A heritage train ride offers a fascinating glimpse into the history of rail travel in Australia.
Australia’s rail history dates back more than 160 years. As a result of newer construction materials and methods that conquered past engineering difficulties, some of the early railway lines have been bypassed, made obsolete by tunnels and new routes, or were never connected into the main rail network.
Many of these have been given new life as heritage railways and reopened as popular tourist attractions that allow their passengers to experience the smell of steam, the sound of the whistle blowing as the locomotive chugs along, and the sights and stories of bygone days. Using a restored steam locomotive or an early diesel or electric engine, they recreate the authenticity and elegance of the train journeys of yesteryear, with original rolling stock and a specialist carriage fleet of immaculate sitting, sleeping and dining cars completing the experience.
Regardless of the type of locomotive taking you on your journey, there is usually spectacular scenery to enjoy – most heritage tracks wind their way through fern gullies, rainforests, gumtree covered mountains, farmland, or picturesque coastal and country vistas before arriving photo-worthy historic stations.
Here’s our top 5 best heritage and tourist railways in Australia. Climb aboard for a fascinating glimpse of the working history and golden age of rail travel.
The Puffing Billy, Victoria
One of the most famous steam train journeys in Australia, the Puffing Billy is also one of the finest preserved steam railways in the world. Built in the early 1900s as a low cost 2’6” gauge line, its purpose was to open up the remote area between Victoria’s Belgrave and Gembrook townships.
This century-old steam train and its iconic open-sided carriages run along a 24-kilometre track through lush rainforest, fern gullies and farmlands, before offering a close-up view of the spectacular mountain scenery of Victoria’s Dandenong Ranges.
Pichi Richi Railway, South Australia
Located in South Australia’s beautiful Flinders Ranges, the Pichi Richi railway opened in 1879 and runs along the historic remains of the old narrow gauge Ghan rail line between Quorn and Port Augusta. It was part of the first stage of the Great Northern Railway intended to link Port Augusta with Darwin.
Once the East-West Transcontinental railway across the Nullarbor Plain was completed in 1917, the Pichi Richi route became part of it for the next 20 years.
Today, this timeless journey uses a historic steam or diesel train and immaculately restored, century old timber carriages to travel past the gum-tree lined creeks, hills of blue bush, deep rock cuttings and ancient rocky outcrops of the Pichi Richi Pass.
West Coast Wilderness Railway, Tasmania
Situated on the west coast of Tasmania, this formidable steam train journey chugs along 30 kilometres of century-old tracks, including an iconic ABT Rack and Pinion section – the first of its kind in Australia – which enabled the steam locomotives to traverse the steep slopes.
Travelling through ancient rainforests and plunging gorges, the railway line was originally used to transport copper from the mines in Queenstown to the harbour at Strahan. For many years, it was the only transport link between Queenstown and the rest of Tasmania. The journey brings to life the harsh demands of mining life and the resilience of the people who lived along the steep King River Gorge.
The Gulflander, Queensland
Travelling across the Gulf of Carpentaria’s remote wetlands, grasslands, and arid Savannah territory, the Gulflander is a rail-motor journey unlike any other.
Originally built to connect the once bustling river port of Normanton with the Croydon goldfields, this legendary, heritage-listed railway is also rich in historical and scenic wonders. It offers a fascinating insight into pioneering history, passing the old digs from the Croydon gold rush to Station 119, the most northern camp of Burke and Wills.
The Kuranda Scenic Railway, Queensland
Up in far north Queensland, this relatively short journey takes about two hours one way, up into the hinterland behind the city of Cairns. Passing spectacular waterfalls and travelling through World Heritage-listed rainforest via some 15 tunnels and 55 bridges, the Scenic Railway is one of Australia’s most popular rail experiences. It was originally built to service the mining industry between Kuranda and Herberton in the 1880s, when supplies could not get through to mining camps because of torrential rain. Several miners starved, but many more rail workers lost their lives during the dangerous decade of construction. After roads were improved from Cairns, the railway was converted to tourist use in the 1930s.
Scott McGregor’s Railway Adventures tour is more than just a holiday, it is a unique way to experience the world. By train you are completely immersed in culture and adventure, exploring the most scenic corners of the world in the comfort of a luxury train. Whether you are an experienced traveller or just beginning to explore this wonderful world, Railway Adventures has something for everyone. Transform your holiday into the most unforgettable adventure of a lifetime with Railway Adventures.
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