The Queensland Rail journey

​​​Image of the A10 No.8 in 1865

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

In 1861 the first railway proposal was to build a wooden railed horse-hauled tramway from Ipswich to Toowoomba. The project was never to eventuate, however it was eventually replaced with a true railway plan.

In 1863 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.

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.

Railways were built to resort towns such as Southport and Sandgate as well as Emu Park in central Queensland. Lines pushed out into the vastness of Queensland.

Many places in Queensland were created with the advent of the railway, and the demand for the railway as a service also meant many industries grew along with the railway.

As the railway system grew the identity of the community likewise also grew.

In December 1910 a grand railway plan was presented to Parliament which approved the construction of a railway link from Rockhampton to Cairns, thus connecting the major towns of Queensland along the coast and those of the Great Western Railway.

Most railway construction came to an end in the 1920s as increased use of the motor car started to threaten the dominance of the train.

Although most of the major towns in Queensland at this time had their own railway, the impact of the 1930s depression meant that investment in the railway network and rollingstock all but dried up.

This had major repercussions when Japan entered World War Two and Australia was under threat with invasion. With troops, aircraft and naval forces being moved to the war zone, Australia became the closest safe supply base for the Allies. By the wars end hundreds of thousands of troops had needed huge quantities of ammunition, fuel and food, and as the coast of Queensland was a war zone, the railways were used extensively and ultimately to the point of near exhaustion.

As a result of the near heroic effort, the railway ended the war in a rundown state with a huge backlog of repairs that took years to restore.

Despite the introduction of diesel locomotives and air-conditioned long distance trains to regional centres in the 1950s, it took over a decade to recover from the effects of the war.

By the 1960s the growing coal export market was the catalyst for the expansion of coal haulage railways in central Queensland.
The Mount Isa and Collinsville lines were rebuilt to cope with the growth of mineral and export traffic and were the first to adopt a planned project basis for their construction.

The Moura short line which as a completely dedicated to coal exports was opened in 1968.

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

It was also a major period of change in the role of the suburban railway in 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.
A commuter railway was rebuilt on the old Cleveland line, (which had closed in 1960 beyond Lota) and opened in 1987.

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.

This state of the art train slashed rail travel times on the North Coast Line, set rail speed records in Australia, and revolutionised travel by rail on the coastal part of the Queensland Rail network.

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.

Roma Street station one of the network's major stations, was also given a major revitalisation and expanded to ten platforms in 1997.

To cope with increasing demands new tunnels were added in the inner city area.

As the south-east part of Queensland continues to expand, additional rollingstock has been added to the network and stations including Beerburrum, Grovely, Fortitude Valley, have been upgraded. New lines to Springfield were opened in 2011.

The flooding between December 2011 and into February 2012 saw Queensland Rail work through some of the largest disruptions on its network in its 145 year history.

Queensland Rail was one of the first, and largest, agencies in Queensland to begin working towards a full resumption of its operations in the aftermath of the flooding, and also to work with other agencies in achieving this objective.

The widespread and rolling nature of the flooding, and later effects of Cyclone Yasi, was unprecedented for Queensland Rail. At its largest extent nearly 90% of the network was closed due to flood related issues.

The majority of the system, including the heavily damaged Toowoomba range section was opened about ten weeks after the closure of the range railway in March 2011.

Although a new company much of the cultural heritage and history of the past nearly 150 years of the railway industry in Queensland are part of the story of Queensland Rail.

Many employees recognise with pride the contribution the railway has made to the state since 1865. The railways provided health, and medical services, education, and a link to the outside world for many isolated Queenslanders.

Its workforce was part of the community, and going beyond the ordinary “call of duty” was a commonplace thing for railway workers.