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Cultural Heritage 


Heritage and history of Queensland Rail

In many ways, the history of Queensland is also the history of its railways.

The railways provided as much of a social backbone as a transport one over the past 145 years or more.

In 1863, an Irish engineer, Abram Fitzgibbon, offered the Queensland Government a narrow gauge railway as a radical engineering solution to the financial problem of building a railway network. He argued that to build a railway in a developing colony, with a small population, and vast distances then adopt a smaller gauge than that in use in places such as Europe. A different gauge of 1067mm, compared to 1435mm, could then allow for a railway to be built to satisfy the young colony’s need for a railway.

Construction began on the first section of the railway from Ipswich to Grandchester (Bigges Camp) in February 1864. Nearly everything the railway needed to operate - staff, locomotives and carriages - were imported from Britain.

Because of its vast area, Queensland adopted a decentralised network, with railways being built from a number of ports along the Queensland coastline that led inland to mining and pastoral centres.

The 1880s were boom years for rail construction throughout Australia. Rural and mining centres all clamoured for their own railway By 1888 an inland railway linked Brisbane and Sydney, (with a change of trains needed between the New South Wales and Queensland gauges at the border at Wallan-Garra.)

Main rail routes were also extended from Brisbane to Charleville, and Bundaberg.

Regionally lines were extended from Rockhampton to Longreach:

  • Townsville to Hughenden
  • Cairns to Mareeba
  • Normanton to Croydon
  • Cooktown to Laura

In December 1910 a grand railway plan was presented to Parliament which approved the construction of a railway that would link the north from Rockhampton to Cairns, and an inland link from Camooweal to Cunnamulla (which was never built) . The Rockhampton to Cairns link was finally completed in 1924, creating what was called the Sunshine Route.

In the 1940s, during the Second World War, Queensland Railways provided much of the backbone of the defence of Australia Queensland was a war zone, the railways were used, extensively, effectively, and to the point of near exhaustion.

The 1950s saw a period of reinvigoration of the railway system, with new air-conditioned trains, modern diesel electric locomotives, new workshops.

The 1960s were marked by the ending of steam operations on the railway system land the closure of many branch lines throughout Queensland.

The 1970s and 1980s saw the completion of the ambitious electrification scheme in central Queensland, the North Coast Line to Rockhampton, and the suburban network of Brisbane.

A new cross river rail link was built in 1978, the first air-conditioned electric trains were introduced in 1979, and by 1988 most of the suburban area had electric trains.

In 1989 a daylight electric service, the Spirit of Capricorn, began operating between Brisbane and Rockhampton. In 1993 a specially themed train, Spirit of the Outback, began service between Brisbane and Longreach.

In 1998 the electric Tilt Train service began between Rockhampton and Brisbane. A new Tilt Train service was extended to Cairns in 2003.

At the same time a high speed commuter rail link between Brisbane and Robina was completed, and has since been duplicated, and extended to Varsity Lakes, with extra rollingstock in service to cater for the growing population.

As the south-east part of Queensland continues to expand, additional rollingstock has been added to the network and new stations opened a well as new lines. The planning for the future growth of the railway network continues.

More information

Check out our History section for more information of the history of Queensland Rail.


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