Museum of Freemasonry - Masonic Library

With the first stage completed and in operation, moves were then made for the extension of the railway line to the west and in December 1858 a Mr. Gibbons entered into a contract with the Government to carry out the works, at a schedule of prices, from the point now known as Granville to Blacktown, a distance of eight miles. He also agreed to employ as many as possible of the returned diggers from the Rockhampton Goldfields,

as they had been demanding that the Government find them employment. This section was completed in July 1860 and a new station – Parramatta Junction, now known as Granville – was erected at the point of divergence of this line from the southern line to Campbelltown which had been completed in 1858.

The line to the west was moving steadily ahead. By 1861 it had reached Rooty Hill and in May the following year was opened to South Creek, now St. Mary’s. Two months later the line was opened to Cross Roads (now Kingswood) about one mile from Penrith. On 18th January 1863 the line to Penrith was completed and opened to traffic. Penrith remained the terminus for the western line for just over four years, and became the new starting point for the coaches over the Blue Mountains.

The first crossing

The Blue Mountains had been regarded by the first settlers as impassable and it was not until 1815 that they had been successfully crossed by Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth.

In the following November, Governor Macquarie sent Surveyor Evans to follow up their tracks. Within twenty-one days he and his party had passed beyond the ranges and on to the Western Plains. Convicts were then set to work under Cox to construct a road across the mountains to Bathurst and this was completed in nine months. So new excellent grazing areas were opened up for settlement and in 1815 Macquarie rode across the mountains with his wife and laid out the new township of Bathurst on the river, since known by his surname. That the route selected for the road up the mountains was well chosen was demonstrated by the fact that in later years the surveyors could find no better one for the railway, although the country was explored in all directions.

However, even with Macquarie’s Road as a guide, the building of a railway with suitable grades for a long time seemed impracticable. It was the general belief that no locomotive railway could traverse the rugged ridges of the Dividing Range.

Early surveys

As early as 1856 a company of sappers and miners belonging to the Royal Engineers and under the direction of Captain Hawkins, R.E., had been taking levels along Bell’s Route i.e. through Kurrajong and the Western Road and also exploring the country generally between the Nepean and Bathurst with a view to a suitable railway location. However their findings were far from encouraging and Hawkins stated that:-

“I must express my conviction that no practical line for either a railway or tramway from the Hawkesbury to Bathurst exists between the Cox and Colo Rivers and consequently that a direct line between Sydney and Bathurst cannot be obtained.”

However, conditions for the traveller along the road were becoming impossible. In 1857 Captain Martindale, Chief Commissioner for railways reported:-

“In winter the roads are impassable sloughs and in summer the rudest common earth roads. He esteems himself fortunate whose bullock drays accomplish, when the weather is bad, three or four miles a day and bears- as best he may – in addition to great inconvenience and severe loss, the inevitable heavy charge for the carriage of goods.”

It is not surprising that the possibility of scaling the mountain ranges by means of the “iron horse” became a burning question and the railway surveyors exerted themselves to discover a practicable haulage route.

Surveys were made in every possible direction in which it appeared likely that an easier line would be found than by following the old Western Road from Emu Plains to Mount Victoria, but finally the Blue Mountains Ridge was selected for the railway crossing of the mountains. Thus the railway came to be laid alongside a large portion of the track first made by those three intrepid explorers – Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson. From Mount Victoria trial surveys were run in various directions, some into Hartley valley and others along the Darling Causeway to the head of Lithgow’s Valley.

Whitton and Denison disagree

Whitton had always maintained that it was practicable to cross the mountains by railway and it was over this belief that he had quarrelled with Sir William Denison. Denison had propounded a scheme for what was practically 4,000 miles of tramways; i.e. rails of a sort were to be laid along existing roads at a cost of 4,000 pounds per mile to facilitate horse-drawn traffic. Whitton opposed the idea, pointing out that the grades on the western roads were in some cases as steep as 1 in 8 and it would be impossible to work any considerable traffic by the means suggested. He maintained that a railway worked by locomotives would be definitely practicable and the completion of the line across the Blue Mountains saw his faith ultimately justified.

The story of the Zig Zags

Once the general route for the railway line had been agreed upon, the next problem was to determine the most practicable location for the line up the steep rises of Lapstone Hill and out of Lithgow valley. Captain Ward had located routes on the eastern and western escarpments by using 1 in 20 grades but Whitton decided on a maximum of 1 in 30. At the western end he had at first proposed the cutting of a tunnel but there were many difficulties standing in the way. It would have been necessary to drive the tunnel for at least two miles and there was no contractor who would undertake the work. Also, Whitton could not see how ten million bricks required for the lining of the tunnel could be transported to the site. Moreover, it would have taken a considerable time. So Whitton was forced to abandon the idea. He later decided to put in two zig zags, the lesser known as the Lapstone Zig Zag on the eastern approach and the Great Zig Zag near Lithgow. When the Zig Zag was completed at Lapstone Hill it was possible to raise trains from an altitude of 87 feet above sea level on the plains, to 613 feet at the summit of Lapstone Hill.

The descent from the mountains on the Lithgow side was made on a grade of 1 in 42 by three graceful parallel sweeps on the side of a deep and rocky ravine where formerly there was scarce footing for a mountain goat and where at times the surveyor’s assistants had to be suspended by ropes in the performance of their perilous duties.

The construction of the Great Zig Zag was a triumph of engineering skill. In the execution of this work, two gigantic masses of rock, one estimated to contain 40,000 tons and the other 45,000 tons had to be blasted. Quite a notable gathering assembled on both occasions to witness the blasting, and the second of these shots was fired electrically by the Countess of Belmore (the Governor’s wife) in the presence of a large and representative gathering.

The whole area was picturesque, and attractive massive viaducts of masonry added to the scenic features.

To enable the line to reach the site of the Lapstone Zig Zag it was necessary to build two interesting structures. The first was a bridge built over the Nepean River between Penrith and Emu Plains and called the Victoria Bridge. It originally comprised three spans of 198 feet. Designed by Whitton, it was planned for a double rail track; but the destruction of the nearby road bridge by flood eventually caused a change in plan, whereby only a single railway line was laid down, the other portion of the bridge being reserved for highway traffic. A later flood carried away portion of the western timber approaches which were replaced by an iron span 135 feet long, that made four spans in all.

The second structure was a large stone viaduct also designed by the Chief Engineer, Whitton, and was a remarkable piece of stonework. Spanning the Knapsack Gully, it was 126 feet high in the centre with seven stone arches, and was a graceful and solid piece of work. Both these structures are now used wholly by highway traffic.

The line as far as Weatherboard, now called Wentworth Falls, was completed and opened on 11th July, 1867. On the first section there were five intermediate stopping places-Watertank (Glenbrook), Wascoes (Blaxland), Springwood, Buss’s (Woodford) and Blue Mountain (Lawson).

Once the great engineering difficulties on the first section had been overcome, construction proceeded at a much faster pace. The section from Weatherboard to Mount Victoria- a distance of fifteen miles was completed on 1st May 1868. Bowenfels- nearly 20 miles distant was the next section opened eighteen months later, followed by short extensions to Wallerawang and Rydal. By February, 1857 Kelso, just across the Macquarie from Bathurst, was reached and only the bridge was needed to bring the railhead into the town. This work was completed in time for an official opening on 4th April 1876.

Bathurst

Bathurst was already a flourishing town. Its population had soared when gold had been discovered in the district and although the rush was then over, many of the miners had remained to cultivate the rich soil. The more progressive saw a wonderful future for agriculture on these fertile plains and with the completion of the line as far as Bathurst, they were assured of a market for their products.

Bathurst’s local Member of Parliament, J.R.Kemp, had been one of the first directors of the Sydney Railroad and Tramroad Company. He was followed by others equally interested in rail contact with the capital, notably the Suttors, and it was Francis Bathurst Suttor, M.L.A., later to become Minister for Justice and Public Instruction in the Parkes Government, who was on hand to welcome the first train into town.

The Sutherland scheme

John Sutherland, Secretary of Works in the first Parkes Ministry, was an enthusiastic advocate of railroad expansion as a means of rural development. He visualised a complete state railway network with interconnecting links so that it would be practicable to transfer from one major line to another without returning to Sydney. He also proposed that the interstate links should be expedited.

South Australia was to be given a direct route by the construction of a line from Cootamundra via Pooncaira to the South Australian border where connection would be made with the South Australian Railways. Queensland was to be joined with a link from Grafton via Casino, Tabulam and Tenterfield to Maryvale in Queensland.

Sutherland defined the routes before Cabinet on 4th November 1873 and issued instructions for trial surveys to be made. His ideas were grandiose. He not only wanted Crown land for railway construction but also for the Railway Department to own all land within four miles of railways. On 19th May, 1873 Mr. John Rae, Commissioner for Railways, asked the Under-Secretary for Lands to reserve temporarily, a strip four miles on each side of the proposed Goulburn to Wagga extension. The Secretary for Lands asked on 24th July whether one mile would not be sufficient-to which Mr. Sutherland replied that the idea was to have land for the railway free of cost, free access to suitable construction materials, and, after selection of station sites, roads surveyed to serve the stations.

Unfortunately, nothing came of the idea of land reservations and the scheme was allowed to lapse, though in later years the lines themselves followed fairly closely the pattern laid down by Sutherland.