Monday, 17 November 2014

Innisfail: Queensland's resilient railway station

Innisfail Railway Station is a survivor. Not just in the sense that trains still stop at this town of 8,262 people, but in the fact that it's still standing at all. Located about 2 hours south of Cairns by train at the fork of the North and South Johnstone Rivers, the original 1922 railway station was almost blown away by Tropical Cyclone Larry in 2006.

Travelling south from Cairns on The Sunlander in August 2014, our 18 car long train came to a stop at Innisfail Railway Station with only the first half of the train adjacent to the platform. The second half of the train in the meanwhile was straddled across the Bruce Highway and blocking traffic in both directions. Amazingly it didn't seem to faze the locals, and I watched as one by one they stepped out of their cars and trucks to either light up a smoke or chat to whoever they knew that was parked behind them. When we finally started crawling forward for the second half our train to pull up alongside the platform, they casually extinguished their cigarettes, hopped back in their cars and started their engines once more as though this was just a normal part of life.

Innisfail Railway Station in 2014, looking freshly restored following repairs from 2006's Cyclone Larry.

Once stopped at Innisfail Station, there are no visible reminders of this being the town that made international headlines when the cyclone with winds of up to 230 kph ripped through the heart of town. The station building, like most of the other buildings in town, has that freshly restored look about it. It's hard to say if it was the station building or the people of Innisfail themselves who have been the most resilient in the face of such a natural disaster. But today, Innisfail is one busy little railway station. With the second half of the train now clear of the Bruce Highway, and thanks to The Sunlander's lazy timetable, an announcement was made that the train would be here for ten minutes should anyone want to step off the train to stretch their legs or light up a cigarette. Armed with my camera, I used the opportunity to take some photos of Innisfail Railway Station.

Innisfail's timber station entrance that leads to the platform is like a step back in time. 2014.

When the conductor's whistle blew, I had no choice but to hurry back through the tiny entrance and board the train once more. When The Sunlander is retired at the end of 2014, its replacement the Spirit of Queensland will run to a tighter schedule, and leisurely stops such as these will disappear from QR timetables. With the new tilt train set being only 7 cars long, the townsfolk of Innisfail will no longer have to queue while the train blocks the Bruce Highway, and perhaps another nostalgic nuance will disappear from the Queensland Rail scene forever.

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