Rare steam loco on track

The R707 steam train will cut an impressive path across the region this weekend. 
Picture supplied.

The R707 steam train will cut an impressive path across the region this weekend. Picture supplied.

A restored R-class steam locomotive will pass through Kerang this weekend on a "weekend sleeper tour" that takes passengers to Swan Hill then on by coach to the Manangatang races.

The trip is being run by 707 Operations, an independent rail heritage group which bought and restored R707 - one of only three working R-class locomotives - in the 1980s.

The R class was an express passenger steam locomotive that ran on Victorian railways from 1951 to 1974.

707 Operations, which has workshops in Melbourne, aims to preserve heritage trains and the skills associated with maintaining the steam locomotive and other heritage rail stock and to support the tourist industry by running trips to regional Victoria.

The Manangatang Cup train will leave Southern Cross station at 10pm tonight and head to Bendigo then on to Swan Hill, passing through Kerang in the early hours of tomorrow morning.

Arriving in Swan Hill at 6.30am, R707 will make an early shuttle trip to Piangil before the service connects with a bus to Manangatang, where the first race kicks off at 1pm.

It was originally planned the train would run direct to the races but V/Line staff had changed their minds about the safety of the track, 707 Operations volunteer, Nathan Watt said plans had to be changed due to track safety. 

"Since V/Line approved the application, they have now assessed that the track to Manangatang is not at a standard for operations of a passenger train," he said.

"Nonetheless we appreciate V/Line working with us to instead be able to operate the trip via Swan Hill and Piangil.

"If people want to come up to Swan Hill on tomorrow or Sunday, they can jump on the shuttle to Piangil and have a heritage train experience."

The rail line to Manangatang, which is still used for grain transport, branches off the main line at Bendigo and travels north through Bridgewater, Boort, Quambatook and Lalbert, through Manangatang and then to Robinvale.

It was built in stages, reaching Manangatang in 1914 and Robinvale in 1924.

The last passenger trains to run on it were in 1978.

Those on board R707 will bed down in private sleeping compartments and enjoy meals and snacks in an air conditioned 1950s vintage atmosphere, with licenced club carriages and an espresso bar.

"We are very excited. It's the longest trip we've taken it on for around 20 years. Normally it just does day trips," Mr Watt said.

Leaving Swan Hill at 12.40pm for the return journey with an estimated 7.40pm arrival at Southern Cross, the train should be seen steaming through Kerang at around 1.30pm on Sunday.

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