Ipswich Railway Workshops

Railway workshops were built at Ipswich in 1864 close to the location of the first railway in Queensland. The railway workshops were needed to assemble the locomotives and rolling stock and undertake repairs for the new railway. Railways were expanded very quickly and demands on the workshops increased. The Ipswich Railway Workshops were soon overcrowded. New buildings were built between 1884 and 1888 about 1 km north of the original workshops.

Construction of new railway workshops began on the current site in 1900. The original site ceased operation in 1907.
In its heyday the workshop employed 3,000 people

The Ipswich Railway Workshops continues working to this day. The workforce is much reduced from its peak but continues as a valued heritage workshop for the railways. It also incorporates The Workshops Rail Museum.

Boiler Shop

View of the northern end of the Ipswich Railway Workshops c.1920 View of the northern end of the Ipswich Railway Workshops c.1920 (Source: QR)

The building which now houses The Workshops Rail Museum was once the boiler shop where boilers for steam locomotives were built and repaired. The boiler shop built in 1903 replaced a much smaller building. It was extended four times as the number of boilers required to be made or repaired at Ipswich increased.

At its busiest, during the 1950s, up to 24 boilers could be made or repaired at time. The shop was labour intensive and employed up to 300 boilermakers, many with assistants, apprentices and labourers.

All day, the boiler shop was filled with the sound of pounding forging hammers and pneumatic machines. The earth floor helped to deaden the noise and minimise any damage when the boilers were rolled into position during repairs.

 

Heritage Railway Trades

There are many skills required in railway workshops. Some skills may only be found in the railways, and those that are seldom used are now quite rare. The Ipswich Railway Workshops are the only 19th century railway workshops still working in Australia. They are doing the same work that has continued for more than 100 years.

Some of the key trades in rail include:

Boilermaker

Boilermakers made and repaired the boilers for steam locomotives during the steam era. They later worked with heavy sheet metal to build steel wagons and parts.

Boiler making was hard, noisy work. It included welding steel, stripping boilers for repairs and fitting boiler stays and rivets. Boiler makers used heavy machinery to cut, bend, press and rivet steel.

Blacksmith

Blacksmiths made and repaired the iron and steel goods needed for the railway workshops. They made all the bolts, rivets, and stays used in locomotive construction. Blacksmiths also made parts such as buffers, drawhooks and springs.

The forger’s job in the blacksmiths’ shop was to cut the steel bars to size for use by the blacksmith. The metal was heated in the furnace to soften it.

They used similar tools to country blacksmiths but the tools they worked with and the products made were often very large and heavy. Huge drop hammers and a 500 ton forging press were used to shape heavy, large objects. Anvils and hand-held hammers were used to shape smaller objects.

Carriage Builder

One of the many workshop buildings at Ipswich Railway Workshops was the Steam Shop in this busy scene from c.1950. One of the many workshop buildings at Ipswich Railway Workshops was the Steam Shop in this busy scene from c.1950. (Source: QR)

Carriage builders were specialists who constructed and repaired all types of timber passenger carriages. They were also known as coach builders – a term carried over from the days when they made horse-drawn vehicles.

Wagon builders were the tradesmen who were skilled in the heavy carpentry required to make and repair wooden goods wagons. The skills required for this work were not as demanding as those required by a carriage builder.

One of the many workshop buildings at Ipswich Railway Workshops was the Steam Shop in this busy scene from c.1950.
Source: QR

Queensland Museum's Find out about... is proudly supported by the Thyne Reid Foundation and the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation.

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