Friday, 23 September 2016

Roma Street: Perestroika on Platform One

Roma Street Station in Brisbane has always been a bit of an enigma to me. For a key railway station that is supposed to be a culturally significant landmark location for catching a train in Queensland, it just comes across as a bit 'blah'. Not only is the modern day version overshadowed by the foreboding Brisbane Transit Centre, but in the wake of Brisbane hosting the political G20 Summit in 2014, security around the station has evolved into something of a regimented Communist exercise that borders on perestroika.

Roma Street Station as I photographed it in 2004 when construction of the parklands had just begun.

But it wasn't always that way. So first, let me paint you a picture of what Roma Street Station was once like. Long after the rail freight yards were relocated to Acacia Ridge inter-modal terminal in the south west of the city, plans were drawn up for what is today the Roma Street Parklands. As you can see in the above photograph taken back in 2004, work was progressing on the new Platform 10 structure which is today flanked by a wall of residential buildings to the right of picture. Today, platform 10 is the arrival and departure point for Queensland Rail's long distance passenger trains, the Spirit of the Outback to Longreach, the Spirit of Queensland Tilt Train to Cairns, and both the Rockhampton and Bundaberg Tilt Trains. However, if the Roma Street Parkland project was supposed to give the railway station a much needed face lift, it didn't. Dividing the railway station from the parkland with a wall of apartment buildings has only confined the station to a string of covered platforms located somewhere 'out the back' of everything. There is no integration between the two and the parkland is almost impossible to find when stepping from the train.

The Indian Pacific on a promotional trip to Brisbane in 2004.
Worse still is what has become of Roma Street's platform one. When the standard gauge line from Sydney was first extended across the Merivale Bridge in 1986, the Brisbane Transit Centre opened soon after on the southern side of the station.

The Sydney XPT ready for its morning departure from Roma Street's platform 1 in 2007.

What was supposed to be a fully integrated bus and train terminal soon resembled an archaic concrete parking lot with the iconic platform 1 buried beneath an unimaginative tomb of concrete support posts for the bus station above. The photo at the top of this post shows me standing beside the 'tail end' of the Sydney XPT beneath the bus terminal, while above you can see the front of the train standing alongside platform 1.

I arrived at Roma Street Station from the Sunshine Coast in 2016 on the former ICE train that once ran between Brisbane and Rockhampton. It has now been relegated to running the Gympie North service.

Visit Roma Street Station today, and you will discover there is no platform 1. In its place is the Northern Busway, built to link the Brisbane City bus station beneath the Queens Street Mall with the Northern Suburbs via a dedicated bus-only roadway. The XPT now uses the dual gauge line that serves platform 2. Upstairs in the Brisbane Transit Centre, very little has changed since its opening in 1986. World Expo 88 may have come and gone, but the transit centre still has the same disjointed connection between trains on the ground level, buses on the upper level and a few fast food outlets caught somewhere in-between. I've caught both trains and buses from the Brisbane Transit Centre in the past, and compared to most domestic airports in the country, the transit centre is sadly outdated and a little dingy on the inside. Most commuters to Roma Street however, simply use the underground concourse to access the platforms, but fortunately on platform 4 you can still see a slice of what Roma Street Station was once like.

Roma Street Station's original 1874 brick building on platform 3 as photographed in 2016.

The original station building is Brisbane's oldest, and dates back to 1874. The building faces platform 3 and when I last visited in 2016 was closed to the public for renovation. But for a station that is now overshadowed by progress on either side, it is nice to know that there is still a bit of history to be found that has not been swept aside. Without the historic station building on platform 3, Roma Street might well be no different to the archaic transit centre that stands above it, a replica of a Cold War utilitarian building that is designed more to withstand the elements, than to welcome its travelers.

A Queensland Rail SMU220 set photographed at Roma Street in 2016.

And perhaps that's where my stoic 1980's description of Roma Street Station meets the meaning of the word perestroika. Taking out my camera to photograph some trains at Roma Street Station in 2016 is a completely different to my past experiences, and I'm suddenly interrupted by a female Transit Officer who asks me to put my camera away. Apparently I was being monitored from upstairs and she was there to inform me as to why security cannot allow someone to photograph the surrounding infrastructure.

In the next 60 seconds I'm also given an explanation as to why there are no rubbish bins on any of the platforms or within the station concourse. They are all new rules introduced at the time of the G20 Summit two years earlier, supposedly to keep the traveling public safe. Her open policy explanation all sounds very Mikhail Gorbachev to me, and for a second I'm wondering if perhaps Vladimir Putin had caught a train to Roma Street while the G20 was being held in Brisbane. Of course he didn't. The visiting world leaders were too busy being privately chauffeured around the city, or catching helicopters to and from the airport to be bothered boarding a train. It's all just a reminder of the world we live in.

That's me at Roma Street beside the Carnival of Flowers express to Toowoomba in September 2014.

It seems the only time taking photographs of trains at Roma Street Station is viewed as acceptable, is when there is a steam train tour, such as the one above. In a flashback to happier days, (ironically in September 2014, 2 months prior to all the perestroika associated with the G20 Summit was introduced), I was able to freely shoot some early morning photos at Roma Street Station before boarding the Carnival of Flowers Express to Toowoomba. So when compiling the images I used in my book 30 Years Chasing Trains, I wisely steered clear of using any photo that dared show a piece of the station's infrastructure.

For an author, train enthusiast and railway photographer for the past 30 years, it has all got a little too complicated for my liking. These days when passing through Roma Street Station on the way to a Broncos game at nearby Suncorp Stadium, I don't so much as take my iPhone out of my pocket. Perhaps in years from now there will be no photos of what Roma Street Station looked like in the year 2020. Maybe that's just a bit of my own paranoia, but it certainly is a part of the enigma that is Roma Street Station. It's like a little bit of Russia Down Under, only don't send a postcard.

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Monday, 19 September 2016

Korumburra: South Gippsland steam memories

Korumburra is a former railway town nestled in the green rolling hills of South Gippsland in Victoria's south east. The railway station which is perched high on a hill overlooking the town of 4,400 people, first opened 116 km from Melbourne's Flinders Street Station in June 1891. The stately red brick and terracotta roofed station building that still stands at the top of town dates back to 1907, and is one of the rare examples of a Queen Anne styled station building built for the Victorian Railways. Yet back in 1990 when I was at Korumburra to photograph steam locomotive K153 celebrating her 50th Birthday, I had absolutely no idea that less than 6 months later I would move away from South Gippsland, or that only 3 years later passenger trains on the South Gippsland Line would become a thing of the past.

I captured K153 departing Korumburra Station in 1990.

If watching a steam train excursion pull away is something that evokes nostalgic longings for the past, then you can only imagine what it must have been like for locals when the final V/Line passenger service from Leongatha passed through Korumbura on Saturday 24th July, 1993. When freight services to the Australian Glass Manufacturing's Koala Siding near Nyora ceased in January 1998, it brought to an end more than 100 years of government service on the line. Despite usage of the line between Nyora and Leongatha having been transferred to the South Gippsland Tourist Railway in 1994, it too would cease operating some 23 years later in January 2016. Today, Korumburra Railway Station lies silent on the former South Gippsland Line.

T352 and T376 at the head of the Barry Beach freight train in Korumburra yard. Photo 1990.

Korumburra was also the starting point for the weekly freight service to Barry Beach, conveying fuel tankers to the Bass Strait oil rig service facility in Corner Inlet. While doing work experience as a high school student with V/Line in 1989, I was lucky enough to have got to travel in the cab of a T class locomotive on the Barry Beach freight between Leongatha and Korumburra. Later in that same week, I was able to ride in the cab of a P class locomotive from Leongatha to Melbourne and back on the midday Leongatha Passenger. If I wasn't already crazy about trains as a teenager, I was certainly obsessed with them from that moment on. Unfortunately my childhood dream of growing up to become a train driver, also happened to coincide with enforced redundancies and the closure of many country branch lines throughout Victoria. So as I prepared to leave high school, the thought of joining the railways just didn't seem like it would lead to a secure line of employment. Perhaps it was the right call after all.

Korumburra Railway Station, as I photographed it in 1990.

Today, despite decades of broken election promises from politicians, the South & West Gippsland Transport group continue to push for the reopening of the South Gippsland Line and reintroduction of passenger trains to Leongatha on their Facebook page. With passenger trains having already once come back from the dead in 1984 after briefly being cancelled in 1981, it remains to be seen if future generations will once more be able to board a train for Melbourne at Korumburra Station.

Thankfully I have the above photos from that one magical day in 1990 to look back on and recall my time fondly of living in South Gippsland. Together they form just a small part of the story in my book 30 Years Chasing Trains, but one that left a big impression in the mind of a young train enthusiast. Even now, I can still recall sounding the horn on a P class diesel as we raced against the setting sun on the evening train to Leongatha, and the moment that K153 let rip with an almighty whistle as she steamed out of Korumburra Railway Station. They're both memories that are etched in my mind forever, and images that I am pleased to include in my book.

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See also; Foster: Victoria's South Gippsland Line and Flinders Street: Melbourne's grand old station

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Foster: Victoria's South Gippsland Line

Foster is a small country town with a population just a little over 1,000 people located in the south east of Victoria. If you'd never heard of the place before, then don't worry, neither had I until my parents told me we were moving to Foster late in 1986. For a young railway enthusiast of just 14 years of age growing up north of Sydney in the Gosford suburb of Point Clare, leaving our home close to the busy NSW Main North Line to move to Foster was the equivalent of moving to a railway Siberia. As it turned out, I arrived in time to witness the final years of operation on the South Gippsland Line east of Leongatha.

The once-weekly Barry Beach oil train passing through Foster in 1989.

Foster Railway Station stood 174 km north east of Melbourne's Flinders Street Station and first opened in 1892. The Great Southern Railway as it was once known continued east in 1921 to Yarram, a total distance of 220 km from Flinders Street Station, and from 1923 to 1953 included a 39 km branch line linking Yarram with the towns of Port Albert and Woodside. Passenger services through Foster had already been discontinued in June 1981, so by October 1987 when the line to Yarram was closed beyond Welshpool, only a sporadic weekly freight train remained, hauling superphosphate to various locations east of Leongatha, and oil tankers to Barry Beach to service the oil rigs in Bass Strait.

The Barry Beach oil train with empty VTQY wagons passing through Foster in 1989.

For a budding train photographer, my four years spent living in Foster were hardly a railway enthusiast's delight. Still too young to hold a license, my train watching days were confined to wherever my bike would take me. Often while on school holidays, I would hear a distant locomotive horn early on a Wednesday morning, and know that I had just enough time to cycle the 2 miles out of town to where the railway station once stood to watch the weekly freight train pass through.

Foster's railway station platform was already disappearing when I photographed it in 1989.

Sometime between 1986 and 1987, Foster's railway station building was removed and the platform reduced to an overgrown motley collection of shrubbery trying desperately to hide the fact that a railway station once stood there at all. In the above photo taken in 1989, you can still make out the track arrangement in the goods yard and the track leading to the turntable that I've shown at the top of this post. Foster once had a goods shed and a 4 track yard, 1 track for the platform road, 1 used as a passing loop and the other 2 for handing freight wagons. By 1989, the passing loop had been removed, and by 1991 the other 2 tracks were cut back to the double slip point on the turntable approach. I still remember the sight and sound of the last steam train to Yarram passing through Foster on Saturday 24th October 1987. Although I only found out about it at the last minute and as was the custom in a small country town on a Saturday morning, all the shops shut at 12 midday so I was unable to buy any film for my camera.

Taken in 1989, the old water tower was still used for steam excursions on the line.

My time in Foster was cruel like that. Although to be perfectly honest, my 4 years living there gave me a new found appreciation for Australia's disappearing railway scene. It seems we were all at one time guilty of complaining about travelling by train in draughty red carriages, that we never stopped to pay attention to something as utilitarian as a worn-out weatherboard railway station and a rusting water tank until it was gone.

This up home semaphore signal guarded the approach to Foster Station. Photo 1989.

While in Foster, I worked at the local Murray-Goulburn farm and hardware supply store directly across the road from the railway station. The building was at one-time the local Foster Butter Factory, no doubt built to be in close proximity to the railway line. Wednesdays were my favourite days to be rostered on during school holidays, as I'd see the Barry Beach oil train pass by anywhere between 7.30 am and 9.00 am, then a couple of hours later it would pass by once more, hauling empty VTQY or VTQF distillate wagons back to Korrumburra. Sometimes the locos would run light engine one way to collect the empty fuel wagons, sometimes it would be the other way around. Usually the train would also attach any empty superphosphate wagons at Fish Creek and Buffalo on the return trip to Korrumburra. On the rare occasion, this would be done on the way to the Barry Beach marine terminal, providing the rare sight of a mixed freight train running through Foster.

The final July 1980 Melbourne - Yarram train timetable. A year later passenger services ceased beyond Leongatha.

Thumbing through my collection of old Victorian Railways timetables, I came across the above train timetable for passenger services on the South Gippsland Line to Leongatha and Yarram. The July 1980 timetable would be the final train timetable for passenger services beyond Leongatha, and all of the railway stations shown on this timetable were closed less than a year later on 6th June 1981. While the 1964-65 timetable shown below, includes stops for long forgotten stations between Leongatha and Yarram such as Koonwarra, Tarwin, Stony Creek, Bennison, Hedley and Gelliondale, all of which were believed to have closed by 31 July 1976.

This timetable scan is also from my collection, showing 1964-65 Yarram train services.

This 1964-64 VR railway timetable shows long forgotten stations on the South Gippsland Line.

It was a far cry from the days when a daily mixed local train ran between Melbourne and Yarram however, and to have lived in Foster at a time when R class steam locomotives were being turned on the turntable would have been something else. But sometimes those are the cards that life deals you, and my time in Foster was that of a high school student writing letters to the editor of the local newspaper imploring the government to reinstate passenger trains on the line east of Leongatha. Thankfully the local Foster Mirror indulged me with my passion. Fortunately that passion didn't die away with the slow death of the line beyond Leongatha. By the time I got my drivers license in 1990, I finally got to experience bouncing across the level crossing in my car. By January 1991 I had bounced my way out of town altogether.

The trestle bridge across Stockyard Creek in Foster is one of the few reminders of Foster's railway past. Photo taken 1991.

The line east of Leongatha was finally closed on 30th June 1992 and the rails between Leongatha and Welshpool were sadly ripped up. The following year on 24th July 1993, the remaining section of the South Gippsland Line east of the Melbourne suburb of Cranbourne also closed, bringing to an end just over a century of railway history. Fortunately, the corridor of track east of Leongatha was converted into The Great Southern Rail Trail, and today it is possible to bike or hike the rail trail through Foster along the 73 km former railway line as far as Port Welshpool. There are many books and other resources available online through the Rail Trails website, and thanks to the internet I've been able to discover some amazing collections of railway photos such as the South & West Gippsland Transport Group's Facebook page featuring vintage 1970's photos of trains passing through Foster and the Hoddle Range.

Yet for all the cruel luck I seemed to encounter when trying to photograph trains during the four years I lived in Foster, I was able to include two scenes of Foster, (and many more of the South Gippsland Line) in my book 30 Years Chasing Trains. Published as a photographic memoir of a train chaser, Foster became my catalyst to better myself as a both a writer and railway photographer. By the time I'd left town, I had won the Foster & District High School's Writing Workshop Award twice, bothered the local newspaper with numerous Letters to the Editor and even won my local High School's Senior Sportsman of the Year Award, (probably on account of my fitness from cycling two miles at record speed in an attempt to see the weekly train pass through town), all because of trains. Perhaps more strangely however, Foster also became the place where I would meet my wife of almost 24 years, and Denise is still at my side today whenever I set off on another railway adventure. So with only four more Railway Reminiscing blog posts to follow, I couldn't help but share what in reality was a rather unexciting rail tale of a railway line that once went to a quiet, unassuming location in South Gippsland. A tiny place that actually turned out to be a huge turning point in my life. A little place called Foster.

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See also; Flinders Street: Melbourne's grand old station