The Hydro Express: Take a train trip back in time to the Blue Mountains

The restored 1950s diesel locomotive 4201 and its six heritage carriages stand waiting at Central's Platform 1.

Attired in my midnight blue flapper dress, boa and sequinned headband, I board the deluxe GMS lounge carriage, a first-class, steel-bodied sitting car built between 1936 and 1938. It's the plushest of the accommodation on offer for a two-hour trip to the Blue Mountains village of Medlow Bath, on the train christened the "Hydro Express" for the day.

The swanky GMS lounge has upholstered seating for 30 people, rosewood panelling and the somewhat new addition of an enclosed observation car. I'm lucky to be sitting next to Wendy Moy, wife of Mike Moy who owns the carriage and lovingly restored it with his son over many years.

The GMS is the rear carriage – dare I say "caboose" among these rail enthusiasts, probably not. Wendy's in her civvies; however, many of the 255 passengers on board have frocked up in Gatsby-style gear to celebrate the last day of the Roaring 20s Festival and all that Jazz, an annual event in the mountains.

I wander from carriage to carriage, from the exclusive lounge car, through the two Edwardian-era premier carriages with their individual compartment-style seating, and on through three standard-class carriages to the front of the train as we hurtle through Sydney's western suburbs and on to the mountains. As I open heavy doors and brace myself as we swish and sway, I pass ladies in their finery, a few gents in spiffing suits and fedoras and meet singer Greg Poppleton serenading passengers in the front carriage. Poppleton is a well-known swing band leader and key performer at the Great Art Deco ball held in Katoomba's Carrington Hotel during the festival. Today, minus his band and old-style megaphone, he's singing tunes of the 1920s and '30s to a rapt and certainly captive audience as he moves from carriage to lounge car.

On arrival at Medlow Bath, we're met by a troupe of dancers doing the jitterbug and as we're about to walk over the railway bridge and Great Western Highway to the Hydro Majestic hotel, the heavens open. The dancers keep up their moves and everyone else picks up the pace, making a dash for the hotel as a sumptuous high tea awaits.

Depending on what class fare is booked, passengers take a seat in either the Wintergarden Restaurant with views over the Megalong Valley or the equally beautiful Majestic Ballroom, which has the most intricate patterned ceiling set off with dazzling chandeliers, but no view. After filling up on delicate sandwiches, cakes and scones and taking an optional history tour of the recently re-opened 1904 property, folks are back on the train and heading home again. There are more snacks on the train, delivered to the seats if the top carriages are booked, and time to snooze or to wander between railcars to view photos of old trains and NSW country scenes of yesteryear.

Rail enthusiasts (I think the expression "train buff" is now a no-no) may know that one of the carriages is the old HN 2197, which was built by Waddington's in Granville in 1939 and served on both the Blue Mountains and Southern Highlands routes in the 1960s and '70s.

The 4910 locomotive and rolling stock are housed at the NSW Rail Museum in Thirlmere, which is nirvana for anyone into trains.

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Tickets for this trip sold out within three days and future trips will likely sell out quickly too. Those keen to secure a seat for the August 25 excursion, should keep watch on both the train museum and Hydro Majestic website to snap up tickets smartly.

Rather than coming home by train, I stay at the Hydro and am pleased to say that the service levels have improved markedly since the hotel re-opened three years ago and suffered teething problems, while the food and accommodation are excellent.

In keeping with the nostalgic theme, I take a whirl in a vintage car – a 1929 Cadillac LaSalle polished to the hilt by owner Donald Millar – around the bends and hills of Katoomba's Cliff Drive. One of three gleaming vehicles in his fleet, the LaSalle has no side windows and makes for quite a bracing ride on a wet and windy mountains' day.

But just as Jay Gatsby would have, I love the thrilling adventure.

TRIP NOTES

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traveller.com.au/blue-mountains

RAIL

The Hydro Express is a collaboration between the Hydro Majestic and the NSW Rail Museum. The August 25 trip will also include high tea and entertainment. Dressing up is optional. Prices range from $140 a person standard class, $195 premium class and $245 lounge class, with discounts for concession, child and heritage rail member fares. See nswrailmuseum.com.au and hydromajestic.com.au

DRIVE

Blue Mountains Vintage Cadillacs tailors personal sightseeing trips, picnics and pick-ups and drop-offs to restaurants. See bluemountainsvintagecadillacs.com.au

Caroline Gladstone travelled courtesy of the Escarpment Group, Transport Heritage NSW and Blue Mountains Vintage Cadillacs.

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