Sunday 14 April 2024

Southern Aurora - Prototype, and models


The Southern Aurora  train


The parcel van end of the Southern Aurora heads south across the Edward Street level crossing in Wagga. This is the end of the First Aurora, which was a Vice Regal/VIP train.  It arrived in Wagga at  first light.  Tony McIlwain captured this photo on April 14th, 1962. Note the illuminated sign, and that the parcel van is closest to Sydney - which made the transfer of luggage to/from the parcel office at Central Station quicker

Front of the Vice Regal/VIP Southern Aurora train, coming off the viaduct over the Murrumbidgee flood plain.  Photo by Tony McIlwain April 14th, 1962.  This picture taken at the same location as the last one.  Tony tells me that it was too dark to photograph the earlier media train

The Southern Aurora was a first class premium sleeper only service, that ran between Sydney and Melbourne.  The service started on April 16th, 1962, and due to various reasons,  finished in August 1986.

The Aurora was scheduled as an overnight train, running daily.  One train  headed north from Melbourne’s Swanson Street station (now Southern Cross), and the southbound train left Sydney Central.  They crossed generally north of Junee on the double track.

Both trains were not timetabled to stop at Wagga Wagga, so I never got to ride on them.  For Wagga passengers wanting an overnight service, the railways provided the Spirit Of Progress, a train I got to ride frequently in the late 1970s, and 1980 

The Southern Aurora was always diesel hauled. 

PHN power van attached to train #66, (not the Southern Aurora), heading north, has just passed the Urana Street Level Crossing. Picture by Tony McIlwain Dec 13, 1961

Southbound and late running Southern Aurora running extra late, and stopped as someone had dropped the staff which needed to be found.  Sept 13th, 1962.  Three pictures by Tony McIlwain

The Southern Aurora, Violet Town disaster was a major shock within Australia.  My mother kept this page from the Women's Weekly in Feb 1969.

Carriages used.

Both NSW, and Victoria co-operated on the building of the stainless steel carriages, which are modified Pullman designs (for the loading gauge differences between Australia, and USA)  There were 7 main designs

PHN Power Van.               6 were built initially, with one additional Power van in 1970 (after Violet Town accident destroyed PHN 2370)

MHN Parcel vans              3 were constructed

BCS Lounge cars               3 were initially constructed, with one replacement in 1970 to replace BCS 2355, destroyed in Voilet Town accident in Feb 1969)

RMS Dining cars               3 were constructed

DAM sleeping car            These are deluxe twinnette.  2 were constructed

NAM sleeping car            Twinette. 9 were constructed for the Aurora service,  2 as late as 1971 to replace Voilet Town destroyed NAM 2339, and NAM 2343.  (Note 5  additional NAMs were built from 1959, and used on the Brisbane Limited, and 3 were used on the Spirit Of Progress)

LAN sleeping car              Roomette cars, with a curving corridor.  11 constructed – three in 1970 and 1971 to replace those destroyed at Voilet town (numbers 2345, 2346 & 2350).  (Note 6  additional LAMs were built from 1959, and used on the Brisbane Limited)

(Thanks to Ian Black for much of the above information, the rest from Wiki)

When the Southern Aurora train ceased, were the carriages scrapped?

Fortunately, most of the carriage fleet was sold, or donated to various groups, and museums.  It is still possible to see, and ride on them.


A preserved Southern Aurora passed through Wagga in 2012. (picture from the internet)

Modelling the Aurora carriages.

Ignoring the earlier out of scale, and generic stainless steel corrugated carriages produced by Triang/Hornby, Lima produced models of both the Indian Pacific, and Southern Aurora sleeping cars in the 1970s.  The Southern Aurora cars were different from the Indian Pacific, in the design of the sides, but otherwise they used the same roof, and carriage ends.  These models were made in quantity,  to go in their trainsets, along with NSW diesel  4469, or their horrid VR S variant, which I will say no more).   The carriage was a fairly basic model, but a train of these did capture the feel of the Aurora.  However,  being a basic model, the carriages were lacking details.  Casula Hobbies sold me an underframe kit, which improved the look, by adding battery boxes, airtanks and clutter.  Replacement of the couplers finished my improvements.  Other simple upgrades were replacement RP25/110 wheels/axle (to replace the Lima cookie cutter wheels), and I undertand there was a flushglaze window kit.   

Lima Aurora carriage, with underframe fitted.  Similar to the NAM sleeper in the window style.  The "railways of australia" decal is obviously a hangover from the Indian Pacific

The underframe was a single piece of cast resin, glued or screwed to the base of the coach

Modelling the aurora train with Lima coaches was not that convincing for the purist, in that Lima didn’t include the dining, lounge, or parcel vans.  Lima later did introduce a power car for the Indian Pacific, although that again used the same roof as the coaches, and none of the exhaust openings.   Both Hanovale Models, and Hawksmoor produced kits for specific coaches for the Aurora.  I bought the Hawksmoor PHN power van, but have not assembled it

The Hawksmoor PHN kit included flush windows, bogies, and cost me $81.  Being a resin casting, the sides have bowed slightly

Some other modellers went much further.  Ian Black’s series of Lima improvements, finally appeared in a series of articles starting with issue 294 (June 2012) in the Australian Model Railway Magazine (AMRM) on modifying the Lima cars to make up an entire Aurora train.   For the dedicated kitbasher, these articles are highly recommended for the techniques, and ideas employed.   Ian has recently authored a small 36 page booklet on the aurora cars, available from the normal outlets.  I don't have this book, but based on other modelling books Ian has authored, that I do have, it is recommended  

In 2010, TrainBuilder, a Victorian based company, sold a limited number of Aurora sets , made in China, RTR in brass.  Their sets of 7 coaches (DAM, NAM, LAN, PHN, BCS, RMS, & MHN)  were priced at $3800, with individual extra sleeping carriages around $550 each.  I am not aware if this set has been rerun

Then in 2016, Auscision brought out a 10 car Southern Aurora set, in RTR plastic for $1400, (sets with an additional $100 for a period specific lit “Southern Aurora” sign on the parcel van, and power cars were also available).   These sets sold out quickly, and I was happy to secure one set.  Auscision’s rerun of these sets in 2023, and at time of writing,  are still available. Cost now $1500 ( or $1600 with the sign)

Neither the Train Builder, or Auscision sets have been reviewed in AMRM.  Thus an opportunity exists to do another quick review

Picture review of Train Builder Aurora set

I recently was successful through an online auction of obtaining a Train Builder Southern aurora 10 car set.  On receipt of the set, there were 2 RMS dining cars, and no MHN parcel van.  The previous owner had also replaced the brass Train Builder bogies, with Auscsion bogies for better running qualities.  Trainbuilder have fitted lighting to all coaches, and a switch underneath can turn it on or off.  This only works with the brass bogies (that I don't have).  I didn't weigh the coaches, but they are more weighty than the Auscision set

Note. Click on an image for a bigger view.  The pipework on these coaches is very impressive, and the thumbnail image doesn't do it justice

BCS Lounge Car by Trainbuilder

RMS dining car by Trainbuilder

The dining car was the only carriage in the Trainbuilder set that has an interior. 

PHN Power van by Trainbuilder


DAM sleeper by Trainbuilder

LAM Sleeper by TrainBuilder

NAM sleeper by Trainbuilder

Picture review of Auscision  Aurora set.

The Auscision box is impressive

The coaches are neatly presented. Note. I have taken away the upper sheet of protective packing

All the coaches, dining, and lounge car are fitted with full interiors.  The blinds on the windows are particularly fine, and make it extremely hard to see inside the sleeping cars.  The end diaphrams are flexible, and better than Train builders (in my opinion)  Auscision have made the decision to not model the DAM sleeper.  Auscision couplers are Kadee and designed for radius greater than 24".  Alternate couplers are provided for tighter radius curves (if needed).  End lighting for the PHN, and MHN end cars is provided, with a 21 pin DCC socket for specific control of these.  Weight of the coaches is consistant between classes - being between 145 and 149 grams

Auscision BCS

Auscision PHN

Auscision RMS

Auscision LAM

Auscision NAM

Auscision MHN


Both TrainBuilder, and Auscision have done justice to this train.  As you can see from my pictures, there is little to tell them apart.  Once I add the locos, the Southern Aurora will constitute quite an investment for a pair of trains that on my layout will run from one staging yard, to the other, without even stopping at Wagga Wagga. They say modellers can be crazy, but at least I got to write them up in my blog, and share some really great  prototype pictures, courtesy of  Tony McIlwain.


Until next time, build a model or two



  1. G'day Rob,

    You wrote : "without even stopping at Wagga Wagga"
    Regardless of what era your modelling, I see several valid reasons for the Snora &/or SOP to halt at Wagga Wagga.
    1. A dropped staff {as said in your Blog)
    2, A failed loco {a replacement sent from Junee}
    3. A medical emergency {a person to be picked up by an Ambulance & taken to the Hospital}

    Cheers Woz

    1. You are of course correct. Special situation cards may be issued to either the train drivers, or the Wagga signalbox to spice up an operation session. Thanks for your continued interest

  2. Thanks Rob, Was able to ride the train a couple of time. Them where the days. Great models too. Arthur.

    1. Modelling railways is often just a way to rekindle pleasant memories. Yes, we have been blessed with great models from the manufacturers/importers, and a timesaver too, allowing time to build other things.