Sandgate Rail - Sandgate Brisbane Steam Railway Project

One hundred years ago, Sandgate was described as a rising village on the shores of Moreton Bay at the mouth of Cabbage Tree Creek and distant from Brisbane about 14 miles by road. The route was by way of German Station (now called Nundah) and after the bridge over Cabbage Tree Creek was completed a good road judged by the standards of those days, ran to Sandgate via Bald Hills.

The means of conveyance for mails and passengers in the early 1860's was by coach which ran every Monday. By the year 1868, the service was increased to twice a week leaving Brisbane on Mondays and Thursdays. James Ormiston in 1874 ran his coach on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays at 8.30 a.m. from the North Australia Hotel situated in Adelaide Street a short distance from the corner of Albert Street.

The return fare was 5/- and the coach arrived back at 6 p.m. Other services began and included those of Cobb & Co. and Best's Line of Coaches, so that by 1876 there was a frequent daily service.

Railway development through the years after Separation was carried on in various parts of Queensland and as population grew, the building of railway lines to some of the suburbs became an active question.

It is worthy of interest to record the reasons, analyse the suggestions for the proposed routes, note the objections raised and then to realise that nowadays, with the widely accepted modern road transport, the question of railway routes has thus been overshadowed. However, suburban railway lines to, the northern, southern, eastern and western suburbs still satisfactorily convey many thousands of passengers daily.

Proposed Railway

A railway line to Sandgate, thence to the Pine Rivers and Caboolture was proposed early in 1879. The reasons advanced were that it would not merely be a suburban line but the beginning of a means of rail communication to the abovementioned places north of Brisbane.

It would also touch country where development could take place, provide access to the Brisbane markets for the products of the large agricultural areas of these districts. The advocates of the scheme drew attention to the development that had occurred in the western suburbs, e.g. Toowong, after railway passed through that district.

Sandgate with its added cooler climatic advantages would experience even greater development. Other reasons were that the estimated revenue from traffic to and from the Racecourse (Ascot) was 22,000 annually and the revenue derived from the holiday traffic to the Exhibition grounds at Bowen Park, Brisbane, was also included in the anticipated advantages.

Five different routes were, surveyed from the then Brisbane terminal railway station (Roma Street) via Victoria Park and Bowen Park to the German Station (Nundah) where all the lines of survey converged. The proposed lines are shown hereunder with the comparative distances and estimated construction costs:

Via Albion 5miles 75 chains £29278 Distance to Racecourse 6m 23ch
Via Sports Ground near Albion 5 miles 60 chains £30774 Distance to Racecourse 6m 38ch
Via Hamilton 6 miles 30 chains £33267 Distance to Racecourse 4m 50ch
Via Hamilton (River side) 6 miles 38 chains £40032 Distance to Racecourse 4m 58ch
Via London’s Hill (Albion Park) 6 miles 2 chains £38495 Distance to Racecourse 4m 42 Ch
Cost of extending train to the Racecourse £5674

A circuitous route was not desired but what was required was that the mileage fare would not exceed that charged on the road. The route via the Hamilton (river side) although several thousand pounds in excess of some of the others, could be built more cheaply as for a greater part of its length there would not, be any outlay for the resumption price of land.

The Queensland Parliament had voted the, sum of £52,000 in 1879 for the construction of a railway line to Sandgate and it was this amount which largely determined the route finally chosen. Additional suggestions and schemes were advocated and included the following:

(a) A route from the original Grammar School (via Albert Park) and Wickham Terrace Reserve, along the hollow in Wickham Street across Brunswick Street, Constance Street and up to Bowen Park. The cost of land resumption would have been £17,900 and a total cost of £94,137.

(b) Another route by the Valley, Brisbane River and Hamilton was estimated to cost £115,223.

(c) A route by the back of Hamilton which would have cost £35,196 beyond the limit of money authorised by Parliament.

Objections to the route proposed (via Victoria and Bowen Parks) included the opinions that Roma Street would not continue to be the terminal station for suburban traffic, that the line would be taken round the outer western part of the city instead of through it, that the large population of Fortitude Valley district estimated then between 7,000 and 8,000 would be neglected, that the opportunity of bringing the line through Petrie Bight (with a station there) and so give access to the wharves and shipping nearby were being unconsidered.

Moreover, a branch line would have to be built to the Racecourse at a cost of £5,674 as the proposed Sandgate route ran as far as it could from the Racecourse.

The £115,223 scheme was considered incomparably the best of the routes by several members of Parliament but the survey engineer stated that if the line were taken by that route to, the Racecourse, it would be difficult to “get back" to German Station (Nundah) owing to the low lying swampy type of country between those two places.

An estimate of the cost of the route chosen was £66,102 which was £14,102 above the limit fixed by Parliament and included land valued at £5,467 resumed between Brisbane and German Station, while the land between the latter place and Sandgate wa s considered to be of minor value.

Tenders were called in February 1881 and on 5 April 1881 it was decided by a vote of 25 to 17 to accept the tender of George Bashford of £38,634.3.5 for the construction of the Sandgate line from Roma Street, Victoria and Bowen Parks and by way of its existing, route with a branch line to Racecourse.

The conditions were that the work was to be completed in 16 months from the date of commencement. However, it was expected that the work would be completed in 14 months.

In July 1881 the Government instituted a bonus scheme of £800 which would accrue to the contractor on condition that the line would be completed and handed over by 1 August 1882. By this means the Treasury would obtain profits from the line much earlier by the outlay of a comparatively small amount.

George Bashford duly received his £800 as the line was virtually completed when the first trial run by train was made during the second week of April 1882, the journey taking 29 minutes. A slight delay in the actual opening date was due to the completion of the fencing and the completion of the telegraph line. However, it could be stated that the line was completed and handed over in twelve months and seven days.

The actual distance of the line to the original Sandgate terminus at Curlew Street was 12 miles 14 chains. In April 1909 the Sandgate station, which had been built by Henry Pears in 1881 was moved about a quarter of a mile nearer to Brisbane on its present location.

The Racecourse branch from Eagle Junction Station of 1 mile 49 chains was opened early in September 1882 and Racecourse Station held that name until changed to Ascot in the early 1890's. This line was subsequently extended to Pinkenba and the Sandgate line to Shorncliffe.

Constructions Begins

Construction of the Sandgate line began on 3 May 1881 when the first sod was turned with due official ceremony in the Exhibition Grounds about halfway down the hill towards the Brisbane Hospital. Two hundred and twenty men commenced work on the line as well as those of sub-contractors on the Normanby Tunnel (now superseded by a much larger and wider concrete bridge spanning several additional sets of lines) and cuttings at places on the line.

The first point of dispute was the route surveyed through the Exhibition Grounds. This route converted 21 acres of the National Association Showground into the railway line which, as one of the critics pointed out, could have been avoided if the survey had run a few chains to the northward. The expensive cutting through 792 feet of hard rock could likewise have been obviated or minimized.

However, the original plans stood and after contentious correspondence, compensation was granted to the extent of £300 to defray the costs of removing and re-erecting the cattle sheds and yards. An area of 12 acres of the Acclimatisation Society's grounds in Bowen Park across the creek which once ran through Bowen Park towards the present wooden railway bridge was negotiated for between the National Association and that Society.

The Normanby tunnel was the major engineering work of the line. This tunnel was 264 feet long, and 24 feet below the surface of the road. A cutting measuring 660 feet long on one side (Grammar School side) and 330 feet on the Normanby Hotel side were also excavated, the total amount removed being 11,000 cubic yards chiefly by horse and dray methods.

Another large job was the construction of the railway bridge 160 feet long over the Breakfast Creek near Albion. The original bridge was a wooden structure but in October 1885 the firm of J. Mason & Co. of Sydney widened and built an iron bridge in five months at a cost of £3,788. Apart from these works a comparatively simple railway construction job.

Some of the features of the line were the hollowed iron sleepers laid for half a mile over the sandy soil near Nudgee Station. It was near this spot that a plentiful supply of railway ballasting metal was conveniently secured. Quantities of the iron rails were conveyed to Cabbage Tree Creek by water transport from Brisbane; the construction of the northern end of the line was thus accelerated. It was officially opened 10 May 1882.

The eight trains which began the service on 11 May 1882 left Brisbane at 7.15 a.m., 9.15 am, 11.30 am, 1.45 p.m., 3.45 pm, 5.40 pm, 7.40 pm, 11.10 pm; and left Sandgate at 8.15 a.m., 10.20 am, 12.30 p.m., 2.50 pm, 4.40 pm, 6.35 pm, 8.30 pm, 12 midnight. Original railway stations were Roma Street, Bowen Park, Bowen Hills (Tufton Street), Mayne, Albion, Lutwyche (Wooloowin), Eagle Junction, German Station (Nundah), Nudgee and Sandgate. Running time 40 minutes.

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