Whether you have the slightest interest in things that run on tracks or not, this national treasure of a museum is must-visit. Set in the gargantuan old boiler shop (c1903) which is part of the heritage-listed workshop complex where a century of Ipswich rail workers have toiled (and still do), the interactive exhibits and well-preserved relics are both fascinating and world class.
There have been rail workshops in this region since 1864 when Queensland's first train line, from Brisbane to Ipswich, was constructed. By 1888 the workshop had become overcrowded due to the rapid expansion of the industry and replacement buildings built, but by the end of the century this too had become too big for its facility and was moved 1km south to the current Railway Workshops location and so the buildings date from then.
In its heyday the workshops employed 3000 people and at its busiest time in the 1950s the boiler shop employed around 300 boilermakers who made or repaired up to 24 boilers per day.
Today the old boiler shop come museum is home to a host of beautifully restored engines and carriages from across the rail eras (including the Vice-regal car that carried royalty on their tours), Nippers Station - a fantastic mock-up railway for young ones to dress up and play on) , a model train, simulators to drive engines, films on the history of rail and a hands-on interactive room with fun installations reflecting the changing themes of the museum. Outside a fun mini train takes kids & adults on rides around the grounds and a working blacksmith is available for demonstrations at scheduled times.
Highlights of a day at the museum include:
The Vice-regal carriages – The beds are turned back, and the table still set for tea these vintage carriages that were enjoyed by the Prince of Wales in 1922, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester in 1934 and Princess Alexandra in 1959.
A10 no 6 Locomotive – One of 4 brought out from Scotland, it started operating the line from Ipswich to Helidon in 1866 and then on to Toowoomba in 1867.
The Panhard Railmotor – a quaint open-sided carriage built in 1918 at the Workshops and that ran between Normanton & Croydon from 1922 to 1941.
The Model railway – Queensland's largest model railway incorporating the major lines of Queensland including the coalfields of Central Queensland, the Container Port and the Cairns Kuranda tourist line.
Platform 9 – A retro dining car, station refreshment room and carriages from the romantic years of train travel in Queensland.
Simulators – Try your skills at operating a diesel cab or a modern electric train – fun for all ages.
Nippers Playground – Children can play for hours at this indoor mock-up mini railway complete with tracks to push coal carts around, tricycles to drive, fireman, police and train driver costumes to dress up in, a signal box to operate, station to await the train, ticket box and coal to shovel. There's also train-themed story books and drawing and colouring in activities.
Navvies Camp – a mock-up of the hut and harsh living conditions of the men who built the railways.
Workshops tour – These leave at regular intervals and delve into the whole history and depth of info behind the workshops. Blacksmith visits are also available.
On site there's a canteen that serves sandwiches, hot chips, burgers and so forth but there are several shady spots around the grounds that lend themselves to a picnic.
*Annual memberships cost the price of 2 tickets, or for a family, 2 passes. These are fantastic value as throughout the year, during school holidays, extra train- themed activities are introduced , from Circus Train to Thomas the Tank Engine so families with children may want to revisit. If, at the end of the first visit you decide to buy an annual pass you can convert the ticket you have to an annual pass and just pay the extra.