Sunday, July 17, 2011

National Rail Museum - Off To Meet Thomas The Tank Engine

We went to the National Railway Museum down at Port Adelaide yesterday... and if you're from Adelaide, and you have children, you most probably would know that the museum runs an annual week-long event where they do a "Thomas the Tank Engine" theme. This is the first time that any of us had been to the museum  though I'd been meaning to go for some time.

For this event, entry is pretty steep - $19 per adult, and $6 per child... and also a little inconsistent. They have a family deal for $40 for a family of 2 adults and 3 children. Er... That doesn't make a whole heap of sense. Always ask for the family deal if it's cheaper (and ignore the 3 kids part). The entry fee also doesn't include all costs involved - and rides on the three trains cost $3 per person, with children 2 and under free. Once again... this seems to be more a guide than a rule... and L-kun travelled for free. Note - it's significantly cheaper if you go outside these event times.

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Now there's not a whole heap of Thomas things there... other than a lot of merchandise. They do have their own "Fat Controller"... or Sir Totham Hatt if you please, who is the roving MC. Not to mention crowd-control, what with his Trouble Book.

And of course, they do have their own "Thomas" too...which the kids can ride around on a large circular track. Actually the face-plate's a special even thing... normally he's known as "Bub"... according to his name plate. He also needs some help from a second engine (a Percy lookalike)... hiding behind.

The other main non-Thomas attraction is Peronne, a narrow gauge steam train that is used on special events. The trains don't go very far - and this is one criticism of the museum... in fact they just go for about out of the compound, past the aviation museum before returning. So don't go in with expectations of a long trip. Still, it's a fun experience for the children.

The inside of the Peronne carriages are a fun way  to travel. It's also great to open the windows (a little difficult at times) and enjoy the smell and sound of the old steam locomotives at work.

The Museam was started in 1963, and the buildings date from 1988... Now the museum is really just that... it's where you'll find a slice of the rail heritage of the state (if not the nation). And there is a fair bit of heritage there with lots of different trains, and different styles of trains.

But of course - given that it is a "Thomas" event, there are a few additions that have been included...

Still, if you're a boy (or a boy at heart) or you've got a mechanical bent, then these trains are a wonder of the industrialised world. I love taking photos of these sorts of things... but I have to admit that I'm not quite a good enough photographer to do it justice. It's also a little difficult being inside... 

Most of the carriages can't be entered, and this would be something that I hope changes. It would be much nicer to make the exhibits more interactive, or at least accessible. There are a number of static displays and re-constructions (e.g. of rail offices) but they're separated from the viewer, so once again, aren't very interactive.

There's a very good model train that spans perhaps about 25-30 metres of table that stretches around one of the rooms... and takes in a model of Port Adelaide, Terowie (strangely mis-named Tarcowie, which is another mid-North town) and the Adelaide Hills. 

The rail network in Australia developed haphazardly, and as a result there were a number of different gauges (widths) employed even within the State of South Australia. This eventually always limited Australian rail as a means of transport due to the need to tranship all goods from broad to narrow gauge. Actually, Terowie has a special place in our family history, as it did for many South Australians during the height of the rail commerce in Australia. Indeed during WWII, Terowie, this was the site of a huge Army camp used as a staging point due the need to transfer rail gauges. From a height of 2000 residents, the town has declined to barely over 200 as the rail line was removed in the 1980's... a testament of the importance of rail, and the country's dependency on the lifeblood of commerce and work.

Overall, my impression of the museum is a little mixed. I think that the "Thomas" event is over-sold, as there's not really much there that is specific to the series. There are however lots of side attractions, such as bands, magicians, entertainers and a Jumping Castle. L-kun (it may surprise you) is not the most expressive child when it comes to "events"... but he actually was very happy to run around here all day (we spent a good 5 hours). I think it's overly expensive (I can't imagine taking a lot more children there) for what you get, and it really needs to be more involving. However, as a piece of our relatively short history it has an important part to play.

Be aware that it gets very busy around lunchtime... and plan to avoid this time if you can... especially if you want to ride on "Thomas" aka Bub. If you're children love Thomas, this is definitely a must see event - but don't expect too much (other than there will be plenty of Thomas merchandise available)... but there's so much more than just Thomas there... 


  1. Looks really good and my little boy would love it!!

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  2. As I said, it's pretty good (though a little mixed), and we actually had a good day. Even my wife who has about ZERO interest in trains. Good family day out.