The Greenvale Line

Sadly just about every state in Australia is littered with abandoned railway lines; most of them built at least 100 years ago and at a time when it was more important to provide a service than return a large profit.

The abandoned line that runs northwest from Townsville to the town of Greenvale is definitely an exception. The line wasn’t built in the 1800s; it was built in the early 1970s and opened for traffic in 1974. Although it did have a passenger service that had no hope of returning a profit, the line’s main purpose was to transport nickel from a mine at Greenvale to a smelter near Townsville.

And as soon as the mine ran out of ore in 1993 the line was closed.

Before the track was lifted there was an attempt to have the section through the Hervey Ranges, just out of Townsville, kept open as a tourist line but that fell through and the rail along the full length of the line was lifted and ultimately used on the line out to Mount Isa.

These days the old formation is still in place and appears not to have been sold off to neighboring farmers and there is some chance that trains will run on this line again for surveys have shown that there are mineral deposits along the line that are worth mining.

As recently as 2008 there were plans to reopen at least part of the line to serve a proposed iron ore mine and the mining company had even gone so far as to purchase four of the 1100 class locos that had once seen service on the Emu Bay Railway to work the line. Unfortunately the global financial crisis put an end to that plan.

When the line was operating there were two and possibly three ore trains a day running on the line however by 1989 the number of ore trains operating each day would have been down to just two. It was usual for one of those trains to be made up of 92 ore wagons hauled by four locos while the others were made up of 69 wagons and hauled by three locos.

Cattle trains also used the line and there was a rail motor that ran a fortnightly service from Greenvale to Townsville and return. The rail motor would run empty to Greenvale on the day prior to its Townsville trip, do its return trip to Townsville providing a same-day service for shoppers, and then return empty to Townsville on the third day.

This less-than-economic passenger service remained in place until the line was closed.

The ruling grade on the Greenvale line was 1 in 40 and the longest grade ran for 15km and faced empty trains. There were also a number of tunnels bored to take the line through some of the ridges in the Hervey Ranges.

I stumbled on the Greenvale line and two of the tunnels during this last week quite by accident. I was up in Townsville for the press release of the new Toyota Hilux and part of the drive programme took us out to the Hervey Ranges Tea Rooms where we were split into two groups and sent in different directions.

Our group went down to the old track formation, along it for a short stretch and then through quite a lengthy tunnel (unfortunately I’m not sure which tunnel it was but it did have a slight bend in it). We were then halted at the next tunnel and turned back because of a rock fall at the far end. We were also told that the cutting at the far end of that tunnel was unstable and it was not safe to even walk through the tunnel.

Even though I was driving I managed to grab a few photos around the tunnels and at the turn-back I jumped out and took one looking through to the rock fall. Another photo in this set was taken by Noel McKeegan, editor of Gizmag, and shows us coming out of the tunnel at what I think was the Greenvale end.

Once we got back from the tunnels we were sent out to a look out and that’s where I was able to grab the scenic shot you see above.

You can see the state of the old track formation from the photographs, it was a bit rough in places but it was fine in the tunnel that we drove through.

My apologies for being a little vague about some of the details of where the photos were taken but on these press day drives the mind tends to be focused on how the vehicle is handling, how it’s handling the conditions and whether or not I’m going to be able to return the vehicle in one piece and not so much on where you’re driving.

My thanks to Arthur Shale, Peter Murray, Neil Farmer and the other members of the QRIG group who took the time to answer my questions and get involved in an interesting discussion about the Greenvale line.

If you’re interested in reading about the new Toyota Hilux then follow the link to AussieMotoring’s intro to the new Toyota Hilux.

Unfortunately in moving this website to a new theme (the bit that makes the site readable and attractive) all the comments in this part of the site were lost but I did manage to salvage these comments from a former driver and a former guard who worked the line.


Rod Ahearn September 1, 2012

During the 1980’s I was a Guard (3 man trains back then) in the Railway at Townsville. I used to work empty nickle /loaded nickle trains from Cobarra to Greenvale and return, also Rail motors every 2nd. Wednesday and Thursday from Townsville to Greenvale as well as Livestock trains from Miners Lake to Cobarra.

The photos are the tunnells and portalls that we used to travel through from Cobarra up Herveys range between Cobarra and Keelbottom.


admin September 1, 2012

G’day Rod thanks for your comments … it’s always good to hear from people who have actually worked in the industry.

There’s some minor crystal-ball gazing on Qrig that suggests that the Greenvale line might be re-opened one day in the near future. Do you think that’s a possibility?



Rod Ahearn September 2, 2012

Good morning Stuart,
I am not sure if it will ever go ahead again like it was in the 1970’s and the 1980’s. I am now retired from QR National Network Services, so I am not privey to any information.
I certainly enjoyed working trains on the Greenvale Line. The original locomotives were 2200 clyde class locos, later renumbered 2140 class. The nickle trains that I used to work had 23 GNB class wagons behind the 4th loco, to assist the Driver with the braking of the train coming down Herveys Range, then 71 GN class wagons. At that time they were the biggest mineral wagon and carried the heavyist load. Each train was just over a mile in length. I know, because on 2 seperate occassions, I had to walk the full length of the train.


Baden Briggs November 14, 2015

I used to work on the line as well, driving ore trains, rail motors, cattle & work trains. It was a good interesting line to work, often with challenges of getting the loaded train to Cobarra in one piece. Heavy grades to pull up with about 7300 tonnes behind the locos, which were working hard most of the time either pulling or Dynamic braking. A real testament to the Clyde Locos we worked with. Hervey’s range was a testing range to come down at night & when raining hard as you were in cloud a lot of the time, with little visibility. There used to be small colonies of bats living in the tunnels those days & probably still do. It is a shame that the tunnel has collapsed though