Rail transport in Queensland

Rail transport in Queensland

Rail transport in Queensland has a long history, with the first line opening in 1865. Today it is the second-largest narrow gauge railway network in the world.

The first line was surveyed while the colony was still part of New South Wales, but the colony of Queensland had separated before railway proposals became really serious. At that time, the colony had a tiny (European) population in a vast territory of 1.8 million square kilometres (695,000 sq mi), and the question was how to build inexpensive and affordable railways.

Choice of gauge

The nascent Queensland Railways was persuaded that the way to build low cost railways was to use a narrower gauge than the standard gauge of RailGauge|sg. A prototype existed in Norway. The proposed narrow gauge railway would have very sharp curves of 5 chains (100 metres) on the long climb to Toowoomba at about m to ft|900|wiki=yes above sea level. If the railway could only manage a top speed on convert|20|mph|km/h|0, then it was thought that it would be sufficient for a hundred years.

The choice of the non-standard narrow gauge was and still is controversial, and the choice was approved very narrowly by parliament. Thus the die was cast for a large narrow gauge system, which was copied by many other countries. A hundred and fifty years later, Queensland is still sparsely populated (4 million in 2005), but many trains hauling coal are some of the longest and heaviest in the world.


Queensland was home to the first narrow gauge mainline railway in the world when the first track opened to traffic on 31 July 1865 between Ipswich and the small town of Grandchester (then known as Bigge's Camp), km to mi|25|wiki=yes to the west. This stretch now forms part of the main line from Brisbane to the western interior.

Early issues

The first line to Toowoomba, which was the centre of the gauge debate, proved expensive to operate because the light rails limited the weight of the locomotives and indirectly the tractive effort of those locomotives, and the sharp curves limited the size of the locomotives, particularly the number of driving wheels. Narrow tunnels could not easily be enlarged while traffic continued to operate, which also limited the size of the locomotives. Steep grades limited the loads that trains were able to carry. The net result was very small locomotives hauling tiny loads, which defeated the economies of scale that justify the existence of many railways. Double locomotives which were operated by a single crew, such as the Fairlie, were not a success because of the sharp curves. Articulated Beyer-Garratt locomotives 90 years later were more successful.

Beyond Toowoomba stretched the western plains, where tunnels, gradients and curves were not a problem.

What should have been done was to lay the Toowoomba line with as heavy rail as possible, capable of handling locomotives as heavy as possible, with curves reasonably gentle to allow these locomotives as powerful as possible to have a long wheel base with only a small risk of derailment on curves. The gradients would be made a little steeper as a trade off for those gentler curves. Beyond the Toowoomba line, rails and locomotives would be lighter and thus cheaper, with a change of locomotives at the boundary of the heavier and lighter track.

Operating costs on the Range section would be reduced by the ability to run larger yet fewer trains. A solution to the Range railway using heavy track just for the range is more or less independent of gauge, and therefore if this arrangement had been adopted, a change of gauge would have not been needed.

Had a standard gauge Queensland railway met the New South Wales one, the gauge would have been the same but the axle load would have been lighter in Queensland. This would allow Queensland trains to run into New South Wales, but not necessarily the other way around.

Network growth

1300 class diesel on a freight train at Eagle Junction.


*1865Ipswich to Grandchester railway opened
*1867 – Ipswich line reaches Toowoomba
*1867Rockhampton to Westwood line opened
*1876 – Ipswich line extended back to Roma Street railway station in Brisbane
*1882 – Line opens from Townsville to Charters Towers
*1882 – Line opens from Brisbane to Pinkenba
*1882 – Line branching off from Eagle Junction to Shorncliffe (then called Sandgate)
*1887 – Line from Toowoomba meets New South Wales standard gauge line at Wallangarra
*1888 – Ipswich line reaches Charleville
*1888 – First section of the North Coast Line opened to Petrie
*1891 – Line from Cairns opens through the Barron Gorge to Kuranda
*1891 – Tunnel connecting Brunswick Street and Central stations open
*1899 – New (current) Central station opens
*1911 – The "Hole-in-the-Wall" at Bowen Hills opened as part of the development of the Mayne rail yard
*1924 – North Coast line opens to Cairns
*1928 – Rockhampton line reaches Winton
*1929 – Townsville line reaches Mount Isa
*1932 – Standard gauge railway completed from Brisbane to Sydney, with the opening of bridge at Grafton
*1968 – Moura Short Line heavy-haul railway opens between Gladstone and Moura
*1971 – Heavy-haul railway opens from Hay Point to Goonyella
*1978Merivale Bridge opens, connecting South Brisbane to Roma Street stations
*1979 – First electrified line opens in Brisbane
*1986 – First rural electrified line opens
*1993 – Ipswich to Rosewood electrified
*1995 – Standard gauge railway completed to Port of Brisbane
*1996 – Gold Coast Line re-opens, rebuilt from Beenleigh to as far as Helensvale
*1997 – Gold Coast Line extended to Robina
*2001 – Private line opens after Eagle Junction to the Brisbane Airport

Western line

1720 class diesel locomotive in a livery celebrating the 1988 Australian_Bicentenary.]

The first railway built in Queensland ran from Ipswich, a city west of Brisbane, to Dalby, west of Toowoomba. This line was opened to Bigge's Camp (now Grandchester) on 31 July 1865. It extended to Gatton in 1866, to Toowoomba in 1867, to Dalby in 1868. The railway was extended from Ipswich to Brisbane in 1876 ["Centenary of the Ipswich - Brisbane Railway" Armstrong, J. & ors. Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, July/August, 1977 pp145-168;170-183] . The line from Dalby had been extended to Chinchilla in 1878, Roma in 1880, Charleville in 1888 and Cunnamulla in 1898.

Branch lines were opened from Dalby to Tara in 1914, Meandarra in 1927 and Glenmorgan in 1931. From Dalby to Jandowae in 1911. The [Oakey-Cooyar railway line, Queensland|Oakey-Cooyar branch lines was completed in 1913, as well as more branches to Evanslea in 1915 and Cecil Plains in 1919. Both are now abandoned. A branch line was opened from Miles to Wandoan in 1914. A branch line opened from Roma to Orallo in 1916 and Injune in 1920.

The main western line was extended from a junction at Westgate (south of Charleville) to Cooladdi in 1913 and Quilpie in 1917.

A branch line was built from Gowrie Junction to Hendon (near Allora, in the Darling Downs) in 1869. This line was extended to Warwick in 1871, Stanthorpe in 1881 and Wallangarra in 1887 to meet the New South Wales Government Railways' standard gauge line at a break-of-gauge. A branch line was opened from Warwick to Killarney in 1885. Another branch was opened from Wyreema (south of Toowoomba) to Pittsworth in 1887 and extended to Millmerran in 1911. A branch line was opened from Hendon to Allora and Goomburra in 1912.

The South-Western Railway was opened from Warwick to Thane in 1904 and extended to Dirranbandi in 1913. A branch line was built from Inglewood to Texas in 1930.

A branch line was built from Ipswich to Harrisville in 1882, and extended to Boonah in 1884 and Fassifern in 1887.

A branch line was opened from Toowoomba to Cabarlah in 1883 and Crows Nest in 1886.

The Brisbane Valley railway line was built from Ipswich to Lowood in 1884, Esk in 1886 and Yarraman in 1913. Passenger services operated on the line until 1967, and freight services continued until the closure of the line in sections in 1988 and 1993.

In 1912 a branch line to Marburg opened from Rosewood. It closed in sections between 1964 and 1995. Today some of it is the Rosewood Railway Museum; their Museum Junction station is at the truncated southern end of the line before Railway Street.

A coal spur line was opened to Ebenezer, near Rosewood, in 1990.

Electrification from Ipswich station was extended to Rosewood station in 1993, creating the Citytrain interurban Rosewood railway line. This was while The Hon David Hamill was Minister for Transport; the Rosewood line extends from the seat he held, the electoral district of Ipswich (up to the Bremer River after Thomas Street station), into that of Ipswich West.

Brisbane area lines

2300 class on a freight service at Redbank station.

Lines were opened from Brisbane to Sandgate and Ascot in 1882.

The first section of the North Coast Line opened to Petrie in 1888. In 1891 this line was connected to the Maryborough line at Gympie, creating a through line to Mount Perry. A branch line was built from Caboolture to Woodford in 1909 and Kilcoy in 1913, now closed. A branch line was opened from Monkland (south of Gympie) to Brooloo in 1915.

A line was opened from the first South Brisbane Station at Stanley Street, Woolloongabba to Beenleigh in 1884, and extended to Southport in 1889 and Tweed Heads, New South Wales in 1903. This line was closed beyond Beenleigh in 1964. ["The Old South Coast Line Revisited" Marggraf, E.W. Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, November, 2003 pp422-427]

A branch line was completed between Park Road station and Cleveland in 1889, although the section beyond Lota station was closed and since reconstructed.

A new South Brisbane station was built at Melbourne Street in 1891. This became the terminus of the standard gauge line from Grafton in 1930 and Sydney in 1932. A dual-gauge line was built from South Brisbane over the Brisbane River to Roma Street in 1978.

A line was opened in 1980 from a junction near Lindum station on the Cleveland line to the Port of Brisbane at Fisherman's Island. This was converted to dual 1435/1067 mm gauge and extended in parallel with the duplicated passenger line to Dutton Park in about 1995 under the Keating Government's One Nation program.

A branch line was opened between Bethania and Beaudesert in 1888, and closed in 1996. A branch was completed to Canungra in 1915, now closed.

The line from extended from Roma Street to Central stations in 1889, and to Brunswick Street station in 1890.

A branch line was opened from a junction at Mayne to Enoggera in 1899.

Lines in Maryborough, Bundaberg and Gladstone area

A line was opened from Maryborough to Burrum Town Coalfield in 1883. Another line was opened to Theebine in 1886 and became part of the North Coast Line when it met with the line from Brisbane at Gympie in 1891.

A branch line was opened from Theebine to Kilkivan in 1886 and extended to Goomeri in 1902. Another branch line was built from Theebine to Kingaroy in 1904 and Nanango in 1911. A branch line was opened between Kingaroy and Tarong in 1915, now abandoned.

A line was opened from north Bundaberg to Mount Perry in 1884. Maryborough and Bundaberg were connected in 1888, with a branch line from Isis Junction to Childers, extended to Cordalba in 1896 and Dallarnil in 1913. Another branch was opened from Mungar Junction to Biggenden in 1891, Degilbo in 1893, Gayndah in 1907, Mundubbera in 1914 and Monto in 1928 and Gladstone in 1931.

The Maryborough-Bundaberg was connected by the Burnett River Bridge to the Mount Perry line in 1891. A line was opened from Gladstone to Iveragh in 1896 and connected to Mount Perry (and Brisbane) in 1897. The North Coast Line was extended from Gladstone to Rockhampton in 1903.

The Wallaville Branch left the Mt. Perry line at Goondoon. It reached Wallaville on 9 August, 1920, however the line was extended to Morganville on 3 October, 1931. Queensland Railways sold the line in 1964 to the Gin Gin Cooperative Mill who converted it to a sugar tramway. ["The Wallaville Branch Line" Milne, Rod Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, June, 1997 pp179-187]

A branch line was built from Byellee (in Gladstone) to Many Peaks in 1910. A branch line was opened from Bajool to Port Alma in 1912.

A line was built from Gladstone to Mungungo in 1930 and extended to Monto in 1931.

The Moura Short Line was opened between Gladstone and Moura in 1968, connecting to the branch lines from Rockhampton via Mount Morgan (Mt Morgan Rack Railway) to the Moura and Callide coal fields.

Central line

A line was opened from Rockhampton to Westwood in 1867. It was extended to Gogango in 1874, Emerald in 1879, Barcaldine in 1886, Longreach in 1892 and Winton in 1928. A branch was built from Emerald to Clermont in 1884 and extended to Blair Athol in 1910.

A branch line was opened from Emerald to Springsure in 1887. Another branch line was completed between Jericho and Blackall in 1908 and extended to Yaraka in 1917.

A heavy-haul railway line was built from Blackwater to the coal fields at Laleham in 1970.

A heavy-haul railway was built from Rangal (west of Blackwater) to the coal fields at Kinrola in 1967. This line was extended to the Rolleston coal mine in 2006. This is the first new non-urban railway in Queensland for 23 years, and reflects the upswing in coal demand as a result of the Chinese economic boom. Coal is to be moved to Gladstone by Xstrata trains.

A heavy-haul railway was opened from Burngrove west of rangal to the Gregory mine in 1980 and extended to German Creek in 1982 and Norwich Park in 1983, connecting to Hay Point.

A branch line was built from Rockhampton to the coast at Emu Park in 1888. A branch was opened from a junction at Sleipner to Yeppoon in 1909.

Another branch line was opened from a junction at Kabra, near Rockhampton to Mount Morgan in 1898 (including a rack section) and extended to Wowan in 1912 and Baralaba in 1917. A branch line was built from a junction at Rannes to Thangool in 1925. A branch line was opened from a junction at Dakenba to Callide in 1953.

The first section of the North Coast Line north of Rockhampton was completed to Milman in 1913 and extended to Marlborough in 1917 and St Lawrence and Carmila in 1921, connecting to the line from Mackay.

Mackay, Proserpine, Bowen and Ayr lines

1550 class diesel locomotive on a freight service near Corinda station in 1998.

Lines were opened from Mackay to Eton and Mirani in 1885. The Mirani line was extended to Pinnacle in 1902 and Netherdale in 1911.

Local governments built a section of the future North Coast Line from Townsville to Ayr in 1901, which was taken over by QR in 1911. This was extended to Bowen in 1913.

In 1910 local governments opened a line from Bowen to Proserpine and it was taken over by QR in 1917.

A section of the North Coast Line was completed from Mackay to Sarina in 1913 and extended to Koumala in 1920 and Carmila in 1921, connecting with the line from Brisbane. The line from Mackay to Proserpine was opened in 1923, completing the line from Brisbane to Townsville.

A line was opened from Merinda (near Bowen) to Collinsville in 1922 and extended to Newlands in 1984.

A heavy-haul railway was built from the new port at Hay Point (near Mackay) to the coal fields at Goonyella in 1971. A branch line was opened from Coppabella to Peak Downs in 1972 and extended to Saraji in 1974 and Norwich Park in 1979. Another branch line was opened from Watonga (between Coppabella and Goonyella) to Blair Athol, connecting to Emerald in 1983.

Northern line

A line was opened from Townsville to Charters Towers in 1882, Hughenden in 1887 and Winton in 1899. A line was completed between Hughenden and Richmond in 1904 and extended to Cloncurry in 1908 and Selwyn in 1910. A branch was completed from Cloncurry to Mount Cuthbert in 1915. Another branch was opened from Cloncurry to Dajarra in 1917. A branch, which became the mainline, was opened from Duchess to Mount Isa in 1929. A line was opened from Flynn (near Duchess) to the phosphate mine at Phosphate Hill in 1976.

A branch line was built from Mingela (between Townsville and Charters Towers) to Ravenswood in 1884, but is now closed.

A line was opened from Cobarra, north of Townsville, to the nickle mine at Greenvale in 1974, and closed in 1993 with the closure of the mine.

Cairns line

A line was opened from Cairns to Redlynch in 1887 ["Railways of the Cairns District" Singleton, C.C. Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, April, 1957 pp55-60; September, 1957 pp129-141] and extended up the Barron Gorge to Kuranda and Myola in 1891, Mareeba in 1893, Atherton in 1903, Herberton in 1910, Tumoulin in 1911 and Ravenshoe in 1916.

A private railway was completed, by the Chillagoe Company, between Mareeba and Mungana in 1901. The system was extended from Lappa Junction to Mount Garnet in 1902. A line was then constructed from Almaden to Mount Surprise in 1908 reaching Einasleigh in 1909 and finally Forsayth in 1911. A branch to Mount Mulligan was constructed in 1915. The rail assets of the Chillagoe Company were handed over to the Queensland Government in 1919.

The line from Cairns to Babinda was operated by the Cairns Divisional Board (a forerunner of the present Shire Council) until 1911 when it was acquired by Queensland Railways ["The Cairns-Mulgrave Tramway" Armstrong, J & Verhoeven. G.H. Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, March, 1972 pp50-58] .

The first section of the North Coast Line was opened from Babinda, south to Pawngilly in 1912. The line was completed between Townsville and Cairns in 1924.

Cooktown line

An isolated line opened between Cooktown and Palmer Road in 1885, and extended to Laura in 1888 ["The Cooktown Railway" Knowles, John Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, May, 1958 pp65-82] . It closed in 1961.

Normanton to Croydon railway

The Gulflander, a railway from Normanton to Haydon was opened on 1889 and extended to Croydon on 7 July, 1891 ["A Century of Isolation" Winney, Ken Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, March, 1992 pp66-69] . This line was never connected to the Queensland rail network. Built with steel sleepers, it is still operating.

Brisbane suburban network

Electrification of the Brisbane suburban network with a 25 kV AC overhead power supply commenced in 1976. The suburban network was integrated with the construction of a cross-river rail Link between Roma Street and South Brisbane stations in 1978. The first electrified line was between Darra and Ferny Grove in 1979, finally to Eagle Farm station in 1988 (although services today only operate as far as Doomben station), completing the electrification of the Brisbane suburban network.

The new electrified Gold Coast railway opened from Beenleigh to Helensvale in 1996, and was extended to Robina in 1997.

A new, private line was opened after Eagle Junction at Clayfield to the Brisbane Airport in 2001.

Regular passenger services operate as far north as Nambour and Gympie, west to Rosewood and as far south to Robina. [cite web | url=http://www.corporate.qr.com.au/history/choice_of_a_different_guage/choice_different_gauge.asp | title=QR History | publisher=QR Limited | accessdate=2006-04-27]


A number of tramways of 610 mm gauge for the transport of sugar cane have operated in Queensland as private concerns, associated with the relevant sugar cane mill. These tramways are quite advanced technically, with hand-me-down rails cascaded from the normal rails, remote-controlled brake vans, concrete sleepers in places, and tamping machines in miniature. The twenty or so separate tramways cooperate in research and development.

ee also

* Queensland Rail


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