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Train Spotting on a Sydney Day Trip to the Trainworks Museum

A few weeks ago I got a sneak peek at a museum that opens this weekend and will put a spring in the step of train spotters and day trippers around Sydney and beyond.
It’s called Trainworks, it’s found at Thirlmere, and it’s being described as “the most comprehensive interpretive display of railway history in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere.”
Now I must confess I haven’t been to many other railway history displays around the place, so I can’t really compare, but I was rather impressed with this one. As you can see by the grin on my face, and the strange glow around me as I hung out with the trains…
While it’s hard to feel the magic on a daily commute, I’ve always found the idea of rail travel wildly romantic. What can I say, from Marilyn Monroe in Some Like it Hot, to Audrey Tatou in the Chanel ad, whenever I see someone in a sleeper or dining car I want to pack my steamer trunk and join them.
So for me, clambering in and out of the carriages was a Trainworks highlight for me. I mean, even toilets and sinks look beautiful on some of those old carriages. I can only imagine what the highlight would be for someone who really knows their trains.
Would they mist up at the sight of Australia’s most powerful locomotive, the 260 tonne 6040 Garratt? Or feel nostalgic when faced with the very last Red Rattler that entered traffic back in 1923?


I’m told the Trainworks museum has the biggest collection of rolling stock in Australia, and there’s a roundhouse and turntable where people can watch real life restoration and maintenance of these beautiful old trains.

There’s also a range of interactive exhibitions and displays…. including a game in the Mail Car where you have to try to sort the mail before the train pulls into the next station. Then there are some of the old signs from the trains, such as the one below, which has me puzzling over just where the poor workers were supposed to put those pesky tea leaves.

As we’ve established, I don’t know much about locomotives. But I did find it interesting to see things like the old funeral carts that carried coffins to and from the trains, and the Prison Van, which you can step into and see how prisoners were transported behind bars (and where the hairs on the back of my neck stood straight up).

As an ex farm girl and horse lover, I was also interested in seeing the old livestock cars, and the horse boxes they transported horses in during World War I.

They also have the Governor General’s carriage – which was built for Australia’s first Governor General back in 1901 at the Eveleigh Railway workshops in Sydney. And have documented moments in train history such as this one…
Ah yes, the way I’ve always wanted to travel, and something I was lucky enough to get a taste of on that very day. Not quite as fancy as the one above, but still absolutely lovely, and a lot of fun to be on… this is where I could be found for most of the trip back to Sydney….

Travelling to and from Trainworks on the Southern Aurora was a special treat for the launch with the Governor of NSW Marie Bashir, and my friend Steven and I had a lot of fun taking photos along the way (I love the way that boy can catch the light with just an iPhone on hand).

While the Southern Aurora won’t be running every week, Trainworks will give visitors the chance to ride on a steam train every Sunday.

And three times a year, young train fans can get up close and personal with a full size Thomas the Tank Engine, and go for a steam train ride with Donald, or one of his other friends. The special Thomas Days take place in May, July and September, but bookings for Thomas the Tank Engine at Trainworks are essential, as Thomas is a popular boy.

Even without Thomas around, there’s plenty at Trainworks to tickle the fancy of young train nuts. And at just an hour’s drive out of Sydney in the foothills of the Southern Highlands, (it’s about 90 kilometres south of the CBD along the M5), it’s a good day trip distance from the city. There’s a cafe there to munch at, or those who prefer to pack their own lunches can use the picnic tables and BBQs.Family tickets are $57 for two adults and up to four children, while family tickets with the train ride experience are between $85 and $100. Trainworks can be found on Barbour Road, Thirlmere. To book or ask questions, you can call (02) 4681 8001 or check out the Trainworks website.

Love trains? You may also want to read about taking the Venice Simplon Orient Express from London to Berlin, or find out what it’s like to travel to Machu Picchu in style on Belmond’s Hiram Bingham, or cross Australia in style on the Indian Pacific.

You may also want to read about one of the most spectacular rail journeys in the world, the Oslo to Bergen railway in Norway, the Pacific Surfliner train from Los Angeles to San Diego and enjoy those California beach views.

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  1. Trainworks Museum looks very interesting. The historical background of these trains sounds intriguing. I hope I can visit this place when we go to Sydney next year.

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