It was in 1827 that Allan Cunningham discovered a pass through the Great Dividing Range to a lush area ideal for settlement.
Soon named the Darling Downs – in honour of Governor Ralph Darling – the region has since come to be regarded as one of the richest, most fertile parts of Australia.
Following Queensland’s separation from New South Wales in 1859, the new government quickly judged the development of the Darling Downs to be a priority.
With the foundation of Queensland Rail in 1865, a series of sections of the Main Line from Roma Street station in Brisbane through Ipswich to Toowoomba, were begun. The work was completed by April 12, 1867 when a ceremonial train rolled into the Toowoomba platform. The occasion was historic with the railway being the first main line in the world to have been developed using a 3ft.6in. (1067mm) gauge.
Initially a corrugated iron shed provided shelter for waiting passengers but the need for a more substantial building soon became evident. Skillfully drawn by colonial architect F D G Stanley, station housing of Italian Renaissance design, was built over a period of 18 months at a cost of 1870 pounds. An impressive construction officially opened on October 26, 1874. The station consists of two adjoining two-storey rendered masonry buildings with hipped roofs to the north and south and gabled bays to the east and west.
The ground floor openings have arched heads with keystone framed by continuous mouldings and feature a wide arch over the centrally placed entrance to the platform, which is some 200m long.
Over the years, the complex has been enlarged on a number of occasions. Initially, a Railway Refreshment Room Wing replaced a smaller dining room in 1902. This was extended 13 years later and further improvements were made in 1920 and 1926.
During this period the platform canopies were added while outbuildings near Russell Street were built to provide facilities such as parcel and luggage rooms. Other buildings, such as a goods shed, a signaling cabin and a brake examination were also built on the site.
In 1918, an expertly crafted Honour Roll, which was made at the Ipswich railway workshops, was hung at the north end of the station.
The Honour Roll, which is flanked by memorial plaques, pays tribute to the role of local railway workers in World War I. During the years of World War II, when two air raid shelters were dug in the environs, the station’s importance was emphasised as trains constantly passed through, carrying troops, produce and equipment.
With such a distinguished history, Toowoomba Railway Station and its dining rooms were considered worthy of listing on the Queensland Heritage Register in 1992.
As demand decreased Toowoomba stopped having a regular passenger service in August 1994, however by April 1997, The Westlander was calling again at the station. The following year renovation and restoration of the station was undertaken at a cost of $1 million.
In more recent times the station and its surrounds have been complemented by the opening of the Railway 9 restaurant and the Inbound brasserie.
Words by Graeme Kelly | Images via Local History & Robinson Collections, Toowoomba City Library.