In 1915 construction began on a new section of main line between Picton and Mittagong for the Southern Railway, the NSW Government having approved the deviation on December 1, 1914 by the passing of The Main Southern Railway Deviation (Picton to Mittagong) Act. The deviation proceeded through Bargo and was part of duplication works for the entire Southern line.
The new section opened on July 19, 1919, with stations built at Bargo, Yerrinbool and Aylmerton, and later at Yanderra. Having easy gradients, it improved the efficiency of rail traffic and shortened travel times.
The Bargo deviation's centenary occurs on July 19, 2019, and is particularly relevant for residents in the Wingecarribee Shire's northern villages, as the new line had a major impact on the landscape and on settlements there, including a boom in real estate. More details about these aspects, with a focus on Yerrinbool, will be provided in the next series.
A history of the circumstances that made the Bargo deviation a necessity follows here, drawn from a series published in this column in December 2014 to mark the centenary of its approval.
The original Picton-Mittagong section of the Great Southern Railway opened in January 1867. From Picton the single-track line did not follow the more direct line of the Great Southern Road through Bargo that climbed up Catherine's Hill to the Southern Highlands. Instead it was built several miles to the west along a rocky, undulating ridge between the Bargo and Nattai Rivers. This was the only feasible option as the more direct route would have required bridges and tunnels beyond the means of the fledging colony.
The route was described in the Sydney Morning Herald: "It may be safely said that the rocks, hills, mountains, gullies and precipitous watercourses which border the line between Picton and the Gibraltar Rock - a distance of more than 30 miles - are for the most part appalling. The country stands remote, full of rugged grandeur and unpromising desolation."
After traversing this rugged terrain, the line reached Mittagong and then proceeded through a tunnel under Mt Gibraltar to head southward across more level and fertile country, where local towns and villages took shape around railway stations at Bowral, Moss Vale, Exeter, Bundanoon and Penrose. The line continued on through to Marulan and on to Goulburn, opening there in 1869.
The Southern Railway brought improved conditions of travel for passengers and provided a better freight service than had the horse-drawn carts and bullock wagons it replaced. The single-track line was progressively extended, opening to the Victorian border in 1881, 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.
Because of this growth in traffic, delays became more frequent as trains had to wait to pass each other on the single line. Being the era of steam locomotives, delays also meant wastage of coal and water. Calls began in the 1890s for the entire Southern Line to be duplicated but being a huge, expensive undertaking for the NSW Railways, 20 years passed before work commenced.
In the meantime, locomotive traffic bound for Sydney from southern areas had a relatively easy run to Mittagong, beyond which trains had to be hauled up to Colo Vale and again hauled up at Hill Top before reaching Picton. Even with passing loops provided at every station, the section became a bottleneck. The introduction of assistant engines helped but real improvement was not achieved until 1897 when a short deviation opened between Hill Top and Colo Vale. In 1908 the line between Balmoral and Buxton was lowered and re-graded and a balloon-loop inserted between Colo Vale and Braemar. Despite these efforts, in May 1912 a total of 524 engines were still needed to draw 241 trains - 65 by three engines, 153 by two engines, and 23 by one engine.
Line duplication between Bowral and Goulburn was already underway when, in December 1914, the NSW Government approved the deviation via Bargo, a saving of 381 engines/month being expected of the improved gradient, a target it would exceed.
- Berrima District Historical and Family History Society - compiled by PD Morton. Part 1 of a 2-part series. To be continued.