One of the noblest characteristics of true greatness is modesty, but the people of Cairns are not altogether prepared to admire it when connected too intimately with so important an event as the opening of the second section of the Cairns-Herberton railway. The line was opened on Thursday last without any flourish of trumpets whatever, and the people may be excused if after waiting for years for the consummation of this important work they are disappointed that some little fuss was not made over it. It was hoped that a public holiday and excursion fares would [have] marked the event, which cannot fail to be regarded as an important epoch in the history of Cairns-if not of Queensland. Cairns Post 27 June 1891
Opened without fanfare, the section of railway line now known as the Kuranda Scenic Railway, was completed 125 years ago. This supremely difficult feat of engineering had been accomplished at considerable cost to the Queensland Government treasury (more than £1 million) and in the lives of workers. The railway climbing the rugged terrain of the Barron Gorge required construction of 15 tunnels, 55 bridges and more than 150 cuttings. Hundreds of tons of rock and earth were excavated by men with shovels and wheelbarrows, aided by explosives. Some 32 men were killed in accidents during construction. That the line was completed at all is largely credited to the contractor John Robb, who together with the government engineers found a way to construct the railway despite the rugged and unstable terrain and the harsh tropical climate.
The story of the construction of the railway can be read in Tracks of triumph : a tribute to the pioneers who built the famous Kuranda Scenic Railway by Alan Hudson
Simon Miller – Library Technician, State Library of Queensland