Thursday, February 19, 2015

Colebrook: A Tasmanian railway story

Colebrook is a tiny village of just 373 people located just 53 kms from Hobart along Richmond Road between the Midland and Tasman Highways. Taking the road as a shortcut while on vacation in 2011, I stopped at Colebrook to photograph the railway station, but managed to take only one photograph before the batteries in my camera went flat!

The Tasmanian Main Line Railway Company first built the 3 foot 6 inch narrow gauge line through Colebrook as part of their Hobart to Evandale (11 km south of Launceston) Line in 1876, and ever since the line has had an interesting history of ownership. By 1890 the Tasmanian Government had bought the line. In 1978 Tasmania's entire railway network became part of the Australian National Railways Commission under the Whitlam Government and was renamed TasRail. In 1997, TasRail was sold to the Australian Transport Network (ATN, a joint partnership between New Zealand based Tranz Rail and US railroad company Wisconsin Central). ATN was then purchased by Pacific National in 2004 before in 2009 the Tasmanian Government purchased back the entire railway network under a state-owned company called Tasmanian Railway Pty Ltd, trading under the name of, you guessed it, TasRail.

With Tasmania's railway history seemingly going around in circles, I found myself wishing that I had spare batteries to take some more photos of one of Tasmania's last surviving mainline railway station buildings. In my defense however, I had just taken 200-300 photos that morning of the Don River Railway in Devonport. The impressive sandstone St Patrick's Catholic Church in the background (above) dates back to 1856, and if I'm ever passing through Colebrook again on a trip south to Hobart, I'll be sure to call in and take an up close photo of the interesting Gothic-Revival structure, along with some more photos of the railway station.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Bowen: Train goes where Mangoes

Bowen is 1,149 km north of Brisbane by train on Queensland's North Coast Line. When travelling to and from Cairns for one last time aboard The Sunlander in 2014, the train made a late afternoon stop on its trip south at this town famous for its mangoes. And although Bowen Railway Station is situated a few miles out of town, there was just enough time to step off the train and take some photos of this little railway station on the edge of North Queensland's fruit bowl.

Bowen Railway Station is hidden away on the outskirts of town among the fields of tomatoes and capsicums, 2014.

Bowen Railway Station itself is only a modern concrete block affair. The station consists of nothing more than a platform approximately five carriages long that has been erected alongside a single stretch of track on a quiet backstreet, despite the lines to the Abbott Point coal loader and the Collinsvale-Newlands-North Goonyella GAP Line being situated just to the north of town. Even putting the significance of tourism in this area aside, the modest station building hardly seems fitting for a town of such international export importance.

Bowen Railway Station in far north Queensland with The Sunlander about to pull away into the sunset during its last year of operation, August 2014.

The town of 10,240 people lies to the east of the railway line by the sea and was chosen as the production site for the movie Australia starring Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman. Bowen is also famous for its 10 metre high Big Mango that stands beside the Tourism Information Centre. The mango made headlines across Australia in 2014 when the 7 tonne structure was stolen right from under the nose of locals. It was found the very next day hidden on the back of a truck in nearby bushland. As for the culprit? Well, let's just say it turned out to be a publicity stunt. Maybe the mango wanted to go where the train goes. After all, the train already goes where mangoes. Ah, that's terrible!

Although The Sunlander is now gone, its replacement train the Spirit of Queensland is now in full operation hauling three round trips per week between Brisbane and Cairns. There is a lot to see from the window of the train, and Bowen is just one of the stations that the train calls at on this 1,681 km journey along Queensland's coast. The best way to appreciate the history, fun and facts on this epic Australian rail journey is to download my award-nominated book, Train Tripping Coastal Queensland. This window seat guide will turn your train trip into a real railway adventure of your own.

Available from only $0.99 through the following retailers


Monday, February 9, 2015

Coonabarabran: rails to the Warrumbungles

Coonabarabran is 508 km north west of Sydney by rail and conveniently located on the Newell Highway near the junctions of the Oxley Highway and Warrumbungles Way. Despite Coonabarabran being the closest town to the Sidings Springs Observatory, trains have not passed through this town since the line north of Binnaway to Gwabegar closed in October 2005. But the track is still in place and the grain shed (above) still standing in Coonabarabran despite the railway station building burning down in 2001.

All that remained of Coonabarabran Railway Station by 2011 was this sign on the platform and an out-of shed.

The former line to Gwabegar left the New South Wales Railways' Main Western line at Wallerawang west of Lithgow and wound its ways through Kandos, Mudgee and Gulgong before reaching Coonabarabran Railway Station in 1917. My 1972 Country NSW passenger timetable shows a down mixed mail train stopping at Coonabarabran on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays on its way to Gwabegar at 11.56 am, returning as an up service to Sydney on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays at 4.20 pm. By 1980 however, this service was replaced by a connecting road coach to Mudgee where a mail train ran through to Sydney's Central Station.

Coonabarabran Railway Yard in 2011. The water tower stands out of picture to the right.

It seems that beyond Mudgee, the Gwabegar Branchline was a freight only line from the early 1980's, with Gwabegar and Coonabarabran being used for seasonal wheat traffic until the line's closure in 2005.

Looking towards Coonabarabran Railway Station from the Cowper Street crossing and still standing home signal, 2011.

Arriving at Coonabarabran on a trip north along the Newell Highway from Melbourne to Brisbane in 2011, I pulled the car into Essex Street and stopped beside Neilson Park on the banks of the Castlereagh River. From here it is just a short walk to the main street of town, and while my wife and kids went off to order pizzas from the local pizza place, I had around 15 minutes to follow the railway tracks the short distance from the Castlereagh River Railway Bridge across the Cowper Street level crossing to photograph what remained of Coonabarabran's railway yard.

The Castlereagh River Railway Bridge passes by Neilson Park on the down side of Coonabarabran Railway Station, 2011.

While the Newell Highway crosses no less than 13 active or former NSW railway lines, knowing where and what time to stop off at some of these unique Australian fringe outback towns to photograph trains is a bit like playing Russian Roulette. While trains no longer call at Coonabarabran today, it is still worth stopping to take a look at a line that is still in tact, slumbering in the foothills of the Warrumbungle National Park. My advice however, is to steer clear of ordering a couple of pizzas to enjoy in the park. When my wife told me how much she paid for two pizzas from a nationally recognised franchise chain, I nearly died. Instead of the $5.95 we were used to back in Brisbane, she had to hand over more than $35 for the same menu item. Coonabarabran might be famous for being the "Astronomy Capital of Australia", but if you ask me, it also can lay claim to having the most expensive pizzas in the country too!