Part two of a 3-part series
THE Great Southern Railway from Picton opened to Moss Vale at the end of 1867, and to Goulburn in 1869.
By 1881 the single-line track had been extended to the NSW/Victorian border, providing the first direct rail link between Sydney and Melbourne. By this time farmers and graziers from Goulburn to the Riverina were regularly using the rail service to transport produce, wheat and live animals to Sydney markets.
Traffic bound for Sydney had a relatively easy run, except for one section: by the 1890s the steep Mittagong to Picton section had become a bottleneck. As part of duplication plans for the entire Southern line and in the interests of safe and economical working for growing traffic, railway engineers recommended that the entire problematic section be replaced by a deviation via Bargo.
In December 1914, with duplication already underway between Bowral and Goulburn, the NSW Government approved the replacement of the Picton-Mittagong section.
The route selected for this deviation had a steadily rising grade all the way from Picton at 552 feet above sea level, to Mittagong at 2027 feet. Whereas the original line followed a rocky ridge between the Nattai and Bargo Rivers, the deviation would be to the east, along a ridge between the Bargo and Nepean Rivers.
Construction commenced in 1915 and, despite shortages of labour and equipment due to World War I, work continued and the deviation was ready for traffic in July 1919. It included the heavy work of building four tunnels, one of which at Aylmerton was 3016 feet long.
In February 1916, a progress report in the Sydney Morning Herald included the following: "Much excellent road-making has been accomplished in NSW, and no greater tribute could be paid to the skill of those civil engineers who designed the Great Southern Road between Picton and Mittagong, than has been done by the action of the present-day railway engineers in adopting, almost in its entirety, the swath through the primeval bush cut by the pioneer road-makers. The new railway route will interfere somewhat with the road between Picton and Mittagong, and crosses it about ten times. This has been found to be unavoidable."
The Herald also stated that the deviation, almost four miles longer than the old line, would secure a better grade: "On the old line the pull up from Balmoral to Hill Top imposed a great tax on the locomotive, but the natural difficulties would be quite overcome on the new line by taking a wide sweep to the left of the main vehicle road coming from Sydney."
THE deviation also required a viaduct at the Bargo River. As road travellers had discovered from the 1820s, the river was unpredictable and when it rose they could not cross. The delay meant that fresh farm produce being taken to market on carts would rot. The local state member, William McCourt MLA, petitioned authorities for a bridge to carry the Southern Road across the river and a timber truss bridge of five spans opened in 1897.
The bridge enabled growers at Bargo to always get fresh produce to market. However when the railway deviation was built through in 1919 over a new imposing viaduct and a station opened, produce was switched to rail. The road bridge continued in service and, with the growth of heavy motor traffic along the road (renamed Hume Highway in 1928), the bridge had to be repaired and was eventually replaced. South of Bargo the next railway station along the new deviation was originally Yerrinbool but, in 1924, Yanderra station was opened after a real estate firm began selling residential blocks there and a village took shape, although the station eventually closed.
The line then wound up through rough sandstone country to Yerrinbool where apple, pear and cherry orchards, established in the 1890s, had become famous. After the railway opened there in 1919, land was subdivided as the Yerrinbool Station estate and a village came into being.
The rail made a wide sweep through this locality, crossing the main road at each end of the curve, where arched brick under-bridges were built for road traffic. The rail then entered Yerrinbool tunnel, 811 feet long, and through deep rock cuttings to Aylmerton tunnel, longest of all at 3016 feet in length. Beyond that it proceeded through dairy country to Aylmerton station where land was sub-divided in 1920. A township never developed, however, and in 1975 the station closed.
The deviation continued up to Mittagong where it reconnected to the existing, duplicated main Southern line to Goulburn.
To be continued.
This article compiled by PHILIP MORTON is sourced from the archives of Berrima District Historical & Family History Society, Bowral Rd, Mittagong. Phone 4872 2169.