A forgotten corner of the Blue Mountains railway system is celebrating its centenary this week. But it isn’t the first time it has been in the headlines.
Blaxland’s Wascoe Siding — a 1km long alternative track which these days is known more for its miniature train open days — was built as a temporary deviation and refuge siding on January 15, 1913.
But it hit the headlines unexpectedly 13 years later when it was crucial to stopping a runaway goods locomotive that bolted down the Mountains on its way to certain disaster.
In 10 hair-raising minutes — after what The Sydney Morning Herald at the time called a “series of misadventures” — the couplings on the first two trucks broke, the fireman jumped off, the driver slipped and fell and the train took a 12 kilometre-long, 230 metre descent down the Mountains doing over 50 miles an hour with no-one on board to stop it.
“Springwood train station was communicated with, and the officials there no sooner realised that a runaway was on the line than the engine and truck dashed through the station. The Springwood signal officers were too late to switch the runaway on to a siding,” the newspaper report said.
The wild ride continued through Valley Heights and Warrimoo — where phone calls were not fast enough to beat the runaway — but good fortune meant the train was finally re-routed in time into the dead-end siding before Glenbrook.
“It was fortunate there were no other trains on that section of line between Faulconbridge and Blaxland Junction,” the newspaper report of January 4, 1926, added.
Ian Heather, a Wascoe Siding railway volunteer, said because of the contour of the railway line, the train’s speed had slowed and little damage occurred when it came to a halt in the temporary siding, landing in the ash that was used as a cheap buffer.
The 1 km long deviation was initially built to “enable the cutting spanned by the present highway overbridge at Blaxland to be dug and the new Glenbrook Gorge line to be connected to the new formation from Blaxland”.
The line was only ever meant to be temporary and was closed in June 1935.
“But imagine the possible outcome had Blaxland Junction and deviation not been opened 100 years ago,” Mr Heather said.
Members were quietly reflecting on that, and other significant events in the siding’s history, on Tuesday when the 100 years ticked over.
If you look closely at Wascoe Siding today you may find an old railway sleeper, but homes now stand along Graham Street where the infamous runaway incident occurred.
“It’s the same with much of our history, the physical evidence is long gone, historical groups like ours keep it alive,” Tina Crocker, another volunteer and self-admitted train spotter, added.
No-one knows what happened to the driver and fireman who failed to the stop the runaway loco. Mr Heather believes they were probably disciplined for their actions, but the event was one of the reasons for better safety conditions on trains today.
The Wascoe Siding model railway park is open to the public on the first Sunday of every month. The group will unveil a plaque at their March open day to mark the centenary.