Trainspotting a silver Aurora

NORTHERN trainspotters will get an extra thrill and onlookers will catch a rare glimpse of a silver streak that was once the queen of the railways tomorrow.

The Southern Aurora was once the pride of the NSW railway fleet but the luxury express passenger train that was retired 28 years ago is back on track and in the north tomorrow.

Former broadcaster Bob Price, who grew up in Armidale, says the weekend tour by the Aurora into our northern rail routes provides a bit of magical train trivia for locals.

Mr Price, now a volunteer with the Transport Heritage museum,said the train has been chartered by the rail tour company St James Rail. 

The train, pulled by a diesel engine and with a number of the original sleeper carriages, is believed to have about 95 passengers on board who are part of a five day gourmet wine and food trip complete with degustation meals.

It left its museum home in Thirlmere – near Picton – the largest railway museum in Australia, and ran through the Riverina to the Central West and Orange on Thursday, before heading to Dubbo and then onto Werris Creek.

The Aurora first launched in April 1962 and was an overnight express passenger train that operated between Sydney and Melbourne, with a top speed of 130km/h, shaving more than two hours off the old train trek times. 

It was first-class throughout, including dining facilities, and featured all-sleeper accommodation, and its arrival on the rail scene came after the opening of the North East standard gauge line from Melbourne to Albury, eliminating the break-of-gauge between the capital cities.

Mr Price was on that first trip in a passenger complement of 144 back in 1962. He remembers the Aurora with much affection and pride.

“It was the first luxury passenger train, built new, with air conditioning, full dining and cooking facilities on board. One left at 8pm from Sydney and the other the same time from Melbourne and they’d arrive at their destinations at 9am the next morning,” he said.

The carriages used featured fluted sides and consisted of roomette and twinette sleepers, lounge cars and diners.

History records that a motorail service was added from July, 1973, which enabled passengers to travel and take their cars.

Declining passenger numbers in the 1980s saw it combined with the Spirit of Progress train and it ran for the last time on August 2, 1986.

But it has become a heritage icon too and the carriages maintained in operational condition for charter and special tours.

There are still two trains each way each day between Sydney and 

Melbourne but they’re not luxury or world class trains like the Aurora.

 These days the 959 kilometre run is conducted by XPTs and the journey reportedly takes 10 hours and 55 minutes. 

Southern Aurora timetable includes:

Sunday April 27:

Depart Werris Creek 5.10am, pass Warral 5.45am, West 

Tamworth 5.55am, Tamworth 6.05am, Kootingal 6.25am, arrive Uralla 8.25am, depart 9.12am and arrive Armidale 9.43am.

The train will leave Armidale at 4.10pm, arrive Uralla 4.36pm and depart 5.25pm, Walcha 6.13pm, Tamworth 8.35pm, West Tamworth 8.45pm, arrive Werris Creek 9.35pm.

The standing times at Uralla on the upward and downward journey are to allow for the northern Xplorer train to pass through on the northern track.

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