Whitton's Wonder

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#1
From 1869 until bypassed in 1910, by the ten tunnel deviation, the Great Zig Zag near Lithgow NSW (Whitton's Wonder) was the route of the Main West Railway line. This mammoth construction was necessary for the railway to descend 470 feet into the Lithgow valley, taking almost three years to complete. The Great Zig Zag resulted in a constant grade of 1 in 42 (2.4%). After being bypassed in 1910, the rails were lifted along the middle road plus top road to Clarence. Adventurous motorists were then able to drive along those portions of the zig zag. Access to the 494m long Clarence tunnel was prohibited during WW2 when in 1944 chemical weapons were stored inside. The Main West railway line continues to occupy the bottom road of the zig zag, climbing to plunge into the ten tunnel deviation below Mount Sinai.
 
#2
My first exposure to the Zig Zag, other than espying it when occasionally passing by aboard the rail services between Sydney and Bathurst, was during the early 1980's.
 
#3
In 1972 a group of railway employees and enthusiasts concocted the idea of resurrecting Whitton's Wonder as a tourist railway. Unfortunately, at that time, standard gauge steam engines were not available. So, the group chose to adopt 3 foot 6 inch narrow gauge, being able to obtain puffer billies from Queensland. A depot was located on the only available land, adjacent the main line, in the cleft of the steep valley. This allowed delivery by rail of the society's original acquisitions. During one week-end, official railway sanction was granted to slew the existing down main line into the new depot. A collection of standard gauge rollingstock was delivered, plus also some of the narrow gauge equpiment. The society began laying rails along the middle road, and trains began operation in 1975.
 
#4
Various narrow gauge locomotives plus rollingstock were gradually acquired by the society. Train services were commenced with an ex QR suburban Brisbane DD17 4-6-4T plus ex SAR end platform wood body carriages. Some ex QR suburban wood body side door Evans carriages were obtained. Plus after the electrification of the Brisbane suburban system in 1979 and redundancy of the steel suburban cars, a set of these were also obtained. Later some 2000 class (silver bullets) QR rail motors were also obtained to allow the society to operate a 7 day per week service, steam on week-ends and school holidays with rail motors normal week days. The society gradually laid rails along the top road reaching Clarence station in 1987. Clarence station at an altitude of 1115m was the highest elevation on the Main West Railway line. This extension ganted the society a route distance of 7.5km.
 
#5
After I had transferred to Lithgow loco, sneaking up to the Zig Zag depot at Bottom Points via the wonky gravel perway access track became a tad less surreptitious. I kinda felt that I had a right to be there "on the property".
 
#6
Currently four steam locomotives are available for service; BB18¼ 1072 4-6-2 built 1956, DD17 1049
4-6-4T built 1951, C17 934 4-8-0 built 1949, and the "Yank" AC16 218A 2-8-2 built 1943. The Zig Zag has featured in the production of a number of movies, including Stealth filmed in 2003. The society briefly adorned a DD17 to reflect Thomas the Tank Engine to entince junior patrons. But, more recently the Wizards Express, reflecting the Harry Potter movie success, has been a regular feature of society operations. After some operational concerns about the old wood body Evans cars, only the stainless steel set was utilized for a period. However, the Evans cars are back in service these days. Some of the original ex SAR end platform cars are being restored for use on special occasions.
 
#7
The society are today continuing to lay track along the original main line route beyond Clarence station towards Newnes Junction. However access to Newnes Junction on the Main West railway line, where the former Wolgan Valley railway (closed 1932) ventured northerly to Newnes, and subsequently in 1980 the Clarence colliery balloon loop was opened and continues in use today, will pose a challenge. If the society can succeed in this challenge, then access to the Railcorp interurban services from Sydney will be granted at a propper full size station. Currently society patrons travelling across the Blue Mountains by rail must alight at the tiny halt platform near the depot at Bottom Points. With the closure of Zig Zag signal box, the structure being derelict for many years, the society were eventually able to obtain the building and relocate it. The society gradually installed a system of standard NSWR semaphore signalling and safeworking practice. So, even though the trains and gauge today might be "foreign", other facets of the Zig Zag are traditional. Patrons can again marvel at Whitton's Wonder.
Steve.
 





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