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Queensland Railway Ambulances

Queensland is a vast state and as late 1960 the railways provided the only all-weather route to many towns. Scattered along the railway lines between the major towns were many small communities that relied almost entirely on the railway for all their transport requirements … even the transport of injured people to the nearest hospital.

That’s an existence that many of us would find it hard to comprehend for we have all-weather roads and ambulances to rush us to hospital if we’re injured. But before those all-weather roads and fast ambulance services all they had were the railways … and the railway ambulances.

The drivers "cab" of one Queensland railway ambulance
The driver’s “cab” of one Queensland Railway ambulance

It’s possible that no two ambulances were the same and this one was built by Norman Parker in the early 1940s. It’s powered by a V Twin J.A.P.otore cycle engine and gearbox. It originally served the Dimbulah and Mt. Mulligan mining districts before being transfered to Gayndah in 1960.

It was presented to the Gayndah Historical Society in 1981 by the Gayndah Q.A.T.B. and it was restored by the Society in 1986 with the help of a Queensland Museum Grant. The rail ambulance is presently on display at the Gayndah Museum along with many other historical vehicles.

The driver's cab of theGaydah rail ambulance
The interior of the driver’s “cab” – definitely spartan by today’s standards

Interior of the Gayndah rail ambulance
The interior of the Gayndah rail ambulance

The 2 cylinder motor cycle engine that powers the rail ambulance
The 2 cylinder motor cycle engine that powers the rail ambulance

Unfortunately space at the Museum is rather limited the the area where the rail ambulance is displayed is quite cramped and it’s hard to get some decent photos of the front of the vehicle.

Museum staff tell me that the engine is still in working order and they could take it out, put it on the tracks and it run as well as the day it came to Gayndah.

Here’s a link for some better photos and some history of this interesting vehicle.

{ 7 comments… add one }

  • Nelson June 24, 2009, 11:12 am

    Great find! The interior of the railway ambulance does look “spartan” indeed.

    How fast did these trains generally run? It looks like the fumes from the exposed motor might fill the cabin.

    The rail amulance is really a smart idea when you think of it though. We really take modern roads and hospital access for granted these days.

    They must have really had to carefully coordinate what tracks the ambulance would run on though, it seems very dangerous sharing the line with huge locomotives.

  • admin June 25, 2009, 7:49 am

    G’day Nelson

    The top speed for these railway ambulances was probably no more than 20 mph. Their normal use was on light rural branchlines so they didn’t have to travel at high speeds.

    Those branchlines didn’t see a lot of traffic … maybe one or two trains a day at the most … and the ambulances would have been operated as a train so they would be governed by whatever safeworking system was in use on that particular line.

    If it was a typical staff and ticket type safeworking they would have had to wait for a staff to become available if there was an opposing train in the section ahead.


  • Ken September 21, 2009, 11:20 pm

    There is an article featuring this Railway Ambulance in the October edition of Narrow Gauge Down Under magazine



  • Alex October 20, 2010, 2:41 am

    This is unbelievable. To think that they used railways for an ambulance. Its hard to concieve of a situation where this would be required.

    Another thing that puzzles me about the australian rail system is why the different states have different gauges. I would have thought that when the english settled there they would have just used the same train manufacturer and thus have the same gauge.

  • admin October 20, 2010, 2:05 pm


    You’ll find numerous examples all over the world where doctors have been conveyed to accident scenes by special trains.

    Here in just about every Australian state there have been times when it has been quicker to put the doctor in the cab of a light engine and send him up the line than to have him drive to wherever he has been needed.

    Sometimes it’s the poor road conditions that make the train a faster option … sometimes (as in some of the remote mining settlements on the west coast of Tasmania) there simply were no roads.

    Here in Queensland the railways went one better and built special ambulances to operate in areas where the roads were often impassible due to heavy rains or even flooding.

    Scroll down through this thread and you’ll find two more photos of Queensland Railway Ambulances


    Fortunately the early settlers and miners were made of sterner stuff than we are today because there were few creature comforts or medical equipment in these railway ambulances.


  • Trains O Scale November 7, 2010, 8:48 am

    Stuart, what a great article. I had no idea there were railway ambulances – but I guess it makes sense. And it gives me something to ponder with my model train sets. Thanks for the information. Cheers, Max!

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