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The Normanton Railway Terminus (Queensland's Gulf Country, Australia)

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posted by Buddy Patrick alias Buddy Patrick on Monday 7th of November 2016 10:31:13 PM

The Normanton Railway Terminus: The railway complex at Normanton consists of the major buildings of an important inland railway terminus connecting this port with the goldfield at Croydon. A railway line between Normanton and Cloncurry had been discussed as early as 1883 and was approved by Parliament in 1886. This was a difficult stretch for carriers and a rail link would have been valuable to pastoral stations in the area and would also have served the Cloncurry Copper Mine. It was at the time intended to eventually link the new line with the Great Northern Railway connecting Charters Towers and the important port of Townsville. However, in November 1885 a major gold strike was reported at Belmore Station, 145 km east of Normanton and by the end of 1886 the population of the Croydon field was 2000 and 6000 in the following year. Transportation was a major problem and access to this field became more important than the link to Cloncurry. It was decided to divert the line to Croydon. Tenders were called in July 1887 and the first section to Haydon began in May 1888. The work was designed and supervised by George Phillips and this section opened on 7 May 1889. The current route of the line was finalised in 1889 and reached Croydon on 7 July 1891, opening on the 20 July. In 1867 Phillips had taken part in the exploration of the country around Normanton with William Landsborough, working for him a surveyor. Soon afterwards, he surveyed the area chosen as a port to become the town of Normanton. The country was difficult for conventional railway tracks due to flooding, lack of suitable timber and voracious termites. In 1884 Phillips patented a system for taking railways across such country which utilised special U section steel sleepers laid directly on the ground. During floods the line could be submerged without washing out the ballast and embankments normally used, so that it could quickly be put back into service when the waters subsided. The steel sleepers were also impervious to termite attack, and although initially more expensive than timber sleepers, were cheaper to lay and maintain. It was this system that was specified for the Normanton to Croydon line and Phillips was engaged to supervise the construction. After the railway was completed he maintained an interest in the area, serving as MLA for Carpentaria, inspecting artesian bores and writing a report on ports and railways in 1909. The station building and carriage shade were designed under Phillips direction by James Gartside, a draftsman for the department. and were built about 1889. The line was opened in 1891. At its peak, the complex at Normanton consisted of a station building containing a telegraph office, station master's and traffic manager's offices, clerks' room, waiting room, parcels and cloak room, booking office, and a ladies' room with a ramp to ladies-only earth closets. Attached to the station building, and sheltering the platform and three tracks, was an arcaded carriage shade with a curved roof . The terminus also had a large goods shed with a crane and because the line was isolated, a workshop area comprising a maintenance store, suspense stores, a timber shed, tanks, locomotive store, fitting shop, carpenter's and blacksmith's shops, timber shed, gantry and engine shed.. There was also a horse and carriage dock, porters' and lamp rooms, closets, and a tool house nearby. Residences for the station master, enginemen and guard were located south-east of Landsborough St. The traffic manager's house and stables adjoined where the wharf line departed for the Margaret and Jane landing on the Norman River. The goldfield at Croydon did not sustain its initial success. By the early 1900s its output had dropped considerably and after WWI when widespread mining diminished, it was obvious that the field would not recover. Traffic on the line was never high and steadily declined, although its value as a community service and a vital link during the wet season kept the line open. This was because the Phillips system worked well and the track could be put back into use almost immediately after flooding, whereas roads stayed impassable for much longer. Fortunately, the track took less maintenance than standard track because in the early 1920s the number of services and staff were considerably reduced. In the 1930s, all weather roads made the railway less important, but until the late 1960s the rail remained a vital transport link in the area. The terminus now functions largely as a tourist attraction. One railmotor was restored and named the 'Gulflander' in 1978. Although the line initially used steam locomotives, supplying enough suitable water for them locomotives was a problem from the beginning on this line and trains eventually carried water trucks. Railmotors were also more economical to run, so in 1922 the first railmotor, a Panhard, was tried on this route. In 1929 steam locomotives were discontinued and railmotors only were used. Diesel locomotives supplemented these in the 1980s. Some of the working buildings at the terminus deteriorated and were removed including the workshops, carpenters and blacksmiths, though the sites can be still plainly seen. The Normanton to Croydon Railway Line: The railway line linking Normanton to Croydon was built between 1888 and 1891 and is the last isolated line of Queensland Rail still in use. It utilised an innovative system of submersible track with patented steel sleepers and retains buildings of considerable architectural and technical interest at its terminus in Normanton. In 1867 William Landsborough investigated the Norman River area to select a port site to serve the pastoral stations south of the Gulf of Carpentaria. With him was George Phillips who shortly thereafter surveyed the chosen site of Normanton. Phillips later supervised the construction of the Normanton to Croydon Railway, and retained an interest in the area, serving as MLA for Carpentaria in the 1890s. A railway line between Normanton and Cloncurry had been discussed as early as 1883 and was approved by Parliament in 1886. This was a difficult stretch for carriers and a rail link would have been valuable to pastoral stations in the area and was planned to serve the Cloncurry Copper Mine. It was at the time intended to eventually link the new line with the Great Northern Railway connecting Charters Towers and the important port of Townsville. However, in November 1885 a major gold strike was reported at Belmore Station, 145 km east of Normanton and by the end of 1886 the population of the Croydon field was 2000, rising to 6000 in the following year. Transportation was a major problem and access to this field became more important than the link to Cloncurry. It was decided to divert the line to Croydon. The line was technically innovative, in response to the terrain and conditions. The country was flat but difficult for conventional railway tracks due to flooding, lack of suitable timber for sleepers and termite attack. In 1884 Phillips patented a system for taking railways across such country which utilised special U section steel sleepers laid directly on the ground. During floods the line could be submerged without washing out the ballast and embankments normally used, so that it could quickly be put back into service when the waters subsided. The steel sleepers were also impervious to termite attack, and although initially more expensive than timber sleepers, were cheaper to lay and maintain. The bridges along the line were also designed to be submersible. This system was particularly suited to the Gulf country and was specified for the Normanton to Croydon line with Phillips engaged to supervise the construction. Tenders were called in July 1887 and the first section to Haydon began in May 1888. The first line laid was between the Normanton station site and the Margaret and Jane landing at Normanton wharf in order to bring materials from ships to the terminal site. This line has not survived. Some problems were encountered with constructing the line because of the difficulty of maintaining a constant and adequate supply of Phillips sleepers. They were cast at the Toowoomba Foundry at Woolloongabba in Brisbane and also in Glasgow, but in order to keep construction going, timber sleepers were used on some sections and timber was also used for some bridges, originally designed to be made of steel. The construction method involved clearing a three metre wide band ahead of the rail which was stumped, ploughed, harrowed, rolled and lightly ballasted. The U shaped sleepers were then laid on this prepared surface and the rail attached to them by special clips. The construction train then passed over them forcing the U shape down into the ground and depressing the sleepers for above half their depth. Soft spots were then packed. The finished rails were intended to be 25 to 50 mm above the surface. However, in practice the sleepers became more deeply embedded with time. The first section of 61km to Haydon was opened in May 1889, then to Patterson's (Blackbull) in December 1890, and to Croydon in July 1891. The buildings for the terminus at Normanton consisted of a station with a large arched carriage shade and a goods shed, all constructed of corrugated iron on timber frames, although the framework for the station building was used to considerable decorative effect. Because the line was isolated, a range of maintenance buildings and facilities such as machine shops, blacksmith and carpenters shops were added over the next few years. At the other end of the line, Croydon had more modest goods and locomotive sheds and a station with a roofed section over 2 tracks. In 1895, a railway water reserve was proclaimed on the flooded Bird-in-the-Bush shaft on True Blue Hill at Croydon. Most of the timber sleepers on the line were soon replaced because of termite damage, although one section over salt pan used timber rather than metal to prevent corrosion. A number of low level bridges form an important part of this line and were also intended to be metal. In 1900 two bridges at Glenore Crossing which had been built in timber in 1890 were replaced by low level concrete and steel bridges. That at Glenore Crossing number 3 reused fishbelly plate girders from the original 1876 Albert Bridge in Brisbane as main spans. Original metal and concrete bridges survive and those at 80 Mile Creek and Belmore Creek at Croydon are good examples of their type. Initially the line carried perishables, mail and passengers, and goods like building materials and merchandise. It also ferried firewood for mine boilers and batteries as the land was progressively cleared. During the late 1890s special trains were run for picnics at most of the water holes along the line, particularly the Blackbull lagoon and weekend excursions from Normanton to Croydon or Golden Gate. The Golden Gate mine, some 4 miles west of Croydon and on the railway line, was first mined in 1887. It enjoyed prosperity from about 1895 to 1901, and the Golden Gate township itself had 1500 inhabitants. A service between Croydon and Golden Gate on the weekends was introduced in 1902. However, the goldfield at Croydon did not sustain its initial success. By the early 1900s its output had dropped considerably and after WWI when widespread mining diminished, it was obvious that the field would not recover. The railway had only run at a profit between 1898 and 1902 and traffic, never high, steadily declined. The line stayed open as a community service and as a vital link during the wet season. This was largely because the Phillips system worked well and the track could be put back into use almost immediately after flooding, whereas roads stayed impassable for much longer. Fortunately, the track took less maintenance than standard track because in the early 1920s the number of staff was considerably reduced. To cut costs, and because the supply of suitable water had always been a problem, the first railmotor, a Panhard, was introduced in 1922. By 1929 steam trains had been completely phased out. In the 1930s, all-weather roads made the railway less important, but until the late 1960s the rail remained a vital transport link in the area. The terminus now functions largely as a tourist attraction. One railmotor was restored and named the 'Gulflander' in 1978 and a railmotor now makes a weekly trip hauling carriages and a flat top wagon for passengers' cars. In the wet season it also carries freight when the roads are cut. Stops are at Clarina (11 miles), Glenore (14m), Haydon (40m), RM Stop No1 (49m), Blackbull (56m), and on to Croydon (94m). There is often also a photo stop at the remains of the Golden Gate mine (92m). Not all of the buildings have survived; the station at Croydon being destroyed by a storm in 1969. The tank there was demolished in 1972, that at Haydon in 1980, and the blacksmiths shop and workshops in Normanton were sold and demolished in 1980. Source: Queensland Heritage Register.



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