A bit of a history on Queensland and its railways.
Queensland (highlighted in red on the Australian map shown), is often referred to as Australia's "Sunshine State", is Australia's second largest state and takes up the whole North-Eastern quarter of the Australian continent. With half the state North of the Tropic of Capricorn, summers are usually very hot, wet and humid along the coast. However, inland to the West of the Great Dividing Range the extensive and arid interior can see many years pass between rainfalls!
With over 7,400 km of coast line and an area of 1,722,000 km2 Queensland is vast! Being the most decentralised of the Australian states it has a relatively small population of just over 4.6 million people. Half this population is scattered, mainly along the East coast, in many small towns and cities of various sizes with the other half living in the South-East corner of the state where the capital city of Queensland, Brisbane (population just over 2 million), is located. It was just to the South-West of Brisbane in the industrial city of Ipswich, once known for its, coal mines, woollen mills and extensive railway workshops, that the story of Queensland's Railways began.
It was from Ipswich, on the 31st July 1865, that Queensland's first railway line was completed to Bigges Camp, now known as Grandchester, a still tiny township a mere 38km to the west of Ipswich. Within two years, the line had been extended further west, up The Great Dividing Range to Toowoomba, capital of the rich Darling Downs agricultural region.
Once ridiculed for running 3ft 6inch (1067mm) narrow gauge line, by its neighbouring states to the south running standard and broad gauge line, Queensland's rail network is presently, by far, the largest rail network in Australia! In fact Queensland Railways was the first operator in the world to adopt narrow gauge (3ft 6inch (1067mm)) for a main line and it remains the system wide gauge within Queensland today. According to QR's 2009/2010 Annual Report QR's network of in use track throughout Queensland consisted of 7,837km of 3' 6" (1067mm) gauge track, 3kms of Standard gauge track and 36kms of dual gauge track.
The State of Railways in Queensland Today - by Arthur Shale
July 1st 2010 saw QR split into the separate freight arm – QR National – and the current infrastructure and passenger entity. In 2014 QR is responsible for most suburban, intercity and long distance passenger train operations in Queensland – plus maintaining and controlling a large proportion of the regional rail network. Mainlines under the ownership of QR include the Western line from Brisbane to Quilpie, the Southern line from Toowoomba to Wallangarra, the South Western line from Warwick to Thallon, the North Coast Line from Brisbane to Gladstone and from Rocklands to Cairns, the Central line from Emerald to Winton and the Great Northern Railway from Townsville to Mt Isa. QR operates six long distance passenger services, the Sunlander (Brisbane to Cairns), the Spirit of Queensland Tilt Train (Brisbane to Cairns), the Rockhampton Tilt Train (Brisbane to Rockhampton), the Inlander (Townsville to Mt Isa), the Spirit of the Outback (Brisbane to Longreach) and the Westlander (Brisbane to Charleville) – however the Sunlander services will cease operations in December 2014. Since the separation from its freight arm in 2010, QR relied on QR National (and successor Aurizon) to provide locomotives and crews for long distance passenger and infrastructure services until 2014 when QR acquired a small fleet of 19 Clyde-EMD of ex-Aurizon locomotives to allow independent operations. QR’s fleet includes members of the 1720, 2150, 2170, 2400 and 2470 classes, most of which are currently being used on the long distance passenger services.
Since its separation from QR, the freight arm – QR National – has been publically floated on the Australian Stock exchange, almost tripling in value, becoming the largest rail company in Australia and changing its name to Aurizon on November 1st 2012. Aurizon owns and operates the Central Queensland Coal network, including the North Coast Line between Gladstone and Rocklands, the Central Line from Rocklands to Emerald and branches, the Moura line and branches, the Goonyella Line and branches and the Newlands line north from Goonyella to Abbot Point near Bowen totalling 2670km of heavy haul track, much of which is electrified. Aurizon’s open access rail network moved 187.38-million tonnes during 2014, with Aurizon, Pacific National and BMA each running their own trains on these coal corridors.
During the 2013/2014 financial year, Aurizon hauled more than 210-million tonnes of coal in Queensland and New South Wales and 30-million tonnes of iron ore in Western Australia. Aurizon’s Queensland coal operations has an allocation of 117 diesel electrics from the 2300, 2300D, 4000 and 4100 classes plus 148 electric locomotives from the 3551, 3700 and 3800 classes. The company moved more than 3-million tonnes of intermodal freight between Brisbane, Townsville and Cairns during the 2013/2014 period, and also runs standard gauge intermodal services from Brisbane to Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. In Queensland, the largest freight task Aurizon undertakes outside of the coal network is on the Great Northern Railway to Mt Isa, where the freight operator sees tonnages of nearly 5-million tonnes. Aurizon also moves 4-million tonnes of nickel ore from the Port of Townsville to the Yabulu Nickel Refinery. Currently on an efficiency drive, Aurizon intends to reduce its locomotive fleet by 28% to 598 locomotives in 2018. During 2014 alone, more than 70 locomotives were retired or sold.
Pacific National is the second largest freight operator in Australia and Queensland, beginning narrow gauge operations with 13 PN class locomotives and a fleet of container wagons in 2005. Initially operating between Brisbane, Townsville and Cairns moving 1.5-million tonnes of intermodal freight, PN entered the Central Queensland coal business in 2009 and now also hauls 700,000-tonnes of zinc concentrate between Mt Isa and Townsville. It has now amassed a fleet of 59 new narrow gauge EDI-Downer/EMD AC traction diesel electric locomotives – the PN and 83 class – and 42 71 class AC traction electric locomotives from Siemens. Major locomotive depots are located at Nebo (Waitara) on the Goonyella line and Partington (Townsville).
A third coal train operator appeared in Queensland in early 2014 when BMA began operating on the Goonyella line. Like PN, BMA purchased new for their Greenfield narrow gauge operations, receiving 13 AC traction electric locomotives from Siemens – identical to the Aurizon 3800 and PN 71 class locomotives. Geared to haul 15-million tonnes per annum from the BMA mines at Caval Ridge and Daunia to the BMA export terminal at Hay Point, BMA currently contracts PN’s Nebo terminal to maintain and service the BMA fleet.
Queensland’s freight operations also appear on a much smaller scale in Cairns and Maryborough, where shortline-style operations are now alive and well. CKS’s operations involve two of the three ex-Emu Bay 11 class diesel hydraulics owned by the Cairns-based business. The dynamic duo share duties shunting Aurizon’s cement container services three times a week when the cement trains arrive from Townsville. CKS hauls the cement containers from Aurizon’s Portsmith yard to the Cement Australia terminal near the Cairns station. In Maryborough, the MVHR owned 1632 is used by EDI-Downer to shunt their plant and deliver new and rebuilt rollingstock between Maryborough and the North Coast Line junction at Maryborough West. These operations are as required, the erstwhile 1620 running once or twice a month.