Cairns-Forsayth Tourist Train
#41
The successor and survivor of this train is The Savannahlander.

I made this trip a couple of months ago. Here are my travel notes.

Background:
The lines from Cairns over the Range to the Atherton Tableland and beyond into the savannah country were constructed from the 1880s onward partly by the Queensland Government and partly by private mining companies; each to meet their own purpose. Different track standards were employed by each with noticeable differences today as the train progresses over each section.
 
The section up the Cairns Range (the McAlister Range) to a point 5 kms beyond Kuranda at Myola was undertaken by the Queensland Government. The working conditions were appalling due to climate, ground conditions, disease and worse. During this time the mining industry had established itself on the Atherton Tableland at several locations including Herberton & Ravenshoe. Further west mining was underway at Chillagoe and Mungana. The interests at Chillagoe continued further mining development near Einasleigh. They subsequently built lines from Myola to Chillagoe & Mungana as well as to Einasleigh. The mines were eventually worked out and the company collapsed in a mire of financial and political scandal around 1919. They handed over the assets, including the railway to the Queensland Government, who proceeded to extend the railway to Forsayth.
 
Traffic over the lines redeveloped with the transport of cattle but this too has now ceased. The only train to regularly work past Kuranda today is the weekly Savannahlander service.
 
The Journey:
The Savannahlander departs on Wednesday mornings at 6.30am from Cairns station. At this uncivilised hour the city is very quiet. Happily, there is a mobile coffee vendor at the station to supply some very welcome cappuccinos and flat whites.
 
Our train consists of a 2000 class rail motor set. Lead unit is 2028 having been built by Commonwealth Engineering at Rocklea around 1959. The second unit is a mid-train car, 2053 having been built at Townsville workshops in 1963. Both cars are fitted with 249hp Cummins diesel engines. The top and bottom gears of the transmission system have been disabled.
 
Passengers are given opportunities to travel in the seat next to the driver during the course of the trip.
 
The track to Redlynch; 11kms; is almost flat with only a few broad curves. Once clear of the city area some reasonable speeds are possible. It is from Redlynch that the climb begins.
The ground conditions on the Range comprise a loose sedimentary material which becomes sloppy when wet resulting in mudslides. The vegetation is rainforest. Consequently the track must be inspected before each train is permitted over it. This is carried out by a road-railer vehicle. We will not be permitted past Redlynch until the inspection is complete and the road-railer as arrived at Kuranda. This vehicle must then return to Redlynch and complete another inspection before the first Kuranda Tourist train leaves Cairns at 8.30am and do it again before the second train leaves at 9.30am. The whole process is repeated in reverse of an afternoon before the return Tourist trains depart from Kuranda.
 
We receive authority from Train Control in Townsville through the DTC system (Direct Train Control). Using the radio network Train Control issue a 9 digit number which the driver keys into his screen. This generates another 9 digit number which he reads back to Train Control who key it into their screen. Another 9 digit code is generated and read to the driver who keys it in to generate a fourth 9 digit number which he reads to Train Control. Successful completion results in the train order being displayed on screen in front of the driver who reads it back to Train Control. We are then authorised to continue to the limit of the order.
 
The climb from Redlynch at 10metres to Kuranda 330metres has spectacular features. This is a climb of 320 metres in 23kms. The line winds around the escarpment on a steady climb averaging 1 in70. There are 15 tunnels and many bridges of various sizes. In the Stoney Creek valley there is an old passing loop which is now decommissioned although the track remains in place and presumably capable of use in an emergency. At this point the line crosses Stoney Creek immediately in front of a large waterfall. The crossing is on a spidery steel bridge on a curve of 4½ chains radius with the roar of the falls as backdrop and sometimes sending its spray over the train. A brief stop at the Barron Falls viewing station precedes our arrival in Kuranda where there is time for a brief inspection of the station with its huge collection of rainforest plants and ferns.
 
At Kuranda there is a turntable routinely used by the Tourist train locomotives. From Kuranda the line continues through rainforest and is less demanding than the climb up the Range, consequently we can make reasonable speed. Approaching Koah the vegetation makes an abrupt change from rainforest to woodlands and from Koah we enter the agricultural areas of the Atherton Tableland. With reasonably level track and few broad curves some high speed running is achieved to Mareeba. Several kms before Mareeba at Bookham we pass the site of the junction for the long closed branch to Mt Molly. There is little sign of its previous existence.
 
We pick up some passengers at Mareeba and proceed on. Just past the station is the site of the junction for the line to Herberton and Ravenshoe. This has been removed and the track for most of the distance to Ravenshoe has been lifted. Mareeba was a busy railway place in steam days with a large allotment of locomotives and servicing facilities all of which has been removed. From here the track is more undulating until we reach Arriga Junction.
 
This junction was constructed to serve the Arriga Sugar Mill a few kms away to the south. The mill is sometimes referred to as the Highlands Mill. The purpose of the line was to permit the transport of bulk sugar to Mourilyan Harbour for shipment. The removal of a freight subsidy together with an increase in freight rates has seen this traffic moved to road haulage. The last train operated about 5 years ago. The points however remain set for the Mill branch and we have to stop and reset them to allow us onto the main line.
 
From Cairns to Arriga Junction the track has been 90lb welded rail. From here it becomes 60lb jointed rail so we begin to experience more clicketty-clack from the wheels. The intensity of the farming is clear as we proceed. Mangoes, TeaTree, citrus, as well as sugar cane, tea and coffee are main crops but there are many others as well. The farms in the region to Dimbulah are serviced by irrigation channels.
 
There is a major timber bridge over Emu Creek which has heritage significance and is in need of major repair. Sadly there is a conflict of heritage issues preventing the work. It is presently unclear whether it will remain safe for the passage of trains past the end of 2016.
 
At Mutchilba we pause for morning tea at the local store. Our train stops in front of a large sign indicating that we can only proceed with possession of the Staff for the section Mutchilba to Almaden. There are no facilities at Mutchilba to allow trains to cross or overtake.
 
Steady running ensues to Dimbulah through varied and interesting agricultural lands. The station buildings survive at Dimbulah and have been converted for use as a museum devoted mainly to the railway and mining history of the region. There were several railway sidings at Dimbulah but these have now been lifted.
 
Shortly after leaving Dimbulah the farming gives way to savannah (lightly timbered grassland). The irrigation extends only this far. We are now in cattle country.
We are traversing what is known as the Chillagoe/Mungana line. This was built by the mining company to their mines as cheaply as possible. The track undulates over the land with little by way of ballast and a mixture of steel and timber sleepers. It is officially class 3 track. We are able to maintain reasonable speeds into Almaden arriving shortly before 1.30pm and the end of the day’s travel, 195kms from Cairns.
Lunch is available from the Railway Hotel. A large touring party leave the train here and join their bus. Most of our other passengers also take a bus to Chillagoe to inspect the caves and the considerable mining relics which decorate that town. They will stay overnight in Chillagoe returning to Almaden in the morning. A few of us remain in Almaden to enjoy the town’s bright lights staying overnight at the Railway Hotel. The town has an estimated population of 28 give or take the odd dog or two. There are many more roaming cattle. Perhaps this is why it is also known as “cow town”.
 
Almaden is the junction for the line to Chillagoe and Mungana, which is now closed and the Etheridge railway to Forsayth. The points are clipped for passage to Forsayth. Track exists along the right of way towards Chillagoe and much of the rail remains in the old sidings. These are largely unusable due to lengths of rail having been removed. The old barracks building survives although in poor condition. The original water tank and tankstand survive as does a lever frame which worked the old junction points. The frame appears to have been mounted on the platform for display purposes. A local railfan maintains a small museum in the station building.
 
The Etheridge Railway commences from Almaden and the km posts are renumbered from 1. The line was built as far as Einasleigh by the mining company as cheaply as possible. Earthworks are minimal with the track rolling up and down the contours. Railweight is 41¼ lbs jointed, with many of the lengths being no more than 22ft. Ballast is minimal. The track remains as class 3.
 
Departure was 8.30am after arrival of passengers from Chillagoe and exchanging the Staff from Mutchilba to the Almaden-Mt Surprise Staff. The country is savannah all the way. The soil type changes from granite to basalt and with the change the vegetation changes also. The trees thin out in favour of grassland. Several hours of looking at this country can become monotonous. There are subtle changes for those with an eye to notice. My overriding feeling is that it is not a place where I would want to become lost. One develops considerably higher respect for the early European explorers who were the first to come through the area.
 
There are a number of “pop-up” cafes along this section and we will have morning tea at one of them. The long established one is the Bullock Creek Cafe.  Which one we will patronise depends on the train crew and this day we stop at Rocky Tate Creek. All passengers having coffee or tea get to keep the mug which is from the Bullock Creek Cafe.
 
The section to Einasleigh features many river crossings, too many to list them all. The biggest is the Lynd River. The approach to the Lynd River Bridge is over a deviation. The old formation can be seen with a shallow embankment and cutting leading to the bridge. The reason for the deviation was to ease the grade for up trains climbing off of the bridge. The track runs down to a low level crossing then rises steeply up the opposite bank. Grades on some of these bridges can be as steep as 1 in 16. All of the bridges are well maintained to a high standard and are typical of Queensland construction.
 
We arrive at Mt Surprise in time for lunch. The Staff is exchanged for Mt Surprise – Einasleigh and we proceed. The country remains a continuation of savannah.
At Einasleigh we stop for afternoon tea at the Einasleigh pub and a brief inspection of the Copperfield Gorge. We exchange the Staff for Einasleigh-Forsayth.
 
The line from Einasleigh to Forsayth was constructed by the Queensland Government after taking over in 1919. There are considerably more earthworks with cuttings and embankments. This section involves a climb over the Newcastle Range with some steep grades. The descent towards Forsayth follows Cobbold Creek, mainly on a ledge above the creek, but sometimes slipping down lower. The section abounds in reverse curves. Train speed is slowed considerably. We arrive in Forsayth around 5.30pm, 229kms from Almaden and 423kms from Cairns.
 
The train is met by a group of local children. As soon as we have alighted they board. The train is to be reversed around the triangle and they are on for a free ride. It is probably one of their few chances to see and ride a train.
 
Some of our passengers proceed by bus to Cobbold Gorge while others remain at Forsayth overnight. We are joined by a large touring group who have come via Karumba and “The Gulflander” through Croydon and Georgetown. Dinner at Finnergan’s Rest becomes one big well organised barbecue. Breakfast next morning is a repeat of the previous evening’s arrangements.
 
Next morning there is a slow climb through the reverse curves to climb the Newcastle Range. At the top; at a place called Wirra Wirra, 660 metres above sea level and the highest point between Cairns and Forsayth, we stop for morning tea. An early lunch is had at the Einasleigh pub. We are joined here by those who stayed at Cobbold Gorge overnight. Einasleigh is another town of about 30 people; give or take the odd dog; but it is difficult to tell as the buildings are spread over a wide area. An early afternoon arrival at Mt Surprise allows those of us staying there to take an afternoon visit to the Undarra Lava Tubes. Many of the combined group stay out at Undarra.
 
The Staff is exchanged from Einasleigh-Mt Surprise to Mt Surprise-Almaden and we set out again next morning. We make a stop at the Rocky Tate River Bridge for a photo stop. This is a traditional railfan type stop with the train doing the usual backups and run forwards. Very little was missed. The stop was complete with trees and vegetation in the way as well as people getting in the way of others photographs and just as bad, we were on the wrong side from the sun so that the whole subject was in shadow. With the relatively small numbers, passengers could have been organised into a single line or lines so that all could obtain clear images.
 
We had an early lunch at the Railway Hotel, Almaden and final inspection of the railway relics. The Staff was exchanged and we departed.
 
About 15 minutes before Dimbulah we were held up by some Ned Kelly wannabees complete with helmets and shotguns. They proceeded through the train relieving passengers of money and valuables. All for charity. On arrival at Dimbulah this left passengers short of change to buy afternoon tea from the museum on the station.
At Mutchilba the Staff was deposited and we proceeded to Arriga Junction. The points were set for us at the Junction and on passing through they automatically reset for the branch.
 
The closer we came to Mareeba the rain set in. Very fast running ensued from Arriga into Kuranda. The rain by this time had set in at a steady rate. We were authorised to proceed to Camp Oven just beyond Barron Falls. The second Tourist train from Kuranda at that time had not yet arrived at Freshwater and the track inspection was not complete. The Barron River Gorge was filled with mist and very little could be seen through it.
 
Arrival at Cairns was around 6.00pm concluding a very enjoyable 4 day trip.
 
Postscript:
Railfans should find this an interesting 4 days. It must be remembered that you are entering hostile territory although it is only a few hundred kms from major towns. After leaving Mareeba there is no mobile phone reception until Forsayth and then only Telstra. Most of the roads are unsealed. The accommodation providers are operating under remote area conditions so do not expect 5 star facilities. Generally the facilities are good and the food service typical Australian country. It is usual to be invited for seconds at buffet style presentations.
 
The train crew of 2 are not career railwaymen. They come from other disciplines and are principally “people oriented”. Your expectations of them should be accordingly.
The Savannahlander is operated by Cairns Kuranda Steam Railway under contract to the Queensland Government.
 
I found this a very enjoyable 4 day excursion and it is my hope to be able to repeat the experience again in a few years.

The images are from Almaden and Forsayth

   

   
It took a team of professionals to build the Titanic and a lone amateur to build the Ark
#42
(14-Aug-2016, 08:59 PM)LesS Wrote: The successor and survivor of this train is The Savannahlander.

I made this trip a couple of months ago. Here are my travel notes.

Some corrections:

Quote:The second unit is a mid-train car, 2053 having been built at Townsville workshops in 1963.

The Savannahlander railmotors were built by Comeng in Rocklea, Brisbane. 2028 and 2026 are of 1963 vintage. 2053 was built in the early 70s. All three were fitted pout for the Savannahlander service by Townsville workshops in the mid-90s.


Quote:Using the radio network Train Control issue a 9 digit number which the driver keys into his screen. This generates another 9 digit number which he reads back to Train Control who key it into their screen. Another 9 digit code is generated and read to the driver who keys it in to generate a fourth 9 digit number which he reads to Train Control.


Almost. There are three codes. First control gives the driver a "Command Code". The driver reads back a "Driver Code". The controller then gives the driver a "Display Code" and the authority is displayed.

Quote:At Kuranda there is a turntable routinely used by the Tourist train locomotives.

The turntable is VERY rarely used these days. The tourist trains run multi-units that don't fit (and don't need to fit) on the turntable.

Quote:The purpose of the line was to permit the transport of bulk sugar to Mourilyan Harbour for shipment.


Ummm...no. Arriga mill used to produce only sugar juice until quite recently. The juice was taken to Babinda Mill (and Mulgrave mill for a while) by train where the sugar making process was finished.

Quote:The removal of a freight subsidy together with an increase in freight rates has seen this traffic moved to road haulage

The main issue was Babinda mill closed.


Quote:There is a major timber bridge over Emu Creek which has heritage significance and is in need of major repair. Sadly there is a conflict of heritage issues preventing the work. It is presently unclear whether it will remain safe for the passage of trains past the end of 2016.

Emu Creek is a large iron bridge.

Quote:After leaving Mareeba there is no mobile phone reception until Forsayth and then only Telstra.

There's mobile phone reception in Chillagoe and Mt Surprise.
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#43
(16-Aug-2016, 11:16 PM)fatty Wrote: Some corrections:

Perhaps the current Savannahlander crew need some training! Wink
Graham R - Dalby Qld
Any opinions expressed here are my own and not those of any group or organisation I am associated with.
Member Southern Downs Steam Railway | ARHS Qld
#44
I'll add a couple of Corrections.

Myola was the point where Robbs contract (for stage three) ended. The line beyond was constructed by QR to Mareeba, not the Chillagoe mining company. Chillagoe built from Mareeba to Mungana, and in 1908 commenced the Etheridge Branch. Although the line beyond Einasleigh was built by QR, our research suggests that it was completed to Charlestown (Now Forsayth) in 1911. Despite this it was operated by the Chillagoe mining company until collapse in 1919.

Quote:The removal of a freight subsidy together with an increase in freight rates has seen this traffic moved to road haulage

What happened was that when the mill first opened, the Roads Department realised that the roads from the mill to the coast could not sustain the heavy traffic, so they paid the railway a subsidy to transport the syrup to Babinda. Once the road upgrade program was complete Main Roads no longer needed to pay the subsidy. ARG were operating the trains in the final year, and with loss of subsidy obviously had to raise their rates, with the obvious consequence of the everything going to road. Babinda Mill closed after the syrup road haulage had started. The syrup now goes to South Johnstone. 

Quote:The train crew of 2 are not career railwaymen. They come from other disciplines and are principally “people oriented”. Your expectations of them should be accordingly.

This is our recruiting preference. It is easy to teach an experienced guide how to drive a railmotor than to teach most career railway people the necessary people skills that enhance our passengers experience. However our drivers have often gone on to make successful careers with larger rail companies. The trip itself is not designed around the needs of the rail enthusiast. The focus is developing a tour that appeals to the broader travelling public and providing an understanding to the unique flora fauna and regional history that contributed to the overall development of this part of the country.
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#45
Mike very nice last paragraph. also sugar juice goes to mulgrave now with it being one company.


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