Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Circular Quay: Sydney Harbour's Railway Station

Circular Quay is where Sydney's train network meets the harbour. While Sydney Ferry services are busy docking at one of the many wharves below Circular Quay Railway Station, trains are constantly bringing a stream of sightseers and commuters to the 1956 built station that proudly overlooks Sydney Harbour.

Circular Quay Railway Station as seen from Sydney Harbour, 2010.

Following the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932, work commenced in 1936 on linking Sydney's two underground railway lines from St James and Wynyard via an elevated station that would eventually form the City Circle Line. It was the grand vision of Sydney Harbour Bridge designer John Bradfield whose dream it was to see Sydney connected by a world-class railway system. Work on the project halted however following the outbreak of World War II, and sadly our mate Bradfield passed away in 1945, before seeing his dream of a City Circle Line come to completion.

Circular Quay Railway Station in Sydney as seen from the wharf, 2010.

Stepping off the train at Circular Quay Station, you are instantly greeted by the sight of the Sydney Harbour. I can think of no other railway station in the world that offers a platform view of landmarks such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House. For the price of a train fare, a trip to Circular Quay by train should be at the top of every visitors list when they come to Sydney. When you arrive however, take the time to admire the building's polished pink granite facade and see why Circular Quay Railway Station is one of Sydney's most overlooked landmarks.

A Manly Ferry about to depart from Sydney's Circular Quay, 2010.

From Circular Quay you can catch a Sydney Ferry to just about anywhere on Sydney Harbour. For residents of Sydney's Northern Beaches, catching a ferry to the city from Manly is a time honoured tradition. For visitors to Sydney, catching the Manly ferry is the cheapest way to get a harbour cruise. About $16 Australian will get you a return trip past Sydney Heads that gives you about 45 minutes each way to soak in all the sights of Sydney Harbour.

A Sydney double-deck train standing at Circular Quay Railway Station, 2010.

Circular Quay Railway Station was just one of the stations I visited on my Eastern Australian railway adventure. From Brisbane to Sydney and back on the XPT with a stopover in Coffs Harbour and a trip to Manly on the ferry, I saw the entire New South Wales North Coast by train in less than 48 hours. My window seat guide will show you how you can do this for under $440 Australian and turn your train trip into a real railway adventure of your own. If you love the TV show The Amazing Race, you can easily make a side trip to Sydney do-able when flying in or out of Brisbane.

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Wauchope: The North Coast Line

Wauchope is a town of 7,500 people located 455 km north of Sydney by train on The North Coast Line. The town that grew up on the banks of the Hastings River saw its first train arrive in town in 1915 because of one thing, timber.

Wauchope Railway Station on the NSW North Coast Line, photo taken 2007.

In fact, timber was the sole reason for the NSWGR North Coast Line passing through Wauchope and not the larger town of Port Macquarie only 19 km to the east. Back in the day, more timber was railed by train from Wauchope's railway yard than any other town in Australia, and timber from the Wauchope area was used in the construction of the Sydney Opera House.

The Hastings River Railway Bridge is located just a few hundred metres north of Wauchope Railway Station

As far as trains go, Wauchope Railway Station sees a flurry of them pass through town each day, apparently. Although every time I have stopped at Wauchope Railway Station on my visits to Port Macquarie I have failed to see one. Unless a stationary NPRY cement wagon sitting in the railway yard counts. In 2007, it was a surprise to still see one of these wearing the old red State Rail Authority logo from the 1980's.

NPRY cement wagon number 82032 as photographed in Wauchope railway yard, 2007.

Six XPT services stop at Wauchope daily on their way north to Grafton, Casino and Brisbane, and with the holiday hotspot of Port Macquarie located a relatively short distance away by a connecting bus service, Wauchope is a popular station for visitors keen to explore all that the New South Wales Mid North Coast has to offer.

Wauchope Railway Station yard on a quiet September evening back in 2007

I remember stopping at Wauchope Railway Station early one evening during my visit to Port Macquarie back in 2007 while driving to an open air theatre production at Wauchope's Timbertown Historical Village. I was hoping I might be able to photograph a passing freight train heading either north to Brisbane or south to Sydney. All I saw however was the same cement wagon I had photographed days earlier still standing in the same siding. Oh well, I guess what they say is true. Train watching is like fishing. Sometimes you catch one, the rest of the time you don't. But you can read all about my Train Tripping adventure along Australia's east coast in my book Train Tripping Eastern Australia. If travelling to Sydney on the XPT, my window seat guide to all you will see on your journey will turn your train trip into a real railway adventure of your own.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Toowoomba: Carnival of Flowers Express

Toowoomba Railway Station lies 161 km west of Brisbane. The cost of building a railway line up the steep 1 in 50 incline west of the town of Helidon, saw Queensland Railways adopt a 3 foot 6 inch gauge for railway construction within the state. When the Brisbane to Toowoomba Main Line was opened in April 1869, it became the first narrow gauge mainline railway in the world. Although Toowoomba Railway Station today sees only the weekly Westlander passenger train call at a city of 110,472 people, each September the station comes alive to the sound of shoes scuffing the length of the platform during the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers.

The passenger set down area in front of Towwomba Railway Station, 2014.

Sunday 21st September, 2014, I boarded the Carnival of Flowers Express with my wife at Roma Street Station in Brisbane for the annual ARHS Sunshine Express Rail Tours steam hauled excursion train up the mountain to Toowoomba. After leaving Roma Street Station at 7.20 am, we arrived in the Garden City of Toowoomba right on 12 noon. The four and a half hour trip is a reminder of why passenger trains no longer travel the range between Toowoomba and the state's capital. It takes only 1 hour and 40 minutes to travel the same distance by car. The problem is more than comparing the speed of a steam train to a modern family car. It is taking into consideration that the 26 km of rail line between Helidon and Toowoomba climbs 369 metres through 157 cuttings, 9 tunnels, across 47 bridges and around 126 curves. It is joked that 70 percent of this section of track is spent going around in circles with a maximum track speed of just 30 kph. Helidon to Toowoomba by train takes around 1 hour 30 minutes. Heading straight up the range by car takes just 12 minutes. Taking that into account, it is fair to say that public transport in Toowoomba will never consist of a train service to Brisbane.

Arriving at Toowoomba on the Carnival of Flowers Express, September 2014.

Arriving in Toowoomba by train at Carnival Time is an experience like no other rail journey. To the locals the train is a novelty, and combined with regular shuttle trips to Spring Bluff Railway Station makes Carnival Weekend the busiest time of year for Toowoomba's railway station. Only 5 years after the railway had arrived in Toowoomba, the town had outgrown the original 1869 station building. So in 1874 the present station building was constructed, and additions to the building were made in 1902 (the Railway Refreshment Rooms), and 1918 (the WWI Honour Roll Pavilion and additional platform outbuildings at the south end of the platform). Toowoomba Railway Station was added to the Queensland State Heritage Register in 1992, and the Railway Refreshment Rooms are restored and open to the public, operating as Platform 9 Restaurant.

1956 built BB18 1/4 class Pacific type locomotive 1079 at Toowoomba Railway Station, 2014.

While the train was being turned around ready to run a shuttle from Toowoomba to Helidon for local residents, my wife and I waited beside the former station staff building for our guide to escort our small group to our lunch venue. One thing I've learned as a train enthusiast and happily married man of 22 years, is to keep your wife happy. So after walking to nearby Artisan's Restaurant in Russel Street, we enjoyed a roast lunch and long glass of wine before hurrying back to the station to meet our bus group for an escorted tour of the prize-winning gardens from the Carnival of Flowers competition, something my wife had been wanting to do for years. As they say, happy wife, happy life.

The 1918 built former station staff building sits at the southern end of the platform at Toowoomba Railway Station. 2014.

After 5 hours of lunching and walking through some amazing cottage gardens hosted by some of Toowoomba's friendliest gardeners, our bus took us back down the range to Helidon Railway Station, (in no less than 12 minutes) to where we would meet our train for the return trip to Brisbane. But that's a story for another day. The return trip took a little under 3 hours from Helidon, and we arrived back at Roma Street Station at 8 pm, totally exhausted but extremely satisfied from a great day out. The only problem about catching a train to Toowoomba is that I have to wait a whole year until I can do it again.