A hard grind ahead for steam train fans

Steam train lovers are steaming ahead with plans to get the Taranaki Flyer back on track.

The Ab745 steam engine has been out of action since it derailed near Hawera in 1956, but a group is rallying in Stratford to restore it to its former glory.

One of only two surviving British Abs in New Zealand, the 19-metre locomotive was mainly used in Taranaki and often on the Taranaki Flyer passenger express from New Plymouth to Wanganui.

It lay buried where it ran off the tracks after a washout until it was excavated and salvaged in 2002 and taken to Waitara where it sat for eight years.

Ownership has changed hands over time but the newly formed Friends of Ab745 are determined the engine will be taking excursions from Stratford to Whangamomona in the next five to seven years.

Taranaki Flyer Society chairman and restoration project manager Harry Hessell estimated it would take at least 100 more friends on board and more than half a million dollars to do.

But people were gathering, the group is signing on supporters and the working bees on Sundays are a popular outing, Mr Hessell said.

Ab745 now sits on tracks inside the old Stratford goods shed, where it's being stripped down and each piece cleaned, X-rayed and painted.

As a restorer of all things mechanical, Mr Hessell said he had a simple philosophy: "If it can be made, it can be repaired".

There are hundreds of people interested in steam trains, he said.

"Steam is magic, it's a living thing, it grunts and groans and puffs."

Mr Hessell is currently working with the Stratford District Council to reopen the line between Stratford and Whangamomona and he hopes that one day it would extend to Taumarunui.

KiwiRail has been supportive and a recent rule change means training and licensing train operators will be easier, he said.

In the meantime a diesel engine is getting a spruce-up to be used on 180m of adjoining rail for mini rides promoting the restoration project.

Taranaki Daily News