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The steam age returns to Sydney this weekend as two of Australia's oldest steam trains race through the inner western suburbs, with hundreds of paying passengers on board.
The vintage trains are driven by a small pool of drivers, some of whom are too young to remember the steam age.
Drivers are certified for particular lines, such as city or country routes.
"Over and over, same trip after trip, listening and learning and picking things up as you go," driver Paul Gray said.
He and the other drivers are based in a vast Thomas the Tank Engine-style workshop at Thirlmere in the New South Wales Southern Highlands.
"I did my apprenticeship as a fitter and turner, and ended up with a full-time job down here," Mr Gray said.
Thirlmere was once a stop on the main rail line between Sydney and Melbourne.
It is now home to a large railway museum operated by Transport Heritage New South Wales.
In The Great Race on Saturday afternoon, two historic locomotives will steam from Sydney's Central Station, through the Inner West and on to Strathfield.
The historic engines are expected to reach speeds of up to 100 kilometres an hour.
Daniel Potter, who started in the Thirlmere workshop as an apprentice in March, said the old 'locos' are still up to it.
"As long as they don't go too hard it's alright. I mean, they're pretty old so you don't want to really flog them."
Mr Potter is fond of the trains, which were built long before he was born.
"You want to keep them sort of running nicely, instead of flogging them. That way they're easier to look after and not much goes wrong," he said.
Mr Potter plans to finish his apprenticeship and eventually become a train driver.
Another steam career path is that of the fireman, a hot and sweaty role, often played by Ashley Fitton.
His main job is feeding a red-hot furnace and he says it can be gruelling work.
"Generally if you're going uphill, you're doing lots of shovelling, lots of shovelling constantly, so there's no sitting down or having a drink of water or anything like that. You're just constantly on the ball," he said.
On a hot day, the cab of the train can reach upwards of 50 to 55 degrees Celsius.
"But downhills are the fun part because that's when you sit down and put your feet up and relax for a bit and watch the world go by," he said.
Mr Fitton insists the steam trains that are maintained in the Southern Highlands are more than just museum pieces.
"These things might be a hundred years old but they're still running as good as what they were when they were running back in the day," he said.
"Things like that shouldn't be cooped up in a museum as far as I'm concerned. If you've got the blokes and you've got the money, and you've got the people who are willing to do it, then I don't see any reason why these things shouldn't be out on the tracks all the time."
The trains in the heritage collection are serviced and overhauled by people such as Peter Horne, a volunteer fitter and machinist.
"We have a pretty rigorous maintenance program here," he said.
"There's quite a few permanents that work here that have been around forever on the trains and know them inside out. It's a good job."
Mr Horne has loved trains since he was a boy, and says his wife adores them too.
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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