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Lithgow Zig Zag
3 Sisters, Blue Mountains, Australia.
Zig Zag bypassed, 1910

Blue Mountains, Australia, Railway History

The Lithgow Mercury



The Wade Ministry has gone out as the result of the stress and strain of a great political conflict. The Zigzag, as an active part of the western railway system, passed away about the same time, but more peacefully. In its time the Zigzag was regarded as picturesque and splendid. It was the engineering feat par excellence of the early days of railway construction in the State. Fifty years ago the problem of connecting Sydney with the western plains by means of a railway across the mountains was one which beset both engineers and politicians. Traffic was then inappreciable, and money was scarce and dear. A system of tunnels such as has since been adopted was felt to be out of the question. And so it came about that Mr. John Whitton's famous scheme was adopted. The contract for constructing the great Zigzag of 15 miles 10 chains was let in May 1866, and, exclusive of rails and other ironwork, and of station buildings, cost 828,284.

But the succeeding generation reached the conclusion that the Zigzag must go. Traffic was growing steadily with the opening of every western extension, and in the busy season congestion was the current experience. Moreover, the expansion of traffic increased the risks of accident, and the Zigzag has, during the last twenty years, been responsible for some hair-breadth escapes from accidents which might have meant appalling loss of life. It is well over twenty years since an agitation was commenced with the object of having the Mountain line duplicated and the Zigzag cut out. The depression which followed the banking crisis of 1893 delayed the success of the movement. In 1901, however, the agitation was revived in Lithgow, and this time the co-operation of the whole western population was secured. The Ministry and the Railway Commissioners were sympathetic, and the work of doubling the mountain line between Glenbrook and Mount Victoria was commenced in the same year. The great drought of 1901-02 bore heavily on the State's resources and once more the Zigzag deviation was postponed, nor was it commenced until six years later.

With the passing of the ZigZag there goes an old landmark intimately associated with the early days of western settlement. The change affords emphatic evidence of the great expansion which has taken place in the interior - the forerunner, we may feel sure, of mightier developments in the future. The saving of half-an-hour in the railway journey is a great gain. So is the lessening of the risk of severe accident. A ruling grade of one in 90 instead of one in 42, means an immense economy in the cost of haulage. Under the new conditions there will be no danger of a reoccurance of the congestion which inflicted so much loss on the industries of Lithgow during the last 25 years. Our coal trade should no longer he hampered by the alleged track difficulty , because the real difficulty lay in squeezing the traffic of a rich province through the "narrow neck" of the western system. No doubt, the ZigZag had some value as an advertisement. It typified the boldness and resource of our pioneers and engineers. To the tourist it was a perpetual attraction…..

…..The Zigzag has long been a block to our industrial development, and any mild sigh which may escape us because of its passing is absorbed in the deeper breath of satisfaction which the new prospect excites.




Referring to the opening to traffic on Sunday afternoon of the new Zigzag deviation, District Superintendent Griffin expressed himself as highly pleased with the smooth and expeditious manner in which the work was carried out by the big gang of men engaged on that day. He says the deviation work is characterised by staunchness and durability.

The ten tunnels, ranging in length from 90 yards down to 77 yards, are monuments of stability, and the work just completed contains the deepest cutting - over 200 feet - in Australia, while there are few anywhere in the world that surpass it.

Near Newnes Junction a fine water scheme for railway purposes is in course of construction. A weir is being thrown across a gully, and will, when completed impound a splendid sheet of water. At Newnes junction an island Platform has been constructed so as to enable traffic from the branch and main lines to he effectively dealt with. This point will also become almost at once, important in the way of train accommodation, as a series of stand-over tracks, sidings, etc. will he laid to cope with any exigencies which may occur in working traffic over the mountains. All the rails, sleepers and buildings along the abandoned route will be taken up and used elsewhere. The new stations will be Bottom Points a little distance further west than the old platform; Edgecombe, down in a hollow, instead of on the mountain top; Clarence station, which will also be in a valley instead of the old altitude, and Newnes Junction, which will be a quarter of a mile to the east of the old Platform. The old line, for a distance of half a mile or so, will form portion of the Newnes branch line.

The work of Cutting out the Zig-zag was in hand over two years and upwards of 1500 men have been employed on it. The new deviation will reduce the journey to and from Sydney by about 20 minutes, and the time-tables have been arranged accordingly.

The new deviation leaves the old line about a quarter of a mile on the Sydney side of Newnes, forming a half-circle to the left as one faces west, doubling back to Mount Victoria, and then in a westerly direction generally, passing under the old line three-quarters of a mile on the western side of Clarence tunnel, but 350ft below it. The whole scheme involved a one in 90 grade from where the deviation leaves the old line to the Eskbank coal stage. Section A of the work is now complete, and B section, another big undertaking, will no doubt be put in hand at an early date. The length of the deviation is some 5.5 miles, and the route was decided as the best of those that had been surveyed. The surveyor responsible for this track was Mr. T. Kennedy. The work has cost roughly about 350,000.



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