14 November, 2020
A journey to remember
In challenging times like these, wouldn’t it be nice to escape from reality and take a trip down memory lane? Well, in the not too distant future this will be possible, thanks to the Atherton-Herberton Historic Railway Group.
Each week, around fifty volunteers assemble at the Herberton station to help restore the railway line between Atherton and Herberton and bring the old steam locomotives back to life.
From mechanical engineers to gardeners, the volunteers contribute a variety of different skills to the project, dedicating their time purely out of passion.
The group was first established in 2003 by a small group of volunteers who shared one big dream. Since then, the group has not only gained an array of new members, they have also gained official ownership of the Atherton to Herberton section of the railway, which stretches a distance of 22km.
“We purchased it from Queensland Rail about seven or eight years ago and we now own everything but the land,” said Bob Slater, the President and Operations Manager of the Atherton-Herberton Historic Railway Group.
After working with the group for the past 13 years, he has built strong connections with the community and feels as though the project has really helped to unite the two towns.
Although there is currently no projected date of completion, the team has worked tirelessly, through rain and shine, to get the steam engines up and running again.
“We are in the process of rebuilding one of the steam engines and it’s almost at the stage of running,” said Mark Pierson, who has been working with the group for the past five years.
The group has also been working on a model railway that has recently opened to the public at the Station Café, situated at the Atherton end of the railway line. Here, visitors can use control switches to propel the model train along the track that weaves through tiny, hand-crafted buildings and landscapes.
Maggy Sietsma, the owner of the Station Café, has worked closely with the Atherton-Herberton Historic Railway Group and expects the railway line to transform the local community upon completion.
“I think it’s going to be really good for nostalgic people,” she said.
“There’s something comforting about old railway stations because they were the main source of transport once upon a time.”
She also highlighted the benefits of the project, not only for members of the public but the volunteers themselves.
“It’s very therapeutic for the volunteers. They all get to wear a uniform and feel like they’re part of something.”
Although the group has achieved many milestones since 2003, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing.
“Every day is a challenge,” Bob said.
“We have the physical challenges of trying to get enough people to do the work in the hot weather. However, finance is our biggest hurdle as we run the train and everything else purely with volunteers. We’ve spent just a bit short of $190,000 on our track, our station and our steam engines, all without funding from the outside.”
Shane Knuth, State Member for Hill, has worked closely with the Atherton-Herberton Historic Railway Group, particularly in promoting the benefits of the project on a government level.
“I’ve worked with the group in highlighting to the ministers the importance of upgrading the railway line and the benefits it will have for the Tablelands in a range of different fields.”
He indicated that the railway line will become a key point of attraction for travellers visiting the region and will provide financial security for many local businesses.
“When completed, the Herberton historic railway will really secure that extra incentive for travellers,” he said.
“A lot of people love the fact that we’ve got waterfalls but sometimes it may not be enough to draw people up this way. However, the historic railway will. The train will go past the Herberton Historic Village and people will have an opportunity to visit other unique attractions on the Tablelands, whilst spending dollars that will create many jobs for the region.