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This was the first, and so far only, occasion that stream locomotives have visited the Victorian standard gauge network west of Melbourne since it was converted from broad gauge in 1995. The trip took the train from Melbourne to Ararat, Portland, and Dimboola.
The Millennium Aurora utilised the preserved rolling stock from the famous Southern Aurora interstate passenger service that formally operated between Melbourne and Sydney from 1962 to 1986.
The motive power for the trip included two former New South Wales Government Railways C38 class steam locomotives, numbers 3801 and 3830, assisted by vintage diesel units 4201 and 42211 that came along to provide back up in case of issues with the main locomotives and to haul a couple of legs of the journey to allow time for the C38s to be serviced.
This special train arrived in Victoria from New South Wales on the morning of Good Friday, but it was Easter Monday, 24 April 2000, when it ventured west of Melbourne and spent that night at Maroona.
Above - Iconic New South Wales steam locomotive 3801, with sister unit 3830, basking in the morning sun at Dimboola twenty years ago in April 2000.
In the early hours of the following morning, Anzac Day, the train ventured to Portland before departing that location for the trip north soon after sunrise, but with many photo- and passenger-stops on the journey, did not arrive at Dimboola until after dark. Here the steam locomotives were removed from the train and taken to the turntable area to be serviced, while the assisting diesel locomotives ran a return trip to Leeor Loop, near the South Australian border.
The following morning a Freight Australia locomotive, G519 still in V/Line colours, suffered a minor derailment while shunting a rake of grain hoppers, which blocked the track from the turntable, trapping the two steam locomotives which prevented them from returning to the mainline in time to lead the train out of Dimboola.
The train departed behind the vintage diesel locomotives at around 10.30 as the passengers had to make a connection later in the day closer to Melbourne, and 3801 and 3830 followed two hours later in the day once the G class had been re-railed.
As there are no standard gauge steam locomotives based in Victoria, the only opportunity for steam trains to operate in this part of the state is when New South Wales-based locomotives visit, which has not occurred in the last twenty years, since the Millennium Aurora.
The last rail enthusiast passenger train to operate on this part of the network was the Leeor Loop Leap Year Special which operated on 27 February 2016 utilising diesel locomotive TL152.
This article first appeared on www.dimboolacourier.com.au
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