Sunday, April 25, 2010

Three things I still have to do in New England -1 Railways

There are so many things to see and do across New England that I have barely scratched the surface. So I thought that I might just record some of the things that I haven't done, but would like to. Think of it as an indulgence on my part.

SteamfestThe Great Train Race 2009

Attended by 80,000 visitors, Maitland's Hunter Valley Steamfest 2010 was on last weekend.
In 1983 the last coal operating steam haulage freight service in Australia was closed on the South Maitland Railway Line, effectively ending a century old institution.
In response to this closure, the first Hunter Valley Steamfest was held in 1986. Since then the event has grown and grown. There are train rides, displays and events.

The photo shows the Great Train Race of 2009.

There are so many things to see and do around Maitland that what I would like to do is to also use Steamfest as an excuse for local touring.

 Werris Creek Railway Museum

Further north of Maitland on the Great Northern Line, Werris Creek was the first railway town in NSW; purpose built for the rail industry and it remains the last such town.

Building on this theme State Rail developed a proposal to establish the Australian Railway Monument at Werris Creek as a cultural heritage feature that would reinforce the community’s links with the railway and generate an economic stimulus for the town.

In 2000 Dr Stuart Sharp a renowned Rail Heritage officer requested a public meeting with the Werris Creek community to discuss and seek their support for a vision that he had for the “Australian Railway Monument”. The plan was enthusiastically embraced by the community and the State Government injected an initial $1.3 million into the concept allowing the preliminary work to commence.

The Australian Railway Monument and Rail Journeys Museum (ARM/RJM) was officially opened on October 1 2005 and has developed into a considerable success.

As a general comment, we really don't sell the remarkable story of the Great Northern Railway at all well. This was in fact one of the great engineering achievements of the nineteenth century.

The Dorrigo Railway

This one is, in a sense, a work in progress.

The Dorrigo-Glenreagh line opened in 1924 as a first step in an east-west rail link. The line was finally closed in 1972 after flood damage.
I have to say that this is another of those Sydney Government decisions that, in hindsight, was arguably dumb.
In Queensland, the Cairns-Kuranda line was kept open and has become a a very significant tourist attraction. This line is at least as beautiful.

At the time it was closed, no one forecast just how big a tourist area the North Coast and especially Coffs Harbour would become. Even now the line might still lose money in terms of its direct costs. Yet track forward another twenty years, and I suspect that it could be quite profitable.

In any event, we lost another tourist attraction.

There are two museum organisations at each end of the railway.

On the east, the Glenreagh Mountain Railway, known as the GMR, was established in 1989 as a heritage railway. It has run services along part of the track, but has had to suspend pending further work. It still maintains museums.

Inland, the Dorrigo Steam Railway and Museum was established to create a museum and restore a railway service. After a brief opening period it shut its doors to the public, but still exists with one of the largest historic rolling stock collections in NSW.

I would love to know more about the story of both organisations. I would also love to visit.
In the meantime, and I know that I sound like a broken record on this one, if we had our own Government this line would come into its own as a major tourist attraction.  


PRHS said...

Hi there,
In regards to your posting. The last steam hauled coal services were on the Richmond Vale Railway a couple of years after the SMR.
The SMR was the second last.

Brad Peadon
Hunter Valley Coal Railways

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, Brad. I will follow this up with a story.