Memories of a golden steam era came flooding back as Locomotive 3801 chugged through the Southern Highlands and into Goulburn on Thursday.
Photographers chased its journey from Thirlmere through the Highlands and on to Junee, while school children and seasoned train buffs gathered at Goulburn Railway Station for its noon arrival.
"It's the sheer elegance, magic and mechanics of it that make it special," resident Mark Collins enthused.
First launched in 1943, 3801 operated as an express passenger locomotive and later as a freight loco until it was withdrawn from service in 1962. It remained in preservation until 2007 when the state government commissioned a $3.5 million overhaul.
Rail author and photographer, Leon Oberg, said Goulburn engineer Ken Ainsworth originally tendered to replace the boiler but missed out to a German firm. Unsatisfied with that work, the government awarded the boiler overhaul contract to Mr Ainsworth in 2016.
"He overhauled it to brand new condition and deserves an enormous amount of credit for what has been done," Mr Oberg said.
"Without that work and that of his firm, it wouldn't have been able to get back to its current state. It's a glorious rebuild."
Mr Oberg and fellow train enthusiast, Stephen Relf, followed the loco's trip from the Southern Highlands.
Thirlmere and Chullora teams were also instrumental to the steam engine's restoration.
The region had a taste of its grandeur with a trial trip to Goulburn last September. However it formally roared back on to the tracks with one-hour shuttle runs in Sydney following its March 12 relaunch by NSW Governor Margaret Beazley AC QC. Mr Ainsworth was there for the occasion.
But he wasn't in Goulburn for its first regional run, which attracted plenty of attention. Local man David Stevenson worked as a fireman and driver on the railway for 45 years and drove 3801 many times. He watched its journey from a north Goulburn railway bridge.
"It's nice to see it back on the tracks and doing a regional tour to allow people to have a look. It's operational and alive," he said.
Victorian man Alan Williams was also ready with his camera after making a special trip. He travels the world chasing steam trains.
At the station, Transport Heritage volunteer Leon Rudd said the run had received a great reception, with people taking plenty of photos along the route.
The loco was supported by two diesel locos, three crew cars and numerous passenger cars. While there were no passengers for the Thirlmere to Junee leg, 3801, a series of one-hour runs from Albury, Junee and Wagga booked out weeks ago. The train will return through Goulburn on Monday, April 12.
A Transport Heritage NSW spokesman said the loco was like "brand new" and crews were very happy with its performance.
The old faithful has a busy schedule ahead, with trips planned all over NSW up until November.
For more information visit the Transport Heritage NSW website.
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