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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.