Monday, September 15, 2014

Townsville: Welcome to North Queensland

Townsville is 1,357 km from Brisbane and is the largest city in North Queensland. To put that in perspective, Sydney is almost 400 km closer to Queensland's state capital than Townsville. So its no surprise that North Queenslanders often consider themselves different to their southern cousins. When the railway line first reached Townsville from the south in 1923, there was already a railway line in North Queensland that by 1899 had reached the outback town of Winton, some 600 km to the west.

The Sunlander stopped at Townsville Railway Station which straddles Ross Creek. The old viaduct that led to the 1913 station downtown can be seen in the background, August 2014.

Townsville's original 1888 railway station was replaced in 1913 with a grand three story terminus in the heart of town. Fast forward 90 years however, and the tightly curved track that crossed Ross Creek to enter the railway station and workshops had become a bottle-neck in the age of longer trains and container traffic. A new yard was built on the southern side of Ross Creek and a new maintenance facility built in the suburb of Stuart when the North Yards Railway Workshops closed down in 1990. So in 2003, the old station was bypassed and tracks that once led downtown were cut when the present railway station was built near Reid Park.

The entrance to the olf North Yards Railway Workshops can be seen from the north end of Townsville Railway Station, but for how much longer is anyones guess, August 2014.

A 25 minute stop at Townsville on my recent trip to Cairns on The Sunlander, gave me time to step off the train and take a look at the new Townsville Railway Station. The platform is extremely long, and with 2 locomotives and 18 carriages on the northbound Sunlander, there was still leftover room at either end of the platform.

Townsville Railway Station, August 2014.

Each July, the entrance to the station doubles as part of the Townsville V8 Supercar track, a part street circuit, part permanent racetrack through the adjoining Reid Park. The station awnings act like giant sails to catch the breeze and provide plenty of shade for waiting passengers during the long, hot summer months.

That's me at the head of The Sunlander at Townsville Railway Station, August 2014.

The old 1913 railway station is heritage listed and still stands on the corner of Flinders and Blackwood Streets in Townsville. It would have been nice to have had the time to walk the short distance to see it, but the train had a timetable to keep to and was soon heading north once more towards Cairns. There's plenty of reasons for me to come back to Townsville again sometime in the future, and The Inlander train to Mount Isa is on my must-do list when I can afford it. But I did pack a lot of Townsville's railway history into my book Train Tripping Coastal Queensland. I hope you enjoy reading more on what is a truly spectacular train journey from Brisbane to Cairns.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bundaberg: Bundy and trains? Absolutely

Bundaberg is famous for sugar, rum and ginger beer. But trains? You'd better believe it. With The Sunlander already replaced by the Spirit of Queensland for the journey between Brisbane and Cairns, Queensland Rail had a spare Tilt Train that just happened to be lying around. And I could think of no sweeter place to utilise it, (yep, I know that's an awful pun), than to the rum capital of Australia, Bundaberg.

It's 4 pm on a Sunday in August 2014, and the northbound Sunlander train to Cairns pulls up at Bundaberg Railway Station for a leisurely 10 minute afternoon stop.

Bundaberg Railway Station oozes with old style charm. The rails first came north to Bundy, (as the locals call it), from the state capital of Brisbane in 1888. But Bundaberg's first railway was in fact the Mount Perry Railway, which was opened on the north side of the Burnett River in 1881. When the railway bridge across the Burnett River was finally opened to connect the two railway systems in 1891, they simply renamed the station north of the Burnett River, North Bundaberg. Today North Bundaberg Railway Station is a museum, and Bundaberg Railway Station still maintains its old style charm in downtown Bundy.

A pair of 1979 built 2100 class Queensland Rail locos at Bundaberg Railway Station working The Sunlander to Cairns, 2014.

The thing I'll miss most about The Sunlander was its lazy 31 hour timetable from Brisbane to Cairns, there were often times when the conductor would announce that we would be at the station for 10, 15, 20 and even 45 minutes for those wanting to get off the train and stretch their legs. Bundaberg Railway Station just so happened to be one of those stops. With two diesels strapped onto the front of the train and 18 carriages behind it, what more could a train photographer ask for?

Bundaberg's former railway yard is now redundant following the sale of QR's freight operations to Aurizon. 2014.

Despite rail operator Aurizon rationalizing Bundaberg's sizable rail yard facility, Queensland Rail in 2014 gave Bundaberg a Tilt Train service of its own, in addition to the Rockhampton Tilt Train, the Spirit of Queensland and the Spirit of the Outback passenger trains that roll through town. Along with passing freight trains on the north coast line, there are still plenty of trains to photograph around Bundaberg.

Bundaberg Railway Station at 6.54 am on a Tuesday morning, the sun rises on one of The Sunlander's final trips to Brisbane in 2014.

Despite the charm of Bundaberg Railway Station, I had a train to catch, and a book to write. There's plenty more on Bundaberg's railway past, along with other stations along the 1,681 km of railway track to Cairns, to be found in the book. And best of all, its out now and only $0.99. So using my best impersonation of the Bundaberg Rum bear. Bundy and trains? Absolutely.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Rockhampton: Central Queensland's Railway Hotspot

Rockhampton Railway Station is 600 km north of Brisbane and is the junction for the Central Western Line to Longreach. Truth be told, the line extends further west to connect with the Great Northern Line in the town of Winton, but Longreach is the terminus for the Spirit of the Outback train that originates in Brisbane. At 8.05pm on a Sunday night, it also became a 45 minute stop while taking a final ride aboard The Sunlander between Brisbane and Cairns. So what does a train enthusiast do with 45 minutes to kill at Rockhampton Railway Station? What else, but get off the train and take photos of the train and station building.

The Sunlander pauses at 8.05 pm on a Sunday at number 1 platform Rockhampton Railway Station, 2014.

Rockhampton would have to be the biggest railway station north of Brisbane. There are 5 platforms in total and the city sees a passing parade of both freight and passenger trains, including the Rockhampton Tilt Trains, the Spirit of the Outback, the Spirit of Queensland and up until the end of 2014, The Sunlander. The station platforms sit alongside a huge yard and railway workshops that still boast a heritage listed, full-size working roundhouse.

2.35 am on a Tuesday morning, two 2470 class QR locomotives sit at the head of the southbound Sunlander while a Tilt Train rests on platform 4, 2014.

There are a lot of coal trains that arrive from the Blackwater Coal System to the west of Rockhampton. Fortunately they join the mainline just to the south at a place called Rocklands for the run south to the coal loaders at the Port of Gladstone. That's because north of Rockhampton Railway Station, the line becomes single track as it runs smack, bang down the middle of Denison Street for almost two kilometres!

Sitting in the foyer of Rockhampton Railway Station is this great little railmotor, RM16. The interactive display tells you some of Rockhampton's fascinating railway history, 2014.

There's a lot of railway history waiting to be unearthed around Rockhampton; such as the former Mount Morgan Rack Railway, the history behind Rockhampton's forgotten steam trams, the former Emu Park, Yeppoon and Broadmount lines, but I had a train to catch, and a book to write. From Brisbane to Cairns and back in less than 72 hours on a 3,362 km self-guided railway adventure. There's heaps more on Rockhampton's railway history in the book. And best of all, its out now and only $0.99.

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