Gateway to the Southern Downs

The Warwick – Maryvale Railway Line


The Warwick – Maryvale Railway Line had its’ origins in the mid-1880’s as the southernmost section of the proposed Via Recta Railway Line.  The years following the mid-1880’s saw the region between Warwick and Maryvale ‘closely settled’ and the area under cultivation increase. As a result representations were made by local communities and farmers to be connected by rail to Warwick to enable quicker and more efficient transportation of produce.

Trial survey work for the Warwick – Maryvale Railway Line was conducted during mid-1905 by Mr Latham, Officer in Charge of Surveys, Queensland Railways, with the suggested route generally following that of the trail survey of the Via Recta line undertaken in 1883. As the construction of a Via Recta Railway Line was still very much supported by politicians, Queensland Railways and locals, it was agreed that the Warwick – Maryvale Railway Line should be a ballasted and fenced line – as opposed to a ‘light’ railway – and one which could be easily upgraded without major expense to a main line at a later date.

From this trail survey the cost of constructing the 17 mile 24 chain (27.84 km) railway line was estimated at £42,798 (approx. $6,305,000 today).  Part worn rails, proposed to be taken from the main line between Warwick and Stanthorpe, were to be used to help keep costs down. A combination of day labour and piecework was deemed the most efficient approach for line construction. Heavy plant for construction work was transferred from the Caboolture – Woodford extension works.

Five new stations were proposed – later increased to seven by the time of construction; Womina, Sladevale, Campbell Plains, Freestone, Clintonvale, Millar’s Vale and Maryvale. Freestone and Maryvale were more substantial stations than the others which were considered to be sidings. Ruling grade was 1:50 and, because of the proposed use of second-hand rails, the line was to be classed as a ‘second class’ line.

The new line was constructed under the Railways Act 1906 (incorporating the relevant provisions of the Railways Guarantee Act) where branch lines were built on a guarantee principle under which, it was intended, local ratepayers paid half of any shortfall in working expenses associated with the railway line and also paid the interest on capital. The Town of Warwick, Clifton Shire, Glengallan Shire and Rosenthal Shire were to be guarantors subject to a public vote. The nearby Alloa line and Goomburra extension, opened 1897 and 1912 respectively, were also constructed under such an arrangement. 

As plans were advanced for construction of a Warwick – Maryvale Railway Line alternative line arrangements were also suggested and investigated. Serious consideration was made to utilise the existing Warwick to Killarney line with the Maryvale branch line running in a more southerly direction from Freestone Creek than proposed in the trail survey and ultimately joining the Killarney line at Swan Creek. A suggested alternative to the Warwick – Maryvale Railway Line to extend the proposed Goomburra extension line, which was to run east from existing rail facilities at Alloa, south to Maryvale was also considered.

On 4 November 1907 the Minister for Railways formally adopted the 1905 trial survey route proposal following an inspection of both the ‘direct’ and Swan Creek options by the Commissioner of Railways and Officer in Charge of Surveys a few days prior. The additional mileage and extra cost associated with the construction of the Swan Creek option was to weigh against that option. Extending the Goomburra line to Maryvale did not gained the necessary support from Queensland Railways and locals alike and was never considered a serious option. The cost of construction of the Warwick - Maryvale branch line had, by the time, risen to £52,251 (approx. $8,286,500 today).

In a memo, dated 14 November 1907, to the Office of the Commissioner of Railways the Chief Engineer, Queensland Railways, commented

"I fear that the district to be served by this line is not sufficiently extensive to afford sufficient traffic to pay interest and working expenses so long at it remains only a short branch, and I question whether its construction is justified until the Government is prepared to undertake the whole length of the “Direct Line to Warwick [i.e. the Via Recta] …”.

Correspondence by government officials of the day indicated that any direct line to Warwick and beyond would be some time away and the Warwick – Maryvale line’s status would be that of a branch line until that time. For example, in a memo, dated 21 May 1909, to the Chief Engineer, Queensland Railways, the Secretary of the Office of the Commissioner for Railways noted that the proposed Warwick – Maryvale branch line “… must remain for many years, only a branch line ...”

In December 1908 the Lands Department asked if the terminus of the Warwick - Maryvale Railway Line could be extended to allow the station to be located on the Maryvale Repurchased Estate. This request was approved by Queensland Railways and the surveyed line extended a further 1½ miles (2.41 km) to nearly opposite the Maryvale Homestead and what is now the present day settlement of Maryvale.

Representations were also made by landowners whose lands were bisected by the proposed branch line to shift parts of the line however in all but one of these cases, where a better grade was determined, these representations were dismissed on the grounds that the most direct line and easiest grade was to be followed for the purposes of later incorporation of the branch railway line into the Via Recta. Compensation was to be paid for all landowners whose land was to be resumed for railway purposes except to selectors on the Maryvale Repurchase Estate (which had only recently been surveyed with allowances for the railway line and station).

The cost of construction of the line, as presented in the Parliamentary Estimates at the end of 1908, was now £61,541 (approx. $8,532,500 today). A late effort by the Chief Engineer, Queensland Railways, to correct this estimate to £63,424 (approx. $8,793,500 today)  was not accepted as it arrived a matter of hours after the Parliamentary Estimates had been sent to print.

Working survey for the Warwick – Maryvale Railway Line was commenced in January 1909 and completed during April 1909. Order in Council, given under the Railways Act 1906 and The Warwick to Maryvale Railway Act 1909, to commence construction of the line was given on 4 March 1910. A workers camp was pitched and telegraph between the camp and Warwick arranged during the days prior to this. Engineer Norman Lethem was placed in charge of the work.

Minor delays in construction occurred during the summer of 1910-11 due to periods of heavy rain which saw work on some projects temporarily suspended however, ultimately, this did not significantly impact on the construction timetable. At any one time up to 140 persons were employed as day labourers or pieceworkers while up to 40 horse teams were employed (the latter a number which decreased as major works were completed). Ballast for construction purposes was obtained from Cunningham, west of Warwick, while sand for infilling purposes was sourced locally.

The final cost of the construction of the Warwick – Maryvale Railway Line was £81,454 (approx. $9,762,000 today).

Turning of the Sod

Although works had already commenced on the line, the Turning of the First Sod was performed on 18 March 1910 by the Premier, Hon. W. Kidson, in a ceremony held at Henley Hill, near Warwick. The ceremony was attended by around 1500 people. During the ceremony introductions the Mayor of Warwick, Alderman Connelly, commented that he trusted that this line would prove the first section of the Via Recta. This view was supported by subsequent speakers, including the Premier who noted that it may be long time before Parliament had the funds available for such a construction but that the Via Recta would become a necessity when the line between Warwick and Goodiwindi was started.

The Premier was then presented with a silver spade with inscribed mahogany handle. In dramatic fashion said that he would not use the ceremonial spade, instead taking an ordinary spade cut a sod which he threw into a wheelbarrow. He then spat on his hands and trundled the wheelbarrow a short distance before capsizing it amid cheers from onlookers, declaring that the sod was well and truly laid.

Following the Turning of the First Sod there was a dinner on the ground attended by 150 persons including the Premier, Mayor of Warwick, J.F. Thallon (Commissioner of Railways), W. Pagan (Chief Engineer Queensland Railways), officials including those from neighbouring local governments and other local notables. Numerous speakers again made reference to the necessity to now proceed with construction of the Via Recta, including the Commissioner of Railways who said that the matter of the Via Recta was one that had been dear to his heart for 25 years and hoped that the line would be built although noted that there were also other options to consider.

Maryvale Strike

During late May 1910 newspapers reported on a strike at the line construction site. These reports provided to be an exaggeration of the facts of the matter. The associated strike report prepared by the Police observed that there was no strike and that works were progressing. The report further noted that some of the drivers had been discharged for refusing a work request by the Ganger and that a request by some other men for an increase of wages was also refused. It was further noted that the latter request came after the men had got drunk.

Opening Ceremony

The Warwick to Maryvale Railway Line was officially opened by the Premier, Mr. Denham, on Saturday 30th September 1911 although freight had been carted, on line construction trains, from Freestone and stations closer to Warwick from mid-July 1911.

An overnight special train (No. 922) was put on between Brisbane to Warwick to transport Ministerial Parties to and from the opening ceremony held at Maryvale.

A crowd of 5,000 was expected at the opening ceremony. 2457½ passengers were transported by six special return excursion trains from Warwick and neighbouring localities to Maryvale. A nominal special fare of 1/- (approx. $6.67 today) return from Warwick was offered.

Maryvale Railway Station

Station buildings at Maryvale, as constructed as part of the railway line construction, were a lamp room and closet, goods shed, shelter shed, engine shed, porter’s cottage as well as structures such as a platform, loading bank, ash pit and water tank. A water supply was provided at Maryvale as the distance from Warwick was too great to do a round trip without replenishing the tender especially if an overnight stop was required at Maryvale.

Initial traffic out of Maryvale were maize and cream and it was considered a large traffic in pine and cedar logs would soon result.

Elements of Maryvale Station remained to be completed despite the line being officially opened on 30 September 1911. These outstanding elements included the telegraph line (completed by mid-January 1912), goods shed, engine shed and station master’s house (all completed early 1912). It was noted that further room would need to be provided for loading logs should this requirement eventuate as expected.

The cost of the construction of Maryvale Station was £8455/5/7 (approx. $1,013,345 today) having been estimated pre-construction at £8272/2/9 (approx. $991,395 today). These costs exclude the construction of the Trucking Yards (cost £116/18/4 or approx. $14,000 today), which was a late addition to the station’s facilities and not completed until March 1913.

The line south of Ipswich to Munbilla and on to Dugandan had been in completed in 1887 (this is generally considered to be Queensland’s first branch line). To the south, the Warwick – Maryvale line was completed in 1911.

Article by Jonathon Welch, Sherwood Qld.