Monday, 2 February 2015

Helidon: Steam Train to Toowoomba

Helidon Railway Station lies 115 km west of Brisbane. Largely spared by the 2011 Queensland Floods, the town of only 1,053 people still sees a passing parade of mainly coal trains along this stretch of the Main Line between Brisbane and Toowoomba. Back on Sunday 21st September, 2014, I was fortunate enough to step off the train at Helidon Railway Station on nothing less than a steam train special to Toowoomba aboard the Carnival of Flowers Express.

Helidon Railway Station west of Brisbane as seen in 2014.

Helidon Railway Station in 2014 is nothing special. A drab, monolithic piece of 1960's architecture left underused, unstaffed and collecting dust. If it wasn't for an active passing loop for trains ascending and descending the Toowoomba Range to cross, than little more than the once-weekly Westlander passenger train from Brisbane to Charleville would have reason to stop alongside the platform.

Helidon Railway Station's open air signal box on the platform, 2014.

Yet in the time I spent waiting for the returning steam train to Brisbane to descend down the range after an afternoon coach tour of the prize winning gardens in Toowomba, I was taken with the charm of Helidon's railway station just the same. Take the open air signal box on the platform for example. Its a remnant of days gone by from Queensland Rail's history. When the 3'6" narrow gauge railway line between Helidon and Toowoomba opened in 1867, it proved a vital link as part of an interstate connection to the New South Wales Railways via a break-of-gauge station at Wallangarra. However, while it took only 12 minutes for the bus I was riding in to descend the Toowoomba Range to Helidon Station, the train by comparison takes 1 hour and 45 minutes to wind its way around 150 curves, 9 tunnels and 32 bridges up grades as steep as 1 in 45. Its little wonder then that the railway line through the Lockyer Valley today operates solely to rail bulk commodities to points further west of Toowoomba.

The 2014 edition of the Carnival of Flowers Express departing Helidon for Brisbane.

With the once-a-year Carnival of Flowers Express waiting at the platform of Helidon Railway Station for the final run to Brisbane, there was nothing more to do but rejoin the train for the run home. I love travelling by train in Australia, and when it comes to enjoying an entire day out on a steam train excursion, its even better. Helidon was just one of the many locations featured in my book 30 Years Chasing Trains.

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