An important anniversary is looming for train tragics in the Mountains and Valley Heights Rail Museum volunteers are keen to see it remembered.
The line between Penrith and Wentworth Falls opened 150 years ago in July, and to mark the occasion a VIP steam train will power up the Mountains from Central on Friday July 21 with a special ceremony at Wentworth Falls later that day. Ticketed steam train rides will also run on the Mountains line all weekend to help the community celebrate.
“It’s a major milestone in Blue Mountains’ history,” Valley Heights Locomotive Depot Heritage Museum publicity manager Keith Ward told the Gazette.
In mid July 1867 the Blue Mountains railway line was handed over to the NSW government by its railway contractor William Watkins but not before much controversy over “colonial contracts”, costings, a harrowing flood in the Nepean and a driver’s death from a gunpower explosion.
According to historian Bob McKillop the NSW Government Railways chief engineer John Whitton’s initial proposal for the Great Western Railway across the Blue Mountains to Bathurst “would have been one of the grand engineering feats of the century if it had been built to the initial plan” but budget constraints scaled back his planned 3km tunnel, resulting in the “operating bottleneck of zigzags at each end of the line”.
But even at the time it was an impressive story to tell –with some 300,000 cubic yards of earth and rock excavated to build the 900 feet long timber viaduct at Emu Plains/Lapstone – the line a long 1 in 30 climb.
A year before the handover 19-year-old wagon and dray driver George Gamble died when transporting badly damaged gunpowder kegs from Emu Plains to their railway workers site at Weatherboard [now Wentworth Falls]. Contractor William Watkins was charged over the killing but went on to complete the line, the Australian Railway History magazine reported last year.
Valley Heights Heritage Museum volunteer Andrew Tester said their group was working in co-operation with the communities of Lawson and Wentworth Falls to mark the 150th anniversary of the line opening and the arrival of the first train to Wentworth Falls in 1867.
“The railways brought the community of the Blue Mountains together, it wasn’t until the railways arrived the community started to settle and develop,” Mr Tester said.
The events are being organised by the NSW Rail Museum in partnership with Sydney Trains and Valley Heights Locomotive Depot Heritage Museum.
Events will run from Friday July 21 to Sunday July 23, with the museum open throughout the weekend. On Saturday July 22 steam train shuttle rides from Penrith to Springwood and return plus heritage electric ‘Red Rattler’ train rides from Penrith to Blacktown and return. Then on Sunday July 23 steam train shuttle rides will run from Lawson to Katoomba and return. Tickets will be on sale soon via the Transport Heritage NSW - What's On website. A range of community events will run in Lawson.
Ticket sales for the steam trains shuttle rides should be on sale soon at https://www.nswrailmuseum.com.au/events.