Highlands History column

TOWN LINK: A rail motor, seen here at Hill Top, linked loop line villages with Bowral until 1970s. Photo: BDH&FHS
TOWN LINK: A rail motor, seen here at Hill Top, linked loop line villages with Bowral until 1970s. Photo: BDH&FHS

Part Three of a 3-part series

THE single line Southern Railway was built through the local district in 1867 and opened to Goulburn in 1869. 

The Picton to Mittagong section that traversed rugged, undulating country had become a bottleneck by the 1890s.

As part of duplication plans for the entire line, this section was replaced with a deviation via Bargo that provided a gradual climb through Yerrinbool and Aylmerton up to Mittagong and the Southern Highlands.

Once it opened in 1919 the entire Southern Railway line was duplicated from Sydney to Goulburn.

On 11 July, 1919 the Sydney Morning Herald announced: "A new railway time-table will be brought into force as from Sunday next.

On the southern line, the deviation from Picton to Mittagong will be opened for traffic, and the Melbourne expresses and all mail and through passenger trains will run via that route.

On the loop line from Picton to Mittagong, via Thirlmere and Hill Top, a local service of trains will be provided, connecting at Picton with main line trains." 

While it was railway practice to pull up old lines, the Railway Commissioners had made an exception to allow the deviated Picton to Mittagong section to continue in use for local services.

Objections had been raised by residents of the small townships between Picton and Mittagong "on account of the fear that, in the near or distant future, it may be found desirable to work the whole of the traffic on the deviated line, thus causing inconvenience and loss to those who have made their homes and opened businesses within easy access of the existing section." (Herald, February 1916)

Thus services continued on the Loop Line, from Picton through Thirlmere, Buxton, Balmoral, Hill Top and Colo Vale to Mittagong.

A mixed train ran daily and a rail motor extended to Bowral on three days a week for residents along the line to shop.

Also a Sunday evening up passenger train ran from Moss Vale to Sydney via the Loop Line.

These services were gradually reduced and stations closed during the 1970s.

Colo Vale station was restored by the local community in 1997 and their long-term vision is for trains from the Thirlmere Railway Museum to travel to Colo Vale on a restored line. 

HOWEVER the deviation that brought about the eventual closure of the earlier line had been an absolute necessity.

A Herald article about the earlier line revealed that the actual time trains were delayed at stations between Picton and Mittagong during May 1912, due in part to shunting of crossing trains and sections ahead occupied, amounted to 1542 hours. 

While it overcame the drawbacks of the old line, the deviation did suffer serious problems over several days in October 1960 when torrential rains caused landslides and subsidence on the line between Yerrinbool and Aylmerton.

First affected was the south-heading Through Mail, hit at midnight before reaching Aylmerton by a landslide that broke all the windows on the down side of the train and flooded all the carriages.

The train pressed on to Mittagong with six passengers injured.

The following day a Fast Stock train, heading north around midnight, stopped after emerging from the tunnel on the Sydney side of Aylmerton as the driver observed the track ahead was completely submerged in water.

Another train approached from the opposite direction, passed by, and there was a heavy surge of water.

The embankment subsided and the Stock train's engine capsized towards the up side of the line, coming to rest at an angle of 45 degrees, with the front-end down a hole estimated to be 18 feet deep.

The rest of the train was unaffected and subsequently hauled back to Mittagong. 

The down line was reopened by midday but the up line remained blocked for several days, so the Loop Line came to the rescue!

It had been hastily checked and several passenger and goods trains travelled that way at reduced speeds to Picton.

Goods trains regularly plied the Southern Line but from the 1920s the rail service had to compete with a new form of freight transport.

The Herald reported in 1923 that "motor lorries are running regularly now from Sydney to Moss Vale, and are taking much business from the railways.

Their charges are 10 per cent less than railway freights.

Even casks of beer for hotels are now coming by motor lorry, and goods of all description are carried".

However, despite competition, setbacks, local station closures and community dislocation, thankfully the Southern Railway has survived and remains an option for freight and the travelling public.

This article compiled by PHILIP MORTON is sourced from the archives of Berrima District Historical & Family History Society, Bowral Rd, Mittagong. Phone 4872 2169. 

Email bdhsarchives@gmail.com. 

Web: berrimadistricthistoricalsociety.org.au