Industrial rail in Queensland
Private industry is a major user of rail transport. Railways are used for many purposes other than passenger and freight transport. Rail is a very efficient method for transporting large tonnages of a single item like sugar cane.
Sugar Cane Railways
A loaded cane train heads back to the mill (Source: David Mewes)
A train of empty sugar boxes passes through the township of Halifax to collect another load of raw sugar from Victoria mill for export from the port at Lucinda (Source: David Mewes)
The sugar industry is a major user of private rail networks. Sugar production is an important industry in Queensland and sugar cane railways are a common sight in coastal areas of Queensland. Sugar cane is mainly grown on family farms and harvested cane is hauled by train to sugar mills.
Most sugar mills operate their own rail network. These use a 610 mm (2 foot) gauge which is narrower than the 1067 mm (3 foot 6 inch) gauge used on the rest of the Queensland rail network.
North Queensland is the state’s main sugar cane growing area. There are over 4000 kilometres of sugar cane railways in Queensland. More than 250 locomotives are used.
Tramways and railways were especially valuable in mining operations.
Some mines only had a few hundred metres of track others had more than 100 km.
Tramways were used both underground and on the surface. Underground tramlines were used to transport ore to mine shafts where it was raised to the surface.
On the surface, tramways carried the ore to the crushing mill and the waste to be dumped.
Several private railways were built in north Queensland to link major mineral fields with the nearest government railway. Entrepreneur, John Moffat, built a 160 km private railway from his copper, tin and lead mines in the Chillagoe district to Mareeba.
The earliest timber-getters in Queensland forests used rivers and waterways to transport logs to the mill. As the timber-getters moved deeper into the forests, they adopted rail transport. Some used the government railways; others built their own networks.
William Pettigrew pioneered steam-hauled logging tramways in 1873 in the Cooloola forests east of Gympie. He used the first steam locomotive to be built in Queensland. It was made by John Walker & Co, Maryborough.
Pettigrew’s pioneer locomotive at work in the Cooloola forest c.1873 (Source: Photographer Unknown – Collection of David Mewes)Pettigrew’s pioneer locomotive at work in the Cooloola forest c.1873
Source: Photographer Unknown – Collection of David Mewes
Others followed his example. The Lahey family operated a large mill at Canungra in the Gold Coast hinterland. They built an extensive locomotive worked tramway system to cart logs to their mill. This railway included a tunnel, unique on such a tramway.
Other Industrial Tramways
Short tramways were used in a range of industries in Queensland.
- The Bowen salt works had a circular track with small diesel locomotives and hoppers to carry the dried salt.
- The Gladstone meatworks ran a tramway to take frozen meat to the wharf for loading onto ships.
- Tramways were used in the construction of the Somerset dam on the Stanley River.
- A tramway was used for the construction of the road through Surfers Paradise, now part of the Pacific Highway.
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