Early Queensland Steam Engines

When you look at the early Queensland steam engines listed here it’s almost hard to believe that these small, lightweight locos were the forerunners of today’s high-horsepower, high-speed monsters that pull trains that weigh thousands of tonnes, stretch for hundreds and hundreds of metres and cover hundreds of kilometres in a time measured in hours rather than the days that it once took.

But what you see here represents the state of the art equipment that the early Queensland Railways had to work with.

These were rugged and relatively simple 3′ 6″ gauge steam engines that were designed to haul short trains up steep grades, around tight curves, over light rails and more simple trestles than robust bridges.

These were significant features of a State-owned railway that was always cash-strapped, required to connect small communities separated by vast distances and somehow meet the expectation that the railways would make money despite being controlled by politicians rather than accountants.

Those distances, together with numerous geographical barriers and the lack of funds to overcome them, meant that the Queensland Railways didn’t develop a network in quite the same way that other Australian states did. Instead of starting in Brisbane and building outwards, small networks branched out from a number of ports up the Queensland coast and it took 11 years for the first railway line to actually connect to Brisbane.

The first railway line in Queensland was built westward from Ipswich, a then important river town, and the line was officially opened in July 1865.

In 1867 a line running west from Rockhamption was opened but it took another 13 years before the next line running west from Townsville was opened in 1880.

Lines radiating out from Maryborough and Bundaberg were opened in 1881 but despite being separated by less that 80 miles it was many years before even these two relatively close systems were joined.

In 1885 lines reaching out from Mackay and Cooktown were opened and the final line from the coast … starting in Cairns … was opened in 1887.

Connecting these centres with a north/south line to Brisbane took many years and it was not until 1924 that the final gap was closed and even then a trip for a passenger travelling from Brisbane to Cairns or Brisbane to Mt Isa in the northwest of the State was measured in days and freight took even longer … and so it remained right into the 1950s.

Railways of Australia. Singleton C. C. and Burke D, Angus and Robertson, 2nd reprint August 1964