Wander through the Newport West Block Rail Workshops and you get a feel for the halcyon days of rail travel from yesteryear.
Inside the cavernous sheds, which railway preservation group 707 Operations calls home, are lines of old locomotives and carriages in various states of repair.
707 Operations was established in 1980 by a group visiting Newport Workshops to inspect steam locomotive R707, which had been withdrawn from service six years earlier. With VicRail’s blessing, the group restored the locomotive whose debut journey was a return trip to Bacchus Marsh in 1985.
After restoring R707, the organisation expanded its fleet by acquiring more steam and diesel locomotives along with sleeping, dining and passenger carriages for day and overnight tourist trips across Victoria.
With restrictions easing across the state, R707 will be operating a Picnic Express to Bacchus Marsh across several weekends in November. Trips to Ballarat and Tocumwal are also planned for early 2022.
707 Operations volunteer Kim Baxter will be on board with his wife Annie in their very own carriage, which has seven two-berth compartments and the couple’s “state room”, including a double bed and two bunks.
“It was originally an Overland car built in South Australia for the Melbourne to Adelaide train and bought by a man in Clunes who was going to use it as a stationary B&B at Talbot railway station,” Kim said.
“He then decided he was going to do something different, so I convinced my wife it was a great idea to buy it and I moved it down here to Newport. I guess that was a bit of an incentive to get involved with 707.”
Kim, whose career in the railways started at the Ballarat workshops as an apprentice fitter and turner in 1974, said 707 Operations volunteers paid to go on the trips.
“On a sleeping train, we’re taking up space we can’t sell to the public, so it keeps overall costs down. The train is expensive to run,” he said.
“You get a wide range of people, but it generally appeals to family groups. It’s a pleasant way to travel, it’s relaxing and it’s a pleasure seeing people enjoying it.
“Most of the people understand we’re a volunteer organisation and we’re all here giving our time freely. Not everything works perfectly and it’s not the Indian Pacific or The Ghan, but they appreciate what it is and how it’s done and the reason it’s done.
“It has been pretty difficult not being able to operate and for some time the volunteers not being able to come on site other than for essential maintenance to make sure the place was safe.
“That’s dragged us back a fair bit because if we’re not running trips, we’re not bringing in any income.”
V/Line is the accredited operator of all mainline heritage services around Victoria and CEO Matt Carrick is proud of its close connection with groups like 707 Operations.
“Victoria is lucky to have a vibrant and diverse tourism and heritage rail sector that is dedicated to preserving our rich rail heritage for future generations,” Matt said.
“Being able to see, smell and touch these historic locomotives and carriages is an important part of retaining that connection to where we have come from, while at the same time we modernise and improve our railway.”