Backward Glance: The era of the steam trains
  • Wednesday 27 September 2017

It was in the 1890s that steam trains injected new life into the area we now know as the Sunshine Coast.

The North Coast Line provided much needed faster transport links to and from Brisbane at a time when roads were of poor condition.

Transportation to the region was either by sea or along the main track, the Gympie Road, to the goldfields.

This journey could take days by coach, cart or on horseback.

In preparation for the arrival of the steam train service, the North Coast Line was surveyed in sections during the 1880s.

The men who built the railway line used picks, shovels, cross cut saws and horse drawn ploughs, while explosives were used to blast through rock and to make tunnels.

The Queensland Railway paid the timber getters by the foot for timbers and inspectors checked bridge girders for wood grain and straightness.

The timber cutters had to choose the right trees for sleepers and bridges or they would not pass and would receive no payment.

A variety of men built the railway, including settlers, timber getters and teamsters who earned money to develop their own properties.

Tough “British Navies” who had gained experience in their mother country also worked making railway tracks.

Mellum Creek, later called Landsborough, got its first police station when about 500 railway workers arrived to build the line in about 1888.

The men worked hard in extreme conditions, camping alongside the rail as it progressed further north.

The line was built in sections - section one from Brisbane to Caboolture and section two from Caboolture to Landsborough.

The line continued on in stages to eventually link up northern areas.

Major rail bridges were built over the Mooloolah River, Eudlo and Petrie creeks and also the South Maroochy River near Yandina.

The Dularcha railway tunnel is one of only two tunnels built along the old North Coast Line between Brisbane and Gympie.

It was constructed just south of the Mooloolah Township from 1889 and opened in 1891.

Building the tunnel was very labour intensive work undertaken by TJ Jessor and Co. whose workers built the concrete-lined tunnel using basic machinery and horses to assist with carrying heavy loads.

Known as North Coast Line No.1, the original tunnel was bored for opening of the section on January 1, 1891.

North Coast Line No.1 was replaced in 1931 when a deviation was built, which included a replacement tunnel, using labourers from the Great Depression Relief Scheme.

The original tunnel was never demolished and is now heritage listed and is part of a walking track enjoyed by many in the Dularcha National Park.

In local towns and sidings on the North Coast Line, the railway station was an important structure where people gathered to hear the latest news, pick up their mail, drop off their produce and waited to be transported miles away.

It was only a few years earlier that it had taken days for them to reach their destination.

These days the train traveller could reach Brisbane in a matter of hours by locomotive.

Rich and poor, as well as the Queensland Railways station staff, mingled on the platforms close to the hulking great steam engines as they built up steam for their journeys.

The lonely whistle of the train alerted those in ear shot that the train was on its way.

The gate keeper employed by Queensland Railways busily closed the railway gates so the train could proceed with preference.

The horse and buggy and the bullocky with his bullock team had to wait at the gates as the mighty steam engine locomotives came chuffing through on their way to the station or on to their next destination.

Water for steam was pumped directly from many clean waterways in the district including the Maroochy and Mooloolah rivers.

Palmwoods lagoon was described on early survey maps as a permanent waterhole within a reserve for camping and railway purposes.

It was regarded as a pure water source for steam trains on their scheduled water stops at the Palmwoods Station and during WWII that water supply point was used for up to 50,000 troops stationed in that region.

The main steam trains used were Class 16 and Class 17, introduced in the 1920s.

Steam trains were efficient in their era however one disadvantage was that they needed to stop about every 100 kilometres to take on water and have the ash box cleaned.

The greatest advantage was the opportunity for faster travel and more rapid delivery of produce to market.

It was a splendid sight when two engines were needed for the haul.

The old steam trains were efficient in their era and they could pull up to about 400 tons at times with the two engines.

When diesel was introduced in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the days of the steam train slowly declined.

In terms of efficiency, diesel was more cost efficient but many still miss the rumble and roar steam engines made clanging along as they steamed into the station.

Who could forget the soot and smoke if you put your head out the window to take a look as the train rumbled along around the curves on those old rail lines of the Near North Coast.

The steam train engines were withdrawn from service with Queensland Rail after diesel engines were introduced in 1969.

An early memory for many long-term locals was the decommissioned Class 17 steam train locomotive, Number 967.

It was moved to Happy Valley, near Bulcock Beach, as a play structure sometime after 1969, assisted by Caloundra Rotary Club members who painted the old engine.

The locomotive engine was built in 1950 by Walkers & Sons Limited of Maryborough and commenced operation with Queensland Railways that same year.

The train engine was a popular play structure in the Happy Valley camping area and was removed from Happy Valley in 1985 when the locomotive was bought by the Ghan Preservation Society in Alice Springs.

The locomotive was purchased by Beaudesert Rail in 2000, restored and returned to service in early 2003, for use on Beaudesert-Logan Village tourist trains.

On August 22, 2007, the Mary Valley Heritage Railway bought the locomotive and returned it to service on the scenic Mary Valley Heritage Railway as one of the “Rattlers”.

Hopefully Number 967 will be on the move again soon in the Mary Valley.

Thanks to Sunshine Coast Council’s Heritage Library Officers for the words and Picture Sunshine Coast for the images.

In 2017, we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Naming of the Sunshine Coast. For more information on this milestone anniversary visitwww.sunshinecoast.qld.gov.au/fifty

Image captions:
Hero image: M670833 - Gympie train at Landsborough Railway Station, 1908.

Carousel images:
Image 1: M180616 - Bullock team with a load of produce at Woombye Railway Station, 1920.
Image 2: M191209 - Railway Bridge over Petrie Creek, Nambour, looking north, ca 1915.
Image 3: M403220 - Stack of 5000 sleepers in the Yandina Railway Yard, 1939.
Image 4: M709581 - Train accident on the Nambour line, ca 1920.
Image 5: M709599 - Railway workers employed to build and repair the last section of the railway line over the Range between Eumundi (present site) and Cooroy, ca 1890.