Dream Comes True for Zig Zag CEO

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Photo: David Hill

By Ellen Hill

As a young lad growing up watching the steam trains at Valley Heights Rail Museum in the lower Blue Mountains, Daniel Zolfel dreamed of driving them one day.

Today, that’s almost a reality.

Now aged 30 at the helm of the newly re-opened Zig Zag Railway, he is a fireman on the most famous steam train in the country, responsible for the boiler and regulating the steam, the water and the fire.

Daniel’s career zigzagged to the railway via an apprenticeship in heavy steel fabrication engineering in first class welding then working in a specialist bridge crew around the country building, installing and repairing bridges.

Ironically, his first job with the railways was on the Valley Heights footbridge in the Blue Mountains in the town where he was raised.

He started volunteering at Zig Zag Railway on weekends in 2016 while working in the bridge crew for Roads & Maritime Services where he was overseeing civil projects like road maintenance, noise walls and large-scale construction work.

One of his first tasks at Zig Zag was removing a 200-ton pile of rusted twisted metal, a remnant of destruction from the 2013 bushfires.

Daniel was Zig Zag Railway’s first employee in 10 years when it received $2.3 million in 2018 to upgrade the carpark.

In the years since, he has overseen every project at the railway, including the $3.6 million workshop rebuild, viaduct remediation and upgrade, replacement of 2500 track sleepers and rebuilding the first lot of running set of carriages.

The railway now has a staff of seven and Daniel is CEO.

“What our team of staff and core volunteers has accomplished in the last five years is unfathomable,” he says.

“We’ve rebuilt every inch of the railway, not just physically, but all of the safety data, all the document management systems, the business management system and the accreditation.

“The railway wouldn’t be open now without that team. Simple as that.”

The railway also matched dollar-for-dollar the $5 million in government funding.

Today, Zig Zag receives no funding to operate and maintain its trains, station and workshop.

Rather, it relies on ticket sales to keep history alive.

So far, each train has been a sellout success, and Daniel plans to operate it every weekend soon. Zig Zag Railway is where you can experience the magic, power and might of steam.

Jolting over a viaduct built in the 1800s might not be a smooth ride, but the clickety clack noise it makes is the sound of nostalgia.

Time stalls as the train weaves its way down the zigzag, pausing to take on water and coal – and for you to snap a photo and squeeze into the cab with the driver.

“I just love seeing 600 people on Clarence station – 300 coming off the train and 300 getting on, the carpark’s full, the train’s full, the shop’s full, and people are running around doing their jobs and everyone’s laughing and trying to get photos and chasing the engine around,” Daniel says.

“That's magic to me.”

Details and tickets:  zigzagrailway.com.au

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