LOOKING BACK: 61 years of service on the Sunlander.
LOOKING BACK: 61 years of service on the Sunlander. Contributed

Sunlander leaves history in its tracks

AS THE iconic Sunlander train pulls out of Brisbane's Roma St station this morning, the sun will set on one of Queensland's most loved journeys.

After 61 years of service the Sunlander will make its final journey north to Cairns, before returning to the state's capital for a New Year's Day retirement.

The heritage locomotive will carry the last of the 3.5 million customers it has serviced since 1953, with countless former passengers lamenting its inevitable replacement by a newer and faster fleet called the Spirit of Queensland.

One such enthusiast is Wurtulla's Bruce Warrell who can vividly recall his first experience on the luxurious, air-conditioned Sunlander as a 19-year-old Scout leader in 1958.

"It was a great adventure for 19 young Scouts and two not very old Scouters - my friend and I - where we secured 21 Second Class sleeping berths out of the 24 available for a trip to Magnetic Island," he said.

"It was a two-night trip to get to Townsville back then, and the totally different landscapes were so great to see as we travelled between Rockhampton and Sarina during the day."

Mr Warrell - a lifelong train buff - took a trip down memory lane this October, travelling to Cairns in the luxurious Queenslander Class on the Sunlander alongside wife Het.

"We only wanted to go to Magnetic Island really, but stayed on until Cairns just for the Sunlander's beautiful seafood platter," he said.

Mr Warrell acknowledged all good things must come to an end, and said that Sunlander's original steel cars were starting to show their age, but this didn't stop his last trip being a sad one.

Nola Murphy of Beerwah, who worked as a stewardess on the Sunlander between 1980 and 1990, agreed it was a shame to see the old train being retired.

"Those of us who worked on it were a big family really - being together for four-day journeys - and 25 years later I'm still friends with the people I worked with," she said.

"I still point out the Sunlander to my kids when it goes past and I feel proud I worked on it."

Ms Murphy said she loved the relaxing nature of travelling on Sunlander - when she wasn't helping serve and clear breakfast, lunch and dinner for 24 guests at a time - and that the scenery between Brisbane and Cairns made it such a special way to travel.

"The problem is flights are so cheap these days, but going by train is more like a cruise: the holiday starts when you arrive at the railway station."

The former Sunlander stewardess said she had plenty of stories to tell about her decade of service, some of which were best not printed.

Her interesting life on Sunlander included witnessing numerous relationships forming, passengers sneaking on alcohol, being held up by floods for days on end and even the occasional death on board.

"You had all cross sections of people travelling, from pensioners to politicians and even rock bands," she said.

It's an old cliché, but Ms Murphy and Mr Warrell agreed that with train travel, getting there was half the fun.

"Yes you can fly to Cairns these days in a couple of hours, but it's not magical like getting on the train," Mr Warrell said.

Whether 2015's modern and faster Spirit of Queensland trains with their lie-flat beds and on-demand movies and music will inspire as much emotion as Sunlander remains to be seen.

Final journey

The Sunlander's final route to Cairns, leaving Brisbane this morning at 9.20am and expected departures at the following stations on the Sunshine Coast. The train should be in each station for 10 minutes before these departure times.

  • Brisbane (Roma St) 9.20am,
  • Caboolture 11.08am,
  • Nambour 12.15pm,
  • Cooroy 1.07pm,
  • Gympie North 2.02pm.

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