Rail favourite’s life in the fast lane

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This old girl can go.

In her heyday, she spread the news – carting bundles of newspapers to the Coast.

She is a Vulcan railcar, one of the favourites at the Plains Museum in Tinwald, and she showed her style over Easter with rail enthusiast Stefan van Vliet at the controls.

He loves the machine, saying it is easy to operate, with a throttle, brake and gears, and a tiny control room at each end.

Passengers, too, love the railcar, her grace, her style – and speed – not that that was on show over Easter.

On the short track at the Plains Museum at Tinwald, she sidles along at around 40kmh, but in trials in October, 1940, the Vulcan RM 50 railcar set the official New Zealand Railways speed record of 78mph – or 125kmh.

That record still stands, with the railways of the day more concerned with a reliable service than speed.

RM 50 has done a lot of work for the Plains.

It has probably covered more kilometres in preservation than the entire Plains fleet.

During the 90s it held a mainline certificate and was used to run a shuttle service between the (long gone) Ashburton Railway Station and the Plains Museum, mainly for Ashburton’s Wheels Week celebrations.

During the war years, when the call was for a cheaper mode of transport, 10 29.5 tonne railcars were ordered from the Vulcan factory.

Only nine made it into service, with the tenth lost when a German submarine attacked the transport ship.

In New Zealand, the railcars became known by the builder’s name, and Vulcan entered New Zealand rail language.

The cars are powered by a six-cylinder Frichs diesel engine developing 250hp.

The Plains got RM 50 in 1979, when all the Vulcans in service were withdrawn.

Three others are preserved and are at Ferrymead, near Christchurch.

When time allows, RM 50 will be taken out of service and restored.