THE train whistle echoed across the town and plumes of steam billowed as an historic R711 steam engine pulled into Camperdown on Saturday.
About 200 appreciative locals lined both sides of the tracks to view the engine while it made a 30 minute stop in Camperdown to make way for a passing V/Line passenger service and to take on more water.
Organiser Eddie White said he was “absolutely over the moon”, with the success of the train’s return to the south west line.
“The number of people that came out into the cold to see the train blew me away,” he said.
“There would have been about 500 people gathered at the Colac station, about 200 at Camperdown, another hundred or so at Terang and about 1500 at Warrnambool.
“In fact, I don’t think there was a crossing where there wasn’t a group of people waving us through – it was absolutely awesome.”
Mr White put up $30,000 of his own money to charter the train, which marked the first steam engine to travel the Warrnambool line in 16 years.
Tickets sold out within 10 days of going on sale, with 220 passengers making the journey on Saturday.
“For me, the most memorable part of the whole day was being able to ride in the front engine with the driver and fireman from Camperdown right through to Warrnambool,” Mr White said.
“I could see all the mums and dads with their kids along the tracks everywhere waving us on, and at one stage I looked back along the carriages and saw people with their heads out and waving back to the people.
“To see everyone so happy and smiling and waving was brilliant – that’s what it’s all about.”
The historic visit lasted longer for Camperdown after a plan to take on more water at Warncoort, near Birregurra was foiled due to wet weather which made the track inaccessible for the water tanker.
Instead, the engine topped up with water at both the Colac and Camperdown stations.
Mr White said the train also experienced ‘grip’ issues as it left Warrnambool for the return journey, which made it more than an hour late back through Camperdown.
“There’s quite a steep incline leaving Warrnambool and the train just couldn’t get traction,” he said.
“In the end, we had to have people walk the whole line from the Warrnambool station to about K-Mart throwing sand from buckets onto the tracks.
“Both those issues are things we’ve learnt from this trip, which we will be better organised for with subsequent trips.”
Steam Rail Victoria and Warrnambool City Council representatives were guests on the train and saw firsthand how much community support their was for a more regular return of the steam train.
“The seeds have definitely been sown to start discussions about another steam train visit,” Mr White said.
“There’s no denying the interest in the steam train and I already have just over 150 people on a waiting list in case we run another service.
“Maybe next time we could drop 50 or so passengers at Camperdown or Colac and they could tour the coast and then board the train again at Warrnambool for the return trip back to Melbourne.”
Mr White thanked everyone who came out in support of the train and made it an event to remember for all involved.
“It really was something special,” he said.