The North Coast Line, and a Night Run to Kuranda

One of the Railmotor units went for a rare excursion on the main North Coast Line between Cairns and Innisfail on 5 September. This was a charter for ATHRA who were having a conference in Cairns.

Originally planned as a two car set, with the scheduled Savannahlander going out as a single car, late rush of bookings for the main train put paid to that plan, so all 45 guests had to squeeze into the 48 seats in the car.

Innisfail has a turning angle so it was no real problem not having the second unit on with its driving station at the other end of the train.

The main benefit of the run south for us was to see how the unit performed at sustained high speed running on the better track down that way. It did not dissapoint, and got better the longer the trip went on – probably blowing the cobwebs out of it.

The trip home at night was great too. The brighly lit sugar mills and towns rising over the horizon and passing us in the night was a memorable sight.

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Running down the fast straight section towards Deeral

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On the Innisfail Angle

The following evening, the group also booked a charter to Kuranda. For this post I will pinch an extract from a rail Forum where I reported the same event:

Saturday night the group desired to be conveyed per single car railmotor to Kuranda for an awards dinner, and to be returned to Cairns per same conveyance, while indulging in the very attractive night views from Red Bluff on the range. The dinner was held in the Kuranda Bottom pub, basically across the road from the station.

Now, because this was a single car unit, the crew  had to take the empty unit over to Mareeba and turn it on the angle up there. Yes there is a turntable at Kuranda, but we did not know to drive it, whether the RM built enough wind to blow it around (it is air powered) and if it could be used while the station was unattended. (It was later resolved that it could be used unattended as it is not interlocked with the rest of the signaling.)  Anyhow, due to the need to cross a sugar train, we would have had to leave the yard anyway because you can’t cross trains there while the station is unattended.

Uneventful although slippery run to Kuranda, the highlight being the crossing of a certain 5C99 (Savannahlander) railmotor service at Redlynch.


After letting off the group at Kuranda, another uneventful run in the comparative peace and quiet and made good time into Mareeba. Not as lively up this neck of the woods compared to running down the NCL.


It started to become eventful in Mareeba itself, with the first issue manifesting itself in the form of access to the angle. Someone had planted a dog spike, through the metal base plate, between the curved blade rail and the stock rail on points we needed to throw over to get on the southern leg. These were spiked to set the points for a long disused and decrepit fuel siding. The RM has a handy kit off tools fortunately, from which was extracted a sledge hammer and a pick. Remember, this spike was between two rails and swinging room was at a premium. A few good belts on each accessible side to make the spike slightly dizzy but due to the plate it was put through, we could not manage too much movement. A block of wood provided a fulcrum and with the pick we tried to lever the spike out. It took a few goes of levering and belting , and it had had enough by about fourth attempt and surrendered in a somewhat anti climactic extraction. After this we walked the angle to make sure there was no reason for it to be spiked out of use, or indeed spiked elsewhere.

Other thing we noticed was the seedy grass on the Northern leg – the very up hill northern leg. Sitting here typing this, I am wondering why we didn’t just do away with standard procedure, and run around the angle ‘in reverse’ – but that’s old habits for you. Anyway, at the time, we didn’t think it would give us as much trouble as it did.

As predicted, the old girl stalled about half way around on the oily grass. We set back down to the apex, and grabbed some shopping bags, some sand (aka ballast) and manually sanded the curve until the grade eased. Gaz eventually bludgeoned his way back up to the main line, emptying the sand boxes in the process, but the main thing is we did it. And so back to Kuranda.

We got out of Kuranda on time with the group and went for a nice little run down the hill back to Cairns. A couple of stops were made at Red Bluff and the jump up to view the lights of Cairns. While its sad to see the spread of Cairns suburbia by day, by night it is a truly wonderful sight with all the pretty lights and such. Need more excuses for night runs down the hill I think.

Thus ended a couple of great days playing host to ATHRA. However as we had yet another charter on Monday, it was back to work on Sunday arvo  to prep the old girls for another run. No rest for the wicked here!