All Stations to Casino
The Story of the Pacific Coast Railway Society
During the golden age of railways and Australia's federation, a plan was adopted to build a railway to link Brisbane and Sydney via Southport, Tweed Heads, Byron Bay, Lismore and Casino, then westwards to link with the existing Sydney to Brisbane via New England railway at Tenterfield.
The Queensland section, built to standard gauge loading gauge, but laid with 3' 6" was opened to Tweed Heads. NSW built a line from Lismore to Mullumbimby and then extended it to Murwillumbah. The rails then pushed westwards to Casino and in 1903, the first Z12 class steamed into Casino. Embankments, cuttings and bridgework's then were commenced to a distance of over 20 miles west of Casino to near Mummulgum, on the Bruxner Highway, where work was finally abandoned.
A new line, the North Coast Railway was built, and the construction of the mighty double deck bridge over the Clarence River and a new brick station and rail yards at Casino saw the end of the Grafton train ferries and reduced the original Casino station and railway yards to secondary importance.
A new loco depot and signal box were built in Casino and the station and sidings built in 1903, were renamed Old Casino. The local industry that had grown around the goods yard ensured they continued to be needed and Old Casino remained a hive of activity. It was the terminus for the famous "mountain goat" and all passenger trains on the Murwillumbah branch stopped there. Then in the mid 1970's, for the last time, the Gold Coast Motorail whistled out and Old Casino was closed as a station.
The station was at that time a base for over a hundred rail workers, their families, fettlers trolleys and a sleeper depot. The office of the regional Bridge and Perway Inspector was located in the old station, which meant it was well kept and maintained until the late 1980s. Eventually the office was relocated, the windows were boarded up and Old Casino became a ghost station.
The locals dig in
In late 1989, a railway club was formed by Northern Rivers people. The initial aim was to get a train to run on the Murwillumbah line, but up to October 1989, the group had concentrated on saving the rail infrastructure at Casino. As though frozen in time, little had changed since the 1930s. The sector house survived with 70 foot turntable, wheel lathe, ash pits, water and sand towers, and the last remaining coal loader in NSW, a Harmon coal plant. The main line yard was a maze of tracks and old wooden signals, worked by an 86 level signal box. And there was Old Casino, threatened with demolition by the SRA. The club joined forces with the townspeople to save it as a museum and base for a standard gauge train.
The club needed a name. "Casino Railway Club" being rejected as too parochial because people from throughout the region were now involved. The name "Pacific Coast Railway Society" was chosen to honour the last great passenger train to pass Old Casino daily, the "Pacific Coast Motorail", which had just been axed despite overwhelming public opposition.
Then the 3801 accident occurred and all historic trains in NSW were stopped. The SRA wanted to bulldoze Old Casino and informed the Pacific Coast Railway Society that, because access to the station was via a level crossing, the station was considered an unsuitable site for a museum. When this news was received at a meeting, one member joked that perhaps we needed a monorail to bring the public in.
A miniature railway
The club's President had built a 5" gauge C32 class and was inspired by the ARHS motto - for all who are interested in railways. Our club members interests varied from N gauge to standard gauge. The idea of a live steam track emerged - as we didn't have a big train, why not build a miniature branch line like the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch line in England? Casino Council became the backers and made $40,000 available, as well as agreeing to be lessee of the station site. A dual gauge line was built by members to link the land-locked station with the outside world. A miniature station located on the Summerland Way was built and named North Casino.
Since the opening on the long weekend in October 1993, the track has been an enormous success. All visitors to the old station museum must travel on the model trains. This means a lot to a whole generation of North Coast children, who have grown up in an area without passenger trains. Their only experience of railways and train travel, especially steam trains, has been riding on the miniature branch line. The museum received a boost when the station and surrounds were restored, thanks to a Federal government grant in 1995. The fettlers shed was turned into a mini train depot and some of our exhibits, including a Villiers fettler quad were restored. A new brick amenities building was erected, modeled on a 1903 style station.
The arrival in Casino of 421 class engines and over 20 carriages of the Northern Rivers Railroad has ensured the future of the Casino complex. The last train to stop at Old Casino was the North Coaster tour by ARHS Canberra in 1995. The museum was originally planned as a facility for tourist trains, and it was a case of "all out, all change for North Casino". A fleet of mini trains treated the passengers to a return journey on our line. After a quick museum inspection they then boarded their 15-car, 82 class hauled express to Border Loop, next stop Canberra.