Valley Heights Locomotive Depot Heritage Museum

Centenary of the Locomotive Depot


The 1950s story

Below the coad stage
“It was very satisfying to keep the trains running.”
Harry Cross - employed at Valley Heights Depot from 1952

The Original Railway Line 1867 - 1912

The original line crossing the Blue Mountains was built and opened to Weatherboard (now Wentworth Falls) in 1867. Further extensions to this were progressively built and opened, reaching Katoomba (1868) and Lithgow (1869). This was a single line operation catering for both “Up” (east bound) and “Down” (west bound) trains crossing the Blue Mountains. On arrival at Penrith, down trains required the assistance of a second locomotive (Pilot) for the climb to Katoomba.

The line included many small stations, some with passing loops or sidings to allow for the safe passing of trains traveling in the opposite direction.

In 1875 a platform known as Eagars was provided for the Colonial Treasurer, Mr Geoffrey Eagar, who was also the owner of Welcome Inn at this location.

In 1877, Eagars Platform became known as The Valley.

In 1890 it became known as “Valley Heights”.

The line was duplicated between 1902 and 1912 to provide separate lines for Up  and Down trains. The final section via the Glenbrook Gorge was completed in 1913.

The Valley
The Valley—circa 1890).

Valley Heights Steam Era 1913 - 1957

Reconstruction of the Blue Mountains line saw the duplicated line we have today, open in 1913. As a result of this new line, the need for providing the pilot engine was no longer required from Penrith, instead this necessity was transferred to Valley Heights.

Valley Heights Locomotive Depot was ready for service in December 1913 but was not officially opened until January 1914. The depot was home to locomotives that had the crucial role of piloting - or assisting — trains up a steep section from Valley Heights to Katoomba.

Aerial view
Historic Gem -- Valley Heights Loco Depot has the oldest
remaining roundhouse in NSW, being the third built in the state.

Pilot engines were placed at the lead of the train engine, over a specific area of track. The pilot engine, on arrival at Katoomba, would be detached from the train, turned on the turntable and return to Valley Heights where it would be used for further duties.

The coal stage was an important part of the depot. Steam locomotives need coal as fuel. The coal stage was the source from where the steam locomotives were supplied their fuel to burn. This resulted in the generation of steam which powered the locomotives.

The coal stage was a timber storage bin with a capacity of 400 tons, supported on a timber trestle. Coal was hauled from the coal storage siding to the coal road and then propelled back across the steep timber trestle to the top of the bin. The Coal Stage remained until the early 1960s, when it was demolished.

“Valley Heights was a hard depot to work at and it was very demanding on the skills of the enginemen” Ken Ames, from his book Reflections of an Engineman. Valley Heights was a hard working depot

The Signal Box

Signal BoxThe Signal Box was a crucial piece of infrastructure vital to the movement of trains across the mountains.

The Signal Box was a three storey brick and timber construction, comprising 48 levers operated by a Signalman, from the top level. The Signal Box controlled signalling equipment, track work and train movements along the main line and from the depot to the station.

In December 1951 the top level of the Signal Box was destroyed by bushfires resulting in operations being relocated to the ground floor. (Above: The Signal Box as originally built).

A Tour of the Locomotive Depot

As with the Signal Box, the Locomotive Depot was a crucial piece of infrastructure, vital to the operation of the Blue Mountains railway and the movement of trains across the mountains.
The depot provided accommodation and facilities for the locomotives based there and the crews rostered to operate the trains.

The depot included a locomotive yard, 10-bay Roundhouse, 18 metre (6Oft) turntable, an elevated coal stage, servicing pits and watering facilities.

The 1940s and 1950s were the depot’s peak period of operation. During this time, about 80 staff were employed at the depot and an average of 30 trains during any 24-hour period needed piloting from Valley Heights.

The 1950s — A Decade of Change

Coal stage - electric loco in background

Valley Heights Locomotive Depot enjoyed a busy and dynamic period during the 1950s. The decade was a time of great change for the railways on the Blue Mountains with the end of the steam era and the beginning of the cleaner and more efficient electric era. Electrification of the western line beyond Penrith began in the mid-1950s. Once electrification began, steam engines were destined to become a part of history. Finally, on February 2, 1957, steam operations from Valley Heights came to a close.

“It was my job to wind the place down, but when I looked at it, I decided ‘I liked this joint’. I liked the people who worked at the depot. I thought I could make a team out of this mob.”
Alan Parkinson, former District Locomotive Engineer at Valley Heights, 1956.

After electrification of the line, both the need for pilot locomotive work and the number of staff employed at the depot declined significantly. However, the Valley Heights depot still had an important role to play.

The depot developed into a very efficient workshop with repairs to freight wagons and the newer electric locomotive fleet. The 46 class electric locomotives underwent minor repairs and complete overhauls at the depot.

Additional work through the repair of freight wagons was performed which secured employment for locals and extended the depot’s operational life for another 30 years after the end of steam.

Continuous improvements in technology led to the development of larger and more powerful locomotives. This resulted in fewer trains requiring piloting reducing the demand for the depot’s existence.

Electric invasion The electric invasion begins as locomotive 4612 settles into its new home — circa 1957.

Closure and the Future

In December 1988, after 75 years of continuous service for the railways, the depot’s life as an operational workshop facility came to a close.

One electric locomotive was kept available for a short period of time after the depot’s closure, for any pilot work required.

Finally, on April 27, 1989, the last pilot operation occurred when electric locomotive 4610 reversed out of the depot to assist a train from Valley Heights to Katoomba.

So ended a chapter in the Blue Mountains railway history.

The depot and station yard including the signal box and station building have been protected for future generations, being officially listed on the State Heritage Register as an area of heritage significance.

The roundhouse building is the oldest remaining roundhouse style building left in New South Wales.

Thanks to the efforts of the local community and a host of dedicated volunteers, the site has been conserved and transformed into a museum. The museum preserves an important part of local history in the Blue Mountains and of the nation’s railway history.


This story was produced by the Valley Heights Locomotive Depot Heritage Museum with the assistance of the Australian  Government and the Department of Environment, under the ‘Your Community Heritage’ grants scheme 2011-2012, to share a Community Heritage Story.

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