HERITAGE rail enthusiasts celebrated a milestone on Saturday when a 1951 Scottish-built locomotive restored over 16 years at North Rothbury had its first trial run on the public rail system with two trips between Branxton and Singleton.
The Hudson Class 4-6-4 express passenger steam loco, number R766, was brought to the Hunter by rail enthusiast Chris Richards, backer of the Hunter Valley Railway Museum at North Rothbury.
Mr Richards said yesterday that a trial had been scheduled to run months ago but it was caught by the Hunter's COVID lockdown and delayed until now.
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"It was wonderful to be able to get out onto the tracks after all this time," Mr Richards said.
Mr Richards is regarded as one of the region's foremost advocates of rail - and building - heritage. He says he is fortunate enough to have made enough money to be able to plough it back in to preserving the things he loves - especially old trains.
The Newcastle Herald has reported on the fight to keep the North Rothbury museum going, and Mr Richards said steam heritage was a constant battle, despite the obvious popularity of the trains with the general public.
He said once R766 had finished its trials and been fully certified to carry passengers, it was intended the loco would pull excursion carriages under "The Picnic Train" banner out of the Hunter and between Sydney and Kiama.
Mr Richards believed R766 was the only R-Class loco converted from Victorian broad gauge to NSW standard gauge, and its coal-fired boiler was modified to run on diesel fuel oil, making it much cleaner, environmentally.
He said it could run at "more than 100 miles (160km) an hour" and would "keep up with any modern Australian passenger train".
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