Workshops Rail Museum

Andrew Moritz


The Workshops Rail Museum / Queensland Museum

PO Box 2234, North Ipswich, QLD 4305 North Street, North Ipswich, QLD 4305


The Workshops Rail Museum is the newest campus of the Queensland Museum, Australia's largest rail museum and winner of the 2007 Australian Tourism Award for Heritage and Cultural Tourism.

The Workshops Rail Museum delivers an engaging visitor experience that explores the rich heritage and culture of the Australian rail experience at the birthplace of rail in Queensland.

The North Ipswich Railway Workshops site was the engine room of rail production in Queensland since 1865 when the first train steamed west from the site to Bigges Camp, now Grandchester. Over 10,000 people have worked onsite in its 143 year history, peaking during the 1940s and 1950s with 3,000 employees. More than 200 steam locomotives were built onsite, along with thousands of wagons, carriages and other equipment required for the State railway.

The Museum operates in conjunction with the operational QR (Queensland Rail) North Ipswich Railway Workshops whose charter is to restore and maintain Queensland''s Heritage Train Fleet.

Site significance

The Workshops Rail Museum. Dusk

The significance of the North Ipswich Railway Workshops cannot be underestimated. In a national and international context, it is a rare example of a large scale railway workshop. Workshops of a similar scale to Ipswich were built in other states of Australia and internationally to serve large rail networks, but most have either been demolished or converted into other uses to the extent that the original function is hardly recognisable. 

The North Ipswich Railway Workshops rank as one of the most important places of heritage and cultural significance in Queensland. The site demonstrates the evolution and pattern of Queensland's rail history and the principle characteristics of rail in Queensland with particular emphasis on the vast range of activities which occurred in The Workshops - from designing and constructing locomotives to repairing wagons.

Establishment of the Museum


The opportunity to create the Museum came about in the late 1990s when QR decided to relocate a significant component of its Workshops to the nearby more modern Redbank Workshops and proposals to mark the Centenary of Federation in 2001 (the coming together of the six colonies to form the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901) were being called for. The railway played a significant part in creating both Queensland and the nation and yet that story remained largely untold. A total of AUD$20 million was committed by the State Government and QR to create the Museum.

 It was recognised from the outset that the very survival and sustainability of The Workshops Rail Museum was linked to building an audience which was much broader than just the rail/train enthusiast.

Research conducted as part of the development phase led to the creation of the Museum centred around the concept of the impact that rail has had on the lives of people rather than a technical or chronological focus.

The Museum''s exhibitions include 16 interactive zones that trace the story of Queensland's rail heritage and culture and the impact rail has had on the lives of Queenslanders and visitors to the state. These zones include themes such as: ''Moving Goods'' - the major purpose of rail was to move goods around the State and the arrival of a goods train was the lifeblood of many Queensland communities; ''Platform 9'' - most visitors have come into contact with trains when travelling on a journey; and ''Diesel Revolution'' - the change from steam to diesel in the 1960s and 1970s brought with it significant social change for everyone involved; from passengers through to staff.

The Workshops Rail Museum. The Diesel Revolution

In addition to these themes, a key visitor experience of The Workshops Rail Museum is a tour of the operational QR Workshops. Visitors are guided through the fully operational industrial site by QR workers and are able to view genuine restoration and maintenance work, up close.

This is one of the largest, if not the largest, industrial worksites open to the public in Australia and visitors are enthralled by that they see. What is truly unique about The Workshops is that the work and activity carried out on the site for more than 100 years is still being undertaken i.e. building, repair and maintenance of steam locomotives and wooden carriages and wagons.

The Workshops Rail Museum. The Working Workshops

The Workshops Rail Museum experience taps into all the senses: Sight (seeing real locomotives and carriages up close), Sound (soundscapes and the sounds of a real workshop on a Behind the Scenes Tour), Touch (interactive displays such as Driving a Train and the hands-on Nippers Railway), Smell (the steam smells of a real workshop on a Behind the Scenes Tour) and Taste (the Trackside Cafeacute;, original Workers Canteen, serves meals similar to those served to past workers on site).

The Results

Since opening in September 2002, the Museum has established a reputation for excellence and innovation. Audience numbers have continued to grow each year and now total over 100,000 per annum and Museum membership is at an all time high of 9,500.

In order to attract audiences other than the rail/train enthusiast, The Workshops Rail Museum commenced a program of events, activities and exhibits that use popular themes to introduce the rail story.

The range of The Workshops Rail Museum's public programs include:

Major events

The Workshops Rail Museum''s annual signature event, Friends of Thomas (the Tank Engine) attracts in excess of 30,000 visitors each year for the month long event. The key audience is families and provides the chief communication tool to promote the range of other family orientated events for the next twelve months. These include:

  • Circus Train - all the fun of the fair as The Workshops Rail Museum explores the Circus and its inherent relationship to trains, especially in the early years of the Circus in transporting it from town to town.
  • Toyland Express - an event that encourages visitors, and especially children, to explore the world of simple toys and the use of trains in early children's literature.
  • Annual Workers Reunion and Ipswich Family Open Day - a significant yearly event that invites all past and present workers back to their site and also invites the local community to experience the Museum for free.

Other events are designed to appeal to specific markets such as the past and present workers and the local community with the Wizards and Witches Express; or the enthusiast audiences with the Queensland Model Railway Show.


The Workshops Rail Museum. The Circus Train

Great Railway Journeys of Australia, The Workshops Rail Museum''s major touring exhibition opened at the Museum and is currently travelling across Australia and was the first Queensland Museum exhibition to show at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra. Other smaller exhibitions such as Line on the Line are available to smaller museums and libraries across Queensland.


The Workshops Rail Museum delivers a truly engaging experience and insight into the Australian (Queensland) rail experience. Located at the historic North Ipswich Railway Workshops, the birthplace of rail in Queensland, and working with QR''s Heritage Rollingstock Maintenance program, the Museum present visitors with an unparalleled opportunity to understand and experience the role and contribution rail has made to the ongoing development of Queensland.


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