Iconic Queensland Locos Back In Steam

Ambitious Trip From Brisbane To Cairns

I never got to see regular service in Queensland.

It all ended in a hurry in the late 1960s while I was still a school boy with inadequate finances to travel interstate.

I did manage a couple of trips in the early 1970s to photograph tour trains such as this one with Pacific 1072 heading out of Brisbane towards Toowoomba.


1072 Heads West Through Brisbane Suburbs

This engine ended up at the Zig Zag Railway west of Sydney, where it operated for many years.

Regrettably the Zig Zag is not operating at the moment due to regulatory issues. This reflects the poor state of active steam preservation in Australia.

I read with interest this story where the Queensland Railways have overhauled 2 of the class to haul specials to Cairns in the far north of Queensland for the 150th anniversary of QR.

The restored “Bety” 1079 is scheduled to work a trip to Toowoomba in September 2015.


Two of the last steam locomotives to be built in Australia have been restored for some historic journeys between Brisbane and Cairns to celebrate Queensland Rail’s (QR) 150th birthday this year.

Thousands of hours of labour at QR’s Ipswich workshop have gone into restoring the BB18 one-quarter 1079 and 1089, and the nine wooden carriages capable of carrying 300 passengers.

The entire trip from the Queensland capital to the far north and back will take two months but is broken up into separate journeys, stops at major towns and day trips in different regions along the coast.

But that has not stopped some train enthusiasts from snapping up enough tickets to take them from the beginning of the journey through to the end.

Both heritage steam engines to be used were built in Maryborough, with the BB18 one-quarter 1089 being the last mainline steam locomotive to be built in Australia in 1958.

The oldest of the carriages was built in 1902.


  • Builder: Walkers Ltd, Maryborough, Qld Builder
  • Wheel Arrangement: 4-6-2
  • Builder’s Number: 547 (1079) and 557 (1089)
  • Year built: 1956 (1079) and 1958 (1089)
  • Cylinders: 464 mm x 610 mm
  • Driving Wheel (Dia.): 1295 mm
  • Weight: 102.8 tonnes
  • Coal Capacity: 10.5 tonnes
  • Water Capacity: 15,910 litres

Steam fitter Marc Ferrar, who specialises in locomotive restorations and overhauls, has been working on both trains for the past six months at QR’s Ipswich rail yard.

He became involved in the historic locomotives in 2000 when he completed an adult apprenticeship specialising in steam locomotives in operations and maintenance.

“I work on anything from repairing the buffer on the the front of the headstock to the rear headstock and everything else in between – overhauling injectors, turbo generators and side rods,” he said.

“The parts are very heavy. You need assistance with overhead cranes.”

Mr Ferrar will be tagging along for two legs of the journey – first from Rockhampton to Townsville, then Townsville to Brisbane.

“I’ll have the job to fire the locos in the yards and depots in the morning, then crew take over from then on,” he said.

“Basically … you check the water level and you load the fire box with timber and you light the wood. It starts raising pressure in the boiler, creating the steam and then the pressure in the boiler the pipes through to the cylinders which drive the wheels.

“I’ll be virtually maintaining and making everything runs as its supposed to.”

He will be joined on the engine by Queensland Rail drivers and firemen.

GIF: Train carriage GIF

He said the trip for anyone who has never been on a steam train before would be “astronomical”.

“They’ll be in awe of the whole trip if they ride just a small sector,” Mr Ferrar said.

QR’s travel and tourist executive general manager Martin Ryan said the trains would be run by QR staff and heritage volunteers.

“To run a steam train from here to Cairns and back is a major effort for something built in 1956,” he said.

“But these are very skilled people and very passionate people and they make sure it works.”

The train drivers will be made up of those trained up to drive heritage fleet, as well as some coming out of retirement.

“To drive these trains is a skill and they are trained up by the current drivers and we keep on replenishing our driving stock so we can continue this offer to experience the past today,” Mr Ryan said.

Train trips in days of old would have had a bit of “bump and rattle” to them, he added.

“They would have sat in the back of the wooden cars, the steam would have been billowing out the front… but at the end they might of been dusting the cinders out of their hair and dusting off their Sunday best,” Mr Ryan said.

“People would have been sitting down and engaging with each other and talking with each other.

“Not using iPads and iPhones, but actually engaging in discussions.”

He said the steam trains offered passengers “the chance to go back and romanticise about train journeys as it was back then”.

“Customers are coming forward to tell us about how they met on our trains, how they had their honeymoons on our trains, how they went to school or work on our trains,” Mr Ryan added.

“These trains have very much been part of growth and history of Queensland. We invite all to come down and celebrate.”

Queensland Rail historian Greg Hallam said steam locomotives were the main diver for economic development in Queensland.

“There are many towns in Queensland that actually owe their existence to the Queensland railway, to the steam locomotives,” he said.

“It’s interesting that it’s going up that railway line it was really the last one that brought the whole patchwork story – the Queensland railways together from north to south, [it] wasn’t completed until 1924.

“The fact it’s rolling up the north coast I guess is a way of bringing the entire Queensland railway story together in one piece, at one place and at one time.”

Here is a video of part of the trip.


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