The Sunlander

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The Sunlander
The Sunlander in 2010
Service type Passenger train
Status Operating
Locale Queensland
First service July 1953
Last service 2014
Current operator(s) Queensland Rail
Ridership 388,197 (2010/11)
Start Brisbane
End Cairns
Distance travelled 1,681 kilometres
Average journey time 45 hours (original)
31 hours (current)
Service frequency 3 each way per week
On-board services
Seating arrangements yes
Sleeping arrangements yes
Catering facilities Club Car / Buffet Car
Track gauge 1,067mm
Queenslander Class on The Sunlander brand
The Sunlander
Maryborough West
Miriam Vale
Mount Larcom
St Lawrence
Home Hill

The Sunlander is a long distance passenger rail service operating three times per week on the North Coast line between Brisbane and Cairns in Queensland over a distance of 1,681 kilometres. The service is a locomotive hauled train. It carried 85,000 people in 2009.[1] It will be replaced in 2014 by the Spirit of Queensland.


1556 and a 1720 class haul the northbound Sunlander through Yabulu in 1991
Lounge car of The Sunlander in 1978

From December 1924, when the rail line to Cairns was opened, a steam hauled non air-conditioned train provided the service.[2]

In 1935, a new train named the Sunshine Express was introduced. This train of wooden carriages featured varnished timber internal panelling made from natural Queensland timbers. Comforts for that period included electric fans, electric lighting, and leather upholstered seating. Accommodation included sleeping berths for first and second class passengers and seating only carriages.[3]

Victorian Railways introduced air-conditioned trains in 1935, and Queensland decided to follow suit in the late 1940s. Carriages were designed to travel to all parts of the system, meaning a maximum axle load of 9 tons, which was a challenge for the dining cars. New features included showers in the sleeping cars, roomettes in first class and head end power cars, especially necessary where trains may be delayed by floods or other events, as was often the case.

The Sunlander commenced service in June 1953, replacing the Sunshine Express.[2] This new air conditioned train was hauled by a diesel locomotive and by eliminating steam locomotive servicing stops, the transit time to Cairns was reduced from 45 to 41¼ hours. Since then the time has been cut to 31 hours.[2]

In 2014 the service will be replaced by the Spirit of Queensland using Tilt Trains.[4][5][6]


The route follows the North Coast railway line from Brisbane in the sub tropical region of South East Queensland through to the tropical north region. The train travels the coastal strip between the beaches and the Great Dividing Range passing diverse country including the Glasshouse Mountains, the sugar cane country of North Queensland and the tropics beyond Townsville.

Passenger facilities[edit]

Facilities on board include two food service cars. A Buffet car provides a full meal service and a refreshment car provides takeaway food service. Two classes of travel are available

  • Queenslander Class – premium service with all meals provided and twin berth accommodation
  • Standard Service – seats and berth accommodation

A Motorail service is available on The Sunlander enabling passengers to load their car onto a special car carrying wagon on the train. This feature is will not be available on the Spirit of Queensland operation.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Qld's Luxury Train for makeover". Ninemsn. 2010-10-27. Retrieved 20 February 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c "Travelling Times by Rail". Queensland Historical Atlas. 2010. Retrieved 16 February 2011. 
  3. ^ Burke, David (2009). Chasing the sunshine : the story of Queensland's sunshine express. South Brisbane, Queensland, Australia: Queensland Museum. p. 154. ISBN 978-0-9805692-3-0. 
  4. ^ World class trains for Queensland supporting 800 Maryborough jobs Minister for Transport 27 October 2010
  5. ^ Spirit of Queensland Queensland
  6. ^ Spirit of Queensland factsheet Queensland Rail

External links[edit]