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Mt Isa Line

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The discovery of gold in 1872 at Charters Towers was the catalyst for the development of the Great Northern Railway now known as the Mt Isa System. It also secured the development of the new port of Townsville over its more established rival at Bowen. Construction began in 1878 and the line to Charters Towers was opened in December 1882 a year after an extension was approved to drive the line to Hughenden twice the distance as the line already underway. The line west of Charters Towers to Hughenden was constructed to a much lighter standard and was opened for traffic in 1887. Traffic from the west exceeded the expectations of the government and the line was soon the most profitable in the state.
Grazing interests soon lobbied for a line to the southwest to Winton and a line linking it with Hughenden was completed in 1899 and was an immediate success.
Construction paused for a period of time while funds were secured and materials stockpiled for the last big push to Cloncurry and its rich mineral deposits. Once construction began the line progressed rapidly across the plains due to light construction standards and the limited requirement for earthworks.
The line reached Marathon in 1903 then Richmond in June 1904 and Julia Creek in early 1908 and the line into Cloncurry was completed in December 1908 just in time for Christmas. Mining and grazing interests soon lobbied for lines to the southwest and northwest of Cloncurry and construction began almost as soon as the line to Cloncurry was completed. Today only one of these lines survives and is part of the Mt Isa System the section from Cloncurry to Malbon (1910), Malbon to Duchess (1912) and the Duchess to Mt Isa section completed in 1929
Today the Mt Isa System's main focus is serving the rich mineral district of Queenslands northwest but like many other lines in Queensland it was constructed to boost settlement and transport agricultural products. The track and associated infrastructure have been upgraded over the years to not only allow longer and heavier trains but also reduce nature’s influence eg flooding and severe heat.
To many people in my state and the rest of the country who are interested in rail photography the line to the Isa is just too far away or not worth the effort.
I can assure you nothing is further from the truth and after my first trip I was immediately planning a return journey. The line transitions through three distinct landscapes from the coastal forest to grassy plains and the rock and red dust of the outback.
Another aspect that makes the area so appealing is the friendly and open nature of the people out west.
Many people bemoan the fact that the "Real Australia" no longer exists but I can tell you now you won't find it in the generic Mcurban sprawl in which most of us live in.
While I was waiting for a train I would often put up my tripod and mount my camera on it not because I needed it but so people weren't constantly stopping to see if I needed a hand. Or the train crew that stopped for a bit of a chat and gave me a few bottles of cold water as well as inviting me out for a beer later or having a cuppa with the afternoon shift shunters.
Often grey nomads would stop to tell me a train was coming up the line from the opposite direction I was pointing my camera and kids in every small town on the line would wave to you. If you want an experience and not just a trip to photograph trains then I strongly urge you to see the Mt Isa line.
This is the first page of three I have planned to cover the line and it highlights the line from Mt Isa to Cloncurry.

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The rail tractor shunts the container yard near Mt Isa station.
09.30 24/11/04

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2834 in the single bay servicing dock waiting for its next run on the road.
10.14 24/11/04

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2151D + 2804 have finished shunting the yard as 2834 is busy attaching the wagons shunted by the rail tractor from the yard to the north of the station.
11.10 24/11/04

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I found the much photographed spot near Acid Junction to catch the arrival of the morning freight headed by 2821 passing at 11.25.
The train is pictured as it enters Mt Isa yard at 11.32 after waiting for the shunters to align the points. 2834 was waiting in the platform road after assembling its train.
11.35 24/11/04

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Mineral train loading at the Mt Isa Mine a few kilometers north of Mt Isa station.
10.00 24/11/04

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On the Phosphate Hill branch 2823 with acid tankers heads south to be unloaded at the Phosphate Hill mine at 14.36. A broken rail had delayed traffic on the line and there was a bit of a push to get the trains back on schedule. 2823 crossed with loaded train 9259 headed by 2604 and 2601 pulling 50 GOMB wagons at Pilgrim 14.46.
Thursday 15th July 2004

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Halfway between Pilgrim and the junction with the Mt Isa line at Bungalien, train 9259 with 2604 and 2601 sounding like Harley Davidson's on steroids pull 50 GOMB wagons from Phosphate Hill.

Thursday 15th July 2004 15.07

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The empty mineral train from Cloncurry that was stored in the yard headed by 2608 passed through Malbon at 12.16.
Thursday 15th July 2004

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The above and two below pictures are of the train headed by 2604 and 2601 that passed through Bungalien at 15.40 and is seen here approaching the level crossing to the north of Malbon on the Mt Isa Line.
Thursday 15th July 2004 16.37

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The train passed Bungalien at 15.40 and Malbon at 16.37 and powered on through Mitakoodi and is seen here stopped near a level crossing for a brake inspection.
Thursday 15th July 2004 16.53

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The mini road train meets the big train.

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With the brake problem fixed, the train gently starts away for Cloncurry about fiveteen kilometres away. I love the smoke these GE's put out.

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Passing Mitakoodi loop at 14.29, I came across 2829 leading a ballast train working the southern end of the loop and several track machines working the Mitakoodi to Malbon section. The track gang had authority on the section until 16.30 so the trains headed for Clonurry were being held in loops to the south of Malbon.
24/11/04

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Train 6291 headed by 2834 arriving at Malbon at 15.22 it stopped at the up approach board because the track crews had possession of the loop as well.
24/11/04

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The track machines that were working the Mitakoodi-Malbon section arrive at Malbon loop and stored in the siding off the loop used for loading cattle but by the looks of the yards haven't been used for some time.
16.10 24/11/04

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Train 6291 with 2834 in charge passing through Malbon at 16.31 it continued on to Cloncurry where twenty-two loaded concentrate gondolas were added.
The photo below shows train 9275 headed by 2841 arriving and cooling its heels in the loop while it waited for the proceeding train to clear the section to Mitakooti.
This train was held at Wammutta Loop while the trackwork was completed.
24/11/04

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The train departed at 17.05 and so did I following it to Mitakoodi arriving at 17.25. and continued on passing the northern end of Mitakoodi Gorge at 17.32 which is shown below.
24/11/04

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Empty ballast train 0E04 headed by 2804 with a ballast plough and twenty-three wagons enters Cloncurry yard. It was returning form track work on the Quarrell's to Nelia section. As it traveled west it reported its position, passing Gilliat at 13.52 and crossed with a loaded ore train 9247 at Pymurra at 15.21. It continued west passing Oonoomurra where the ore train was loaded and arrived Cloncurry Yard at 16.04.

While I was waiting for this train the curry shunt loco 2156D showed up and shunted the container terminal arriving light engine at 14.25 and reversed the loads back to Cloncurry yard at 14.51.
The ballast train continued through the station and onto the angle to the north through the infrastructure depot and into the ballast siding at 16.15. The train was only doing five km/h but cars were still crossing the road when it was less than ten meters from the crossing.
Wednesday 14th July 2004

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2608 and 4021 wait in the western end of the yard at Cloncurry for their next run to the mines for loading.
Wednesday 14th July 2004 16.34

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This photo was taken from the hill at the back of the caravan park I stayed in located on the eastern outskirts of Cloncurry. It shows Cloncurry yard and you can just make out an empty mineral train headed by 2608. The hills in the background form a natural barrier to a line further west so the line departs the yard and turns southwest. In the photo this would be to the left.
Thursday 15th July 2004 08.05

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2473D shunting the BP depot at the west end of Cloncurry Yard exchanging fuel loads for empties at 13.39.
24/11/04

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2834 departs the eastern limit of Cloncurry Yard near the container terminal in the late afternoon. Twenty-two mineral concentrate wagons have been added to its empty container loading for its trip east. The loco suffered three ATP failures which caused emergency brake applications delaying the train by half an hour.
WED 24/11/04 18.35