Zig Zag to Welcome a New Generation

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After nearly 10 years of closure, two bushfires and a pandemic, the legendary Zig Zag Railway is inching closer to reopening and introducing a new generation to the thrill of locomotive travel.  

 By Julie Miller

In December 2019, the raging Gospers Mountain bushfire bore down upon the historic Zig Zag Railway in Lithgow, severely damaging infrastructure including its tracks, a toilet block and signalling equipment. Although the station and most of its rolling stock were undamaged, it was a tragic blow for the volunteer-run railway that had only just been rebuilt after devastation caused by another bushfire in 2013.

“We were very close to opening prior to the 2019 bushfires, but unfortunately we lost approximately 2,500 timber sleepers on our track,” says Daniel Zolfel, Infrastructure and Assets Manager of the Zig Zag Railway. “We’d done all this hard remedial work to have the track up to standard - then in a blink of an eye, it was all gone.”

With significant government funding and tireless work by a passionate team of volunteers, however, the historic narrow-gauge tourist railway – originally built in the 1860s to ferry passengers to the western plains of NSW - is just about ready to stoke its engines and fire the imagination of railway enthusiasts once again.

“The track is now back to where it was, and ready to go,” Zolfel explains. “In May 2021, we took our first heavy locomotive from Bottom Points Station to Clarence, and that was the first time in eight or nine years. I was a little bit emotional.”

But the imminent reopening faced yet another challenge, as lockdowns due to COVID-19 delayed vital training and competence assurance activities for volunteers.

“It’s been 10 years since we operated a passenger train,” says Zolfel. “A lot has changed in terms of what we need to be able to do to operate the passenger trains. The lockdowns meant it took a little longer to get our people on-site to run training exercises, emergency drills and different forms of operation - but that’s all back up and running now.”

What has been achieved in the 20 months since the Gospers Fire is quite remarkable. The precinct has undergone a $2.3 million upgrade; and as well as the new track, they have new signalling and mechanical interlocking in place. A new workshop is being built, and the carpark at Clarence has been completely resurfaced, with new asphalt, line work and garden beds.

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The railway also has one fully-commissioned steam locomotive and a diesel locomotive in service, and by the end of the year there will be seven passenger wagons fully commissioned and in service.  

“The sad thing is that the Zig Zag has missed a whole generation,” Zolfel says. “Older people know it and have fond memories of the Zig Zag, but in the 10 years since we’ve been shut, we seem to have missed a generation.

“I think reopening, for the Blue Mountains and Lithgow regional area, it’s going to be incredible.”

For information about membership and volunteering with the Zig Zag Railway, visit www.zigzagrailway.com.au

New members are always welcome, with appropriate training and mentorship for those keen to contribute in operational roles.

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