13 January 2023

The Picnic Train is steaming back to the Riverina

| Chris Roe
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steam train

The Picnic Train returns to the Riverina in March. Photo: Ben Murch.

It’s been four years since the iconic Picnic Train has chugged its way to the Riverina and excitement is already building ahead of the 5917 locomotive’s return in March.

“We’re always welcomed everywhere we go,” said Picnic Train’s operations manager Sam Roach.

“Nine times out of ten, every train that we run is sold out before we get to the day of running it, to be honest.”

READ ALSO Anne Widdows’ love of aircraft has led to a 22-year museum volunteer journey

Beginning with a one-way trip from Goulburn to Junee on Thursday, 2 March, the former NSW Government Railways locomotive will be running steam-hauled trips over four days.

“On the Friday in Junee we’re doing runs up the Bethungra Spiral over to Cootamundra. Then on Saturday and Sunday, we’ve got the local family runs from Wagga over to Uranquinty,” Sam said.

“It’s all planned around families with young kids because we really want to get the younger generation keen and involved, because the further away from the old days we get, the less people know.”

Man in museum

Phil Horwell and the team from the Wagga Rail Heritage Association invite locals to explore the Station Museum. Photo: Chris Roe.

Phil Horwell from Wagga’s Rail Heritage Station Museum agreed that it’s a great chance to introduce people to the region’s rich railway history.

“It’s amazing, when people hear the whistle, even if they didn’t know in advance that the train is coming, the whistle itself ignites interest and people will come down to the station and the museum,” he laughed.

“We always work in with the trains and open up the museum to the visitors, which gives them something to do when they are waiting and the trains are running backwards and forwards to Uranquinty.

“For us, it’s also a great opportunity to fundraise and sell some souvenirs and run a barbecue, so it certainly helps us towards our goal of keeping the museum running.”

READ ALSO Saving artefacts and getting Wagga’s rail history back on track

After spending much of his life working on the railways, Phil said it was a joy to see grandparents bringing children down to see the old locomotives in action.

“They get them on there and they just can’t believe the sound of the engines and the steam on the platforms and even just being inside the old carriages,” he said.

“Most of them haven’t ever been on a train, let alone inside a carriage that’s 60 or 70 years old, so it’s amazing to see them there.”

Steam train

The 5917 locomotive was last in the Riverina in 2019. Photo: Canberra Railway Museum.

Hauling the Picnic Train will be the US-built steam locomotive 5917 which entered service on the NSW Government Railways in March 1953.

Sam Roach said the Picnic Train’s team of volunteers in Canberra had been working hard to prepare for the trip.

“In summer it gets too hot to run the steam engines, so we use January and February as our maintenance period and we pull everything down and go over it and make sure it’s all fit for purpose,” he said, explaining that the well-maintained vintage engines still had years of operation ahead of them.

“The engines are in really good nick. Last year, we ran over 100 days of passenger operations with the steam engines, which is phenomenal, and we’re aiming to go bigger and better this year!”

The Picnic Train will arrive in Junee on Thursday, 2 March and you can find out more or book a seat here.​

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