Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Westlander - Brisbane to Charleville

Queensland is my home state and I am proud to be a banana bender as Queenslanders are called. So I have really been looking forward to the remaining train trips which all take place on the 3'6" narrow gauge long distance QLD trains. The first of these trains heads west from Brisbane to Charleville, over 400 miles away.
If you are not familiar with Queensland geography, Brisbane is on the coast in the south east. The train heads west through Toowoomba, Dalby, Roma and on to Charleville. A bus then travels further west to Quilpie.
 My ticket for the Queensland journeys. The sleeper upgrades (second class) were $66 per night.
 My friend Geoff who took me to the station.
 Inside my sleeper room which I had all to myself both on the trip out to Charleville and on the way back. When I made the reservation I was offered an upgrade to a first class sleeper but that would have cost over $200. Second class was good enough for me.
 Corridor in the sleeping car. The carriages aren't very long so there aren't too many compartments. One of them is reserved for the car attendant.
 The buffet car.
 Power car at the back end of the train. There were two diesel engines pulling the train and they went all the way to Charleville. The second engine is just used as a spare in case the first breaks down.
 Inside the buffet or club car. I would have to say this was superior to the equivalent food providing cars on all the other trains I have taken so far on the trip. It's almost art deco.
 Some of the prices.


 Each sleeping compartment has a fold away sink, mirror and power point (240 volts). For non Australians, note the shape of the socket for the three prongs of the electricity plug.
Door and ladder to climb up to the top of the three bunks. The first night I used the top bunk but I did find it a bit difficult to get up there. I'm not quite as agile as I used to be and not quite as trim, taught and terrific.
 The train crew gather for a rousing version of Kumbaya prior to departure.
 Suburban train at Roma Street Station.
The train left on time and instead of heading west, headed off in the opposite direction to Central Station. It then loops around via Bowen Hills and the Show Grounds before coming back to Roma Street and heading west. The reason is that the country trains all leave from platform 10 and there is no set of switching points to send the train directly to the western line. Great planning. Of course it adds 25 minutes to the journey.

Toowoomba Station at close to midnight. I realized that the last time I was in this station was back in 1953 when my family moved to Maryborough. Those who know of my haunting talents will realize that I stayed up so that I could experience a really good haunt. Then it was time to climb up into the top berth and after a while I got to sleep. It was a bit rocky up in the top berth, but quieter. Blankets, pillows and sheets were supplied and I needed the blanket.

 The next morning, I woke about 5:30 am and after taking about five minutes to work out how to get down safely from the top bunk, I took a shower at the end of the sleeping car. It worked fine and the water was hot. Unfortunately there was cloud cover that lasted for the entire trip.
 Shortly after dawn we arrived in Roma.

Some of the older buildings in Roma.
 A few people got off the train. I think there were only about twenty to thirty passengers. Unfortunately this train is not well known and I didn't see any back packers on board. Train buffs know about the train and apparently it is not uncommon for them to travel out to Charleville and on to Quilpie or Cunnamulla and then come straight back just as I am doing.

 Roma Station.
Bottle trees which are quite common  in Queensland.
A paddy melon up close. There was a patch of them growing beside an unused platform. I thought about taking this one on board and cutting it up for breakfast but then got rid of that thought pretty quickly.
It can get very hot here in summer. Air conditioning was unknown when I was young and I can fully understand why it is considered essential these days.

Old pub that would have been well patronized in its day because of its location across from the station. Note the XXXX signs on the ground floor verandah that denote they sell Castlemaine XXXX beer, the Queensland beer. Random breath tests and high taxes on beer have resulted in the death of many pubs in Oz. These day, people drink at home and watch TV. 
It's pretty quiet in Roma in the early morning. The wide streets are empty.
Jumble of electricity equipment.
Old low set houses.

So we continued west out towards Charleville.
Breakfast. I consumed this fritatta, toast, orange juice and coffee and it was enough to see me through until late in the day. The cost was $13. The night before I had met a couple of other blokes a bit older than me and had a bit of a yarn as we drank some beer. We also met in the morning and chatted while we ate breakfast and watched the scenery go by.

The cafe was operated by a young bloke who worked his backside off getting the food and drinks ready as quickly as possible. One thing I have learned is that the staff on all of these Aussie trains are very friendly, very helpful and they work hard. For this train, the staff go all the way out to Charleville and then all the way back to Brisbane.


We trundled past Muckadilla where Robin and I stayed several years ago. If you want a closer look at the place, read my blog from a year ago when Geoff and I stopped there for a look around.


The train rolls on and on and the scenery remains the same but constantly changes. The gloomy day light and the dual glazing of the train windows gives an almost impressionistic look to the countryside.

Some low hills give some variety.




The Maranoa River near Mitchell. The widespread rains over the past couple of years have resulted in plenty of water still in the river.

Old houses in Mitchell.



The train was running a bit early so they told us we could get out of the train for a few minutes.
School.

The power wagon at the back end of the train. It needs a bit of paint.

Disused siding. The line is actually well used by trains hauling cattle.
It's quite common for monster road trains to bring the cattle into the station where they are transferred to the traditional trains for transport to Brisbane. 
The road trains with the three wagons are truly scary when you meet them on the road. You are always worried about that third wagon and whether it will stay under control.
Odd shaped shed.



Groves of trees like this denote water.
Road to who knows where. There are properties out here that are bigger than some European countries. Or Delaware.
As well as cows there is quite a lot of wildlife to be seen from the train. At one stage a kangaroo bounded along trying to race the train. It lost.
The dead trees are a reminder that drought is the normal state of affairs in this part of the country. A 'lush' landscape like this is not common.


Plenty of red dirt.



Burning off in winter is common to prevent larger fires spreading in summer.



A deserted attempt at a caravan park. Like Ozymandias, 'nothing beside remains'.
Reversing siding at Morven.


It's commonly used on sidings to stop wagons from rolling away where they are not supposed to go.
Again we were a few minutes ahead of schedule so we got off to have a look around.

Another grey nomad caravan doing the drive around Oz.
Toyota Land Cruisers that are very popular with the locals who have to drive out to their properties. Years ago they used to drive Land Rovers but when the Toyotas appeared back in the late 60's, they became the vehicle of choice because they were much more reliable. In this part of the world when you go off the main highway you can be in big trouble if you break down. Life or death trouble. Years ago, the graziers bought Rolls Royces because they were the most reliable vehicle you could buy. Of course they ripped out the back seat so they could carry the dogs.

This is the main road looking west and east. No problem standing in the middle of the road and taking the photos.
Old shop.


Water storage tanks.
Probably the engine driver finishing a cigarette.
The grocery.


Every town in Australia, no matter the size, has its war memorial.
Back in the dining car. You might notice the wooden floor. The attendant said that in 2014, the Sunlander will be retired and its old carriages would then replace these even older Westlander carriages. I hope this dining car is saved because it is a gem.
Used to change the switching points which control which track is used.





The plain continues, on and on. 










There are subtle changes in the redness of the soil. On a cloudy day like this the red does not show up as well as on a bright sunny day with a deep blue sky.
Finally, the welcome sign to Charleville.



Wagon for cattle.
We arrived a couple of minutes early and the few remaining passengers got off. One of the blokes I had been talking to on the train was going to take the train back to Brisbane just like me. He headed off to walk around downtown Charleville. Since I had visited the town the year before, I headed outside to take the bus to Quilpie.

So far I had really enjoyed this train and I looked forward to the trip back. 

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