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The Q150 Steam Train

The State of Queensland was gazetted in 1859 by Queen Victoria (hence Queensland) and 2009 is the 150th anniversary of the event.  Numerous celebrations were held around the state, all relatively low key, but still, at least it was recognised.  One of the key events in all the celebrations was the Q150 Steam Train, where Queensland Rail's heritage fleet hauled a train around the state, travelling north up to Cairns and up the famous Kuranda Range, plus north west to Mt Isa and south west to Charleville and Quilpie, and finally as far south as possible to Wallangarra.  The train was predominantly hauled by BB18 1/4 Pacifics 1079 and 1089, plus AC16 221A also assisted here and there, and the recently restored English Electric diesel No. 1620 also deputised when steam couldn't make it.

I had organised a few trips on the train at various locations, and also wanted to do some lineside recordings, and fortunately managed to get most of what I wanted.  It did all nearly end in disaster though, at least for me, as the very first trip I was booked on was a segment of the run to Mt Isa, from Townsville to Charters Towers.  Unfortunately for me (and my fellow travellers), the steam loco failed that morning with a blow down valve refusing to close, so we had the 1620 instead.  Oh well, such is the luck of sound recordists!

The recordings here were made mostly of the run from Townsville to Cairns, and again from Brisbane to Toowoomba and Warwick to Wallangarra and back to Ipswich.  All in all, they were a great series of trips, well run by QR's Heritage Volunteers, and with the motive power ably looked after by Brian O'Sullivan and his team of steam qualified drivers, fireman and fitters.  Brian's team is very dedicated, often working above and beyond the call of duty to make sure successful trips were had.  We are very fortunate to have such a group of guys who are committed to their work, and don't just see it as another "job", so thanks guys, and all those who made the Q150 Steam Train such an enjoyable time. 
As noted above, my first attempt to ride the Q150 train two weeks before ended it dismal failure, as after travelling 1400km north to Townsville especially to ride the train to Charters Towers up through the Mingella Range, the steam loco failed on lighting up and we ended up with a diesel.  I wasn't about to be caught again, so this time decided to motorcade the next leg of its trip north from Townsvilee to Cairns and Mareeba.  The line north from Townsville is relatively flat, with only a couple of grades of any consequence and even these are fairly short.  This meant that recordings had to be made wherever there was a chance to get near one of these grades, and to hell with the consequences!  Here, we are set up beside busy Ingham Rd just outside the Townsville CBD.  Fortunately, we had steam and 1089 is heard climbing up out of the station and heading north towards Cairns.  24 June 2009.

                      (Click on the icon to listen  128kbs stereo 984kB 1 min 02 secs)
The railway north from Townsville parallels the main Bruce Highway for the majority of its length to Cairns.  Unfortunately from a recording point of view, that means potential sound interference from road traffic.  As noted in the previous track, opportunities for recording the train working were rare, but here at Toomulla, we were away from the highway a little.  The Q150 train was a good opportunity for locals to experience steam, and at lots of places along the trip, people came out to see their loved ones on the train or simply just to watch it.  Here, we can hear an excited family as they wait for their father to come past on the train as it heads north, lending a bit of excitement to the whole journey as 1089 slowly comes out through the trailable facing points of the loop and steams nortward..  24 June 2009

                      (Click on the icon to listen  128kbs stereo 1.1 MB 1 min 14 secs)
North of Ingham is the Cardwell Range, which, while sounding promising for some good noise, is nothing of the sort as the railway skirts around it on a relatively level grade.  Just a few miles north though is a nice bit of 1:50 grade, and after managing to find a reasonable spot somewhat away from the Bruce Highway, this recording of 1089 racing north with the Q150 train was made.  24 June 2009

                      (Click on the icon to listen  128kbs stereo 1.5MB 1 min 40 secs)
North Queensland is epitomised by a few things, with sugar cane and mangoes just a couple of the elements that make you know you are in the tropics.  Here, near Kennedy, we are set up next to a big sugar cane plantation, just across from a huge mango tree.  To give some credibility to this picture, this recording opens with the sound of a local farmer going over his occupier level crossing and heading to the fields to do some more work.  It was the start of the 2009 crush, so there must have been heaps to do around the farm.  Just a short time later, 1089 races past with the Q150 train heading north to Tully and onto Innisfail for the night.  24 June 2009

                      (Click on the icon to listen  128kbs stereo 2.9MB 3 min 3 secs)

Well after studying the grade diagrams all the way between Townsville and Innisfail, one spot looked promising.  This was at a place where the sugar cane tramway crossed over the main line just north of a small locality called Djarawong.  Now, this actually proved to be a bit of a triumph of technology getting to this spot, as with Google Maps Street View, I actually travelled along the road on my laptop hunting for suitable locations on the grade and found a nice clearing just near the cane tramway bridge.  Plugging this into my iPhone's Google Map application meant it was one of the few times on the whole day's outing where my planning actually worked, and the spot was reasonable.  I knew this was at the top of the grade, so figured I wouldn't get much sound carrying back.  I set up and hoped that everything worked, as this was one of the very few decent grades.  The sulphur crested cockatoos didn't seem to want me there, or at least they thought the microphone wind shield was some new carnivorous marsupial, but they were a ways off and the only thing that interrupted the recording was a local driving past with his trailer, bouncing over the tramway crossing as we start to hear 1089.  The engine is being worked reasonably hard and makes a fine even beat as she races up the hill.  The top of the grade is very evident, as, in typical QR fashion, the loco is shut off just after it is crested.  All in all, not the most fabulous of recordings, but given the slim pickings available on the North Coast Line, beggars can't be choosers!  24 June 2009

                     (Click on the icon to listen  128kbs stereo 1.6MB 1 min 42 secs)
Sector 6 of the Q150 Steam Train was to travel the lines of the South West parts of the state.  American mikado AC16 221A was the motive power from Toowoomba west to Quilpie, and pacific BB18 1/4 1089 was slated to do the Southern section from Toowoomba to Wallangarra.  Obviously, both locos had to get to Toowoomba, so why not double head them from Brisbane!  We have had a fast run out through the suburbs and have arrived at Grandchester, ready to tackle the Little Liverpool range.  The end platforms of the clerestory roofed cars were all full of happy travellers and with the official Q150 staff and volunteers joining in, there is a fair bit of discussion as we move off.  Soon though, the sounds of two locos plying their trade up the hill captivate the passengers and we hear the sounds of the double header making good work of the run to Victoria Tunnel and onwards to Toowoomba.  This recording is of the full climb of the Little Liverpool, from Grandchester to the crest at Victoria Tunnel.  Monday 17 August 2009  (Photo courtesy of my good friend Terry Olsson)

                     (Click on the icon to listen  128kbs stereo 14.3 MB 15 min 17 secs)

The highlight of any run to Toowoomba is the climb up the Main Range, the eastern side of the Great Dividing Range that runs all the way from the northeastern tip of Queensland through to Victoria, some 3500km in length.  The climb begins in earnest at Murphy's Creek, however the train was being chased by a helicopter that was filming segments for an upcoming documentary.  Fortunately, we were held at Holmes for a cross with an export coal train coming down the hill.  I say fortunately, because the cross meant that time ran out for the helicopter and it departed, leaving us to climb the rest of the way in peace!  Now Holmes is on one of the steepest parts of the climb, so the start was going to be challenging, however with two engines up the front, and one of them a fine Baldwin product, they just got stuck into it.  The AC16 is a loud engine at the best of times, but with a batch of poor coal on the BB18 1/4, it wasn't steaming all that well, so the yank takes on the brunt of the load (with accompanying suitable noise).  Monday 17 August 2009

                     (Click on the icon to listen  128kbs stereo 7.1MB 7 min 36 secs)

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The last part of Sector 6 of the Q150 Steam Train ran from Toowoomba to Wallangarra (on the Queensland/New South Wales border) and then all the way back to Ipswich Workshops Railway Museum.  We joined the train at Warwick, and like nearly every stop on its travels, there was always some pomp and circumstance on its arrival.  Warwick was no exception, and we hear the train arriving amongst school bands and excited children, with the driver joining in on the whistle.  Friday 28 August 2009

                     (Click on the icon to listen  - 1.2MB 128kbps 1m 16s)
Soon after leaving Warwick, the Southern line climbs the tortuous Silverwood Range.  This section, from Warwick, through Silverwood, Cherry Gully and Dalveen, reaches the summit of the climb at, well, The Summit (must have taken ages to come up with that name...).  We join the train just about three quarters of the way through the climb, just before the second tunnel on the range.  Standing on the front platform just behind the water wagon (thanks heaps gents!), we listen to our engine, specifically designed to handle this climb, work steadily upgrade.  The line's gradient eases in several places, and with a 30 km/h speed board over most of the range, BB18 1/4 1089 is never allowed to accelerate in order to attack the grade.  It means a long slog up the hill, and no chance to build up speed, but that also means for better noise when the grade steepens.  We hear the train protesting as the wheels bite into the tight curves with only the very occasional whistle to a farmer sitting on his four wheel drive observing the show, or one of the few spots where motorcaders can access the line.  While not spectacular by any means, this climb shows the effortless nature of the BB18's handling of the train, very similar in size to 26 Up and 37 Down, the former Wallangarra Mail, which was once the train that these locos were most associated with.  Friday 28 August 2009

                     (Click on the icon to listen  - 4.6MB 128kbps 4m 52s)
This recording should really be called the Phoenix recording.  Why?  Well, you see, I bought this brand new digital audio recorder only a couple of weeks before, specifically for this trip, and, well, I ahhh, dropped it.  Not just dropped it on the station, or on the ground, but from a moving train.  All I can say is thank goodness for technology, since as it happened, I marked the spot using the GPS on the iPhone, and after arriving at Wallangarra, I was fortunate that Greg Hallam, QR's official historian, was able to take me back up the line to the spot where it happened.  I was expecting to pick up bits of plastic, that's if we were even able to find it, but lo and behold, on getting out of the car where the GPS said, we walked about 50 feet and there it was.  Surprisingly, still in sort of one piece (the battery holder had come out), and after putting the batteries back in, even more surprisingly, it still worked.  The first recording I then made out of Wallangarra heading back home was this one, and it was quite fortuitous too, as Fletcher was the site of a spectacular recording of BB18 1/4 1043 on the head of the Wallangarra Mail made in the 1960's that is featured on the LP "Steam in the Sunshine State".  This time, it was a little more sedate, as the line south of Stanthorpe also had a 30 km/h speed limit over it, but that also meant no run at the grade, so we slogged up the grade through Fletcher and onwards towards Stanthorpe.  Saturday 29 August 2009

                     (Click on the icon to listen  - 10.6MB 128kbps 11m 18s)
On the run home, when leaving Stanthorpe, the line climbs up steadily to The Summit where it begins the long slow descent down the Silverwood Range back to Warwick.  1089 departs the station with only a little fuss (the official stuff was the day before) and taking it easy through the points for the station loop, we pick up a bit of speed now that we are no longer restricted to 30 km/h.  Driver Bill Boden has the Bety well in hand as we make like the mail heading up the hill.  Saturday 29th August 2009

                     (Click on the icon to listen  - 9.6MB 128kbps 10m 15s)
At the top of the climb out of Stanthorpe, we listen to our pacific crest the hill through The Summit station in style before shutting off for the coast down the range.  Saturday 29th August 2009  

                     (Click on the icon to listen  - 3.0MB 128kbps 3m 11s)

                                                 1089 at Warwick after returning from Wallangarra
The BB18 1/4 Pacifics were built both for tackling ranges and fast running, a strange combination, but one which they were eminently capable of delivering against.  The rolling plains of the southern Darling Downs were their home ground and  the last of the class, 1089, easily rolls its train along at line speed heading back towards Toowoomba on the penultimate segment of the last sector of the Q150 Steam Train celebration.  Sunday 30th August 2009

                     (Click on the icon to listen  - 1.4MB 128kbps 1m 28s)
As the Baldwin mikado 221A had taken the Q150 from Toowoomba to Quilpie and return, it needed to get home along with the pacific that had taken our train to Wallangarra and back.  What better way, than to put them both on the front of the train for the final part of the trip back to Ipswich.  We only had tickets to Helidon, at the bottom of the descent of the Main Range, so hopping back in the car, we decided to get one more recording from the lineside, this time at one of my favourite spots on the Laidley side of the Little Liverpool Range.  We didn't quite get to my usual spot, as having my wife in the car, the track we needed to go on was deemed to be a little too off road for my 2 wheel drive utility ("don't worry dear, I've driven this heaps of times"!).  We therefore are sitting at the top of a cutting, approximately 1km from the last reverse curve before Yarongmalu.  I had mentioned to Brian O'Sullivan, QR's Driver-in-charge Heritage, that we would be recording here.  I'm not sure if he remembered, but this run at the hill was spectacular regardless, and probably one of the fastest I have ever remembered.  Normally, this climb takes anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes on most of the tours I have been on or recorded, however this one was done in around 7 minutes and by the sounds of the Yank, it was doing most of the work (or it was just being noisy as usual).  The recording opens with the sounds of the locos whistling through Laidley, then we hear the locos making a run at the hill.  As the train passes, you can hear that the BB18 1/4 is working, but the AC16 soon drowns it out as they fly up the grade.  So fast are they going, that they have to shut off for the final curve but the sound of them both working the last part of the hill comes drifting back to the microphone as they climb towards Victoria Tunnel and home to Ipswich.  Sunday 30th August 2009

                     (Click on the icon to listen  - 5.8MB 128kbps 6m 12s)
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After near on 6 months of touring around the state of Queensland to celebrate 150 years since the state was gazetted by Queen Victoria, the Q150 Steam Train, ably led by AC16 221A is heard making a stately arrival into the Ipswich Workshops Railway Museum platform.  I had thought this was going to be a bit of a dud recording, but I forgot that the Yank is always good for a bit of noise, whatever the occasion!  Sunday 30th August 2009 

                     (Click on the icon to listen  - 2.7MB 128kbps 2m 54s)
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Brian at work!
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