Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Gympie: Once A Valley Rattler

I recently paid a visit to Gympie Railway Station on a trip north of the Sunshine Coast, just to see how this elegant old Queensland railway station was holding up in its post-heritage railway life. It seems to be a sad but growing trend in Australia, that one-by-one our heritage railway operators are being forced to close their doors to the general public, and The Valley Rattler in Gympie is no exception. At one stage considered Australia's third biggest heritage railway, the car park today in Gympie is eerily deserted.

Gympie Station was painted cream when I last visited in April 2000.

Gympie's original railway station in Tozer Street, Gympie was first closed as a passenger station in 1989, when the 1988 North Coast line realignment bypassed Gympie in favour of a new line on a much more gentle alignment to the east. Gympie North Station opened on this alignment in February 1989. Gympie station was then relegated to a freight depot only up until 1995 before that too closed. Finally in November 1998, the connection between Gympie's old station and the North Coast line was closed to all traffic. By this time however, the Mary Valley Heritage Railway had already taken over operating tourist train services from Old Gympie Station. From May 1998 to late 2012, The Valley Rattler was operating regular steam hauled excursion trains along the 40 km long Mary Valley branch line to Imbil and return. The Queensland floods of early 2011, coupled with serious concerns over the safety of the track following two separate derailments, brought a halt to what was once a popular tourist attraction.

Gympie Station was still looking well maintained in February 2016.

Thanks to the efforts of the volunteer society, Old Gympie's Railway Station is still standing strong today, complete with a static display and some well-watered pot plats. However, with reports estimating the amount of government funding required to resume services on the Mary Valley line at $2 million dollars, it remains to be seen whether the Valley Rattler will ever run again.

The Railway Hotel stands at the southern end of Gympie platform, 2016.

The present station building complex at Gympie dates back to 1913, ahead of the opening of the Mary Valley line from Gympie towards Imbil in 1914. At one point in the 1930's, Gympie Railway Station was one of Queensland busiest railway precincts. When it first opened in 1881 however, the railway line came south from the northern port of Maryborough. It wasn't until 1889 that work began to connect Gympie to Brisbane, with the line opening in 1891. Today, thanks to an 8 km long eastern deviation via Gympie North in 1988, and the closure of The Valley Rattler services in 2012, all that railway history is once more on the verge of being forgotten. I can't help wonder how many grand stories the walls of the Railway Hotel could tell. After all, it saw its fair share of passing troop trains in no less than two World Wars.

Gympie Station in 2016 once more faces an uncertain future.

While debate will continue behind closed doors on the future of the Mary Valley Heritage Railway, experience says that regaining the lost momentum of the heady early 2000's tourist crowd will be difficult. Rising insurance costs together with increasing repair costs to the line with each year it lies dormant may have already spelt the end for yet another tourist railway. The indefinite closure of the Zig-Zag Railway, South Gippsland Railway and Cooma-Monaro Railway organisations all spring to mind. Perhaps there is still a chance that Gympie Railway Station may come alive to the sound of steam trains again, but logic says it would have to be over a shorter, more manageable and cost-effective section of track, say around 2.5 to 5 km long. But like any railway line, be it government owned or heritage operated, the track itself always seems to have a life expectancy on it. Otherwise there may not have been a need to close it in the first place. Hopefully Gympie Railway Station can be resurrected once more.

See also; Gympie North: The station near nowhere

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