Steam Across the Mountains - part 1
The Zig Zag Railway was built between 1866 and 1869, and acclaimed a major
engineering feat of its time. It was constructed to enable produce to be taken to
Sydney from the prosperous farming areas beyond the Blue Mountains and to develop
the coal and iron ore deposits found in the Lithgow Valley.
The prodigious feat of bringing the railway from the top of the mountains to
the valley below was accomplished by John Whitton, Chief Engineer of the NSW
Government Railways. At the time The Great Zig Zag was regarded as one of the
engineering wonders of the Victorian age.
A by-product of such construction was the development of locomotive boilers
which could cope with steep slopes and this led to the construction of mountain
railways in other parts of the world, particularly the Americas.
The Zig Zag consists of a series of sloping tracks forming the letter "Z" with
reversing stations at Top and Bottom Points. The Top part of the 'Z' is Top Road,
the middle part is Middle Road. Bottom Road is now only a short section leading
to the Depot; the rest remains part of NSW State Rail network.
The track passes over three magnificent sandstone viaducts, through two tunnels.
There are striking views over the surrounding countryside.
By the end of the 19th century rail traffic over the Blue Mountains was heavy and
the single track had become a bottleneck. This was relieved by the construction of
a ten tunnel deviation through the escarpment, completed in 1910. Soon after the
track on the formation was removed and the land reverted to bush.
During the Second World War Clarence Tunnel was used as an ammunition store and
for growing mushrooms. In 1972 a group of railway enthusiasts formed a Co-operative, started to
rebuild the track and buy suitable rolling stock. The Zig Zag Railway Co-op Ltd.
still owns and operates the railway. Trains first ran again in 1975 on
Middle Road only. In 1986-7, with the aid of a NSW Bicentennial Grant,
the track was extended along Top Road to Clarence, opening in 1988.