Copyright Graeme Belbin
You might think we are one of the newest rail preservation groups in NSW however our roots run back to the early 70s. Some 50 years later, the Picnic Train continues to grow becoming a much loved feature on the NSW railways.
But where did it all start?
5917 awaits its next duties at Broadmeadow on 6 July 1966. - image: Geoff Pianta
In the mid 1950s the NSW Government Railways introduced its first diesel locomotives in an effort to modernise the railways. This spelt the beginning of the end for steam. As more and more diesels were introduced - vast fleets of steam locomotives were often sent to Sydney for scrapping, many ending up at the Enfield yards. By the early 70s it was all over. The last day of steam was in March 1973.
At the same time, in recognition that some of this history should be preserved, small groups began to appear in an effort to save at least a small portion of the fleet for preservation. One of these was the Rail Transport Museum which had been established in 1962 and was initially based at Enfield No. 1 roundhouse.
Watching what was happening from the nearby, a group of teenage members of the museum were busy eyeing the nearby locomotives, silently awaiting the scrappers torch. Many of the locomotives were only recently overhauled or had just left service and were in full operating condition.
The group of 10 decided to band together and buy a locomotive of their own (in some cases without their parents knowledge), forming the 30T preservation society. The group had nothing to preserve (yet) and weren’t actually a registered society but nevertheless wrote to the railways asking to buy a locomotive. With $300 each in their pockets, a considerable sum for a teenager at the time, they were invited to view many of the dormant locos. One stood out - locomotive 5917.
END OF THE ROAD
5917, recently arrived from Bathurst sits awaiting its fate at Enfield in 1973. Already looking weather worn, the locomotive was, like all other steam locomotives, condemned for scrapping.
image: Mal Austin
The 20 year old locomotive had been built by the Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton works in Philadelphia and shipped to Australia as one of 20 in the class. Originally built as an oil burner the loco had been converted to coal and was primarily used for freight duties, finishing its government career as a banking locomotive based at Bathurst.
The group of teens duly handed over all their savings - all $3,000, and the 59 class was theirs. But what to do with it? It needed somewhere for at least some basic work to be done to keep it operable. Space was found at the Rhondda Colliery branch near Newcastle. The locomotive was put into steam and towed two other locomotives there which were destined for the Dorrigo Museum.
At this time a decision was made to form an actual society and find a base of operations. The Lachlan Valley Railway was born. Initially based in Parkes, and later Cowra, the society continued to operate the locomotive on heritage tours on and off for the next 4 decades.
THE GREAT ESCAPE
5917, 3046 and 3090T (with 3144's tender) approaching Ourimbah late on the afternoon of 2 October 1974, bound for the temporary sanctuary of Rhondda Colliery.
image: Philip Vergison
In 2018 the syndicate decided to form a new society, with the 59 class as its centrepiece, to capture a new audience of passengers from both Sydney and the Hunter Valley. It was at this time the Picnic Train was formed.
The new society was able to concentrate on the operation and maintenance of 5917 as well as bring into the group other locomotives and carriages. One major part of this new operation was the introduction of the former Victorian Railways locomotive R766 after a two decade restoration. One of 70 in the class, all had been built for the Victorian broad gauge (5ft 3in). R766 has been converted to standard gauge (4ft 8.5in) for operation in NSW.
In addition diesel locomotive 4903 was bought from Lachlan Valley Railway in 2020 to assist with shunting and operational duties. The privately owned streamliner 42107 has also joined the fleet being used for both commercial work and use on the occasional passenger train.
In the 50 years since it's infancy, the group that now forms the Picnic Train continues to operate steam hauled heritage trains throughout NSW with the locomotive that started it all - 5917.
THE PICNIC TRAIN IS BORN
5917 operating under the newly formed Lachlan Valley Railway trundles across the Terralong Street bridged as it arrives at Kiama with one of the first Picnic Trains in 1973.
image: Dennis Rittson