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History of the Bowen – Collinsville Railway

Monday, April 19th, 2010

(By Miss Norma Moller)

(Prepared by Norma Moller for the Bowen Historical Society)

In 1866, Richard Daintree, geologist, inspected what came to be known as the Bowen River Coalfield. He wrote on 10th February that year to a friend who at that time was very interested in the geology of the Hunter River Coalfield, that fossil ferns he had found overlying the Bowen River field indicated that they were from the Paleozoic Age, making them similar to those of the Hunter River area.

Daintree’s report, which was dated 24th March, 1866, stated that he had seen sufficient evidence to satisfy himself that the Bowen River Coalfield is of great extent and contains numerous seams of coal whose numbers, thickness and economical value might readily be ascertained by some extended research”.

Later that same year, Daintree was appointed Government Geologist for North Queensland. In 1870, he inspected the Bowen River Coalfield very thoroughly and in 1872, he issued the first map of it. At the same time he published descriptions of coal-bearing sections along Pelican Creek and the Bowen River. Later, he published a book showing a wood engraving of a Queensland, Australia coal seam cropping out at the base of a sandstone cliff on Pelican Creek, a tributary fo the Bowen River, and this is almost certainly the first picture of the Collinsville Coalfield.

Subscription List

In 1875, the Bowen Provincial Association opened a subscription list for contributions towards the expenses of obtaining coal samples and forwarding them to England for analysis. It was hoped that successful testing there would lead to the establishment of a Coal and Railway company to secure a concession from the Queensland government and proved railway communication with the port to develop the coalfield of Bowen. There seems to have been some response almost immediately for in Parliament in 1877, a special vote was made to enable an examination of the Bowen to Bowen River area with a view to building a railway. It was found that there was two ranges to cross and, as no precise terminus was indicated by the people of Bowen calling for the railway, it was decided to make towards Bowen Downs.

Railway Survey

The Minister of Railways said in Parliament that his Commissioner had reported that he feature the mineral resources of the district anywhere within reasonable distance of the route would not warrant any costly departure. In 1878, the survey began. It was completed to 55 miles. It was discovered that there was plenty of ballast available but no bridge timber. The line was to commence near the Bowen jetty and avoid town property as much as possible. Bridges would be necessary at the Don River, Euri Creek, Bogie River and the Bowen River. The Leichhardt Range would be quite an obstacle. The surveyor suggested that the tableland could best be reached by following the Burdekin River which burst through the Leichhardt Range by an until-that-time unexplored but enormous ravine where the river descends by a series of rapids. By 30th July, 1879, plans as a result of the trial survey, Bowen to Leichhardt Range, as it was then referred to, were forwarded to the Minister for Railways.

In 1884, an exploration survey from Bowen to the coalfield at the foot of the Leichhardt Range reported that several good range crossings would be needed. It further reported that the line to the coalfield would be about 60 miles long and that parliamentary plans were being prepared for the building of the proposed railway. Mr. Ellis W. Lymburner explored the line proposed to the bowen coalfield and after finding gaps in the Leichhardt Range, proceeded to make a 40 mile trial survey. Later, in 1885 the trial survey from the 40 mile point to the 53½ point was completed and at the 53½ mile point a nine mile branch line was surveyed to the coal borings then being made at Pelican Creek.

You will notice that these far-sighted man were still intending to build their railway to Bowen Downs with only a branch line to the coal areas near the Leichhardt Range. In 1886, the Railway Department ordered from overseas 60 miles of 41¼ pound rail, so the railway was progressing quite satisfactorily. However, although Mr. Miles whom, I presume, was a spokesman for the Railway Department, had reported that borings on the Bowen coalfield had shown a six-foot seam at a depth of 71 feet, and only a wait for the result of further test bores was holding up the building of the railway, the following year the money voted for the building of the railway was diverted by the Railway Department to the Bowen to Townsville line instead. Mr. Dickson reported this fact when questioned in the Legislative Assembly on 8th November, 1887.

Nowe, in the official history of the line, nothing more is mentioned about this railway until 1922, but let us look back to the activity in the Bowen Coalfield area. In 1875 the Bowen Provincial Association opened a subscription list to raise money to pay the expenses of obtaining coal samples from the Bowen River and forwarding them to England for analysis. Later, in the same year, the Bowen River Coalfield Association was formed to investigate the field between Havilah Station and Jack’s Creek. It was hoped to form a company, the Coal and Railway Company, in England following successful testing of the samples. At the same time, samples were forwarded to Rockhampton for testing at the gas works and eighteen bags of Bowen River coal were sent to Sydney for testing there.

Jack Impressed

At the end of 1873, Robert Jack, the Government Geologist made a new report on the Bowen River Coalfield. He pointed out that the field extended from the heads of the Dawson River to the latitude of Bowen and that the formation approached the coast at the Northern end, which happend to lie conveniently near the township of Bowen and the harbour of Port Denison, and so presented itself as the place where the question of the usefulness of the store of “fossil” fuel should first be put to the test. Robert Jack was very impressed with the potential of the field and compared it to the New South Wales coal measures. Then, in 1885, the Government bores revealed the intrusion of igneous sills.

Money Diverted

A bore had been sunk by the Government at a site near Pelican Creek some 4½ miles north-easterly of Birralee Station. The Garrick seam was mat at 71 to 76 feet and two lower seams were penetrated before boring ceased in igneous rock at 390 feet. All were intruded with igneous sills. The drill then moved to a site near Havilah Station and in 1886 a bore was put down in the Upper Coal Measure. These were found to be intensely intruded with igneous sills, so the bore was completed to 340 feet. This boring was done by Mr. S. L. Hester and his gang. Hester spent almost a year on his drilling programme and was then withdrawn to Ipswich. So borings for coal at the Bowen River Coalfield were abandoned in 1886 without a definite conclusion as to the quality of the coal. Hence, money was diverted from the Bowen-Collinsville line to the Bowen-Townsville railway line.

Private Testing

Because of the disappointing results of these investigations, Government interest in the coalfield waned until 1912 when Mr. R. Dunstan, Government Geologist examined portion of the field following a request for government assistance to sink deep bores. He formed the opinion that the best way of opening the field was by private company and he recommended a subsidy for prospecting the Gerrick Seam on the banks of Pelican Creek. the Bowen River Coal Prospecting Syndicate was formed and held its first share-holders’ meeting in Bowen on 1st February, 1913. Its directors were P. E. Hodge, C. J. Marshall, J. Dinsdale, W. H. Flamstead and P. Walsh, with J. Pares as secretary. A subsidy of £300 was later paid on a pound for pound basis. Although companies were formed, samples of coal displayed and tested in both Australia and overseas, tests made at Merinda Meatworks, Pioneer Sugar Mill at Ayr, Bowen-Proserpine Tramway and a great excitement prevailed following success of these tests, there was no success in their agitation for a railway. All these samples were sent to Bowen by teams. In July, 1913, Mr. Guild, the carrier, brought 3 tons to Bowen, Mr. Lync, 7 tons; and Mr. Callaghan, 4 tons. Nine tons of this were delivered to the Merinda Meatworks, 5 tons to the Bowen-Proserpine Tramway.

Railway Need

Great excitement prevailed in the towen of Bowen. A deputation was received by Mr. W. H. Barnes, the State Treasurer, while visiting Bowen, from the Progressive League concerning the opening of a railway to the field.

For almost eighteen months little was done or reported and many people, especially business people of Bowen were worried that the earlier glowing reports of the new coalfield would wither for lack of government financial help vital to a new industry. Perhaps, too, the outbreak of the Great World War drew men’s minds to more important matters.

However, in December, 1915, Colonel Evans, Commissioner for Railways recommended to the government that a new railway be built between the Bowen River Coalfield and the port of Bowen. The Great Northern Railway at this time was using 35,200 tons of coal annually. Coal for the sugar mills, gas works, meatworks, and mines had to be imported at high cost. It was hoped that the new field at the Bowen River would not only be able to supply much cheaper coal for Northern use but would find a market for bunkers and export.

Hope Rises

In 1916, in February, Surveyor Kellar and his staff carried out yet another survey of the route and another wave of hope swept through the district, in April the Minister for Railways visited Bowen and was the recipient of many deputations for the commencement of the railway from Merinda to the coalfield.

A month later, on a visit to Bowen, the acting Premier, Mr. E. G. Theodore, accompnaied by Messrs. McCormack, Ryan, Collins, and Dr. Gibson promised a very early appropriation of the railway if at all possible. {mospagebreak}

The Line Is Built

In the same month, a parcel of 10 tons of coal was tested on the railway between Roma Street and Toowoomba with first rate results. The Queensland budget in July, 1916, included provision of funds for the construction of the railway line.

The first day of August, 1916, heralded the end of 44 years of talking, waiting and planning for the new line. Mr. Sterling, the engineer in charge, arrived in Bowen and the first labour was recruited. Some of the first appointments went to Bert Meyes as timber inspector and also in charge of bridge building and to Earnie Jewell as time keeper. The camp was setup at Euri Creek and the first sawmill was built opposite Arthur Gordon’s property at the 8-mile. Watty Callaghan became the first timber contractor, carting as well as cutting. Bill Gralton and Jack Quinn were the contractors who cut for him. Among others who cut and laid sleepers for the line as far as Binbee were Jim Ellis, Peter Fogarty, Arthur Kershaw and Arthur Burbridge. The job was not lucrative, the cost per sleeper was 4s, 3d., of which 2s, 3d. went to the carter and 2s. to the cutter. On 26th March, 1917, the Minister for Railways, the Hon. J. H. Coyne, turned the first sod of the railway at Merinda in the presence of a large crowd of Bowen residents.

Birth of Bowen Consolidated

Within a few weeks the private companies who had done such valuable early work, namely, the Brisbane-Bowen Coal Company Limited, the Towers-Bowen Coal Company Limited, the Bowen Coal and Coke Company Limited, and the Bowen Coalfield Syndicate, decided on amalgamation. The new company was called the Bowen Consolidated Coal Mines Limited with a nominal capital of 125,000 one-pound shares, including 25,000 fully paid up shares diveded between the former companies and 50,000 being offered for public subscription was formed. By 1917, a total of 30 bores had been sunk for the government boring teams. It was estimated that reserves in the Bowen area with a minumum thickness of of 13 feet were 30 million tons of available coal. The site for the State Coal Mines was selected in 1918 about one mile beyond the terminus of the surveyed railway. Abnormal rains delyed the start, but in March 1919 actual operations began. Work was directed to prived an output as soon as the railway was completed which by the end of 1919 had been constructed for a distance of 20 miles from Merinda as far as Euri Creek. Work had been delayed by a shortage of cement and a shipping strike. The line progressed but difficulties were encountered in the building of a bridge over Euri Creek and this was not completed until much later and Euri Creek was the end of the line for some time.

Jaraga Pub

The saw mill was shifted to the 14 Mile Creek and the siding of 19 Mile (Jaraga) was a large camp which has remained a siding on the line. Mrs. Martin Terney, whose husband was the licensee of the Merinda Hotel setup up a pub two miles below Jaragawhich naturally became the centre of leisure hours activity for the gangs and the contractors.

As the line approached Binbee, Albert Anderson became the timber contractor and had Bill Gralton and Jack Quinn cutting for him. Later the roles were reversed when Quinn took over mill was shifted to the 25 Mile and a large permanent camp was established at the foot of the range. Here there was a school run by Miss Grieves, and a church service was held every Sunday in the school building. Jack and Tom Thorne had a slaughter yard on the top of the range and supplied the camp with fresh meat. Mrs. Doherty had the ranch and there was a government store, a baker’s shop and a butcher’s shop managed first byMr. Condon and later by Mr. Tom Walsh. Soon afterwards Mr. and Mrs. Andy Dunlop moved there from their pub in Mareeba and started a general store with a billiard room and room for boarders.

A man of many talents was Mr. Jack Carmody, who, as well as being time keeper was excellent at billiards and used to disappear after church every Sunday to the two-up school down the creek. {mospagebreak}

Football On The Line

The days of the horse teams were nearing their end, and this was the last job for many of the carters, who included some of the best known names of the Northern bush. When the railway had reached the 25 Mile, the stockpile of coal at the state mine was about 3,000 tons.

Again the camp moved along the line, this time stopping at the 38 Mile, Little Blue Rock, and here the first football match was held between the men on the gangs, bridge teams, carters, and miners. The referee, Mr. Curley Pye (a Bowen man doing plumbing work at the State Mine) used a small horse bell because there was no whistle. Another large camp was then established at the 42 Mile which was the end of the line for some time.

Difficult Terrain

The building of the railway was a long and difficult job because of the terrain. The forty-eight miles were a succession of creeks and ridges and gullies and of course, the range. The bridges were long jobs. All the timber form them was cut by broad-axe, under the inspection of Bert Mayes. The range and smaller hills had to be cut through by blasting, with the debris then to be shovelled into horse drawn drays and carted away to be used as filling.

Tall Policeman

The policeman who moved with the gangs all the way along the line was Mr. Andy Cummings. He was the the tallest main in the history of the Queensland Police Force standing 6ft. 7in. in his socks. He was a popular man even though he had to keep law and order among a group of men in a difficult environment. When he got on a troop horse his feet would be almost on the ground. The men arrested by him along the line were mostly charged with being drunk and disorderly, or creating a disturbance. If they decided to appear after being released on bail they would be required to appear at Bowen, as the Court of Petty Sessions was there. However, they usually forfeited their bail. It would have been too much for the Police Magistrate to have had to come up from Bowen. {mospagebreak}

The Trains Run

On the 4th September, 1922, the headlines of “North Queensland Register” ran: Bowen Coalfields Railway. The first through coal train – probably Monday next. Under this article it announced that the General Manager of the Northern Division Railways (Mr. A. J. Crowther) had returned to Bowen after a visit to the Bowen Coalfields, the object of his visit being to ascertain whether it would be possible to extend the line past the town itself and on to the mine. The rails at this stage were well past Collinsville and it was anticipated that the end of the week would see the rails to the mine, and the siding necessary for the loading of coal completed. The people of the town had requested that the station buildings be erected in the town so that goods which were carried to a point South of the town could be brought in. This request was met although it was estimated that it would be Christmas before the line buildings and sidings were completed. Mr. Crowther announced that with the consent of the Construction Engineer and the Government, the trains would begin running on the 31st August and a train would run to and from the field every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Mr. Crowther also annoucned that Mr. Conway, the Manager of the State Coal Mine had informed him that all the coal at the dump had been disposed of, and freshly mined coal would be available for the first train. Here the article in the Townsville paper concluded.

Significance Realised

Soon afterwards, the Brisbane paper, the “Daily Mail” printed an article about the newly opened railway along the following lins: “The significance of the opening of the railway line to Collinsville is not apparent to the casual Northerner, yet to them it means the conveying to their doors of a national industry, which promised development unparallelled in the State, and of favourable comparison with any industrial venture in the Commonwealth”. There folloed a brief recitation of facts about the discovery of the mines and the results of boring and fuel test, all of which have been mentioned.

Station Built

During October an article appeared in the “North Queensland Register” about Collinsville with a small paragraph about the line, “Morley Grey’s lifting gang of twenty men are putting the finishing touches to the line by ballasting and are getting on a pace, so should be to the terminal within a few weeks”. They also mentioned that the station buildings were almost completed. On 1st August, 1922, the railway was officially opened where it had ended at the siding of Briaba, and by the beginning of 1923 had reached the town and the State mine, the railway store at Briaba had closed down, the gangs had gone, cattle trucking yards had been built near Collinsville, and rail traffic travelled to and from the field daily. After six and a half years of back-breaking work, the mining township was linked by rail with Bowen. {mospagebreak}

Paid Its Way

In 1922, the Railway Department reported that with the opening of the railway to Collinsville all Northern Division coal had been obtained there thus making a saving to the Railway Department of more than was being paid in interest on the money borrowed for the construction of the railway. It also reported that the meatworks, sugar mills, harbour boards, and private consumers had benefitted. Output of the State Coal Mine had risen from 60 tons a day in September, 1922, to 400 tons a day in August, 1923.

And so, six words record the result of fifty-six years of ceaseless efforts by ordinary citizens who struggled to get this railway built, for in the official railway documents can be read: 1922, Merinda – State Coal Mine, 48.6 miles, opened 1st August.

Before concluding, let us look at the history of the line since then.

In 1943 the line was strengthened to take heavier locomotives. In 1954-55 £4,379 was spent on improvements on the Collinsville line.

It was reported in railway records in 1962, that despite fall-off in traffic due to closure of the State Coal Mine at Collinsville, often four trains a day left Collinsville, all steam hauled, the coal coming from Scottville. Regular banking was practised to Briaba, which has an altitude of 1,000 feet.

In 1963 the line was strengthened so that diesels could be used. The first diesel-electric hauled 1,240 tons of coal from Collinsville on 25th November.

Soon Mt. Isa was using 4000 tons of coal a week, T.R.E.B. 3,000 tons, the Queensland Government Railway’s 2-3,000 tons and almost another 2,000 tons each week were being used by other North Queensland industries.

The line was relaid in 1963. The terminus of the railway branch line was at first called Moongunya by order of the Governor in Council on 5th August, 1921. This name was changed to Collinsville in September of the same year, to be called after Mr. Charles Collins, the Member of Parliament for Bowen at that time. “Moongunya” means coal to the Aborigines.

Camp Mountain Disaster – Labour Day 1947

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

A special working time table had been prepared and Samford was to be opened as a Staff Station for safe working for the day. The ordinary Monday rnixed trains to and from Dayboro’ had been cancelled due to the public holiday, but the usual daily Rail Motor service from Dayboro’ at 7.50am (E82) was to run with a later return from Brisbane, leaving Roma Street at 6.32pm and arriving Dayboro’ at 8.26pm (E81).

A special train (E17) reserved for St. Alban’s Presbyterian Sunday School from Wilston (then express to Enoggera) and for the Enoggera Methodist Circuit, all stations (except Ferny Grove and Camp Mountain) from Enoggera to Samford, loaded passengers at Wilston from 8.17am to 8.20am, detrained and entrained passengers at Enoggera from 8.28am to 8.40am, crossed a suburban passenger train at Mitchelton 8.47am to 8.52pm (probably taking water there), crossed the Dayboro’ Rail Motor at Ferny Grove at 9.05am and arrived at Samford at 9.22am (4 minutes late). The passengers of this train alighted for a picnic at Samford. This train was timetabled to return to Mayne (empty cars) as train E18 departing Samford at 10.08am (tender leading as there was no turning facility at Samford – the locomotive being turned at Mitchelton). The consist of this train was PB15 class locomotive 355 and suburban passenger cars 891, 1178, 907, 887 and 889 (Driver B.J. Winn, Fireman W. Clark and Guard C.F. Herrenberg).

The next special train (E91) – Passengers to Closeburn and empty cars to Dayboro’, returning as train E90 – empty cars from Dayboro’ departing at 4.3 0 pm and with passengers from Closeburn at 5. 1 Opm was one chartered by the Recreation and Social Club of the Commonwealth Officers employed by the Department of Trade and Customs at Brisbane, with C17 class engine 824 using tender from locomotive 712, water gin UW9014 and suburban passenger cars 740, 739, 742, 741, 743 and 744. F!iis Itrain left Roma Street at 8.50am, Central 8.59am with an estimated 215 passengers, crossed a suburban passenger train at Newmarket at 9.14am, the Dayboro Motor at Enoggera at 9.25am and left Mitcheltort at 9.30am (8 minutes late). Having passed through Ferny Grove, where the train slowed to pick up a train ticket for authority to travel to Samford, this train climbed the Samford Range quite slowly – estimated speed at the top of the range between 6 and 12 miles per hour.

The Driver (H.C. Hind) had recently transferred to Mayne Depot and as he had not previously worked over the road beyond Ferny Grove (to which place he had been only twice before on suburban passenger trains) was being tutored by his Fireman (A.C. Knight) who had passed the driver’s examination and had previously been a Cleaner at Dayboro’ in the twenties. Whether an attempt was being made to make up time (as there was another special train following by about 15 minutes) was never to be known as the engine tender derailed on a 6 chain radius curve to the left about 71 chains from the head of the range. The result was catastrophic and caused the total derailment of the engine (which tipped on its right hand side), the water gin and the first two cars with one of these, the front van (740) being destroyed. The second car (739) had its two leading compartments destroyed while the next car (742) had its leading bogie derailed but damage to it and the following three cars was relatively minor. From an ordinary length of 238 feet 5 inches for the engine, tender, water gin and first 3 suburban cars (740, 739 and 742), these vehicles were compressed into a length of 134 feet by the accident. When the train stopped , the Guard (G.E. Evans) who had been sitting at the left hand look out window of the rear van, was thrown into the corner of his compartment and, after picking hirriself up and alighting, hurried to the top of the cutting on the left hand side, returned and screwed on the handbrake. He looked at his watch and noted the time as 9.50am. Allowing 2 minutes for the time since being thrown into the corner, he set the time of the accident at 9.48am, this time being accepted by the subsequent Court of Enquiry as being the time of the accident. He then took the ambulance box from the van and handed it to someone at the front of the train, followed by the breakdown kit. He then hurried about 500 yards back along the track with red flags and detonators (these are placed on the track to warn of danger) to stop the following train (E89). The Guard subsequently stayed at the scene of the accident all day and eventually left the scene by car at 5.30pm and signed off duty at Mayne at 6.15pm.

This next train (E89) which was timetabled through to Dayboro consisted of Cl7 locomotive 752, Water gin FGW10033 and suburban cars 956, 1025, 794, 799 and 1022 (Driver A. Laing, Fireman C. Birmingham and Guard C. Menzies). It left Roma Street at 9am, Central 9.05am and stopped all stations as a regular train to pick up passengers for the various picnic spots through to Dayboro’. This train on its return from Dayboro (E88) was to collect passengers all stations to Femy Grove and also attach all perishable loading and livestock (the goods wagons usually collected by the regular Monday Dayboro’ mixed train which had been cancelled for the Public Holiday). E89 arrived at the accident scene at 10.09am and the ambulance boxes and breakdown kits from the two vans were taken to the front of E91 where rescue work was in progress. As the last three cars of E91 were still on the road, they were coupled to the front of Engine 752 to remove them from the site to clear the way for the breakdown train. This engine was unable to lift its own train and these last three cars from E91 and they had to be detached approximately 100 yards up the track at 11.32am, whereupon 752 pushed its own train back to Femy Grove where its 5 cars were detached. Engine 752 and water gin then returned to lift cars 744, 743 and 741. On return to Femy Grove at 12.21 pm, engine 752 attached its 5 cars and detached the water gin and departed at 12.42pm for Mayne where it arrived at 1.25pm.

Meanwhile the breakdown train with locomotive PB15 class 486, wagons EC7164, C9117, SR13175, SGI 1693 and breakdown van 9709 (Driver G. Mumford, Fireman K. Humbler and Guard R.WY. Dean) had left Mayne at 11.00am and arrived at Femy Grove at 11.55am where it was attached to water gin FGW10033 (off E89) and departed at 12.25pm. It was at the site of the accident from 12.45pm until 5.30pm and returned to Mayne at 6.15pm.

At Samford, the first picnic train (E17) was stranded. Driver Winn and Fireman Clark were told to – -idbv, they eventually left Samford at 3.45pm and walked back to the derailment site enroule to Ferny Grove. They arrived at Mayne at 6.15pm. Guard Herrenberg, after remaining on duty at Samford, left there by bus to Enoggera (we assume with the passengers from the Samford picnic) where he caught E96 passenger train at 6.08pm arriving at Mayne at 6.22pm. This train was left at Samford and eventually returned to Mayne after the line was cleared, arriving there at 6.30pm Wednesday, 7th May, 1947.


At this stage we will look at a brief history of the branch and typical workings during 1947.

The first survey for a railway to Samford was undertaken in 1884. The route surveyed, branched from the Sandgate line at Victoria Park and followed the south bank of Kedron Brook crossing into Samford via a tunnel. This never eventuated, however, and the railway to Enoggera was opened on 5ih February, 1′,~99 following the route it takes today via Mayne. The permanent survey for the extension to Daybot-o’ was undertaken by C.S. Stringer in 1915 (some excellent survey marks still survive on trees and stumps between Ferny Grove and Dayboro’). The extension from Enoggera to Rifle Range (renamed Gaythorne from July, 1923) was opened on 16th February, 1916, being funded by the Commonwealth due to the war effort. Work commenced towards Mitchelton in 1917 with 2nd March, 1918 being the date of opening there. Samford was opened on 29th. June the same year with a special train conveying guests to a celebration dinner held at Samford. The extension to Sarnsonvale was opened 3rd March, 1919 followed by Kobble on 3rd November, 1919 and Dayboro on 27th September, 1920. The branch was built to main line standards of the day using 60 Ibs./yd. BHP rail. (Rails at the accident scene were marked B.H.P. Coy. Ltd. – V – 17. Q.R.) Further surveys were completed from Dayboro to Mount Pleasant and the Mount Mee area. These extensions never eventuated.

In 1947, traffic on the branch was quite light. The service consisted of three mixed trains a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday), a railmotor service each day and an additional railmotor trip on Thursdays and Saturdays. Suburban services terminated mainly at Mitchelton with some going through to Femy Grove. The branch was very different to today’s line between Femy Grove and theCity. The line from Mayne Junction was double track to Newmarket (since 1920) and single beyond. The track was duplicated between Newmarket and Enoggera in 1952, and to through to Mitchelton in 1953. Trains were timetabled to cross each other at Newmarket, Enoggera, Mitchelton and Ferny Grove prior to duplication through to Mitchelton. Ferny Grove station consisted of the original timber building (built 1918 and now located at the Samford Museum) on a low level timber fronted platform. A single main line with a passing loop and siding faced the Samford Road

side of the platform. High level concrete faced island platforms with a new loop line were provided at Ferny Grove in 195 1, the original building being replaced with the existing structure in 1988. The first stop beyond Ferny Grove was a Railmotor stop (Railmotor stop 1) located at 10½ miles, Camp Mountain station was located at what is now the corner of Camp Mountain Road

and McLean Road South

. It was unstaffed and consisted of a low level platform and a spartan waiting shed. Samford had a timber station building larger in size than Ferny Grove, a timber edged single sided platform 200 ft. long, stock trucking yards, a goods shed and the Station Mistress’ residence.

Safeworking beyond Ferny Grove was by the staff and ticket system. Basically explained, a lockable box was situated at Ferny Grove with a similar box at Dayboro’. A “staff’ (a large, coloured timber and brass key 16” long marked with the track section) was kept inserted in the staff box and a book of tickets (a small book of “raffle ticket” style forms the same colour as the staff) was locked inside (The Ferny Grove – Dayboro’ staff was coloured red with a diamond shaped head, the book of tickets and staff box matching colour.). Once the staff was removed from the staff box, the box could not be opened to gain access to the tickets. If only one train was to occupy the section of track, the crew would remove the staff from the box and take it with them (The crew would perform this task if the station was unattended or if a station mistress was on duty, a station master would perform the work if he was on duty.). Following trains would have no authority to enter the section as they did not have a staff or a ticket. If two or more trains were to enter the section (as they did on 5th May, 1947.), the station master or crew would first unlock the staff box and write out a ticket for each train to travel through to the end of the section. The last train would not take a ticket, but the box would be locked with the staff and then the staff carried on board the train. No train could return through the section until the train carrying the staff arrived, the staff being used to unlock the box at the distant end to enable tickets to be written for the return journeys. On the day of the crash, Samford had been opened as a staff station for the labour day holiday and a Station Master or Night Officer stationed at both Ferny Grove and Samford (Ferny Grove and Samford usually had a Station Mistress in charge, the Station Masters were on duty for safe working due to the number of trains running). Opening Sarmford as a staff station allowed certain trains to work to and from Samford rather than travel right through to Dayboro’. A red

Diamond Head staff was used between Ferny Grove and Samford, and a yellow half diamond staff between Samford and Dayboro on the Labour Day holiday, 1947.

Speed limits on the Branch were 25 m.p.h. on straights and 20 m.p.h. on curves for trains, 30 m.p.h. for 50 horsepower railmotors and 3 5 m.p.h. for 100 horsepower railmotors.


Following the derailment of E91, passengers, railway staff and nearby residents of the district worked with great zeal to rescue injured passengers. The first call was received at Ambulance Headquarters at 10.08am and one Ambulance was sent immediately, 4 within 6 minutes and 18 ambulances with 26 men had been dispatched within 1 hour and 10 minutes. The subsequent Enquiry recognised the efforts of those involved and in particular the work done by Guard Evans in protecting his train and giving assistance at a time when he was suffering from severe nervous shock. The Queensland Ambulance Transport Brigade, Police and Doctors were also praised for their prompt dispatch to the scene of the disaster.

16 people lost their lives as a result of the derailment, 14 passengers and the fireman died on the day of the accident, the driver dying the next day in hospital. 38 people were injured. The newspapers of the day cover this quite graphically, readers can view these on microfilm at the John Oxley Library if interested.

Railway gangs began the cleanup of the wreckage under the control of Mr N.H. Kenny, Locomotive Engineer of the Queensland Railways. Car 742 was rerailed and towed to Mayne. Car 739 (minus its front 2 compartments) was righted and a temporary pivot bar and bogie fitted to enable removal from .the site. As its front bogie had been damaged in the accident, an undamaged bogie from the rear of car 740 was placed under 739 for the recovery. The locomotive was righted, rerailed and returned to Mayne. Wreckage of the first carriage, water gin and tender were eventually taken back on flat wagons. The line was finally cleared and track gangs had the line repaired in time for the evening Roma Street

to Dayboro’ rail motor on Wednesday, 7th May. It is interesting to note that only two lengths of rail needed to be replaced after the accident, one rail being severely kinked and the other found to be twisted. Other damaged rails were pressed, straightened and reused. 60 sleepers were also replaced.

A Court of Enquiry was held to formally investigate the cause of the accident. The Honourable Alan James Mansfield, Senior Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland conducted the Enquiry with the assistance of Professor R.W.H. Hawken, Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, Queensland University and Mr. D.W. Trewin, President of the Australian Federated Union of Locomotive Enginemen (Queensland Branch) as Assessors. The Court made a formal investigation of the accident; and the causes thereof and the circumstances attending the same. The Court sat for a total of 14 days between 2 1 st May, 1947 and 9th June, 1947, with 50 witnesses being examined.

The Court examined the condition of the permanent way, the condition of the rollingstock and the management of the train.

On the morning of the 5th May, Ganger Mitchell (Number 3 Gang, Samford) rode twice over the section that was to be the scene of the accident later that day. He examined the road from 14 miles 78 chains (approximately half way between the Gibbons Road overbridge and the tunnel) through to 8 miles 20 chains (the Samford end of Femy Grove station) this being the length that number 3 gang maintained. Arriving at Femy Grove by tricycle just ahead of the Dayboro’ rail motor, he then returned towards Camp Mountain after the motor’s arrival and travelled to a point at 10 miles 20 chains (near the crest of the range) and waited for the first excursion train (E 17) to pass him. He then followed it to Samford. Number 3 Gang consisted of a Ganger (Ganger Mitchell had been ganger on this section since 15th February, 1940) and 3 men, although 2 extra men had assisted during the month prior to the accident with cleaning out of landslides in cuttings due to wet weather. Reports (if track maintenance were examined by the Court, also Walking and Motor Quadricycle Inspections since July, 1946 of Permanent Way Inspector A.W. Bailey. As the Ganger had twice passed the scene of the derailment prior to the arrival of E91 (once just prior to E9l arriving at the point of derailment), the Court was of the opinion that no foreign object or track defect had caused the disaster. Subsequent to the accident, a close inspection of trackwork back to the crest of the range showed no defect in the track and no foreign objects on the right of way. The previous train (E 17) had been checked with no components found to be missing from it. Queensland Railway Engineer D. P. Smith and Assistant Maintenance Engineer Nutt had arrived at the site at 11.25am and measured and recorded details of the track. They measured the gauge and cant and these were found to be within acceptable limits (Cant is the difference in height between the outer and inner rails on a curve. A certain amount of superelevation is provided – on a curve of 6 chain radius and a gauge of 3ft. 6 inches a superelevation of 3½ inches fulfils this condition for a speed of approximately 20 m.p.h.). A plan of the condition of the track immediately following the accident was also prepared and used as Court evidence. The track was inspected by Mr. Erie Adam, Chief Mechanical Engineer, of the Commonwealth Railways. In evidence he stated that the track was in a better condition than most of the track on the 3ft. 6 inch gauge Commonwealth Railways Central line.

A report by Locomotive Engineer Mr. N.H. Kenny and Mr. T. Bird of the Metal Section at Ipswich Workshops looked at the damage to each vehicle of the train. Railway Department records show that the cost of repairs to locomotive 824 was £524, Tender 712 – £168, Water Gin 9014 – £528, Coach 740 – £4,63 1, Coach 739 – £1,150, Coach 742 – £35, Coach – 741 £18, Coach 743 – £2 and Coach 744 – £6. Total £7.062. Coach 740 was the only vehicle written off. Its new cost in 1915 was £1,318. The only reclaimable equipment of this vehicle was the bogies at an estimated value of £300 each, the cost of a replacement car in 1947 was £5,231.

Locomotive 824 was built by Armstrong Whitworth, Scotswood, Newcastle on Tyne in 1927 (builders number 27727). Its last general overhaul had been at Ipswich Workshops in November, 1944. This involved a complete strip down and recondition. Between this overhaul and the Camp Mountain derailment the locomotive had run 84,851 miles. General overhaul was usually at 90,000 miles or 3 years. Partial overhauls and repairs had been carried out at Bundaberg, Maryborough, Gympie and Mayne since the general overhaul. For the previous 3 months, the Locomotive had worked in the Gympie and Maryborough districts including various workings on the Mary Valley, Kingaroy and Monto branches. It had worked several trains to Brisbane followed by one trip to Toowoomba (524 up goods) on 18th April returning 20th April (563 down goods). Two trips to Gympie and return followed. then a suburban train to Mitchelton (E13) on 28th April, 1947, followed by train 291 Brisbane to Maryborough completing this working on 29th April. Train 82 Maryborough to Gympie was then worked on 30th April. It returned to Brisbane from Gympie on a goods train (278 up) on I st May, failing at Strathpine due to a burst superheater element. It was then detached from its train and travelled light engine to Mayne. The burst element had been repaired at Mayne on 2nd May. The locomotive had not previously been involved in any major accident, although records show that it had been derailed in January, 1941 at Monkland.The tender attached to engine 824 was one previously attached to locomotive 712, a C17 engine similar to 824. 11 had been attached to engine 824 on 3 1 st January, 1947. The tender had undergone general overhaul at Ipswich with engine 712 in July, 1945. Other work had been performed on it at Willowburn (Toowoomba) and Gympie. Attention to the condition of the male and female castings of the tender bogies and the rubbing blocks was brought to the attention of the Court. The leading bogie female casting had been packed with three ‘/4 inch plates and there was appreciable wear on the castings caused mainly by the packing plates, which allowed a slog of about 1 inch, instead of a snug fit. The bogie centre had been dry and rusty and was not receiving oil. The packing caused the male bogie casting to be raised approximately Y4 inch, this causing the superstructure of the tender to have a greater range of sway on the rubbing blocks. Evidence showed that a kingpin and cotter pin had been in position in each tender bogie at the lime of the accident.

The water gin (UW9014)) had been thoroughly overhauled at Ipswich Workshops during October and November, 1945. It was in good condition at the time of the accident. No evidence was produced as to whether the water gin had been on the Dayboro’ branch before although Railway records at the State Archives show that it had been used to Dayboro’ on mixed, passenger and goods trains eight times since .4th April. the last time prior to the accident on a passenger train, two days before the crash. Prior o being transferred to Mayne, the water gin had been in the Toowoomba district and at Woolloongabba. UW9014 was one of 25 U class wagons converted and fitted with a water tank.

The six carriages (739 – 744) were all suburban passenger cars, built in 1915. Evidence showed all these cars to be in good condition prior to the accident.

A visit was, made to Mayne Railway Yards by the Judge and Assessors on 28th May to view the locomotive and last 4 carriages. A locomotive and tender of the same class were inspected at the same time, also an inspection was made of the Westinghouse brake shop and a set of tender bogies. Three visits were made to the scene of the accident on 22nd and 28th May and 11th June. On the 22nd May, the Judge, Assessors, 4 witnesses (who had traveled on E91 on Labour Day), union officials and Counsel rode to the scene of the derailment by railmotor. They alighted and walked back along the track to the head of the range where they joined a special test train (train number 273 special) of the composition as E91, the test train consisting of C17 engine 720, water gin HW4405 and cars 904,906,909, 791, 911 and 914 (Driver T.G. Stumbles, Fireman B.Burton and Guard W. Fitzgerald) was run to make comparisons between a train driven at regulation speed and E91. The test train passed through Ferny Grove at 10.30am at 10 m.p.h. and climbed to the head of the range in 8 minutes. It then departed the head of the range arriving at Samford at 11.30am. The speed of this train was regulated in order to run from Ferny Grove to Sarnford in the time tabled for the accident train with speeds taken over each half mile section – the lowest being 12.7 m.p.h. over the top of the range and the highest being 28.6 m.p.h. on the straight down towards Samford Road level crossing (where Cash Aye. is today.)

The Court was at a disadvantage in not being able to examine evidence of the Driver and Fireman, both having lost their lives in the accident. Driver Hind had joined the service in 1915 as a cleaner at Cloncurry. He passed the fireman’s examination in 1916 and was classified as such in 1924, having completed 2,504 hours as an acting fireman. In 1926 he passed the driver’s examination and by 1941 had completed 2,296 hours as an acting driver. On 18th February, 1943, he was classified as a fourth class driver stationed at Townsville. He was appointed a third class driver on 30th March, 1943 and a second class driver on 13th March, 1945. On 30th March, 1947 he was made a first class driver stationed at Mayne. Driver Hind had been found guilty of neglect of duty on only three occasions, during his 32 year career, these being for minor mishaps in 1923, 1932 and 1940. The Court was satisfied that Driver Hind was a very qualified and competent driver and would have been a competent judge of speed. He had not driven over the Samford Range before and was being taught the road by Fireman Knight.

Fireman Knight had joined the Railway service in 1923 and became a cleaner in 1924, serving at Roma Street and Dayboro’. He was appointed as a fireman from 1st January, 1926, passing the fireman’s examination on 30th April that year. He had served as a Fireman at Roma- Street, Mayne, Gympie, Hughenden and again at Mayne continuously from July, 1935, until the day of the accident. He had passed the driver’s examination on 3rd January, 1941 and had completed 2,148 driving hours since that date, some of this experience on the Little Liverpool and Toowoomba ranges between Grandchester and Toowoomba. He had traveled over the Sarnford Range on 5 occasions during the previous 2 years and no doubt would have fired over the range many times during his career. The Court was satisfied that Fireman Knight was a competent fireman and acting driver and that he had proper knowledge of the track so as to fit him for the position of tutor to Driver Hind.

Guard Evans joined the service in 1924 and had been employed as a lad porter, fettler and porter in the north. He became a shunter at Bowen on 21st September, 1939 and continued in that capacity at Brunswick Street and Oakey until May, 1946 completing 2,296 hours as an acting guard. He passed the guard’s examination in 1943 and was classified as such on 30th May, 1946, serving thereafter at Richmond and Mayne. He was familiar with the road to Dayboro’ and the Court was satisfied that he was a competent guard.

4 Camp Mountain residents and several passengers from E91 were called as witnesses at the Enquiry. All testified to the excessive speed of the picnic train as it traveled down the grade on 5th May. There were reports [hat hand luggage was thrown from the racks on the curves before the accident. The Guard gave evidence that the train traveled at regulation speed and at no time did the driver blow his whistle to signal he was having trouble braking the train. From where the train had reached the top of the rise at 10 miles 37 chains (mile post mileage) to the point of derailment at 11 miles 37 chains, the track had dropped 82½ feet in 71½ chains. The Court subsequently accepted the speed of the train at time of derailment to be between 35 and 40 m.p.h.

The theory of the accident was put forward by several expert witnesses. Their belief was that the train reached the overturn speed of the tender shortly after entering the 6 chain curve causing the left hand side of the tender to rise, lifting the left hand wheels clear of the rail. The application of the brake probably became effective about this time (the driver had made an emergency application – the brake handle and gear being found in this position following the accident). This in turn caused the rear bogie of the tender to rotate clockwise, the rear right hand wheel of the trailing bogie then moved across the right hand rail towards the inside of the curve (a score mark 4 feet 3 inches long was left in the rail.) and dropped on a sleeper, shattering it. Prior to this point, coal had been dislodged from the tender landing in the right hand cess. The tender continued to tilt and revolved around the outer rail, the top of the tender leaving scrape marks in the batter of the cutting. The right hand rear axle box shattered several sleepers. The overturning speed of the locomotive had not been reached at this stage, but the torque of the tender on the engine draw bar caused the locomotive to overturn. The tender’s left hand buffer hit the front right hand face of the tank of the water gin, this impact lifting the water tank from its underframe. The leading carriage (740) struck the water tank, the tank destroying the superstructure of this carriage. The underframe of the water gin continued forward with its bogies and struck the bogies of the tender leaving a tangled mess of these parts several feet in front of the engine. The second carriage (739) struck the first carriage and telescoped into it, carriage 739 being thrown up at an angle on the right hand bank.

Expert witnesses calculated the overturn speed of a tender in perfect mechanical condition on perfect track on the crash curve to be 51 miles per hour. Other factors, however, reduced this figure. Sway and oscillation of the steam locomotive at speed combined with imperfections in the running top of the permanent way would reduce the speed of overturn. Of major importance was the condition of the tender front bogie castings combined with the addition of packing plates between the male and female castings. The Court accepted the overturn speed of the tender to be between 35 and 40 miles per hour, the primary cause of the derailment being the excessive speed at which the train was traveling. Chief responsibility for the excessive speed was placed on the driver with a share of blame placed on both the fireman and the guard. he 1948 and 1949 Railway Commissioner’s Reports state that the cost of compensation for deaths and injuries in the crash to be £23,554. {mospagebreak title=Subsequent History}


Locomotive 824 was repaired and continued in service in the South East corner of the State and was eventually transferred to Toowoomba in 1958. It was withdrawn from traffic in May, 1967 and towed west towards Roma and then north along the then recently closed Injune Branch to be donated to the Bungil Shire Council. Today it sits in a park behind the Ambulance station with incorrect builders plates and numbers (from another C17 class locomotive – the original builders plates and numbers were purchased by a rail enthusiast when the engine was withdrawn from service). It is interesting to note that engine 720 (used on the test train) is currently being restored by the Australian Railway Historical Society at their Rosewood museum.

The suburban carriages were all repaired (except car 740 – written off) and continued in suburban service in Brisbane until the suburban system was electrified in the 1980s. The majority of these carriages were burnt; car 739 was saved and was held initially by the Queensland Pioneer Steam Railway at Swanbank, it now being in the hands of a railway preservation group in Warwick. Carriage 909 (the third carriage of the test train) is now part of Queensland Rail’s heritage collection.

The site of the accident has changed dramatically, the cutting widened to take a bitumen sealed road, the original railway fences replaced (although at the lime of writing, one original gate remains on the occupation crossing at the accident site) as land has been developed and now only a few coal fragments and pieces of glass remain on the outer bank of the curve. For economic reasons, the line was closed between Ferny Grove and Dayboro’ from 1st July, 1955 and the rails lifted (starting from the Dayboro’ end) with the final demolition train returning through Ferny Grove in 1957.

On the human side, with 50 years now elapsed, survivors are few and memories faded. The disaster was a tragedy for Brisbane, some families lost several members and the victims included children. Memorial services were held at both St. Stephens Cathedral and St. Johns Cathedral at 10am on Thursday, 8th May. Funerals for those lost were held on Wednesday 7th and Thursday 5th May, 1947. Seven of the victims rest today in well cared for graves in five of Brisbane’s cemeteries.

The Camp Mountain disaster still remains the worst railway crash in Queensland history. Article compiled by

© Peter Burden
© Graham Bailey


Official Report to Parliament, Camp Mountain Disaster, 1947.
Queensland Railways Working Timetables
Queensland Railways Commissioner’s Reports 1948, 1949.
Queensland State Archives Hard Batch Files.