Ten Tunnel Train Trip

Recently I caught the train from the upper Blue Mountains to Lithgow. In recent years the only time I have taken this journey was when I was on the Indian Pacific. We had crossed the mountains on dusk, which was beautiful, but by the time we began the descent from Mount Victoria to Lithgow, it was dark.

So off I set on a gorgeous winter’s day. It was warm and mild for a change. The train was on time and before long I was settled in a carriage, watching the scenery as the track ran alongside the highway before detouring through patches of the country that you can only see from a train. The views opened up on the approach to Blackheath, with the Megalong Valley spread out on a clear day. Mount Victoria was a major station, and the end of the line for a while until the Lithgow Zig Zag railway was completed.

View over Kanimbla Valley

View over Kanimbla Valley

From Mt Victoria, the train passes through the sidings at Bell and Zig Zag, and a guard needs to be notified if a stop is required at either of these locations. Near the Zig Zag station, there are blackened stumps and trees; a legacy of the 2013 fires.

The descent from Mount Victoria to Lithgow initially comprised of a series of switchbacks to manage the steep grade, and it included three viaducts which can still be glimpsed today. The Zig Zag was replaced in 1910, and the track travels through ten tunnels cut through sandstone. These tunnels vary from 70 metres to 825 metres in length. In addition to making the journey safer, the ten tunnel deviation saved up to thirty minutes on journey times. The gradient was reduced, enabling increased loads on trains. The tunnels are considered to be an engineering achievement and included the deepest cutting on the NSW rail system.

Zig Zag Viaduct

Zig Zag Viaduct

At the entrance of each tunnel, the driver gave a soft toot on the horn. On the return trip, I noticed that each tunnel is numbered in descending order from the Sydney end with a firm directive of ‘WHISTLE’ emblazoned at each entrance. There is something about tunnels; the compression of air, the sudden darkness. I only spotted the occasional blur of white light in a couple of them.

As the train sweeps along from Mount Victoria, there are views over the Hartley Valley. There was some low cloud at one point but it cleared quickly to reveal views of the valley. Bright bursts of wattle livened up the passing scenery, which was a mixture of trees, heath and ferns for most of the trip. Travelling between the ten tunnels there were large sandstone outcrops.

Lithgow Station

Lithgow Station

I had a quick wander around Lithgow before catching the return train back, enjoying the views as the train moved smoothly along the tracks. There is the whisper of metal on steel, interlaced with station announcements.

It was great to be able to enjoy the trip and to be a passenger for a change. It was good to travel to a familiar place but on a different mode of transport.

When was the last time you travelled to a familiar location a different way?

[Photo: Mt Victoria Station]

Advertisements

Capertee Train Trip

Old trains capture my imagination. A short steam train ride in Tasmania remains a favourite memory from years ago – as the train tootled along, there were sheep scattering off the tracks in all directions. When the opportunity came up to travel from Lithgow to Capertee on an old CPH railmotor, I took it.

The train line to Capertee is no longer a passenger line, like many old lines across the state. The Gwabegar line remains open for coal trains and the railway travels through Wallerawang, Portland and Ben Bullen before arriving at the small village of Capertee.

But the destination is only part of the journey. There were three carriages of fellow travellers on this trip, and there was a frisson of excitement as the train arrived at Lithgow station, precisely on time. Our guide for the day was Graeme, the president of the Capertee Progress Association. He was decked out in tails and a top hat, which seemed entirely appropriate. Armed with a megaphone he had the passengers organised in no time at all.

 

CPH Railmotor arriving at Lithgow station

 

On the journey out I shared the trip with one of the volunteer train guards, who told some interesting stories of some of the heritage train trips he’d been on around the state. We marvelled at the rolling green hills, still soaked after days of heavy rain, the mob of kangaroos on the golf course at Marrangaroo, and the smaller groupings of roos startled by the train, springing into action and bounding at speed alongside the carriage.

But the real star of the show was the scenery. The landscape became increasingly rocky and steep, and there were swathes of darkness as the train rumbled through tunnels. The rocking of the carriages, the smell of diesel, the excited chatter of a large group of people, all of this faded into the background as the wide canyons and valleys came into view. The area has the largest enclosed canyon in the world.

In recent travels, I’ve been through quite a few small country towns. I find them interesting, as no two are really alike. Some places feel heavy with a sense of their own demise as people move away for work and lifestyle reasons. Capertee, although small, has a sense of vibrancy. The town knew that the train was coming and there were markets and activities lined up for the visitors. A sign near the market proclaimed it to be ‘train day’ and there were various stalls set up inside and around the local hall. Part of the proceeds from the train trip was to be used to help maintain and upkeep the hall, which remains a living hub for the community.

Inside the hall, there were many photos of gatherings from previous years, along with local landmarks including the Glen Davis Shale Mine. Outside there was a BBQ for the hungry hordes and a special performance from the Lithgow Pipe Band. It was great – a professional and entertaining performance, and it will take me a long time to forget their rendition of Hokey Pokey. Santa had paid a visit earlier in the day, but I had been having a wander around the Glen Davis Shale Mine.

 

Lithgow Pipe Band performing at Capertee

 

When the train pulled back in at the station – it had followed the line out through to Kandos before returning – it was a happy crowd that piled on board with local purchases and memories of a day out in a friendly country town.

Have you had a day out of the ordinary lately?

[Photo: CPH ‘Tin Hare’ railmotors leaving Capertee for Kandos, part of the heritage fleet at Lachlan Valley Railway]

Musical Moments: Three Trip-Inspired Tunes

Often the best times are those unscripted moments when there is a convergence of factors such as being in the right place at the right time. Recently I travelled from the mountains to the south coast along the beautiful coastline. Apart from the amazing scenery and surroundings, there were several musical moments which are now etched in my memory.

En route to Sydney, I stopped for a break at Lennox Bridge, Lapstone. After days of rain and mist, the sun was out and the surrounding bushland was alive with bird calls. I followed the sound of scratching and spotted a blackbird, which firmly lodged Blackbird in my mind.

3DA5A4CF-E51A-4A5A-A710-1B21D333E609

Blackbird at Lennox Bridge, Lapstone

Turning off the Princes Highway and onto the Grand Pacific Drive, the Bald Hill lookout at Stanwell Park offered a different flight of fancy. This is a popular launching spot for hang gliders, and whilst taking in the magnificent curve of the coastline, a glider came into view. The moment was pure magic as the glider seemed to levitate in the air till the brisk breeze moved them on. The line of a song that came to mind? “Suspended animation, a state of bliss”.

95FF623C-5C85-4438-A2B0-174523D71709

Hang glider at Bald Hill Lookout, Stanwell Park

But the day still had more musical delights in store. It was hard to resist watching the sunshine fade at day’s end, the sky turning “rosy and grey”.

764FB52F-89C8-4A52-83EC-755912932E84

South coast sunset views

Do you come across musical moments in your travels?

{Photo: view from Stanwell Park looking down the coast; the tiny speck above the ocean is the glider coming into view}

Journal Jottings

One of the many benefits to keeping a journal, regardless of frequency, is the option to revisit times past and impressions as at a certain point in time. Not everything is recorded, of course, but there is a delight in coming across scribblings which capture a particular moment.

A few months back I travelled to Central Station in Sydney before heading off on the Indian Pacific to Adelaide. I arrived at Central early to book in luggage, and as I waited I wrote the following.

Central Station; Cafe Du Nord. Cafe with French vibe, jazz music, copies of French Impressionists on the wall.

Wizened little old lady on the way to Kyogle via Brisbane. Train passes through on way, around 3 am, too early to stop or get someone to collect her. So she travels through to Brisbane then doubles back.

She has been on the Indian Pacific from Broken Hill to Sydney; was tacked into a carriage which was latched onto the end to carry the overflow of passengers. She is planning to take the Ghan later this year as the only capital cities she’s missed visiting are Adelaide and Darwin. She spoke of her trip to Broken Hill with her husband before he left (she didn’t know he was going); they took advantage of fortnight travel holiday packages where you could travel anywhere in the state on the railway. They went to Broken Hill, down to Albury, swept back up the north coast. Accommodation was included in the package so it was an economical and enjoyable way to travel.

Surprised at the absence of shops and cafes at the station, just a couple downstairs in Eddy Avenue. In my memory the place was bristling with shops selling food, umbrellas, flowers, tours. The only constant is change.

Passing through the inner suburbs towards Central, glimpses of backyards, flashes of kingfisher blue pools, the houses have the rattle of the railway embedded into their fabric. The disarray and dishevelment of the railway workshops, once a thriving, bustling locus of activity.

The awkwardness of some travellers, the jostling of luggage, flying missiles of drink bottles, thumping against other people as they make their way with a singular focus.

The heady joy of eavesdropping. Railway staff speaking of station inspections and audits. I’d given no thought to it but of course there would be protocols around this. The easy ebb and flow of conversation between two older ladies, travelling together, comfortable in silences as well as idle crumbs of chatter. No juicy gossip here, just vignettes of thoughts, perceptions, observations.

It is the time of year for the tang of mandarins. Such a distinct fizz on the air as the skin is broken, carved up by a thumbnail.

Do you jot down thoughts as you travel?

[Photo: part of the magnificent old railway station at Temora, NSW]

A Different Track

The journey from Sydney to the Blue Mountains by rail is a well-travelled one, particularly for the people who commute each work day to the city. Depending on where you start and finish, it can be quite a lengthy journey through the mountains and the ever-extending suburbs of Sydney.

On a Wednesday afternoon, I embarked from Central Station on the Indian Pacific. The Indian Pacific leaves every Wednesday, heading to Perth via Broken Hill and Adelaide. My journey took me to Adelaide in 24 hours.

I could quite easily rave about the train and the trip as it was extraordinary in many ways. Once I got over the excitement of getting onboard, patiently waiting whilst the two sections of the train were coupled together (it is too long for a single platform with 2 locomotives and 27 carriages on my trip), I settled back to watch the Sydney suburbs slip by before we began the slow climb up the mountains.

The gradual ascent was felt physically through the train – you could feel the engines at work, and I sat by the window entranced as it curved around the bends. There were sandstone segments as we approached Lapstone, moments of darkness through tunnels before bursting out amongst an ocean of trees. At Warrimoo there were houses tucked into gullies. Then a glimpse of a sandstone cottage built in 1867 near Springwood. Passing by the Corridor of Oaks at Faulconbridge, then scorched tree trunks came into view. There were vistas towards Sydney or acres of wilderness, depending on the turn of the track.

It was interesting to see what was familiar from a different angle, a higher viewpoint. I spotted some lovely character cottages near Hazelbrook, then we were running alongside the Great Western Highway and the shops and pub at Lawson sped into view. Little ferns poking out of stone walls, a kid practising discus near Wentworth Falls. As we approached Leura I saw the last lingering remnants of autumn colour and the beautiful sandstone cliffs in the distance. Then Katoomba, the soft glowing lights of guest houses, welcoming weary travellers. Tree branches slapping the side of the train, then the Hydro Majestic, lit up amongst the darkening shadows. Towards Blackheath, the depths and folds of the valleys in the last light, through Mount Victoria, last light over the Hartley valley.

Have you taken a different track on a well-travelled road?

[Photo taken near Emu Plains before the climb up the mountains]

Train of thought*

The railway station at Mount Victoria was formally opened in 1869. The sheer magnitude of the railway construction through the mountains must have been overwhelming, an engineering feat through dangerous and challenging terrain. The road through the mountains would have been over 50 years old but was still rough in parts and had been given a good thumping during the gold rush years.

Inevitably the coming of the railway opened up the mountains and created new opportunities for businesses and lifestyles away from the established towns in Sydney and surrounding areas. There is a good overview of the impact here.

The towns along the railway line would have thrived; those further off the track (excuse the pun) may not have fared so well. I wonder how expensive it was to travel initially as a passenger. Was it something that would have been within reach of an ordinary person?

By 1894, the trip from Sydney to Katoomba cost five shillings and sixpence; roughly about $40 in today’s money. These days a full fare is $5.80/$8.30 one way, depending on the time of travel.

From historical accounts, Mt Victoria began to thrive once the railway arrived, and it was an important gateway to the central west. It was a changeover point and a large staff were employed at the station and in the dining rooms to meet the demands of feeding the hungry hordes who disembarked at the station with about half an hour to refresh themselves as the trains were refueled, ready for the next stage of the trip.

The museum at Mt Victoria contains an amazing array of paraphernalia relating to this now lost time.

Do any transport options near you capture your imagination?

*Title of a song by Sharp.

[Photo of the platform at Mount Victoria station]