Thornleigh Seventh-day Adventist Church (Sydney, Australia)

Home > Online Magazine > Online Magazine: Edition 33 - February/March 2010 > Restoration and Renewal (by John Morris)

Restoration and Renewal

by John Morris

Restoration and Renewal

I like trains - steam trains that is. A steam engine is a breathing almost living entity with characteristics that create a personality for each locomotive even though they may be made to a specific design and constructed by the same manufacturer. Sad to say economics and the development of more efficient diesel engines have seen the steam engine fade from regular service. But, the world around, steam on rail is preserved, renewed, and revitalized for the tourist and for the benefit of current and future generations. Riding the rail can take you to the Hotham Valley south of Perth, to Quorn in South Australia, the Lachlan Valley in New South Wales, Emerald in Victoria, the Don River in Tasmania and to the Pilbara in Western Australia, and that is only a few locations where steam is alive and well in Australia.

Come with me to two successful rail restoration projects.

The Zig Zag Railway

The Blue Mountains, located about 80 km (50 miles), west of Sydney provided an effective barrier to any expansion ideas that the governing personnel might have had during the early years of "white" settlement. Remember that the first non-indigenous personnel to arrive in 1788 were a bunch of convicts, with soldiers to guard them. The site was a prison. The First Fleeters had arrived in a country that was physically foreign to them as well as being half way around the world from home and they had neither the inclination, the resources or the skills to consider moving away from the settlement centre at Farm Cove and easily accessible areas close by.

The position changed in 1812 when a serious drought meant inadequate supplies from existing pastures for livestock and the push was on to see what lay over the mountains to the west. The acknowledged way across the mountains was found by Gregory Blaxland, William Lawson and William Charles Wentworth who in 1813 following the ridge tops found a practical way across the mountains. George Evans followed up on Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth (BLW) and completed the crossing of the Great Dividing Range to where Bathurst is now located. George Cox was directed by Macquarie to construct a road following the (BLW) route which was completed in1814. The Old Bathurst Road followed in 1824 and Mitchell's Pass in 1834. Mitchell's Pass was the main road west until the Great Western Highway was built in 1926.

Now for the trains. On the 26th of September 1855, the first railway line in New South Wales was opened between Sydney and Parramatta. By 1868 the rail line had been constructed to Mt Victoria on the western side of the mountains.

Goods and passengers moved west from Mt Victoria by wagon or stage coach. In 1866 construction began on the Great Zig Zag on the eastern approach to Lithgow and was finished in 1869. In 1910 the route was displaced by the construction of a new line with ten tunnels, the Zig Zag being no longer an efficient way of moving the volumes of passengers and products that moved in and out of the Sydney region. The lines and equipment of the Zig Zag were removed and the area was allowed to revert to nature's control.

In 1964, I and other members of the Sydney Adventist Bushwalking Association spent a weekend on the Blue Mountains. On the way back we came through Lithgow and were traveling home along the Bell's Line of Road when we decided to pay a visit to the Zig Zag. The fabulous sandstone viaducts and tunnels that were part of the original railway construction were still in perfect order and we motored down to the bottom points where we could view the "new" line (still operating through those ten tunnels constructed for the 1910 deviation).

About this time a group of rail enthusiasts wondered if they could do something about the derelict rail route. Being relatively close to Sydney they saw a successful tourist market that would help in the reconstruction and running of a restored railway. In 1968 lease negotiations began, culminating in an agreement being signed in 1974 that allowed for the establishment of a railway on the old Zig Zag.

Volunteers fund raised, laid track, purchased engines and carriages, and saw the first train run in October 1975. For 12 years the railway operated between Middle and Bottom Points (the middle part of the "Z" if you like) with extensions through to Clarence Station, funded as part of the Bicentennial activities, opening on 20 October 1988. Rolling stock and Engines have been sourced from around Australia. At Bottom Points there is a large shed where there are ongoing works to restore and refurbish, and maintain rolling stock to allow for safe operations and to provide an attractive tourist activity. Once an engine or carriage has rolled out of the shed it is just like new.

Today the railway is fully operational complying with current railway system regulations. Trains run every day, with steam engines operating on weekends and Wednesday each week, and each day during school holidays. Special decorated trains run on special event days such as Thomas the Tank Engine Day.

The ABT Railway

The story of the Tasmanian ABT Railway began in 1882 when gold was discovered in the Linda Valley on Tasmania's wild west coast. Alluvial gold was worked with great effort given the isolation, and poor access into the area. The vegetation was known as "horizontal scrub". The Mount Lyell Gold Mining Company was set up in 1886 and taken over in 1892 by the Mount Lyell Mining Company. Improved management and better funding saw 850 tons of copper and silver shipped out. In 1896 the ABT Railway was constructed providing ready access from Queenstown to the port of Strahan.

The railway was a unique engineering feat just to get through the rugged terrain. The method of operating was a feature by itself. Dr Roman Abt, a Swiss engineer developed the use of a toothed rail in the centre of the usual 2 rails. Gear wheels on the locomotive would lock onto the toothed rail allowing the engine to pull trains up a much steeper gradient than normally configured locomotives. A standard line will rarely exceed a 1:30 slope. The Abt Railway climbed a 1:12 gradient on the way to the Rinadeena Saddle.

Road networks gradually extended into the area and with the accompanying improvement in motor vehicles, it became more economical to move product into and out of the area by road. In 1963 the railway was closed and the line dismantled. Some bridges and trestles and other infrastructure was allowed to rest in nature's hands.  In 1964 Marcia and I had a 2 week holiday in Tasmania. Sad tosay we missed the last train. All that was left was a couple of worn-out engines, and some rolling stock sitting on disused lines in the mine campus.

Calls had been made for the preservation of the railway even when it was being closed. Far-sighted residents, and train enthusiasts foresaw the tourist potential and the opportunity for a unique heritage experience. The cost would be huge, but there was a dream that one day the valleys and hills would resound to the engine working its way over the hills and along the valleys to the accompaniment of bird calls and racing streams. The dream became reality with the provision of $20.45 million from the Federation Fund (1) for reconstruction. Reconstruction required 34 km of rail line, 40 bridges, the restoration of 2 of the four surviving steam and one diesel locomotive, the new construction of 12 carriages, part refurbish and part rebuilding of the station buildings at Queenstown and along the route. Work began in January 2000. It took only 6 months and the steam whistle was heard around the hills of Queenstown for the first time in 37 years.

The carriages are totally of new construction. There was nothing left of the original rolling stock to restore. "The design of the carriages reflects the original outline of the original Mt Lyell "O" cars; arched windows, clerestory roofs; brass luggage racks all recall the nostalgic journeys of a bygone era.

A feature of the carriages is that each is fitted out in a different Tasmanian native timber. Blackwood, Blackheart Sassafras, Celery Top Pine, Tasmanian Oak and Myrtle have been used adding warmth and character to the train.

On a recent visit to Tasmania, Marcia and I accompanied friends to Queenstown for the specific purpose of riding the ABT Railway. We rode from Queenstown to Strahan and came back by bus to gain a different view of the area. The sweet aroma of burning coal, the echoing of the train whistle around the hills and the valleys, the varying beat of the steam exhaust as the gradients changed, the movement of the train as the engine picked up on the centre line rack, and the ever changing views as the train moved on its journey were like a symphony in the ears of every "ferroequinologist" and there were many on the train. The $20.45 million was well invested and it has produced an engineering feature that adds to the fabulous trains and rail lines we have in Australia.

Another Restoration Project

Allow me to draw your attention to another restoration project that is on the drawing boards and I believe is about ready to be released. This is one that will not have any funding problems.

The world we live in is not the best place for anyone. Samoa has recently (2009) added an undersea earthquake and resultant tsunami to the list of physical disturbances. Typhoons have been devastating in Taiwan, the Philippines, and mainland China. The fight against the Taliban continues in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pirates are picking off boats off the coast of Somalia. The president of Afghanistan gets another term in office as the result of rigged elections. The United States of America is reviewing the state of play in Afghanistan with the military forces there recommending some additional 40,000 troops be sent. Suicide bombings are a regular event in Pakistan and Iraq.

Australia is on and off the drought cycle again.  "Oberon Council has accused Wallerawang power station of hoarding water while the township, which uses less than 2 million litres a day against the power station's allocation of 9 million, is suffering under water restrictions. The Oberon Dam level reached a record low of 12.5 per cent this week, before what is expected to be a particularly hot, dry summer" (2)

The lack of water is a major problem the world around. The allocation of water out of the Sea of Galilee between Israelis and the Palestinians is one of the blockages to peace negotiations between the 2 groups. The Sahara is expanding south. At the same time there have been extensive floods in Europe.  The whole world is a physical wreck.

Personal behaviour is at an all time low. Vicious murders in supposedly peaceful suburbs, bashings, drug running, money laundering, make the headlines. Rarely is there "good news". The words of St Paul are apt; "But mark this: there will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves,  boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash , conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God - having a form of godliness but denying its power".  2 Tim 3:1-5

God's offer is total renewal - both for the world and for each person. The offer is not just repairs and refurbishment. It is total renewal.

For the physical world - Total Replacement

".. the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare…That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness"2 Peter 3:10, 12, 13.

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no more sea. I saw the Holy City , the New Jerusalem coming down from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband." Rev 21:1-2

For each of us - a major change

"We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed - in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet." 1 Cor 15:51-52 Changed - to immortal, imperishable, real recognisable people. "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Rev 21:4

Renewal - it's freely available - and it's just around the corner.


End Notes & References

(1)  "The purpose of the Federation Fund is to finance a number of major projects of national significance. The projects are to be well advanced but not necessarily completed by the Centenary of Federation in 2001 and will be selected on the basis that they will generate jobs in the construction phase and make a significant and ongoing contribution to Australia and the Australian economy."  Accessed 18 November 2009

(2)  Accessed 19 November 2009

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers

This article and the pictures it contains are Copyright © 2010 by John L Morris.  Used by permission.

Home > Online Magazine > Online Magazine: Edition 33 - February/March 2010 > Restoration and Renewal (by John Morris)