Train station set to thrive again


By Tania Phillips

The Warwick Railway Station precinct is set to become a major community hub thanks to an enthusiastic group of volunteers.

The Southern Downs Steam Railway Association Inc already run steam trains out of the station but they are hoping to expand the operations to include all sorts of activities at the station and the adjacent Brosnan Crescent operation.

Their plans before Council at the moment include Railway Markets, a self-contained caravan, café and wedding venue.

Not bad for a group which includes a volunteer membership of 220 members including 75 active members.

Formed in 1995 as ‘Warwick Enterprises’ the group began the restoration of the Warwick Locomotive Depot with a workforce provided by the Queensland Government through what was then known as ‘Training for the Long Term Unemployed’ (now called ‘Work for the Dole’).

During completion of this restoration project, the Warwick Locomotive Depot was renamed the ‘Warwick Railway Precinct’.

The long-term goal was to turn the area into a static display of railway equipment and memorabilia and restore 5km of railway branch line between Hendon and Allora (30km north of Warwick) to allow for the possibility of running a regular tourist railway on the line. This mammoth task began in November 1995 and in 1996 the group was renamed Southern Downs Steam Railway, and the railway precinct became their home.

And now with the trains operational, the group have turned their attention to providing a hub for the whole community.

The Association’s president Kelvin Hutchinson said it was a pretty busy time for the group as they try and put together something that the whole community can enjoy.

They have already started on that plan, holding weddings on the platform – though they are hoping to have a big inside venue up and running soon because what is more romantic than a steam train? Not many things.

“At the moment we’re promoting weddings,” he said.

“We can fit 150 people on the platform and have the train in the platform (in the background),” he said.

“We use all local suppliers and things like that. We’re really aiming at that affordable wedding market rather than the big extravaganza.

“Now that we’ve finished work on the station, we will be having more weddings and events there too.

“We of course have our trains there leaving the station regularly and we’re looking now at having meetings and finalising with council about having a fairly significant Saturday markets in Brosnan Crescent with entertainment and lots of incentive to get stall holders there on a regular basis. Lots of publicity and marketing.

“The council are very cooperative and are assisting us to get it up and running.

“We were aiming for September, but we are now probably going to be up and running in late October-November coming up to the holidays.”

With the help of local Real Estate Agent Helen Harm, the not-for-profit group are also looking for a railway café operator work in with and launch a café in the station.

“We’re really working hard with the council to try and convince them to relocate the visitor information centre down there too.

“It’s not a given but we’re negotiating.

“We think it’s the right venue, lots of parking. With the café and the visitor information centre it should become a real hub.”

He said the station had been a real time capsule when the group had first taken over.

“Not too many people are aware, but in 1975 Queensland rail officials came down one day and said we’re closing up and the workers literally got up from their desks and walked out,” he said.

“We walked in all their documents, and everything was still on their desks from 1975. “It’s like a museum in there.”

What a lot of people might not be aware of as well is that there is the perfect wedding venue just waiting to be done up and used.

“There is this massive ballroom with a huge, big fireplace at one end of it which we will do up and we plan to have weddings and events in that location.

“At the moment the weddings are outdoor and ultimately what’s coming next year is what we call the ballroom or events centre. That will compliment hopefully the visitor’s information centre, it will compliment the café, we’re putting in a new toilet facility in the building and we’re in there with our novelty shops and ticket sales. It’s going to be quite a facility and we’ll compliment that with the weekend markets.”

The group has been having a recruitment drive for more members in recent weeks and the existing volunteers are already excited for what’s to come.

“We have a lot of excitement among our volunteers, we have about 75 active volunteers,” Kelvin said.

“We have about 220 members, but we’ve got roughly 75 active members – what that means is that on Wednesdays and Thursdays we have about 35-40 turn up and do the restoration, mechanical, registration, administration and our marketing, ticket sales, mowing of the lawns, landscaping, cleaning the train. It’s a city.

“On the weekend we have a totally different bunch of volunteers who are in different uniforms, that are carriage attendants, train drivers, guards, firemen and it’s quite an enterprise.”

The train itself operates its big tours fortnightly but in between that they do mum’s and dads with little children – short trips in between on the Saturday and in school holidays.

Interested in helping the group as they turn the precinct into a community hub? Head to their website or pop down on a Wednesday or Thursday to have a look.