Queensland, Normanton to Croydon on RM93

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
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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
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The carriages RM93 pulled along
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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
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A hot cup of tea and a muffin at Black Bull Siding
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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

Queensland, Mt Isa to Normanton – Dash 8 flight

A Dash 8, 100 series plane, built in 1987, took us from Mt Isa to Normanton.  Although only 380km, a relatively short distance for these parts of outback Queensland, it took us four hours to reach our destination.  We landed at three other places before arriving in Normanton as we were on the twice weekly ‘milk run’.

Dash 8 aircraft belonging to Skytrans P1080226 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

Firstly we landed at Doomadgee, an aboriginal settlement, then Burketown before flying across the north coast and over the Gulf of Carpentaria for a short distance to Mornington Island and its main centre of Gununa.  Apart from exchanging a few passengers and some AustPost mailbags, not a lot happened at these stops.  As the flight was booked many months ago, our tour company requested window seats for us all.  Skytrans obliged so we all had wonderful views of the everchanging patterns and colours below.

We were running 50 minutes behind time so were only allowed off the aircraft in Burketown.  Wandering around the outside of the terminal (a small tin shed) we did see some black-faced wood swallows, zebra finches, a couple of brolga who obligingly took off to join some black kites already soaring on the wind currents.

Burketown is an acknowledged centre for burramundi fishing.

The Welcome sign P1080227 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

Black-faced Wood Swallows P1080238 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

Flying in this area of Australia presents some wonderful patterns on the ground.  The flight bookings had been made many months ago with window seats being requested for us all.  This request was met so everybody had a good view.

Wonderful patterns of the Gulf Country P1080246 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

We eventually arrived in Normanton where we had a late lunch at the Albion Hotel. Our tour leader generally had the lunch menu so we made our choice from this before he phoned ahead.  This gave the limited staff at these places a chance of serving us in a reasonable time. The menu generally had things like pies, sandwiches and wraps to choose from.  This pub was built in the late 1880’s in Croydon and relocated to its present location in Normanton during the early 1900’s.

The Albion Pub, Normanton P1080268 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

There were some interesting signs in the pub P1080267 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

After lunch we boarded our specially chartered Rail Motor (RM 60) for the four mile run to the first turning triangle out of Normanton.  This length of track is all part of the Normanton yards, if we had wanted to go any further east, we would have had to get permission from ‘Control’ in Townsville.  The driver could loose his job without this approval.

RM60 at 4 mile turning triangle P1080297 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

RM 60 is a unique vehicle.  It is powered by a 45hp AEC motor and was built in the Ipswich Railway Workshops in 1931.

RM60 in Normanton Station 1080279 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

It’s a rough ride over rough lightly constructed track, but a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

view from observor’s seat RM60 P1080297  DY of ‘jtdytravels’

More of this journey anon   David