Info Blue Mountains Railway Pages
Lithgow Zig Zag
3 Sisters, Blue Mountains, Australia.
Major 19th century engineering achievement; tourist railway.

 

Introduction

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The Lithgow Zig Zag was the second of two zig zags (switch-backs) constructed to carry the Western Railway over the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. The first, at Lapstone Hill, carried the line up the eastern escarpment. One the far side of the mountains, the larger Lithgow (or Great) Zig Zag carried the line down into the Lithgow valley.
The Zig-Zag received much attention from the press, both here and abroad. Some example may be viewed here...

Opened Monday October 18, 1869; it was by-passed in October 16, 1910, by a series of 10 tunnels, the new route utilising the zig zag's bottom road. In the 1980's a railway preservation group re-opened the line. More info on the new route...

The zig zag attracted a great deal of attention both in Australia and overseas; being regarded as a major engineering feat of its day and attracting many of the ablest engineers of the time. It is said that, with two or three exceptions, the work was without parallel in the world.

The construction involved, in some places, surveyors being suspended by ropes from the cliff-tops. Two blasts were carried out, with great publicity and ceremony, the second being triggered by the Countess of Belmore, the governor's wife.

 

Statistics

Descent (from Clarence Tunnel to valley floor) 470ft
Gradient 1 in 42
Blast 1 - Using 3 tons of "blasting powder" triggered by "galvanic agency" (electricity) 40,000 tons of rock
Blast 2 - Using 3 tons of "blasting powder" triggered by "galvanic agency" (electricity) 45,000 tons of rock
Viaducts, with 30ft semi-circular arches 3, of sandstone
Tunnels 1, stone lined
Cost per mile 20k - 25k

The Zig-Zag remained in service until 1910, when it was by-passed by a series of ten tunnels.

Early photograph of the Lithgow Zig Zag. Note the three viaducts. Top, middle and bottom roads are clearly visible.
Courtesy BMCL

Lithgow Zig Zag switchback, Blue Mountains.

 

Lithgow Zig Zag Today

Visit the Lithgow Zig-Zag tourist railway - official web site.
Visit the Lithgow Tourism Information web site.
Colour photo on our Railway Services page.
David Johnson's Zig Zag Photos

Ed's Zig Zag Photos

Steam hauled services at weekends, public holidays, & NSW school holidays, midweek diesel railmotor service includes site and workshop tours. Details...

Related pages: History Plaza | Lapstone Hill | Railway Services

 

 

 
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Blue Mountains, Greater Western Sydney, NSW, Australia  

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