This has been on my list of ‘things to do’ in Sydney for a while but for some reason we keep missing it. For those of you who don’t know…Every few months the Trainworks Train & Rail Museum, south of Sydney in Thirlmere gets Thomas-ed.

There is Thomas face-painting; a Thomas themed bouncy castle, mini-sit-on Thomas and friends; a large scale Thomas and Toby that you can play/have your photo taken on; and a plaster cast Thomas face put on one of the full-size working steam trains on which you and your family can ride.

Very appealing to a train-obsessed two year old and a nice gimick for the four year old who went straight to the face-painting queue but insisted on getting a butterfly not a train.

However, the highlight for both kids and adults was the permanent exhibition pieces at Trainworks. Located on five hectares in the village of Thirlmere, Trainworks boasts a range of Steam Engines, Carriages and Rolling Stock from the 1800s and 1900s.The museum is huge and very well laid out with some great exhibition pieces. The museum is divided into five different areas:

Thirlmere railway station, opened in 1885 as Redbank and renamed Thirlmere in 1886. You can see the original Station Master’s Cottage, the first brick building in town built in 1891 and the Co-Op Shed, built around 1908.

The Main Exhibition Building is where you will discover how the NSW railways brought life to town and country. Highlights include:
• The splendid Governor General’s Carriage
• Rolling gaol cells which operated in one form or another from 1867 until the 1950s.
• The Steam Machine where you can compare energy use across different modes of transport and learn how steam power works.
• The Mail Van, an example of the Travelling Post Office
• Steam locomotive E18 — built in 1866, this is the oldest loco in the collection.

Where you can discover about the interesting railway jobs like the Station Master, Steam Engine Driver and the fireman on a steam engine who fed the coal into the firebox.

Basically an old train shed, The Great Train Hall houses the biggest collection of rolling stock in Australia.  My two were fascinated by this area. It is designed in a really kid-friendly way with ramp/buggy access up to some of the carriages. Some you can just peep into like the RS1962 Dining Car. Others you can walk inside. The kids loved running along a real old fashioned train, especially the double decker one. We lost ourselves in at least an hour of imaginitive play – playing train driver, passengers, conductor – great fun. We probably would have stayed in this area longer if it wasn’t our scheduled time for our real steam-train ride.

The is where staff and NSWRTM volunteers do the ‘behind the scenes’ maintenance – many of the trains and rolling stock have been lovingly restored, while others patiently await the time, money and labour required to be returned to their former glory.
Here you can view this ‘behind the scenes’ maintenance and demonstrations of specialist heritage and conservation processes.

Watch out for the fat controller!

As part of the Day out with Thomas experience, you can book time allocated slots to ride in a real old-fashioned steam train. Tip 1: Arrive at least 10 minutes before departure time as it’s a bit of a walk from the museum part of Trainworks. Allow time for a toilet stop as there were not working toilets on the train we took. Once seated, it’s all aboard for a half-an-hour trip to the next station, Buxton.

It was a first for me and a great fun experience for the kids. The old carriage complete with very bouncy seats and unhealth and safety standard fully opening windows was charming. Just sitting in the seats watching the houses go by and the steam wheesh-ing passed the window was fun. Clearly the kids loved putting their heads out of the window – not really allowed or recommened but under parental supervision they were more just peeping at each other, honest…

You could also walk up the train and under parental supervision stand in between the carriages. It all felt a bit Back to the Future 3…great fun.

When you pull into Buxton there is an almighty wheesh as the steam train halts and then the locomotive part has to move to the front. We were stood outside at this point so great to watch and hear the big hard working mass steam by.

The highlight of the return trip is a walk about by the man himself. You and I know him as the ‘fat controller’ but in these sensitive days he is Sir Topham Hat. A local actor was uncanny in his role, complete with English accent and a humongous belly. He was great and posed for pictures. My little girl was suddenly scared of him and hid but the rest of us loved this bit!

Top tips
It’s about an hour’s drive from Sydney and the steam-train rides Sodor Station at: 9.30am, 10.45am, 12pm, 1.15pm, 2.30pm. Plan your trip carefully around naps and meals. We brought a BBQ picnic with us and I was very impressed with the free BBQ facilities. Hidden at the back of the museum, they were quiet and we got a grill space straightway. Fully charged we all then had enough energy to conquor the bouncey castles and mini choos.

It is also worth noting that there is no carpark; only street parking. It is free but on a popular themed day, like today, we didn’t get a space close to the museum.

We returned to the car around 4ish only to discover that we had a nail in the tyre which looked like a slow puncture but the tyre was pretty flat so my husband set about changing the tyre while we demolished popcorn, sausage rolls (half price after 4pm) and icecreams while playing on the playground choo choo. I did take him a cup of tea for his efforts. One of the best cup of teas he ever tasted. At $4 I should think so but well-deserved. So with even fuller bellies and a new tyre we set off home in peace with two very happy, sleepy kids, dozing in the back.

A real great day. The kids loved it. I wish I had more time to read about the history of the trains but in reality that will have to wait a few years…

Ticket Prices for 11th & 12th October
A Day Out With Thomas sells out in advance of the event so make sure you book ASAP.
Adult $35 | Concession $30 | Child(aged 2-16) $25
Children under 2 are admitted free of charge but must sit on an adults lap during the train ride