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Twilight trains to celebrate 40th birthday

Trains leaving from Palmerville Station at the Tauranga Memorial Park Railway. Photos: Rosalie Liddle Crawford

It’s a very happy 40th birthday this weekend for the Tauranga Model and Marine Engineering Club, also known as Memorial Park Railway.

The club is celebrating its 40th anniversary with some extra special events, with two days of trains running around the tracks at Memorial Park, and a magical night run on Saturday evening.

Today, Saturday July 6 and Sunday July 7 is just the start of the official 40th celebrations.

On Saturday, May 4, the club hosted a successful night run, with many people winding back to those childhood memories of riding the miniature railway. For those who couldn’t make it, tonight from 5pm – 8.30pm there is another opportunity to experience the train in the evening.

Leaving from Palmerville Station, twilight trains will come and go, circling around between the trees, through the tunnels and across the viaduct.

Smiling volunteers wearing bright yellow hi-viz vests will be conductors, drivers, ticket sellers and safety maintainers.

The whole ride takes more than six minutes. Maybe nine minutes depending on who is driving.

It’s a milestone year for the club, and the idea of riding the track at twilight will give everyone who comes down a totally different experience from what they would enjoy on weekends. Train passengers will need to be prepared for the cold and rug up well, and are encouraged to bring along glow-sticks or fluoro’ accessories.

Weather permitting, the club usually runs every Sunday from 10am to 4pm in summer, and 10am to 3pm in winter. Updates on the day are posted to Facebook. There are usually 6-12 volunteers helping run it.

Club members start at around 14-years-old as juniors. Once they get to 17 years, and are suitably trained, they can drive the public.

“It’s building up job and life skills,” says Bruce Harvey, a club committee member, “and they’re very responsible. Our juniors are very knowledgeable and have certainly done their homework. They’re our replacements.”

On a wet day they might get up to 250 people, and close up early if it’s raining, and on fine days upwards of 1000 people is not unusual. A Sunday in mid-April was so busy, there was a constant 35 metre queue over three hours as people lined up to go for a ride.

In 2016 the club won Supreme Winner in the Trustpower Community Awards. It’s easy to see why.

“We have carried around 850 thousand passengers since the club first started,” says club president Russell Prout.

The 750,000th passenger travelled on one of the trains, a very attractive Phantom Steam Locomotive built by club member Bruce McKerras, about two and a half years ago, and Russell thinks they’re about three years away from one million passengers.

The Tauranga Model and Marine Engineering Club Open Weekend is in November. This is another opportunity to see club members’ trains, traction engines and numerous static displays, as well as some of the amazing creations by other club members.

Today and tomorrow there are two full days of trains running from 10am – 3pm, as well as the night run from 5pm – 8.30pm. Cost is only $2 and under two year olds ride for free.

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