Historic steam train Passchendaele tours SI

Historic steam train Passchendaele tours SI

A coal-powered steam train is touring the South Island a century after it was first built.

The locomotive, Passchendaele, has been restored to its former beauty by a group of loving volunteers after more than 100 years serving the country.

Over 170 passengers are on board for most of the centenary tour, which passed through Christchurch today on its way to Oamaru, Dunedin, Invercargill, Bluff and the West Coast.

Driver Mike Kilsby is part of the four crew members required to get the wheels turning and says he's stilling getting his head around the controls.

"It's great, it is a really great job. It's every boy's dream, when you're growing up, you wanted to drive a steam train," he says.

"It's a lot different than driving a diesel, which we normally work. You've got to have a lot of process involved, you've really got to be on the ball."

The train was built in 1915 and named Passchendaele a decade later in honour of the 450 New Zealand railwaymen lost in WW1.

Volunteer group Steam Incorporated spent over $500,000 restoring the locomotive over 20 years and were happy to put it back into use. Business manager John Bovis says the machine – which burns through five or six tonne of coal every day - was built 100 years ago in Christchurch.

"We've had fantastic support, the train's basically full for three quarters of the tour and over half of those people are from overseas, we've been turning a lot of passengers away unfortunately."

Passengers had a smile on their face this morning as the locomotive tore through the Canterbury Plains, with a strong contingent travelling across from Australia for the trip.

Retiree John Roberts came over with friends, and enjoyed reliving memories from his childhood.

"You sort pick up a bit of grime on your hands, you've got to use a bit of warm water and soap to get it off. I think by and large I haven't ended up with too many cinders in my beard."

Train fan Peter Furguson described the "thrill" of travelling on the "top-notch" locomotive.

"It's got its own personality, it lets you know its brute power and force and you can hear it when it's working hard. The sight, the smell, the sounds, they bring back a lot of memories for a lot of people."

The engine will make its way around the South Island before heading back home to the Kapiti Coast.

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