Railway history provides a sobering study for those contemplating massive outlays on new transport infrastructure (which seems to be a favourite preoccupation in the current era). It is interesting to reflect on the huge challenge for past governments in bringing some railway services into operation, even those that proved short-lived.
Mount Rae was on the Taralga line, in the hilly tablelands south of the Blue Mountains. This section of line was to provide all-weather access to the then expanding town of Taralga, however it proved so expensive to build that a higher freight charge than applicable to the rest of New South Wales needed to be levied on the line. The first train ran to Mount Rae in 1926 but passenger and freight demand soon declined with only two trains per week running after 1930 and the regular service concluding in 1954. Later the tracks were removed and most of the railway corridor land freeholded.
Bowenfels, on the still operational line from Lithgow to Bathurst, was a serviced station for much longer (1869-1974). To connect it with Sydney, the then Chief Engineer of the NSW Railways, John Whitton, had to complete construction of the Great Zigzag, one of the most significant international engineering achievements up until that time. Until 1874, Bowenfels was the only railway station serving the Lithgow Valley. The now much larger settlement of Lithgow did not exist then. But Bowenfels’ life as the rail head for western NSW was brief. By the time Whitton retired, he had extended this line to Rydal, Bathurst, Dubbo and, finally, Bourke.
Fortunately, the impressive station building and station master’s residence at Bowenfels are still in good condition. The station building has served as Greater Lithgow’s tourist information centre prior to the construction of the intriguing “miner’s lamp” building. Now both the old railway buildings need new incarnations.
These histories of fast-tracked construction and short operational lives leading to substantial obsolescence should be noted by those who would risk the environment and the health of public finances on huge but dubious transport projects such as new motorways and airports.
© Don Morison