Words: Joshua Owen-Thomas
If you’re native to South Australia—or even if you’re not and have just spent some time down on the Fleurieu Peninsula—you’ve probably heard of the Cockle Train.
Maybe you’ve stood on the beach or been in the water when you heard the unmistakable tooting and chugging of the famous locomotive, and turned to see it pass, trundling merrily just above the crest of the sandhills, a host of hands waving at you through the open windows.
Or maybe you’ve been a passenger yourself, sitting in a booth and looking out at the immaculate coastline, soaking up the sights as you journeyed from Victor Harbor to Goolwa, or vice versa, on the oldest steel-railed railway in the country.
Yes, the sight and experience of the Cockle Train is a familiar one to many of us. But whilst it may be SteamRanger Heritage Railway’s premier train, it isn’t the only experience that the company offers.
The Teddy Bear’s Picnic, Rail and Sail, and Southern Lights are each unique trains operated by SteamRanger that passengers, both young and old, can now enjoy at different stages of the year.
Steve Richardson, SteamRanger’s Customer Service Manager, calls these trains ‘themed’ trains, and says that, whilst each are relatively new, they are already popular.
“The Teddy Bear Picnic train, that was our new train we tried this year, and we sold that out in two weeks,” said Mr Richardson.
Children who rode the train earlier in the year were treated to the carriages and platforms being decorated with teddy bears large and small, activity packs, and a petting farm in Strathalbyn.
“The kids loved it,” Mr Richardson said. “Next year we’re going to run two of them: one in autumn and one in spring.”
The Rail and Sail train, another brainchild of Mr Richardson’s, is also new and will make its first trips in October and November this year.
The service entails travelling from Mount Barker to Goolwa in a first-class carriage followed by a meal at the Goolwa Hotel, and then an hour-long, guided cruise up the Murray River.
Upon release, tickets weren’t around for long.
“They sold out very rapidly,” Mr Richardson said. “We just tried it this year to see if there was any market there, and the numbers prove that we were right on the money.”
The Southern Lights train is a Christmas-themed train and is entering its second year of service.
It was Mr Richardson’s colleagues that came up with this idea which they had seen in the UK and USA. Mr Richardson wasn’t sure that it would work in an Australian setting, but he thought they’d give it a go.
“We tried it last year and we sold the three trains out in two nights,” he said. “So this year … we’re going to extend it to five.”
The Southern Lights train was lit up with Christmas lights, there were carols and a brass band, stalls to peruse, and even a visit from Father Christmas himself.
This year, there’ll be even more.
“It was very, very popular, and we’ve got people banging on the door already.”
And Mr Richardson and his colleagues aren’t stopping there. They already have more ideas in the works for other services that SteamRanger can provide to complement both these ‘themed’ trains and the Cockle Train.
So whether you’re heading down to the Fleurieu over the summer holidays or planning a trip down there next year, make sure to keep SteamRanger, the Cockle Train, and her sister, ‘themed’ trains, in mind.
Like the thousands of happy customers that have ridden SteamRanger’s trains already this year, experiencing both the familiar and the new, you won’t be disappointed.
For information regarding SteamRanger and its trains, visit steamranger.org.