Monday, 15 December 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.

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

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

1079 after arriving at Toowoomba Railway Station, 21 September 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. Toowoomba was just one of the many locations featured in my book 30 Years Chasing Trains.

Available now through my Books page

See also; Helidon: Steam Train to Toowoomba

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