Remembering 150 Years of railways in Blue Mountains

Beyond the Lapstone Zig Zag, from Glenbrook, the Blue Mountains railway line was built through the middle years of the 1860s along the main ridge close to the current highway.

The contract to build the railway earthworks from Knapsack Gully as far as Valley Heights, was let to William Watkins in March 1863. It was completed in December 1865.  

Once earthworks were finished, the permanent way was ready to be laid. The contract for this was let to Messrs Larkin and Wakeford in October 1865.

The line as far as Weatherboard was declared July 11 1867, with the first passenger train running on July 22. There was much excitement in the Mountains and in Bathurst and the west as the promise of modern transportation grew ever closer.

Work was continuing further along the proposed line even as the opening to Weatherboard was being celebrated. Watkins was awarded No. 4 Contract, from Blackheath to the western portal of the Clarence tunnel, on January 19 1865, so everyone knew that reaching Weatherboard was a symbolic beginning, not the end of the line.

What few realised on that July day was that the arrival of the railway marked the death-knell for many of the inns that dotted the Western Road. They gradually disappeared as the old road was abandoned for the new railway.

When the first excursion train left Penrith for Weatherboard (Wentworth Falls) on July 11 1867, stations had only been built at Watertank (Glenbrook), Wascoe’s (Blaxland), Springwood, Buss’s (Woodford) and Blue Mountain (Lawson).

The arrival of the Great Western Line created a period of rapid population growth as 26 villages gradually developed along the railway.

People settled in the Mountains as land and jobs became available. These early jobs often sprang from the railway work and the camps, as the workers and their families had to be fed, housed and clothed. 

Schools, like Glenbrook Public School, owe their initial existence to the railway workers’ children who swelled student numbers sufficiently to justify the establishment of a school.

Country residences and retreats became popular for many wealthy and prominent citizens of Sydney.

Sir Henry Parkes built in Faulconbridge, and Sir Frederick Darley, Lt-Governor of NSW, built a summer residence, Lilianfels, at Katoomba.

The railway also enabled Sydneysiders, with leisure and money, to visit the Blue Mountains for day-trips and holidays.

Residents of the Mountains towns could now travel daily by train to work in Sydney.

The railways opened the Blue Mountains to the world.

On the weekend of July 21-23 2017, the Blue Mountains community will celebrate this achievement

Robyne Ridge is publicity officer for Blue Mountains Historical Society.