50 years on from the end of the steam train era

17 December 2019

This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the last steam train service in Queensland.

After more than a century of service, the final locomotives – many of which were built at the North Ipswich Railway Workshops – ‘dropped their fires’ on 21 December 1969.

Reflecting on the progress made in the 50 years since then, Queensland Rail Historian Greg Hallam said the steam trains’ retirement paved the way for a new era in rail.   

“Queensland’s first four steam locomotives were built in Britain, arriving on our shores in 1864 where they served our state for nearly 40 years until Queensland’s own rail manufacturing industry began to thrive in the 1890s,” he said.

“From 1903, the North Ipswich Workshops became the birthplace of some of Queensland’s most iconic steam locomotives, including the C16, B17, C18, C17, B18¼, C19 class and the final class DD17s in 1952.  

“A constant hive of activity, the workshops were responsible for the design and construction of various steam locomotive classes and, supporting a workforce of around 3500 people, were the largest employer in the Ipswich area.

“It’s hard to imagine now, but back then commuters would line up at their local train station platforms, waiting to board steam train services to go about their days, with wooden carriages, open windows, soot, cinders, and doors that used to swell in the humid Brisbane summers.

“Following the introduction of the first diesel electric locomotive in 1952, the 1960s saw the phasing out of steam trains right across Queensland, in favour of the more efficient and easier to maintain modern trains.

“On Saturday, 29 November 1969, excited locals and railway enthusiasts made a pilgrimage to Ipswich station to farewell Southern Queensland’s last steam train, hauled by C17 No. 917, in its final steam hauled 163-kilometre journey to Yarraman on the Brisbane Valley line.

“Further north, the sugar season of 1969 marked the final use of steam in the Mackay district.

“Finally, on 21 December 1969, Queensland’s last official steam trains ran from Mackay to Outer Harbour with more than 2000 excited ticket holders onboard, farewelling the steam era in Queensland.”

The phasing out of Queensland’s first fleet of electric trains is now underway.

“Today, 40 years after revolutionising rail travel in Brisbane, we’ve begun to progressively retire Queensland’s first fleet of electric trains, the Electric Multiple Unit (EMU) fleet, while ensuring that the legacy in Queensland’s rail history is preserved for future generations, just as the steam trains were,” Mr Hallam said.

While the steam era is over, rail and history enthusiasts can catch a glimpse of original steam trains in action as part of Queensland Pioneer Steam Railway’s Steam Train Sundays.

Head to http://www.qpsr.org/ for schedules and to keep up to date with all the latest steam train news.