The International Steam Pages

Scheduled Steam

Malcolm Simister points out (17th November 2004) that the Australian service described below has been finished for some time..... The New Zealand service sounded very promising but no later news has been provided.

Trans Scenic will repeat the 2005 scheduled steam in 2006 (17th March 2006) reports Grant Hinton:

Following the great success of a 6 week trial last year, Tranz Scenic is again going to have a season of Steam Engine Saturdays on its Overlander Express service. The Overlander runs between the countries largest city, Auckland, and the political capital, Wellington, 650km to the south. Last year the Overlander was hauled by a Wab class 4-6-4 tank locomotive for 6 Saturdays, between Feilding and Ohakune. This year the season will run from Easter to October, and again the Wab will be used, but only every second weekend. On the alternate weekends the Auckland based Glenbrook Vintage Railway will supply a Ja class 4-8-2 tender locomotive to haul the train between Pukekohe just south of Auckland, and Te Kuiti. The locomotives will wait at the turnaround station to collect the opposite direction Overlander for the journey back to their respective home station. This makes day excursions from Auckland or Wellington possible. The Overlander departs from the underground Britomart station in Auckland City, and steam is banned from there. 

Tony Hurst reports from New Zealand (added 2nd September 2005):

This was posted on Tranzrailphotographers Newsgroup, I haven't found the original. One likely locomotive is Wab 794 (4-6-4T), but may be a J, Ja or Jb (all 4-8-2).

Return of steam to the Main Trunk Line

Tranz Scenic is expecting a lot of interest in a new special service they are soon to offer on the main trunk line.

The Overlander service, which runs daily between Wellington and Auckland through the heart of the North Island, will be pulled by a steam locomotive for part of the journey over the next three months.

The steam locomotive will pull the Overlander between Feilding and Ohakune and return every Saturday, which means day trips out of Wellington and Palmerston North are also possible for the whole family to enjoy a truly unique experience.

Ross Hayward, Group General Manager Rail Passenger, says "Tranz Scenic is continuing to focus on providing a true tourism experience through its services and this is another example of that approach."

"Steam has always had a special place in the heart of many New Zealanders but we expect there will be good interest from tourists. Tranz Scenic is proud to be part of what many will see as a truly unique event."

"As we have a limited number of seats available each Saturday, it's important for people to book early for the trip"

The first trip will take place on Saturday 27 August, and the last on 15 October 2005. 

I am never too sure how to categorise regular steam operations over 'public' railways. In the UK we have an annual summer service between Fort William and Mallaig in Scotland. Then there is the Royal Hudson operation in Canada.  Now we can add Australia to the list: Mark Carter reports (15th September 1999): Click here for Trevor Staats update (20th April 2000)

Steam on a regularly scheduled service that operates at timetabled speed of up to 115km/h. Travel 534km (335 miles) steam hauled for AU$47.80 - about 20 or US$30!! Need to know more - read on!

In the State of Victoria, steam power is regularly used on Saturdays on the 267 kilometre journey between Melbourne and Warrnambool operated by private rail operator West Coast Railway (WCR).

WCR operate diesel hauled passenger services under contract to the State Government using their own locomotives and rolling stock. Three returns operate Monday to Friday, two returns on Saturday and one on Sunday.

Since May this year ex-Victorian Railways R Class 4-6-4 no.R711 (NBL 27001/51) has been regularly rostered on Saturdays to work the 0843 Melbourne to Warrnambool service (arrives 1153), the train usually built up to a double consist and sometimes double headed with a diesel, though steam usually leads. The R returns on an extra timetabled service which departs Warrnambool at 1705 for an arrival back in Melbourne at 2017. There is no special premium fare for the steam hauled service, though special dining packages are available. Fares are AU$71.80 First class and AU$47.80 Economy.

During 1998, the owners of WCR restored the R class which had been rescued from static display in Bendigo, back in 1995. The rebuild has been extensive and radical, involving conversion to oil firing and the fitting of a double Lempor exhaust. Some modifications have also been made to the valve gear and the valve heads. The Lempor exhaust systems was manufactured in Australia from drawings made up in South Africa.

The R has also been fitted with a control stand to allow double headed operation with the WCR's 'heritage' diesel fleet (most of which are Australian built EMD F class derivatives from the 1950s) without the need for second crew in the diesel. R711 is painted not be in traditional R class black and red carries a new livery of grey and blue, designed by Malpass and Burrows who were responsible for the original WCR livery.

More info can be obtained from the WCR web site at

R711 restarted the regular passenger workings in April 2000, and has been working ballast trains and freights for shakedown and crew training purposes. Sister loco R766 is currently in the workshops receiving the same rebuild as 711. On April 22nd, 711+766 and 3801+3830 will run from Albury to Melbourne, 300km parallel - should be quite a trip. The 38's are touring the "new" standard gauge lines in Victoria. Trevor Staats had a cab ride on 711 in December 1999:

"Spencer Street Station, Melbourne, Saturday 18th December 1999 8:30 a.m.

The handsome blue coaches stand in the platform, passengers climbing aboard, staff carrying out last minute tasks. At the business end stands R711, quietly simmering away, compressors panting occasionally. R711 is an express passenger steam loco, a 4-6-4 built by North British in 1951 for the Victorian Railways. These locos didn't last long in their intended roles, becoming quickly replaced by diesels. A few survived in preservation, but nobody expected to ever see an R back in regular passenger service.

The first time I saw R711 was on a plinth in a park in Bendigo, back in the 80's, looking rather derelict. The railfan world became extremely interested when private passenger operator West Coast Railway announced they would be rebuilding the loco for regular passenger service. This rebuild involved conversion to oil burning, extensive front-end modifications including a double Lempor exhaust, fitting of a diesel MU control stand and other modifcations. These modifications were completed in 1998, after which R711 started regular passenger runs on the 560 km return trip to Warrnambool, taking over from the regular diesel loco.

Problems were discovered with the tyres on the driving wheels, so Ring Rollers here in Springs were contracted to roll new tyres for the big 6'1" drivers. After a few phone calls from Tony Marsden in Australia, I contacted Ring Rollers to arrange to watch the tyres being rolled, so in February 1999 I got my next glimpse of R711, as the red hot blanks were placed on the rolling machine and transformed into new tyres. I duly recorded the process on film and video, and as a gesture of appreciation from West Coast Railway I was offered a cab ride on R711 when I was next in Australia.

Walking up the platform with my 4-year-old son Thomas, we stop and inspect the big loco. Resplendent in dark blue, lined out with yellow, the WCR logo adorning the tender, the loco is an impressive sight. Thomas looks and points, "Look, it's got two chimneys…", pauses to think, "…but it's not the Red Devil." Thinks some more… "And Ebing's chimneys go across the engine, not along the engine like this one…", he says, motioning with his arms. Some deeper thought follows, "This must be the Blue Devil!"

I had to admire the thought process! We step up to the cab, and I introduce myself to driver Bob Evans and fireman Bob Butrim. They welcome me aboard, and I arrange to ride from Geelong on the Down journey, but in the meantime we retire to the comfort of the coaches.

Soon the station bell rings, and we pull smoothly out. The bark of the exhaust can still be heard through the double-glazed windows, as the industrial areas and suburbs glide past. With the junctions and points behind us, we hit the main line to Geelong. The maximum speed limit here is 115 km/h, and the R accelerates up to this speed with ease. A pause at Werribee, then on to Geelong where I board the loco.

There are more sightseers than passengers it seems, and the driver has celebrity status with the crowd. Then a blast on the whistle, a pull on the regulator and we're off. The twin stacks bark as the regulator is widened, the train accelerating. At the Down end of Geelong station is a tunnel on a fairly steep grade. The loud exhaust suddenly becomes deafening as we plunge into the darkness, oil smoke swirling around, the heat intensifying as we climb towards the pinpoint of light at the other end, still increasing speed. Suddenly we're back in daylight and breathing is again possible.

With measured beat we cruise past the outskirts of Geelong, many people emerging from their houses to wave at the train. Then we are out on the country again, the regulator is opened wide and the cutoff reduced, and we sprint away down the line, the miles ticking past. The speedo sits on 100 km/h, the steam gauge not budging from 210 psi, the footplate bucking and swaying with our speed. A grin spreads across my face as we trip past farm and paddock, the R hardly noticing the 360-odd tons on the drawbar. This must be steam at its best!

Soon a quick stop at Winchelsea, the sound of the hardworking loco once again thrills as we accelerate out of the station, the livestock in nearby paddocks scattering at the approach of the train. The miles disappear under the big driving wheels, and we arrive at Colac, roughly the halfway point. The fireman flicks a level on the tender, and seeing my puzzled look, explains that this operates the tender water hatch with compressed air. I watch as the water gushes in to the tender, and the crew climb down to oil the motion. In 4 minutes, the tender is topped up, the oiling is complete and we are ready for the road. A quick check down the train shows that all is clear, and once again we are away. With long cutoff and wide regulator, we roar out of the station, the nearby footbridge and road bridge crowded with onlookers witnessing this impressive sight.

All too soon we arrive at Terang, where I leave the loco for the peace, quiet and smooth ride of the coaches. My ears are still ringing as we glide into Warrnambool station. We alight and wander down to the park for lunch and ice-creams as R711 takes oil and water, and is turned for the return journey.
After much fun and laughter at the nearby park, we gather the children and make our way back to the station. The children are dozing even before we depart, then the rocking coach and the beat of the loco lull them into deeper slumber as we race back towards Melbourne. My wife Christine is on the loco as we depart Warrnambool, and at Terang she returns looking somewhat windblown, but having thoroughly enjoyed the experience!

At Geelong I once again board the loco for the short section to Werribee. Again the acceleration and continuous high speed is impressive as we leave Corio Bay and the oil refineries in our wake, racing along at 115 km/h. We receive surprised looks from motorists on the nearby highway as we race past, I can imagine what a striking sight it must be to watch this loco in full cry. Then we are at Werribee, I thank the crew profusely for the privilege of riding with them, and I join the mere mortals in the coaches once more. The sun has faded as we roll into Melbourne, and the R leaves the train and we head home, tired but exhilarated.

The following day, sister loco R766 joined R711 on a fan trip to Ballarat. This was 766's last run as a standard coal burning R-Class. 766 was taken into WCR's Ballarat East workshops that afternoon, and will emerge by Easter 2000 with similar modifications to R711, adding a second "Super R" to the roster. To think that this is happening in the year 2000 is incredible, the world's most modern steam locos on the worlds fastest regular steam passenger run.

Many thanks to West Coast Railway for allowing me this incredible experience, and also to Tony Marsden for organising the trip, and the good people at Ring Rollers for allowing me to watch the tyres being rolled."

More contributions will be welcome.

Rob Dickinson