Push Gathers Steam to Restore a Historic Loco
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The track is finally clear for the establishment of the first rail trails in NSW, after the change of a law enacted in 1880.
Although commonplace in the rest of Australia, NSW has established no rail trails on former state lines because of its unique legislation, designed to protect the rail network.
All that is about to change.
In June, permission was given to establish a trail for cyclists and walkers between Rosewood and Tumbarumba, a 22-kilometre section of disused line between Canberra and Albury.
John Moore, chairman from Rail Trails for NSW, said there were 13 rail trail projects planned across the state, and he expected further bills to be passed down the track.
Putting money into the bush'We are very pleased because it is really a change of will to generate some tourism. They are going to put money in the bush to make these things happen," Mr Moore said.
Closer to Sydney, another project is gathering pace and one that, uniquely, does not require an Act of Parliament because it plans to keep and restore the rail line.
The rail side trail linking Picton with Mittagong along 34 kilometres of track would restore the single track line and use it for heritage trains housed at the NSW Rail Museum, which occupies one end of the track, at Thirlmere.
Under this scenario, steam trains would run alongside cyclists and walkers.
The project has the support of Federal MP Angus Taylor, and will need an estimated $16 million of federal funding if it is to become reality.
The trail would revamp what a part of what used to be the main Sydney to Melbourne line, until it was bypassed by the current line at the end of the World War I.
The 34-kilometre line is 150 years old this year and includes some of the deepest cuttings in Australia.
Jennifer Edmonds, heritage manager at the NSW Rail Museum, said the museum had a number of steam trains in the collection that would be suitable to do to 68-kilometre round trip.
She said the museum would be interested in exploring the idea, and that the attraction of steam was evident by record-breaking numbers of visitors last year.
'I think it's the smell, the sound, it's something different,' she said.
'Steam just seems to evoke that era of romance, of the age of travel. A time when the easiest, best way to get around was by train.
'Royalty travelled by train, politicians and heads of state all travelled by train. Put a steam engine on a set of 1900 vintage cars, and people get to relive that glamour and that romance.
'I think it sounds like a great opportunity. Provided it can be done safely, it would be a fantastic thing.'
Bush track revival
If the plan goes ahead, it would be an emotional moment for David Thurlow, who at the age of 82, is the final surviving train driver from the loop line, which closed in 1975.
He remembers is as a 'bush track' where he would know most of the passengers and stop the train outside their house, even helping them to the door on occasion, if they were drunk.
He said the gradient was the enemy of the line and it soon became impractical to send extra engines to pull trains up the hill.
"In its day it was a vital form of transport and played a major part."
"To me, it's sad that it's got to this stage but once lines are abandoned this is what happens. Nature takes over pretty quickly."
Ticks all the boxesVillagers along the line are already planning for the economic activities — one progress association is exploring the possibility of opening a tea room in a heritage halt.
For Wingecarribee deputy mayor Ian Scandrett, who is pushing the idea, the benefits are clear.
"I am keen on this project because it ticks all the boxes," he said.
"It's also the only shovel-ready rail trail in NSW that keeps that rail, and the only one that is within an easy day trip of Sydney."
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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