out­lets.

In the cav­ernous in­te­rior of Train­works’ main build­ing, mighty en­gines such as the 260-tonne 6040 Gar­rat — black, hulk­ing and one of the world’s most pow­er­ful lo­co­mo­tives — stand on dis­play, as if sleep­ing and wait­ing to roar back into life. The gover­nor-gen­eral’s car­riage, built in 1901, is a mas­ter­piece, its in­te­rior lined in pol­ished English oak and Aus­tralian cedar.

Right op­po­site, a car­riage stamped with the royal in­signia turns out to be less re­gal. It’s a pri­son van of a type once used to con­vey crim­i­nals and war­dens to 19th-cen­tury colo­nial jails. Other ex­hibits in­clude a mail-sort­ing car­riage, a 32m turntable with real-life demon­stra­tions of restora­tion and main­te­nance, and a jaunty lit­tle pale green and white rail pay bus pow­ered by a Ford V8 en­gine.

While these sta­tion­ary ex­hibits are im­pres­sive and some­times quirky, it’s the 50-minute steam train rides that bring the big­gest smiles. Trips take place four times ev­ery Sunday, head­ing from Thirlmere sta­tion to the lit­tle vil­lage of Bux­ton and back.

Pas­sen­gers wait­ing at Thirlmere in­clude older peo­ple who re­mem­ber mas­sive, smoke­belch­ing lo­co­mo­tives thun­der­ing along the tracks of their child­hood. Chil­dren crowd around, their knowl­edge of steam de­riv­ing largely from Thomas the Tank En­gine and Harry Pot­ter’s Hog­warts Ex­press.

I be­long to the first cat­e­gory and my son Felix, 11, falls into the sec­ond. We both find Train­works and the steam train ride per­fectly won­der­ful. Lo­co­mo­tive 2705, a pic­turesque English en­gine in black, red and Bri­tish rac­ing green, does the pulling, with much chuff­ing, black smoke and that most evoca­tive sound, the steam whis­tle. The en­gine was built in Leeds in 1913 and spent most of its work­ing life in Narrabri.

It burns about half a tonne of coal dur­ing the 8km slightly up­hill trip to Bux­ton. In the cab there’s much coal-shov­el­ling and use of the reg­u­la­tor and gear wheel. Driv­ers use these like an ac­cel­er­a­tor and brake, while keep­ing an eye on gauges in­di­cat­ing steam pres­sure. Steer­ing doesn’t come into it.

On spe­cial oc­ca­sions, Thomas the Tank En­gine, com­plete with face, pulls into Thirlmere to take younger chil­dren on the ride of their lives. Train­works may be run pro­fes­sion­ally, but it’s backed by a ded­i­cated band of loyal vol­un­teers who do the job be­cause they love it. They in­clude Arthur Tubby, a re­tired in­dus­trial chemist whose long as­so­ci­a­tion with steam dates from when his fa­ther drove a steam en­gine at Port Kem­bla, back in the days when the crew would start their day by fry­ing ba­con and eggs or fresh-caught fish in a shovel heated over the en­gine boiler fire.

In a vin­tage car­riage click­ety­clack­ing be­hind lo­co­mo­tive 2705, Tubby re­calls that for decades the trains at Thirlmere at­tracted mainly rail­way en­thu­si­asts. Now, with the launch of Train­works, fam­i­lies find it an at­trac­tive propo­si­tion for a great day out.

The car­riage boasts green leather seats and crafted wooden pan­els, with signs bear­ing clas­sic rail­way warn­ings: ‘‘Do not throw any­thing out of car­riages’’. There are no such signs in the gover­norgen­eral’s car­riage.

Lo­co­mo­tive 1034 in the Train­works ex­hi­bi­tion build­ing

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