steam engine saturday

today we went on a trip on the rails – and a trip back in time.

nz rail is the national rail service operating 3 lines:

  • the overlander between wellington and auckland
  • the tranzcoastal from picton to christchurch
  • the tranzalpine from christchurch to greymouth (we took this one on our 1995 vacation)

side story – the rail system was owned by the crown (government) until 1990 when it was sold by the national party (more conservative) led government to an australian company. the current labour party (more liberal) led government has just repurchased the system and rebranded it kiwi rail. with the national party on track to win the elections coming up later this year we’ll have to see what happens next. national says they won’t change what is done – but stay tuned.

our trip today was on the overlander.

after an early start we caught the 6:35 bus from island bay to the train station in plenty time for our 7:35 train. the train is a great way to see the country. our train had an observation car at the back with couches, a coffee table and full wrap-around windows. the conductor did a great job pointing out the sights as we went along. if you wanted to get a good photo without the glare from the windows you could go to an open platform at the front of the train. it was quite chilly outside, but it was a great experience with the sound of the train and the countryside rushing by.

today’s trip was one of a series of specials runs during the winter – a steam engine saturday.

when the train arrived in felding they stopped and hooked up a fully restored steam engine to do the pulling. for our run we had JT1211 (gloria) – a 1938 engine built in 1938 at the north british locomotive company of glasgow scotland. gloria is one of a collection of steam trains and vintage carriages that have been fully restored to operational levels by Mainline Steam – a organization founded by ian welsh and run by a group of very committed train enthusiasts. putting aside for a moment the level of financial backing that ian has provided, i can’t fathom the level of dedication required to locate and buy an old engine or carriage, transport it to your workshop, fully restore it to safe operating condition, and finally secure all the permits and insurance required to operate on the mainline.

having purchased much of what remains in new zealand ian has now turned his focus to south africa and zimbabwe – where the classic trains are being sent to the scrap heap. this raises the challenge level even a bit higher.

one of the recent acquisitions – Ja1240 under restoration in the auckland depot.

with gloria pulling we travelled from felding to taihape where they unhooked gloria and the northbound overlander continued on it’s journey to auckand. we had a 3 hour lunch stop in taihape waiting for the southbound overlander to arrive. gloria would then be hooked up again for the trip back to her depot in felding.

with a disclaimer that it was a drizzly saturday afternoon i can safely say that we will not be planning any future holidays around taihape. very little going on in this small country town. we arrived at 12:15 and by 12:45 had completed our walk around town. the train for our return trip wasn’t schedule to arrive until 3:15 so needed to find some place to settle in. ultimately we found a small towny bar with a fireplace. the menu looked way too complex for the old timer who was the barkeep and chef, so i passed. the jboss was more adventurous and was rewarded with great food.

taihape is known as the gumboot capital of new zealand and hosts the annual gumboot day. the local lions club was at the train platform selling pancakes shaped like gumboots and the train club was there hawking souvenirs. i was a good citizen and gave them both some business.

the wilson building was the highlight of taihape. the lights of wellington harbour from the outdoor platform of the speeding train.

we arrived back at wellington station at 8:25 after a full day on the rails. a quick bus ride got us back to island bay just in time to get dinner from the local malaysian takeaway before they closed.

i’ve posted more pictures and movies from our trip here.

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