Labour Weekend – Otago Central Vulcan & Steam Celebrations

Middlemarch 23 – 26 October 2009

All Aboard

Otago Central Vulcan & Steam Celebrations poster

On 7 June 1879 Vincent Pyke turned the first sod at Wingatui to commence the building of the Otago Central Railway to Cromwell. Be part of the re-enactment of this historic event.

Celebrate 130 years of history as you step aboard and make the journey inland in a classic Vulcan Railcar or Steam Locomotive Ab663. Taieri Gorge Railway is also operating services on these pieces of history between Middlemarch, Sutton and Pukerangi utilising the Vulcan railcar, Ab663, and Vintage Diesel Locomotive Dg772.

Photographers and enthusiasts will have the opportunity to purchase day/evening passes to access exclusive locations for that perfect shot.

From floral and art exhibitions, to the might of the locals towing a train, see the toil of soil with the qualifying rounds of the Mobil Silver Plough competition, and celebrate the official opening of the restored Water Tank.

For events information and bookings go to
or phone 03 4774449.

Supported by Dunedin City Council.


Filed under Events, Fun

11 responses to “Labour Weekend – Otago Central Vulcan & Steam Celebrations

  1. Elizabeth

    Today as I placed posters and flyers around town for the Middlemarch events, I had this remarkable number of people exclaiming over the Railcar image – all these stories came out about how and when they used to ride the Vulcans. Their late afternoon selves immediately found new realms of energy in the telling. The other thing is, they said, wouldn’t it be good to have the railcars back, running from Mosgiel to Port Chalmers, up the Taieri Gorge, and out to Palmerston…and why the hell did we ever lift the lines to Cromwell???


    On public transport in larger centres:

    ### RNZ National 24 Sep 2009 07:50
    Morning Report with Geoff Robinson & Sean Plunket
    Public transport patronage numbers up
    Public transport continues to go from strength to strength in the three main cities.
    Audio Ogg Vorbis MP3 (3:15)

  2. James

    Impertinent question:
    Why in the 21st century does the Vulcan railcar still hold New Zealand’s rail speed record*?

    *Although unofficially, Ja-hauled Expresses may have gone faster near Chertsey (which incidentally is also the highest point of the Main South Line).

  3. Chertsey, highest point on Main South Line – really? Wow.

    Ah Rail, I loved you well. Imagine being able to hop on the train to chch with wi-fi and good food, heck even a small office room to do business etc. Oh well if you see this service in the future, you know I have won lotto this weekend.

  4. James

    Yep. Chertsey is the highest point, but it’s an extremely gradual climb either way, just coming off the Rakaia and Ashburton rivers.

    Wifi on trains is not too reliable even in Europe. Most people I’ve seen have cell modems. Anyway, hopefully you win powerball, and you increase the gauge so that we can have seriously fast as well.

  5. Paul J

    Hmm, surprising to see this on the stadium site, found by chance in google search of Vulcan Railcar.

    James: well, it seems in NZ railways speed peaked in the 60s 70s, (and obviously before that) and on average trains travelled much faster then. There’s a lot of reasons for that. But also think of the classy trains we had – Silver Star, and closer to home, the original Southerner with armchair-sized seats.
    The NZR official speed record made by the first Vulcan Railcar, RM50, 25 Oct 1940 has been more than renowned to have been beaten by none other than other Vulcan Railcars! Some hit 90mph (150kph) on more than one occasion, but not officially recorded and reliable source said he was on one that did the ton! Well, I can tell you for a fact that a Vulcan only goes into 5th gear at 50mph/80kph. For years on end they were the fastest form of land transport in this country.
    You may have seen Vulcan RM56 in town (having arrived Sat 10th) and tomorrow 13th she’ll be making a training run for drivers up the line to Pukerangi. The first time since April 1976, and in fact it’s the very same Vulcan that made that final trip from Alex back then. A bit of history….

    Anyway, yes, the sort of thing we need here, a classic form of practical transport.

  6. James

    Hi Paul J,
    Really interesting info. I was under the impression that due to the narrow gauge that there really was a limit to how fast it was safe/possible to go. If you could get a regular railcar service (a bit bigger than the Vulcan) that could comfortably travel at 130kph on the straighter stretches between Dunedin and Christchurch we’d be talking. I also wonder whether modern tilting DMUs would enhance the services offerable. I assume that they’d have to do a bit of work cleaning up the rails for this, however.

    • Elizabeth

      Further to Paul J’s comment here:

      ### ODT Online Wed, 14 Oct 2009
      Your news
      Vulcan railcar makes first trip up Taieri Gorge in 33 years
      By pukeko
      When Vulcan railcar RM56 left Alexandra on ANZAC Day 1976, providing the final day of railcar service on the Central Otago Railway, no one would know that 3 decades, 3 years and almost 6 months later the very same Vulcan railcar would grace the tracks again, but it did.
      Read more +images

      • Elizabeth

        Remember we’re keen to see ‘something’ on rails serving the Otago stadium, one day…modern passenger rail, or good old trains and a railcar…

        Top stories at 3 News this evening include:

        ### TV3 News Sat, 17 Oct 2009 6:10p.m.
        Trip down memory lane for Vulcan railcar drivers
        By Elizabeth Hayes

        A grand old lady of the rail is back on the line in Otago, after an absence of more than 30 years. The refurbished 1939 railcar was one of nine that took passengers between Dunedin and Alexandra on the Taieri Gorge line.
        Read more + Video

  7. Elizabeth

    ### ODT Online Tue, 27 Oct 2009
    Middlemarch train festival draws thousands
    By Edith Schofield

    Taieri Gorge operations manager Grant Craig estimated about 5000 people attended the festival, coming from all over New Zealand and even Australia to reminisce and share stories.
    Read more

    ### ODT Online Mon, 26 Oct 2009
    Otago central vulcan and steam train celebrations at Middlemarch on Labour Day
    Photographs by Jane Dawber

    • Elizabeth

      More photos, thanks pukeko.

      ### ODT Online Thu, 29 Oct 2009
      Middlemarch Labour weekend rail festival in colour
      By pukeko
      As reported, the weekend heritage rail festival at Middlemarch attracted people in droves, with many coming to see and relive days of yore on the railway. The return Vulcan Railcar after 33 and a half years was a special hit for many. View images

  8. Paul J


    yes, a speeded up railcar service between Dunedin and Christchurch is feasible, but you are right, a lot of trackwork would need to be done. But it seems the mindset for rail development, especially in regard to passenger is working in reverse to the rest of the world. Over the ditch, in Queensland, the line is the same gauge as us – 1067mm or 3ft 6in, and they have fast trains that do 150kph daily. I’ve used that one that runs from the airport to Beenleigh. Somewhere in Japan 160kph is easily attainable on a line the same gauge.

    Interesting to see links to my ODT photos on here. It was a great weekend, and having not travelled on a Vulcan before, but recalling them in their final years as a boy, it was something to travel up the gorge in one, hearing the railcar drivers sharing stories and quips, then taking another ride from Middlemarch during the weekend.

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