Mention the word Sunlander to any rail enthusiast and you’ll start a conversation.
The Sunlander had its last run in 2007. This famous Queensland Railways sleeper train ran from Brisbane to Cairns. Now the Footplate Padre recalls an article written by Allan Davis about driving the Sunlander, who was a retired Queensland Railways driver.
Allan Davis had a total of 46 years on the Footplate through ths steam years and into the diesel era. He regularly drove the Sunlander. He had a steady hand at the wheel (as it were).
The Footplate Padre's fourth railway book consisted of fourteen train journey's as if from the driver's seat. This book revealed what it was actually like, being in control of a locomotive and a train, on fourteen separate railway journeys.
It was obviously titled "From the Driver's Seat".
One of the trains the Footplate Padre considered absolutely essential for this book, was the Sunlander and Queensland Railways retired train driver Allan Davis replied to his inquiry, saying he would be delighted to contribute describing such a journey.
By the time all the journey's had been submitted, edited and then type set and photographs selected, the book 'From the Driver's Seat' was published in March 1989 and is now a collector's item.
The 'big train' era of post WWII before air flight and more recently the cheap air fare drama established itself, the Sunlander was one of Australia's most patronised passenger trains.
It is a long way from Brisbane and Cairns (1600 klms), and for three decades from the fifties through to the seventies, train travel was a very positive and safe option.
The Sunlander in effect took two nights and three days to travel that distance, on two timetables, and many utilised the service for major centre stops in between. The evening timetable between Gympie and Mackay was a very convenient trip for those passengers as it meant a sleeper overnight.
The morning timetable between Mackay and Townsville was likewise convenient for inter city commuters.
Maryborough Locomotive Depot crews
Allan Davis wrote that the Maryborough locomotive depot crews were the main stay engineman for the Sunlander as they would bring the southern Sunlander from Maryborough to Brisbane.
They would then take their rest in barracks, and then drive the northern Sunlander from Brisbane back to Maryborough where they would be relieved by another Maryborough crew.
Allan Davis in his Sunlander article said they brought the locomotive from the Mayne Locomotive Depot to Roma Street Station and attached there for their 7.15am departure time.
There was only ever a need for one large diesel locomotive to haul the Sunlander to timetable. It was double line fast running to Caboolture.
The track to Gympie transverses the Blackall Range and then to Maryborough, mostly undulating track. The track from Maryborough to Bundaberg and then onto Gladstone was flat as it is a huge sugar cane growing area.
All through the article Allan Davis detailed when he applied the brakes, and by how much pressure, and when, so as to bring the Sunlander to a smooth gliding stop.
Allan Davis articulate description illustrates he's done this many times, it's a credible account.
The Queensland Railways early era diesels that hauled the Sunlander trains were the 1100 Class (hood design), the 1200 Class (Streamline design), the 1250 Class (Streamline front and hood rear) and the 1400 Class diesels, rarely but sometimes, the 1300 block design hood diesels. In later years the 21 Class held sway.
Describing the driving of these various diesels varied as the hood designed diesels required the fireman to keep alert for the left hand side of the track. Queensland Railways diesels had the control panels on the right hand side of the cabin. NSW and Victorian Railways had their driver controls on the left.
The streamline designed cabins gave the crew a full frontal view from both right hand and left hand side of the cabin. The diesels were at full power climbing the Blackall Ranges and the driver required subtle skills over the undulating track. A touch here and a touch there, free running and powering up, half power running and full power to retain speed.
Allan Davies described it all. For rail the buffs who read the Sunlander trip had a happy Christmas that year!
The Footplate Padre says that Christians too feel nostalgia. There is a generation that thinks back to the years when their children were growing up in the local church's Sunday School program, the youth program, the young adults program ... but this meant a new generation with equally valid but different ideas for ministry. So too the railways and the Sunlander.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 25 books, and enjoys writing. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand. Dr Mark Tronson’s Press Service International in 2019 was awarded ‘The Gutenberg’ - the Australasian Religious Press Association’s premier award. In September 2020 Summer Moore presented her commission portrait of Dr Mark Tronson holding the Gutenberg plaque. He and David Chang editor of Christian Today together bought the young writer ministry into fruition in 2009. In 2011 Mark established Laguna Quays Respite (Whitsundays) for missionary respite and replicated at Aldinga Beach 2016 (Adelaide) and Greens Beach Bass Straight (TAS). His ministry is honoured all these years by Christian philanthropist Mr Basil Sellers AM. He is married to Delma (44 years), with four adult married children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/dr-mark-t.html