Queensland Rail’s Sunlander
Queensland Rail’s Sunlander Contributed

Sunlander brings tourists to region

ENDLESS opportunities are beginning to open up for the Southern Downs.

DownsSteam Tourist Railway and Museum has secured a locomotive to resurrect a brand of tourism all but forgotten in the modern age with the purchase of carriages from the historic Sunlander.

The Sunlander, which ran regular routes between Brisbane and Cairns for 60 years, will soon grace the tracks between Toowoomba, Warwick and Stanthorpe which is further pushing calls to turn the Warwick railway station into a tourism hub.

DownsSteam spokesman Robert Ketton said the route - to be known as the Great Divide Scenic Railway - would be a godsend to the region's tourism industry.

"We will have access to the carriages late this year or early next year," Mr Ketton said.

"The former Sunlander will be totally restored and repainted and we will be able to offer sleeping accommodation.

"We want to take overnight trips to places like Stan

thorpe and stop at wineries along the way.

"Railways are a memory of a kinder and gentler time, so what we're really selling is heritage and nostalgia.

"But it's also an economic driver for the region and could become a huge tourist attraction."

Warwick Tourism and Events CEO Tracy Vellacott said the announcement opened up an exciting tourism link for the Southern and Darling Downs communities.

"We could emulate the popularity of rail tourism in other parts of the world," Mrs Vellacott said.

"We already have a burgeoning rail tourism offering with our Downs Dasher steam train and I believe this gives a formidable rail network foundation for the greater Southern Queensland Country region."

Mrs Vellacott said rail tourism in its heyday was about heading to the beaches, lakes, parks and mountains.

"While enjoying the spirit of yesteryear, contemporary rail journeys through this region would throw up an equally enchanting kaleidoscope of landscapes from the vast paddocks of crops to the elevated climb through the mountains to the Granite Belt," she said.

"And how fortuitous that the Warwick Chamber of Commerce is stimulating discussion right now around the value of developing the Warwick Railway precinct into a tourism, arts and cultural hub.

"This could work in beautifully with increased passenger services to the region."

Mrs Vellacott said the development of this precinct would allow us to maximise the tourist spend into the region if visitors were able to stop at the Warwick station where they could experience visitor services, art gallery, local handmade craft and food or, perhaps, overnight in region with an opportunity to package tours to other natural, historic and event attractions in the area.

Warwick Chamber of Commerce president Bruce Partridge said it was timely considering the chamber's business development committee had recently identified the railway precinct as a potential tourism hub.

"Our current Visitor Information Centre (VIC) is not in a practical location," Mr Partridge said.

"Parking is restricted and access from the north is difficult.

"Warwick needs an attractive and practical spot that can cope with modern RVs.

"While our current art gallery is fine for exhibitions, modern galleries have become more hands-on with artists and artisans on site," he said.

Mr Partridge said the railway station and adjacent goods shed could come alive with arts groups, café, and the VIC.

"The Southern Downs Steam Railway would be able to develop a full-blown museum," he said.

"A more pertinent question is what will become of this magnificent asset if locals don't take control of it?

"Warwick needs to look at this potential and grab it with both hands.

"This would give Warwick a destination for locals and visitors to be proud of."

Mr Partridge said the chamber recognised there were financial constraints but believed this needed to be investigated and funding opportunities might follow.

Granite Belt Wine and Tourism (GBWT) business marketing manager Sarah Reeves said the movement occurring across the larger south-east Queensland region might redefine our target market.

"The potential for this is fantastic, especially when considered alongside the opportunities that will arise from the new Toowoomba airport," she said.

"What this highlights more than ever is the importance of creating packages so we can maximise the potential and create an amazing visitor experience.

"The time is ripe for this as people are looking to connect with the good old days and look to alternate styles of transport, food, accommodation and wine."

DownsSteam has also bought a run-down 1920s rail motor from Tasmania which it is envisaged will be utilised for heritage runs to such places as Nobby, Clifton and Allora.

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