Paul Kelly, arguably the finest Australian singer-songwriter, once recorded the memorable line: “Ah, you know and I know that love never runs on time”.

I’m certain that he wasn’t singing about a passion for vintage trains, but he might as well have had in his mind some 150 devotees being led by train buff Richard Boyce on Cruise Express’s five-night ‘Southern Loop’ from Sydney to Melbourne and back.

I first met Richard, then and still a Brand Manager for Cruise Express, a couple of years ago when he was just beginning diversifying the company’s portfolio to include Australian rail journeys as well as mainly international cruises.

Detail aplenty … just like they used to be.

He was also a member of the Lachlan Valley Railway, a group of enthusiasts who volunteered much of their spare time to rescuing, renovating and maintaining heritage rail rolling stock.

Since then Cruise Express has injected some $3 million into the coffers of various rail-restoration societies — the first time that the volunteer-based bodies have had any real cash — and on more than 20 trips given several thousand people a taste of the pleasures of genuinely slow travel by vintage train.

Lots to see through the windows … a grand old house on the way south to Junee.

And organisers plan 10 more trips in the coming year.

But as I recently discovered when I joined a Cruise Express journey from Sydney to Melbourne and back — the company’s inaugural ‘Southern Loop’ — you might as well throw your timetable out the window of the vintage carriage on this sort of venture.

Old Steam trains come last in the pecking order for rail access, and have their rights relegated below goods and other passenger trains.

“We have to take things as they come,” said Richard, explaining one of our hour-long delays waiting for a ‘speedy’ inter-city passenger service to catch up on its route,

“We’re not always the cause of the delay, but we end up having to cop it.”

And be prepared for things such as the lighting and heating to fail. You are dealing with sometimes 100-year-old equipment.

The trip attracted plenty of attention … not all of it from die-hard trainspotters.

We certainly attracted plenty of interest on our journey, both from genuine trainspotters — you could easily pick several vehicles following us — and casual observers, especially as we neared the NSW town of Deniliquin.

Denny — better known as the annual home of the Ute Muster — hadn’t seen a train for more than 20 years.

On the platform at Seymour … some of the thousands that have received a taste of the pleasures of genuinely slow travel by vintage train.

Ah, that’s why we had to disembark by a special set of stairs rather than via a conventional platform.


Cruise Express, phone 1300 766 537, visit

Full steam ahead … vintage locomotive r711.

Richard Boyce … has injected some $3 million into the coffers of various rail-restoration societies.

On the way … steam locomotive 5917, assisted by diesel loco number 42103

Written by John Rozentals