Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Margate: train that goes nowhere

Driving south of Hobart, you may be forgiven when arriving in the town of Margate for thinking that you've found the local railway station on the side of the Channel Highway. The sight of an MA class steam locomotive sitting at the head of a passenger train will quickly have even the most casual railway observer pulling to the side of the road for a photograph. But the Margate Train is simply a static display dedicated to preserve the final Tasman Limited Express train that once ran in Tasmania.

The Margate Train complex is located on the side of the Channel Highway on the approach to the town of Margate, 20 km south of Hobart in Tasmania. Photo 2011

The Margate Train, as it is known in tourist circles, is a popular stopping point for motorists on their way south to Bruny Island. There are 7 carriages coupled behind the locomotive that now operate as a 100 metre long train of individual small businesses including a Pancake Train Restaurant, Lolly Shop, Bookstore and even a Barber Shop. All are connected by a covered platform awning to an old IXL fruit packing shed that now operates as an antique store.

All aboard the Margate Train! Well, at least for books, lollies and pancakes that is. This train ain't going nowhere! 2011

While the idea of stepping into a carriage to check-out each little store is obviously a unique tourist gimmick, I think what is more unique is that a town without a railway station or train track in sight, (the 20 km long former Sandfly Colliery Tramway was the only railway ever operated near Margate between 1905 and 1922), took it upon itself to preserve the last ever Tasman Limited Express. The articulated carriages that were built in Launceston back in 1955, and the 1952 M class steam locomotive that was built in England by Robert Stephenson and Hawthorn, of Darlington, UK, hauled the last ever Tasman Limited from Hobart to Wynyard on July 28, 1978. The locomotive, though displayed without a number, was eventually fitted with smaller non-standard wheels to provide greater pulling power on Tasmania's tight bends and undulating track and designated as locomotive MA3. Other preserved working examples of the M class steam locomotives can be found at the Don River Railway, the Tasmanian Transport Museum and Geelong's Bellarine Peninsula at Queenscliff in Victoria. While the Hotham Valley Railway south of Perth in Western Australia also operates some of the Tasmanian Government Railways' former passenger cars.

My wife Denise has all the time in the world to explore the shops on board the Margate Train while she leaves me to photograph the train back in 2011.

While I may have been in town as part of my 2011 Tin Can Bay to Tasmania Book Tour, like any railway aficionado or just plain polite tourist, we made sure we stopped by at the Margate Train for a quick snack and some souvenier shopping. I feel it's always important to support the people and businesses who have gone to great lengths to preserve something as unique as this, and if you're travelling south of Hobart, then make sure you call by the Margate Train too.

Friday, May 15, 2015

National Park: The Tasmanian Wilderness Station

64 km north west of Hobart lies the tiny former Tasmanian Railway Station of National Park. Situated right on the doorstep of Mount Field National Park, the train station was once the destination for excursion trains from Hobart bringing sightseers to visit the nearby Russell Falls.

National Park Station on the Derwent Valley Line in Tasmania, all boarded up back in 2011.

National Park Railway Station is situated on the old Derwent Valley Line, originally built in 1886 from Bridgewater to New Norfolk and gradually extended in sections until it reached National Park on its way to the town of Fitzgerald in 1917. The Derwent Valley Line eventually made it 8 km further into the Florentine Valley to a logging camp at Kallista in 1936.

National Park Railway Station is visible from the car as you enter Mount Field National Park in Tasmania. Photo 2011.

The line beyond New Norfolk was closed by TasRail in 1995, following heavy rains and substantial track damage. Until then, National Park Station had been a popular destination for the Derwent Valley Railway to operate steam heritage specials, and many historic Tasmanian Railway videos feature brightly coloured carriages being hauled along the Tyenna River to the tiny station at the entrance to Mount Field National Park. Thankfully, this section of line has avoided being torn up like so many other railway lines in Australia once they are closed. But what was the real attraction that once brought train loads of tourists to this tiny Tasmanian wilderness railway station? It was of course the sight of nearby Russell Falls. Today the Mount Field National Park Visitors Centre is located just a short walk from the former railway station. In fact, you can see it from your car window as you drive into the park.

Russell Falls in Mount Field National Park, Tasmania, 2011.

While the Derwent Valley Railway continue to try to reopen the line to National Park, Maydena Railtrack Riders have opened the end section of the Derwent Valley Line between Maydena and the Florentine Valley for use by pedal powered railcars. I visited Mount Field National Park and went railtrack riding at Maydena during my trip to Tasmania in September 2011. Back then, National Park Station was boarded up and still wearing a coat of maroon paint. Today it has been restored and is used by Railtrack Riders as the starting point for their Mount Field to Newbury adventure. You can see the newly repainted station here. Tasmania has very few remaining railway station preserved in their original location. So photographing National Park Railway Station in its original condition back in 2011 was simply good timing on my part.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Westerway: Tasmania's Derwent Valley Line

Westerway is a small town in southern Tasmania that is unique for having one of the few remaining examples of a preserved Tasmanian Government Railways station building in the state. Situated 65 km north west of Hobart, Westerway Railway Station first opened in 1909 after Tasmania's Derwent Valley Line was extended from the junction at Bridgewater.

Westerway Railway Station on Tasmania's Derwent Valley Line, as photographed in September 2011.

The Derwent Valley Line originally opened in 1886 and ran only 18 km from the junction at Bridgewater, to the town of New Norfolk. Over the coming years it was extended in sections until in 1925, the discovery of the world's largest deposit of osmiridium, an extremely rare metal now referred to as iridium, was discovered in the Florentine Valley and the line was extended to Kallista, making the Derwent Valley Line a total of 74 km long.

One of the few remaining TGR stations preserved in Tasmania. Westerway Railway Station, 2011.

In 1940, the town of Boyer became the site of Australia's largest paper mill, and a steady stream of log traffic passed through Westerway on its way down from the forests. Government railway operator TasRail completely closed the line beyond New Norfolk in 1995 after heavy rains damaged the track, and today the former junction at Bridgewater is the southern end of the Tasmanian railway network. But somehow the station building at Westerway has survived, thanks largely to the efforts of the Derwent Valley Railway Preservation Group. When I passed through Westerway in September 2011, the station building was receiving its final coat of fresh paint. It seems that one of the few remaining original Tasmanian Government railway station buildings in the state has been rescued in a town of just 156 people. And while I was on my way to explore nearby Mount Field National Park, Westerway Railway Station on the side of the Gordon River Road became a compulsory stop for an avid railway adventurer. Trains or no trains, a nicely restored railway station such as the one tucked away in a remote southern Tasmanian town called Westerway, is an attraction in its own right.