Workshops Rail Museum – Australia’s Oldest Rail Workshop

Goods Train
Actually, there are probably older railway workshops in Australia, but they have long since been closed down, which means that the Queensland Rail workshops in Ipswich would be the oldest operating railway workshop in Australia (it is just that the title to the blog was long enough as is to add the word ‘operating’). Anyway, as I am prone to do, I was looking at Ipswich on Google Maps when I discovered this railway museum (I actually discovered it by following a railway line, another thing that I have the habit of doing). Since my brother loves trains, and I think they’re pretty cool myself (if only because as a kid I ended up following my brother’s fascination with trains – he was always the proactive one – we just ended up following him because he made up his own mind), I decided to take him here when we visited Brisbane.
Seriously, there isn’t actually all that much in Ipswich, but they do have this rather cool museum, the Workshops Rail Museum, which is mainly for kids but I’m sure anybody who has a passion for trains would enjoy spending a half a day here. Mind you, it isn’t the easiest place to get to since you have to catch a train all the way up to Ipswich, and then catch a bus that happens to go past the museum. If you’re up for a walk, all you need to do is look for the railway line that crosses the Bremer River and goes through the Riverlink Shopping Centre, and then follow it because that railway line will take you right to the museum. In fact that railway line is used to move trains from the museum onto the Queensland Rail network. Anyway, here is a video of a train for those who are simply itching to see a video of a train:

Actually, this video is 28 minutes of steam trains

Look, I must be honest with you and say that I’m actually not really a big fan of steam trains namely because they are so, well, old fashioned. Yeah, I like old stuff – I think old stuff is cool – but for some reason the old stuff that I like doesn’t actually include steam trains. Anyway, you may be wandering why I am chatting about steam trains and that is because that is what you will find at the museum, but I will get onto that in a second. The museum is actually the front of the workshops, out the back are the workshops proper where trains are still worked on and restored. However they aren’t the rolling stock that is currently being used by Queensland Rail for commercial purposes – those workshops are elsewhere – but rather they are what are more commonly known as ‘tourist trains’, which is why I mention steam trains: most of the trains that are being worked on in this factory are steam trains, the same steam trains that would be worked on here back in the days when this factory was being used for commercial purposes.
The original factory was located much closer to the city of Ipswich, and in fact you can still see one of the original buildings at the Riverlink Shopping centre. This was actually the first railway workshop established in the colony, and the reason that they were built in the regional town of Ipswich as opposed to Brisbane is because the Brisbane River provided adequate transport between the two localities, so the railway hub was established further inland. However by about 1900 the original workshops had become too small so they were expanded a little further north on the current site, which reached its peak production during World War II. For those who are really interested in knowing more about the workshops (without actually visiting the place), you can find a detailed account on Wikipedia, which as been sourced from the Queensland Heritage Register.
Original Workshop
The remain workshop from the original site
Anyway, since I have you to give you a map of where you can find the museum, here it is:
After paying the entry fee (and thanks to my beautiful brother once again I got in for free – he has a special concession which means that his companion, usually me or my mum, doesn’t have to pay) we walked into the grounds and thought ‘this place is huge’. As it turns out the actual workshops are huge, the museum only takes up one of the buildings (there are six in total), however each of those buildings are pretty large in and of themselves.
So, we wandered around the area out the front and had a look at the steam locomotive at the entrance, and then the old goods train, before heading inside to discover that the place was full of primary school children. It seems like a couple of schools had the same idea that I had: visit the museum. Sure, there is that image that you occasionally see on Facebook of an old television that suggested that you were going to have a lot of fun if you walked into class to see one of them standing there, but I assure you, as a kid, the television was absolutely nothing compared to a school excursion. Mind you, I still remember in high school English when our teacher asked us if we wanted to watch a movie to which we all enthusiastically said yes, after which he then wrote a question on the board which indicated that we had to write an essay – but I digress.
Probably not a good indication of the size of the facility
So, the museum is basically everything to do with the history of rail in Queensland right down to the modern day. So, along with the multitude of kids activities that you will encounter in almost every section of the building (which is probably why this place is so popular with the kids) you will also find exhibits telling you about rail in Queensland from the early days of steam to the modern electric powered tilt train (there is even a model of the tilt train for you to go inside, if that is your thing). As can be expected from a rail museum you will also find the ubiquitous model train set (and honestly, what is a rail museum without a model train set?). Anyway, here is a video I took of that train set:
I wonder if I’m supposed to attribute myself?
While there were lots of interesting things in this museum to look at, the one thing that really caught my eye was cut away of a diesel train which not only showed the insides, but also how it works. Mind you, if you really want to see how stuff works, it just so happens that there is a website called, ironically, How Stuff Works, which includes diesel trains (though they don’t seem to have one on electric trains, though you can learn that from wiki answers, and interestingly the electric train was developed because steam and diesel powered trains are simply not conducive to a subway system). In the end, it doesn’t matter how cool the internet is these days, it simply does not beat the model in the museum.
Diesel Train Interior
Now isn’t that cool.
So, this brings me to the next part of my adventure. When we bought our tickets the lovely lady at the counter told us that there were tours of the workshop and that the next one was at 12:00 pm. That sounded cool, and I’m sure my brother would have liked to go on the tour as well, so at 12:00 pm we met outside the gates to the workshop proper where we and another couple were taken behind the scenes into where the old steam trains were being restored. Mind you, they also work in diesel trains here, but at this time that workshop was off limits, so we only got to see inside the steam train building.
Steam Train Factory
Now this is one cool photo.

While we were wandering through the workshop looking at all the steam trains that were in pieces and otherwise, we were introduced to one of the apprentices (actually the one apprentice). I thought that it was odd that there was an apprentice steam train engineer since it is sort of like studying to become an Ancient Roman lawyer – there isn’t really that much of a demand. Actually, I suspect that his apprenticeship was a little more general than simply working on and restoring steam trains, and I’m sure he could take the skills that he learnt here and apply them in other places, and other workshops, but still it would be pretty cool working in this place, though not as cool as doing work for the dole in an aeroplane museum (actually, the coolest job would probably be an aeroplane repo-man, but apparently it is pretty dangerous as well).

Steam Train Inside
There is more in there than just water

One thing we were shown as we followed our guide through the workshops was this stream train that was being prepared to be placed out into the museum. Basically they were doing to this steam train what they had done to the diesel train that was on display. I actually found it really interesting because I always thought that the boiler on the steam train pretty much contained only water. As it turns out there is a lot more to these machines than just a boiler full of water. The other thing that we were shown was this train that is affectionately called (by me) The Monster (actually, others might call it that as well). The reason I called it that was because it was huge. What our guide told us was that it was so heavy it could only travel on main-line tracks. In fact one of the problems with a lot of the powerful steam trains was that they were really big, and really heavy, which meant that they could only travel on certain railways. If they went onto a track that could not hold its weight then bad things would happen.

The Monster
It’s bigger in real life

Anyway, after seeing The Monster and being told out how big and powerful it was, it was time for our tour to come to an end, with the exception of one really strange sight – the German Tank in a bubble. Apparently it is the only remaining German World War I tank left and it had unfortunately been caught up in the Queensland floods back in 2011. So they ended up having to move it out of the museum and bring it here, where it was put into a bubble so that it could be protected from contaminants.

Creative Commons License

Workshops Rail Museum – Australia’s Oldest Rail Workshop by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me.

Workshop photo source: Queensland Museum used with permission under Creative Common Attribution non-commerical 3.0 Australian license.

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