Kawakawa's much-loved steam locomotive Gabriel is in need of major repairs which could cost as much as $200,000 to get it puffing down State Highway 1 again.

Bay of Islands Vintage Railway operations manager Mike Bradshaw said much of the 90-year-old locomotive had been replaced or repaired over the years but the boiler was still the original from 1927.

"For it to last that long is pretty damn good."

However, during the boiler's 10-yearly inspection late last year - a major operation which involves stripping down the loco so the boiler, which produces the steam, is fully exposed - it was found that some of the steel plates were getting close to minimum thickness.

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A patch-up job was possible but it might have lasted only another five years, and both repair or replacement would cost a lot.

Mr Bradshaw said the sensible thing to do was to get a new boiler made which could last another 90 years. The full cost, however, could be $200,000.

The cheapest option was to get it made in China but the trust wanted to keep the work in New Zealand, and getting a Chinese-made boiler certified could be difficult and costly.

Three Kiwi firms could do the job with a Dannevirke company, which had just made new boilers for Glenbrook's vintage railway, looking the most promising.

Mr Bradshaw was keen to have Gabriel steamed up again by Christmas but it was more likely to take until next Easter. In the meantime a stripped-back, sorry-looking Gabriel was parked in the railway workshop.

"It's depressing to see her like that. Gabriel has been part of my life since 1985. But we shall overcome, the boiler will be made and all will be well," Mr Bradshaw said.

Train rides are continuing with diesel engines instead of steam. A newly restored diesel locomotive arrived in Kawakawa on Wednesday, bringing the number of working engines to three. Three more are due to arrive next week.

Gabriel was built by Peckett and Sons in Bristol, England. It was previously used by the Portland Cement Company near Whangarei.

• A Givealittle campaign has been started to help pay for a new boiler. Go to givealittle.co.nz/org/boivrgabrielboiler to donate. The trust is also applying for grants.