Photo: Rolling stock, Dorrigo Steam Railway & Museum
Construction of the railway between Glenreagh on the North Coast line and Dorrigo began in 1924. Intended to bring produce to nearby coastal ports, the line climbs 664m over a length of 69km.
The steep terrain and high rainfall made construction and maintenance of this line quite difficult. Due to the tight curves, a check rail was employed in numerous places. Two tunnels and numerous bridges were required.
From a New England perspective, the line was a first step in creating east-west rail links within New England.
In 1928 legislation was approved for a Dorrigo-Guyra line, providing a base for further western extensions. The first sod on the new line was turned on 20 October 1928 in front of a crowd of between 3,000 and 4,000 people. Deputy Premier Buttenshaw declared:
The Government had decided that no work would be authorized, no sod turned, until they were absolutely safe in saying that the work would be finished. Armidale Chronicle, 24 October 1928.
To Victor Thompson, the day was a step towards something bigger:
The job, however, was not finished, and they would not sit down but must go on with the Great Northern works. Most of them would live to see the turning of the first sod of something much bigger than was now being celebrated - the first sod of the new Northern state, which once established would have a powerful influence on not only the North, but on New South Wales and on Australia (Applause). Northern Daily Leader, 22 October 1928.
Despite these words, construction was was halted in 1932 during the Depression and never re-started. About 13km of embankments and cuttings from the Guyra end are the only evidence of the line.
Deprived of the additional traffic, the Dorrigo line was not profitable for much of its life time and when several washaways occurred in 1972, the Sydney Government decided to suspend services rather than repair the damage.
Today the line survives in the attempts of the Dorrigo Steam Railway and Museum at one end, the Glenreagh Mountain Railway at the other, to re-establish tourist services along what was one of Australia's most scenic lines.