I must admit I didn’t expect too much from a museum about trains but we had heard good things about The Workshops Rail Museum. When our Saturday morning swimming class was cancelled one weekend we decided to visit Ipswich and see what all the fuss was about.
The museum’s website recommends you put aside at least three hours for your visit and they aren’t wrong! We ended up spending the good part of a day here and pushed right past nap time because we were having so much fun. Little man was so exhausted by the time we had finished that he fell asleep before we’d left the car park.
The Workshops Rail Museum – educational fun
The excitement begins as soon as you step through the gates and approach a real-life restored steam train from 1908. The display includes life-like steam effects and conductor announcements. Here we learnt about the history of mixed good trains in Queensland through audio and video displays.
Stepping inside the doors of the museum it quickly becomes clear how much there is to do and see at the Workshops Rail Museum. Trains of all kinds are on display along with several play areas for the kids. The museum is a full sensory experience, which keeps your attention at every turn.
Walk through to the left and you will see one of coolest model railways around. It reflects the different regions and functions of Queensland Rail. The model includes the sugarcane fields, North Queensland’s Kuranda Sky Rail, Brisbane’s suburban networks, Central Queensland’s coal fields and the Darling Downs wheat district.
Role-play and use your imagination
Next, we walked through to an exhibition housing historical items and sat inside a carriage to imagine what rail travel would have been like in the late 1800’s. Stepping out the other side of the carriage kids can have fun role-playing in the dining cart. Little man loved putting on his apron and serving us tea and toast! It was so much fun to watch the children dress up and use their imagination.
The Nipper’s Railway is another play area in the museum that gives children the opportunity to actively engage in learning about railways. Kids can pretend to be a train driver, sell tickets and change signals. There are small tables with wooden train tracks to play with, bikes to ride, books to read and platforms, carriages and towers to climb. Little man loved this space so much we had to return before we left.
We then boarded the recreated Tilt Train and sat in the driver’s seat. From this vantage point we watched the train’s trip north to Rockhamptom. You can also have a go at driving a train on a computer simulator, and learn all about how the Tilt Train works. At the front of the museum you can climb up to the Diesel train, explore its mechanics and try being the driver once again.
School Holiday Fun
At the time of our visit during the Easter school holidays, there were additional activities for kids including a large Lego exhibit out the front. There were tables of craft materials set up inside with activities which gave children the opportunity be an engineer for a day. We noticed Thomas the Tank engine is coming in July and we have already marked a return visit in our diary!
Stunning history on display
The Powerhouse building set on top of a landscaped hill beside the cafe provides a stunning backdrop for family photos. This building also played an important role in running the site – providing electricity, hydraulic pressure and compressed air to run the machinery and tools. Other historic buildings make up The Workshops Rail Museum – the Timekeepers building now houses the entrance and ticket office and the Worker’s Dining Hall has become the café.
A war memorial that was built to honour the workshop employees who served in World War I still stands on the grounds. Three hundred workers enlisted to serve during the war and of these thirty-one did not return.
Tips for your visit
It’s not necessary to pack a lunch – the café is very affordable and has a decent selection of food and drinks. Enjoy your refreshments on the balcony overlooking the museum grounds.
Make sure you bring some gold coins so you can take a ride on the little trackless train that drives around at the front of the museum.
Put aside most of the day for your visit – there is so much to keep the children entertained. Also schedule a tour if you have a chance and learn more about the history of the museum. Check the website for times and don’t forget to wear enclosed footwear!
If you do have time to spare afterwards, take the short drive to scenic Queens Park for a play and grab a coffee at the café.