Posts Tagged ‘Railway Journeys’

The ‘Savannahlander’ awaits us at Forsayth
P1080524 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

An early morning was called for this morning as we had to have breakfast finished by quarter to seven so we could be transferred by bus the 48km back to Forsayth in time to catch the ‘Savannahlander’ which was to take us to Mt Surprise, and later, on the Cairns.

Riding with the driver and observer
P1080564 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

From Forsayth to Mt Surprise, a distance of 162km, the 20 pound rail had been laid as cheaply as possible.  To this extent, the track even ran along a river bed as that route was much cheaper than constructing a cutting higher up the steep bank.  As the train didn’t run during the wet, it didn’t matter that the line would be under water for a couple of months each year.  Steel sleepers were again used, laid directly onto the ground without any ballast or formed track bed.  It was a slow but very relaxing journey up and over the Newcastle Range.

When it breaks, it’s not always fixed
P1080574 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

Often we had to slow down to wait for cattle to cross the track but as we were only travelling at 20 – 40k/h, this didn’t really pose too much of a problem it just added to the quaintness of the whole experience.  The ‘Savannahlander’ only runs once a week, taking two days each way.

with hundreds of thousands of acres to walk in…
P1080680 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

All the distances on the ‘Savannahlander’ line are in kilometres as its track is physically joined to the main QR network.  As the ‘Gulflander’ line is an isolated section of track, the distances are still in miles as this better represents the era during which the ‘Gulflander’ was the main means of travel through the Outback, a time before roads were built and long before Australia went metric.

Again, our lunch order was phoned ahead to the one and only place that could provide food in Einasleigh – the pub.  I don’t think there is anywhere else for anything else in Einasleigh!

The train just slowed to a stop at the crossing with the main road and we all got off and walked the couple of hundred metres to the hotel.  Here our lunches awaited us along with the odd liquid refreshment.

The Einasleigh Hotel is within easy walking distance of the train stop
P1080585 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

A bit further on from the pub is the rather Copperfield Gorge.  Most of us took the opportunity to stretch our legs and walk the half kilometre or so for an inspection.  It was worth the effort.  The river has cut a deep and narrow cleft through the rock leaving interesting shapes, pools and colours in its wake.

Copperfield Gorge with road and rail bridges
P1080584 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

After our lunch and exercise we reboarded the train for the run to Mt Surprise.  The railway line of course crossed the river we had just taken a look at so the photographers amongst us we treated to a ‘Savannahlander’ exclusive.  The train traversed the bridge, let us off, then it backed up to the other side.  Once we were all in place the train made a slow crossing of the bridge.  Many pictures were taken.  Obviously it stopped for us to get back on, all happy little Vegemites.

The ‘Savannahlander’ performs for us on the bridge
P1080592 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

We arrived at Mt Surprise at 2.30 and were transferred by bus to Undara Lava Tubes Village.  We just had time to drop our bags in our converted old wooden railway carriages which were to be our overnight accommodation before a guided tour of the lave tube complex began.

We slept in converted railway carriages
P1080638 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

Basic but comfortable

190,000 years ago when volcanic activity was still shaping the Australian landscape, the Undara Lava Tubes were formed.  The sloping topography of the area allowed the lava, which was oozing to the surface at between 1175 and 1220 degrees Celsius, to flow across 1550 square kilometres of land.  The depressions caused by rivers aided this flow.  The rate of flow was 1000 cubic metres/second, or enough to fill 1500 semi-trailer tankers

The tubes formed as the surface cooled but the flow beneath was great enough to keep flowing for up to 160km in a NW direction.  Once the eruption ceased the insulated lava drained away, thereby creating the pipelines.  Over time weaknesses formed and portions of the tubes collapsed.  This is what gives access to the remaining system.  Much has been filled with sediment and not all the tubes are accessible, however an impressive amount is open for 2 and a half hour guided walks.

Part of the Undara Lava Tubes complex
P1080616 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

On the short drive back to the camp we saw Pretty-faced and Grey Eastern macropods.

Eastern Grey Kangaroos
P1080610 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

More anon   David

Read Full Post »

The present ‘Gulflander’ (RM 93) has a 102hp Gardner diesel motor.  It was built in the Ipswich Railway Workshops in 1950 and arrived in Normanton in 1982 having served on other parts of the Queensland Railways network for the intervening 32 years.

up the front grill of RM93 P1080285 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

The ‘Gulflander’ leaves Normanton at 8.30am every Wednesday and has done so ever since it began running all the way to Croydon on the 20th July 1891. It returns from Croydon on Thursday after an overnight stop.  The train consisted of the rail motor itself and two carriages, each a bit younger than the rail motor.  Each of these coaches was refurbished a couple of years ago and were quite comfortable to travel in – if the condition of the track is taken out of the equation.

RM93 with its stable mate RM60 at Normanton Station
P1080281 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

The track is quite interesting as it was laid using metal sleepers, some sourced from Australia and some from the UK.  They were designed by QR’s Inspecting Surveyor, George Phillips, as he understood the difficulties of constructing a railway line through the monsoon flood plains of the district.  He envisaged a line that would offer as little resistance as possible to the masses of water which result from the torrential rainfall the area gets during the monsoon season.  His metal sleepers were “U” shaped in construction and were filled with mud and laid directly onto the soil the line traversed.  There was to be no embankment or ballast.  As this line is still 98% intact after 124 years attests to the vision of this early engineer. The first track of the Normanton to Croydon railway line was laid on 2nd July in 1888.  Metal was used for two main reasons: firstly because there were no suitable timber trees growing in the area for wooden sleepers and secondly: because termites would have eaten out the wooden sleepers which would have needed replacing every couple of years.

Metal sleepers P1080314 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

Mind you, the track has deteriorated a bit over time and is not as smooth or straight as it was when built.  The train manages around 40k/h for most of the journey.

The track is not always in the best of condition
P1080346 DY of ‘jtdytravels

The carriages RM93 pulled along
P1080352 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

There is a half way stop at Black Bull Siding where the train stops and morning tea is served.  Enamel billy mugs of tea and a muffin were enjoyed by all on board.  After a thirty minute stop it is ‘all aboard’ for the rest of the journey.

RM93 at Black Bull Siding

A hot cup of tea and a muffin at Black Bull Siding
P1080358  DY of ‘jtdytravels’

We were 15 minutes late arriving in Croydon, nonetheless, lunch was ready for us at the local pub.  The choice of cold meats and salad may have something to do with the unpredictable arrival of the train.

After lunch it was onto a bus which took us the 238km to Cobbold Gorge via Georgetown and Forsayth.  It was a late arrival at 6.30pm, dinner being served almost immediately and bed.  It was a long day.

It is interesting to note that the ‘Gulflander’ has not turned a profit since 1907.  This shaky situation is why I wanted to do this trip, and although the train and its infrastructure are heritage listed, I can’t see it continuing for ever.  It is only going to take an extra big storm or fire to destroy some of the quite significant wooden bridges, and the powers to be will most likely decide to pull the plug.

More anon  David

Read Full Post »

Mt Isa – a mining town

Mt Isa mines, which is owned by Xtrata, is a huge operation.  The main mine and processing infrastructure sits on the western edge of town.  The metals extracted from the area include silver, lead, zinc and copper

Mt Isa Mine from look-out hill

As big as the mine is, the whole infrastructure is to be demolished over the next 3-4 years as the ore bodies beneath this part of the mine are worth many more millions of dollars than the buildings.  The removal of these buildings will allow for the creation of a super pit which will be over 5km long and provide ore for the next 70+ years.

At present the mine is working at a depth of 2800m.  The lift that gets the miners to the workings has two decks, each of which carries 92 people.  The lift descends at a speed of 63km/h to level 22 which is at a depth of about 1000m.  From there the workers are taken to their worksites in Toyota vehicles.  These vehicles only last two to three years because of the very difficult conditions under which they operate.  Once no longer serviceable they are crushed, presumably by some vehicle larger than themselves, and pushed into a worked out stope which is then back-filled.  Why does the mine keep using Toyotas, when they only last a few years?  They outperform and outlast any other comparable vehicle.  Apparently there is billions of dollars worth of equipment that has been dealt with in this manner, buried underground.

The mine produces its own pollution which is expelled from four large chimney stacks but as the prevailing wind is westerly, this pollution is blown away from the town and out into the dessert.  It is said that the copper content of this smoke is the reason why the Western Red Kangaroos out in the Simpson Desert are a coppery colour!?

There is a small mine which was abandoned many years ago a little further into town.  Xtrata has set this old working up as their training centre for new workers and as a visitor experience.  Called the ‘Hard Times Mine’, it was not given that name for the obvious reason but because it was the name of the dog that belonged to the prospector who discovered the mine!

‘Hard Times’ poppet head, winding house to left P1080213 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

Visitors are taken underground where all facets of a day in the life of a miner are experienced.  We had to don safety gear which included a bright orange set of coveralls, a helmet with light and gum boots.  We really looked as though we meant business.

A miners safety gear – we mean business P1080217 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

We were ushered into a cage which lowered us into the mine, down a distance of only about 20 metres, and certainly not at the speed of the real thing.  It was a rather sedate descent, with of course, the obligatory ‘power failure’ and therefore unscheduled stop.  This all fell a bit flat as most of us had been underground before and were up with the tricks the lift operators get up to.

Underground there were all the usual things from reo bolted to the walls and ceiling to prevent cave-ins, to vehicles and various drilling apparatus.  The miners don’t like the reo bolted into the rock as they preferred the old wooden props which they say ‘talked’ to them.  This gave the experienced miner a warning of trouble ahead.  The metal doesn’t talk until it fails; then it is all a bit too late!  It was a great tour with the two and three quarter hour experience coming to an end all too quickly.  It is, however, as close to being a miner I want to get.

We were not permitted to take any cameras below ground.

One comment that has to be made is about the size of the meals served around town.  They are huge and rightfully so for a workforce which expends so much energy all day, every day.  But, for us poor pensioners, the thought of having to wade through the colossal plate full of food is all a bit daunting.  Mind you, most of us manage, but I think it is mainly because we were brought up to eat what was put in front of you and not waste food.  Please, more buffets, where portion control is our business.

Two of our group have lived in The Isa in the past.  B.. was an R and D manager and lived in the town for 8 years, the other, S…, was the wife of a mine worker.  They decided that they wanted to reminiscence and have a look at their old homes so we jumped in a taxi and ventured into the suburbs.  This took us off the beaten tourist track and gave a pretty good idea of the real Mt Isa.  This turned out to be a worthwhile exercise for us all, as they found their respective houses in equal or better condition than they remembered them.

More anon  David

Read Full Post »