AT’s Alissa Jenkins boards the historic Trainworks railway museum in Thirlmere, for a family-friendly day out about 90km south-west of Sydney
I should admit something straight up: I’m not a train person. Nor am I a car person, a boat person, or possess a great fascination in any other transportation. But despite my lack of interest in locomotives, I did recently enjoy a day out at Trainworks, a museum dedicated to the NSW rail system.
Located about 90km south-west of Sydney in the historic town of Thirlmere, Trainworks has recently undergone a $30 million facelift, and it shows.
As I walk in to the main exhibition building at Trainworks, I’m greeted by a light show illustrating a map of New South Wales on the floor. Dotted tracks start moving across the map, representing the growth and decline of NSW railways over the past two centuries – an engaging way to introduce the relationship between trains and the state’s past.
Nearby is the museum’s theatrette, which features regular light and sound shows that tell the story of engine Loco 1021, providing an insight into the people who ran it and what was happening in Australia at the time.
Throughout the building are a number of significant displays that have been carefully restored, such as the first train to cross Sydney Harbour Bridge and a carriage that transported the Queen and governor generals within NSW around the turn of the century. The beautiful interior includes polished English oak finishes and fine silver cutlery – an ultra-luxe ride by today’s standards.
At the other end of the spectrum, there is a carriage that was used to transport criminals to prison. This is one of several carriages that visitors can actually go inside. In opposite corners of the carriage are two life-like mannequins; lawbreakers bound for prison. It’s a real sensory experience when an audio recording begins and I overhear the two ‘passengers’ of the past discuss why they were arrested.
Other sights include a display of former Cityrail uniforms, an old ticketing booth and miscellaneous bits and pieces of yesteryear such as authentic station benches.
Outside in the Great Train Hall, I explore the biggest collection of rolling stock in Australia. My favourite is a little retro rail bus painted green and white, which was used to distribute wages to businesses through the state. The 260-tonne 6040 Garrat is also impressive as one of the world’s most powerful locomotives, while stepping inside a mail-sorting carriage, complete with props and soundscape is also a highlight.
What I find especially effective is how the models have been displayed in chronological order so commoners like me can really appreciate how trains have progressed. From passenger trains to produce carriages, it is interesting seeing the changes that have been made to shape the designs used today.
But for serious train buffs who love getting into the mechanical nitty-gritty, I suggest heading straight to The Roundhouse, where a viewing platform allows visitors to watch staff and volunteers as they restore engines and carriages.
To get the most of your Trainworks experience, try to come on a Sunday when the museum offers 50-minute train rides. Between March and November, they use steam trains but outside these times motor or diesel trains are used instead due to fire bans.
What’s even more popular at Trainworks is the ‘Day out with Thomas’ events, usually held three times each year. Kids can meet a full-sized Thomas the Tank Engine, take a steam train ride, meet the Fat Controller and enjoy other activities such as jumping castles and face painting.
Or for big kids, Trainworks can be used as a venue for functions. They can even send a train to pick up passengers from Central Station in Sydney and take them directly to the Trainworks platform.
But in terms of who this day trip is ideal for, there’s definitely a family focus. With historical info available for adults, interactive features and play equipment for kids, barbecue facilities, onsite café, and annual events; there is something for everyone.
I’d highly recommend this as a day trip for grandparents with their grandchildren, to share their memories of travelling on some of the displayed trains, and for youngsters to learn about a piece of Australia’s past.
Where? // Trainworks, 10 Barbour Road Thirlmere. Open seven days a week: Monday to Friday 10am-4pm, Saturday and Sunday 9am-5pm.
How much? // Exhibiton Entry = Adults $19, concession $16, children $11, family $57
Contact // (02) 4681 8001 or visit www.trainworks.com.au