The Cairns Range Railway
Surveying the route
Tin was discovered in Herberton in April 1880 and mining commenced in May 1880. Several new pack-tracks were established from Trinity Bay up the range to the new mining town and in January 1882 Frank Stubley, Member for Herberton, promised his electorate that they would have a railway.
In April 1882 John Murtagh Macrossan (1833-1891), Minister for Works, announced that Christie Palmerston (1850?-1897) had been commissioned to survey a route for a railway from Herberton to the coast. Palmerston explored the coastal ranges from Port Douglas to Bellenden Ker. He camped on the Barron on 11 June 1882 and commented on Smith's Track,
On entering the Barron Gorge he wrote;
and at Stoney Creek gorge he wrote;
On 11 May 1883 surveyor George William Monk was apponted to survey potential routes for a railway to Cairns from the hinterland. (Monk Street, Manunda is named after him). He submitted his report in March 1884 and on 21 April 1884, construction engineer Willoughby Hannam (1838-1893) (Hannam Street, Westcourt named after him), reported that the Barron valley route was the most favourable, beating competing claims from Port Douglas and Geraldton (Innisfail). Monk and Mr O L Amos (Amos Close, Redlynch named after him) completed the plans and they were approved by Cabinet on 10 September 1885. These plans had the railway reaching the Barron River at Redlynch via a tunnel at Brinsmead Gap, by-passing the area around Stratford altogether. However before the plans were passed by the Upper House on 30 October 1885, they were amended to take the railway west of Lily Creek, along Little Street, through what is now Centenary Lakes and around the east end of Mount Whitfield (Jones p.202).
In December 1885 Hannam approved tenders from Cochrane and Nixon to clear two miles of line. Tenders were called for the clearing of an additional half-mile of line beyond Cochrane's work.
Tenders were called for in January 1886 for sleepers in lots of 1,000. 900 tons of rail line for the first section to Redlynch arrived from Cooktown 'presumably left over from the Cooktown-Laura railway' (Jones p.274).
Tenders for the construction of the first section of the line were called for in the Government Gazette of 11 February 1886 (CRC Botanic Gardens file). P C Smith & Co were awarded the contract to construct the first section of the line; eight and a quarter miles from Cairns to Redlynch at a cost of £20,000. Johnston (Cairns Historical Society Bullletin No. 84) claims that the labour turn over was 'astronomical' and early settlers claim many fever victims lie buried along the side of the track from Saltwater Creek to Suicide Bend. McBride & Co of Brisbane took over the contract from P C Smith & Co in Novemberr 1886, but they also failed to complete the contract and the first section of the line was completed under Government contract.
A station was built at Three-Mile (Edge Hill station south east of the hill at the three-mile point situated near where No.1 tank sits today (Memo to the Town Clerk 29 July 1969).
Building the Railway
Premier Samuel Walker Griffith (1845-1920) turned the first sod for the new railway at Shields Street on 10 May 1886.
The first section was completed on 8 October 1887, ten miles from Cairns to Jungara. The government declared 26 September 1887 a public holiday to celebrate the completion of the first section. 200 people rode the train to the Eight Mile before walking to the southern end of the first tunnel where Hannam provided refreshments and speeches were made.
In November 1887 passenger trains ran to Eight Mile, which was renamed Redlynch.
In April 1889 the Hon Sir Hugh Muir Nelson (1833-1906), Minister for Railways inspected the line with Horace Tozer, MLA (1844-1916). Lily Bank Station consisted of a shelter shed.
The railway reached Mareeba in 1893, Atherton 1903, Tumoilin 1911, Ravenshoe 1916. The railway was connected to the rest of the Queensland rail system in 1923 when the Cairns-Brisbane railway was completed.
Stations on the line
Magazine Siding - 4 miles 25 chains from Cairns.
Johnston's Siding - 4 miles 32 chains from Cairns.
Stratford Siding - 5 miles from Cairns.
On 16 February 1931 the position of station mistress (Ethel Johnston) was withdrawn. A loading bank and shelter shed were built in 1950. The railmotor service was an important link to Cairns, the mail came out by railmotor and the children took the railmotor to school each day. The number of passengers travelling from Stratford Siding was;
Lily Bank Station - 6 miles from Cairns.
Keeble Siding - 6+ miles from Cairns.
Richmond (Freshwater) Siding - 7 miles from Cairns.
Kuranda Scenic Rail & Savannahlander
Today the rail line is used by the tourist train from Cairns and Freshwater Connection to Kuranda and also the Savannahlander from Cairns to Forsyth.