8 months ago


Fine dining on Bellarine

Fine dining on Bellarine Railway’s Q Train – and a Japanese comparison Text and images by James Chuang In the golden era of long distance train travel partaking of a meal in a dining car was an enjoyable and novel experience. Unfortunately, as aircraft and motor cars took most of the patronage away from long distance trains, especially in North America and Australasia, the traditional dining car almost disappeared, along with the trains that it served. In addition, the high cost of providing a full dining service complete with starched tablecloths and the best of crockery and cutlery, meant that the dining car was often not a viable financial operation, and would need to be subsidised by other parts of a railway’s operations. Today, many railway operators provide a low-cost walk-up counter or buffet service or a trolley service to passengers at their seats instead of a full dining car. Highspeed rail mostly serve airline-style precooked meals. In order to experience full dining car service in Australia today, one would need to travel on a tourist-orientated train like the Indian Pacific or the Spirit of the Outback, which aim at the higher end of the market. Melbourne’s long-running Colonial Tramcar Restaurant also continues the tradition of fine dining on rails, albeit in an urban setting. However, some tourist and heritage railways have moved beyond their original focus of providing a ride on heritage rolling stock to the dining experience area with, for example, Victoria’s Puffing Billy Railway provides trips focused on dining, while Ipswich-based Queensland Pioneer Steam Railway is now offering travel with a dining theme (see October 2017 RD, page 52) The Bellarine Railway, near Geelong, has recently entered the dining experience world with its Q Train, promoting food and drinks as the main theme. However, although the Q Train is promoted as a dining experience, rail enthusiasts will find the former Queensland Rail (QR) M series ‘Lander’ cars and the spluttering sound of a QR English Electric diesel locomotive add much interest. Background The South Geelong to Queenscliff railway, serving the Bellarine Peninsula and fortifications at the entrance to Port Phillip Bay at Queenscliff, opened in 1879 as a broad-gauge line and closed in 1976. The section between Queenscliff and Drysdale reopened as a tourist and heritage railway in 1979, by regauging the railway to 1067mm (3ft 6in), enabling locomotives from the former Australian Portland Cement works at Fyansford, near Geelong, to operate the tourist trains. Over the years the railway collected 1067mm gauge rolling stock from both government and private railways across Australia. Fast-forward to the present time and the Bellarine Railway is seeking to build upon its popularity by developing another feature to encourage passengers come for a ride. To date the Bellarine Railway has developed ‘Day out with Thomas’ events (based on the Thomas the tank engine concept), ‘Driving experience’ for both steam and diesel locomotives, ‘Cab ride’, ‘Halloween train’, ‘Santa train’ and the now well-known ‘Blues Train’. When Queensland Rail put most of their M series steel-bodied air-conditioned cars up for sale, the Bellarine Railway teamed up with Total Quality Solutions Pty Ltd to purchase 24 M series Comeng and Ipswich Workshops-built carriages, thereby becoming by far the largest current M series car owner! The purchase of M series cars was intended to create a dining train with a focus on a casual fine dining experience with a six-course degustation menu, plus wines. The train is intended to showcase the food and wine from the Geelong region. A new brand name was created, ‘The Q train’, with the ‘Q’, based on Queenscliff and former M series car owners, Queensland Rail. The tourist railway already owns ex-QR English Electric locomotive 1604 to operate the train and reinforce the Queensland theme, and there may be the possibility of steam haulage on occasions. A new colour 46 RAILWAY DIGEST

scheme has been applied to the train, based on a beach theme, and a matching livery is used on locomotive 1604. The 60-plus year old carriages look as if they are brand new! The initial train composition is: • MPCC 1430, Power car (1971, Ipswich Workshops) • Former QR VIP fleet car MSD1460, manufactured in 1953 by Comeng, (one of three converted for this role) was purchased and used as a kitchen car for preparing meals. This carriage was originally a ‘Lander’ dining car, and in 1987 was converted to a kitchen with bedroom accommodation for cooks and other staff. The VIP fleet was used by Governors General and senior QR staff, and it is understood that former Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen also used the cars during his career. Their use declined after the mid-90s. The other two VIP cars were sold to a fruit farm to provide accommodation for fruit pickers so this car is the only former QR VIP car still in active operation and the interior largely hasn’t changed. • The other notable car is MCC1521 ‘Club Loco’. It was built as a club /dining car in 1958. In 1992 when the Queenslander received its second refurbishment, it was refurbished as a ‘disco on wheels’. Originally it was intended for economy sitting passengers and marketed as part of a separate train call Spirit of the Tropics which was priced specifically to the backpacker market. From 1993, the car received a full body “yellow-and maroon” livery, and was claimed to be the first disco club on rail in the world. A change in QR management direction eventually separated the Queenslander and Spirit of the Tropics as two completely separate trains operating to different schedules from the late 90s. To standardise train compositions of the Spirit of the Tropics with the Sunlander and Spirit of the Outback, this car was then swapped with MCD1528 (renamed ‘Club Loco’). QR then put MCC1521 in to storage in the late 90s until Bellarine Railway purchased it and turned it back to a bar/disco club style lounge car for the Q train operation. The car had returned to its former use! • MBL1509 is a former economy sitter built by Comeng in 1953. Post-refurbishment it has had seats removed and replaced with dining room-style seating with a bar at one end, and has kept the seat number plates, reading lights, and luggage rack in its new guise as a Q class dining car. The bar is of a similar design to the former Queenslander bar. • MBS 1474 was originally an economy sleeper with eight cabins. These have now been removed, converting it into an open Q class dining car seating 46 passengers. Originally manufactured by Comeng in 1953. • MAS 1487 was originally a twinette sleeper manufactured in 1953 by Comeng, now it is a first class dining car. The shower room is still intact! The full complement of M series cars on Bellarine Railway comprises: MBL 1509, MBL 1511, MBL 1512, MCSC1484, MBL 1534, MPCC 1430, MBSC 1533, MBS 1532, MBC 1459, MBSC 1479, MSC 1469, MBL 1517, MBL 1531, MBS 1474, MBS 1472, MSD 1460,MBC 1457, MBC 1454, MBC 1446,MAS 1499, MAS 1487, MAS 1489,MAS 1498, MCC 1521 The Q train began operation at the end of September 2017, and the train runs every weekend for dinner service. The train offers two types of accommodation, Q class – dining in the open dining car, or first class – dining in the former twinette sleeper. Left (page 46): An interior view of the Q train’s Q class dining car MBL1509, a former economy sitting car built by Comeng in 1953, on the evening of Saturday 21 October 2017. The bar installed in this car is very similar to the former QR Queenslander class bar. Below: Former QR English Electric Co-Co DE unit 1604, built in 1962, retaining its former QR blue livery, sits ready to depart Drysdale for Queenscliff late on Saturday 21 October 2017. The scene is somewhat reminiscent of the erstwhile Midlander preparing to leave Emerald for Rockhampton in the 1970s. Preservation & Tourist FEBRUARY 2018 47

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