Hundreds of Illawarra trainspotters will be looking for the best vantage point to watch the sold-out Kiama Picnic Train roar through Wollongong on its way down from Sydney this weekend.
But rail buffs who'd rather be on the train than watching from the platform will get their chance next month when a Baldwin 5917 rolls into Wollongong Station to pick up and drop off passengers for the first time in decades.
Thousands of tickets have just gone on sale for the Picnic Train's Wollongong Heritage Steam Trips, which replaces the usual Kiama-Sydney route with a return trip to Scarborough.
"The question we get asked the most is 'when are your trains going to depart from Wollongong?'," said Samuel Roach, a manager and locomotive fireman with the volunteer-run Picnic Train.
"So we're running short trips to Scarborough and an evening tour from Wollongong to Nowra for people wanting a longer journey."
He said the one-hour trips to Scarborough were created with families in mind, so that children could enjoy an authentic steam train experience without being confined to a carriage for a fair chunk of the day.
Passengers get to ride in open-windowed period carriages hauled by a 1950s steam engine, which has undergone a major overhaul over the past two years to the tune of close to half-a-million dollars.
A crew of five - including Mr Roach and 78-year-old Dapto man Bobby Donovan, who has been driving steam trains for 60 years - will make sure the coal-fired journey goes without a hitch.
"You could shovel up to four, maybe five tonnes of coal in a shift," Mr Roach said of his fireman duties.
"Steam locos are very hot and dirty work, but after a shift there is a great sense of accomplishment that comes from working with them.
"It's a great thrill to see so many smiling happy people riding on the train and others that have just come out to a station to watch us rush past."
The Kiama Picnic Train was a regular operation with loco 5917 in the 1970s and early '80s. It was restarted in October 2015 with 10 train trips in 10 weeks all sold out.
Earnings from the trains are put back into the ongoing care and maintenance of the locomotives and carriages.
Tickets are available via The Picnic Train website at www.picnictrain.com.au.