Monday, October 27, 2014

The Passchendaele Express

On Sunday 26th October the Passchendaele Express was passing through Tirau on its way to Tokoroa.

Tirau station sign
I didn't see it on the way down as I was at church.

Harry had and he said the train stopped to let the passengers off. They were then able to walk down the track and take photos of the train as it edged its way towards them. They then all climbed back on again and continued on down to Tokoroa.
Water tower (not working)

It was due back in Matamata at 2.00pm so once I was home we went down to the the railway line to watch it coming back. It had just gone 1.30pm.

We waited for ages with many others joining around the track.

Looking south down the track
Two o'clock passed, the time it was due back in Matamata.

Then we heard the sound of a train crossing the bridge, at the south of Tirau as it crosses State Highway 1, and the road crossing signals just to the north of us went down with their bells ringing.

We all watched the far south end of the track...

cameras held in anticipation but... was just a freight train...

...a very long freight train.

So the wait went on.

We knew that this train coming past meant that the steam train would be a fair way back so Harry decided to take a nap, as he can, just about anywhere!

I spent time take photos around us.
(A Fence Post)

And then finally after waiting for nearly an hour the sound of train wheels on the rail bridge, the bells ringing as the crossing 'arms' went down and Passchendaele came steaming around the corner in to view.

It had worked up quite a speed (probably to try and make up for time lost because of the freight train having to go before it) so there was no stopping this time and it passed quickly by with a loud whistle as it approached the railway crossing, steam and smoke blowing out.

And then it was gone.

The train trip on Monday was reported on TVNZ one news

Passchendaele the steam locomotive Ab608 traveled with Steam Incorporated North from Hamilton (8:05am – 4:00pm) to Waharoa and then down the Kinleith Branch line through Matamata and Putaruru to Tokoroa for a day out using a fleet of heritage carriages, most with open end balconies. The train also included a buffet car selling drinks and snacks.

This was one of the first excursions using WWI Memorial locomotive Ab608 “Passchendaele” since the completion of a major restoration taking many years and costing over half a million dollars. Ab608 was built in 1915, the first of the successful and prolific Ab class, and in 1925 named “Passchendaele” in memory of all of the railwaymen that fell in the Great War.

It was fitting to run this excursion to coincide with the start of WWI, 100 years ago.

There was a stopover of over an hour at Tokoroa for a lunch break while the locomotive carried onto Kinleith to be turned in preparation for the return journey.

The adult fare ex Hamilton to Tokoroa and return was $NZ195. Child fare was $NZ115. After returning to Hamilton the train continued on to Pukekohe and Glenbrook.

In 1925 the minister of railways, Gordon Coates, agreed to a proposal to name a steam locomotive ‘in memory of those members of the New Zealand Railways who fell in the Great War’. More than 5000 railwaymen served overseas between 1914 and 1918 (out of a total workforce of 14,000), and 447 were killed. 

After considering the names Somme, Le Quesnoy and Ypres, Coates chose Passchendaele. 
The locomotive selected to carry the name was AB 608. Built at Christchurch’s Addington railway workshops in 1915, this was the first of the famed class of AB ‘Pacifics’ – probably the most successful and versatile locomotives ever to run on New Zealand railways. More than 140 of these engines were produced between 1915 and 1926. 
The gleaming Passchendaele was one of the stars of the show at the New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition in Dunedin in the summer of 1925-26. 
In 1927 it was chosen to haul the Duke and Duchess of York’s royal train in the South Island (a role it had also performed, unnamed, during the Prince of Wales’s tour in 1920). 

The memorial nameplates fitted to the engine’s flanks were removed during the Second World War. Copies of the plates were later put on display at Christchurch and Dunedin railway stations, where they have remained ever since. 

By the time it was withdrawn from service in 1967, AB 608 had steamed more than 2.4 million kilometres. After being withdrawn from service the locomotive was donated to the New Zealand Railway and Locomotive Society. 
Later it was leased to Steam Incorporated at Paekakariki for its restoration and eventual operation. Currently the locomotive is on long term lease to Steam Incorporated.

The extensive rebuilding of the locomotive to main line operating standards has taken many years and excluding untold volunteer hours will have cost over $500,000 when completed. The objective was to have the restoration completed in time for it to be available to participate in First World War commemorative activities. A small dedication ceremony for Ab608 was held on Anzac Day 2014 and was ready for main service by end of June 2014.

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