Thursday, 27 February 2014

The Railway Rolls By—1867--1918

The most prominent locomotive to have operated on the Blue Mountains, the 'G-23' --as seen at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney 

‘Warrimoo’ would not have been born had it not been for the marriage of two ‘Great’ forms of infrastructure: the ‘Western’ or ‘Bathurst’ Road, and the ‘Western Railway’. We know that Cox and Mitchell were key figures in the construction of the former, but it would be a truly outstanding figure who achieved the latter.[1]

Famously, it was John Whitton, Engineer-in-Chief of N.S.W., whose determination inspired the construction of a railway from Penrith to Bathurst, and hence through the future area of Warrimoo, between 1862 and 1867.


Bust of John Whitton--'Father of  the NSW Railways'--at Central Station, Sydney

His ambition was driven by the need to further develop Western NSW, and by the agitation of the now gold-rich residents of Bathurst for a fast and efficient transport link to Sydney. Indeed, it was the combined wealth of gold and wool that provided the infant colony with the wherewithal for such an ambitious project.

There was also a rival scheme announced by Sir William Denison which proposed a ‘light-rail’ horse-drawn tramway across the ‘Mountains, running through the centre of the Western or ‘Bathurst’ Road.[2]

Whitton felt the public pressure, but was confronted by three natural obstacles: the Nepean River, and two steep escarpment slopes either side of the Great Divide, at Lapstone and Lithgow.

Whitton Shows His Genius

Victoria Bridge, over the Nepean River at Penrith. Whitton designed the bridge for rail and vehicular traffic, and construction of the piers began in 1862

The Engineer-in-Chief had deep faith in heavy rail, and his plans emanated from that. He designed the Victoria Bridge for both rail and vehicular traffic and its wide piers were to be constructed with sandstone quarried from Lapstone Hill itself.[3] The challenge of building solid foundations for these piers in such a powerful river as the Nepean can be well imagined, yet it was done in two years.


Building a bridge over a river the size of the Nepean was no easy feat in the 1860's--piers had to be built on a solid foundation, and sandstone blocks were quarried from Lapstone escarpment and carted to the site

Meanwhile, a “Mr. Watkins’” company was contracted to build a viaduct over Knapsack Gully in order to smooth out the gradient up the escarpment. This was something reminiscent of the Roman Empire, and consisted of six massive piers supporting soaring arches, the highest of which reached 36.9 metres from the floor of the gully. Two further viaducts of similar magnitude were built on the western side of the Mountains to erect the Lithgow, or ‘Great’ zig-zag.[4]

An artist's impression of the 'Great' or Lithgow Zig-Zag as it looked upon completion--the viaduct arches are a stunning testament of Blue Mountains architecture

The slope up Lapstone hill was inclined at 1:33—too steep for 19th century locomotives to climb in one stretch. From the outset, Whitton had wanted a tunnel carved into the mountainside to reduce the gradient by half--1:60. The length of the tunnel would have to be 2 miles (3.22 kms), and it would need 10 million bricks to secure its interior. No contractor would take it on…[5]

A gradient profile of the Lapstone escarpment, showing where the tunnel ultimately by-passed the Zig-Zag, from Railway West Chronicles, p.27

So Whitton designed the two “Z” shaped zig-zags at the east-west bookends of the Blue Mountains. How it works is as follows…The upper and lower “points” extend beyond the central arm. A train approaches along the lower arm and continues until the last of the vehicles is beyond the intersection. The lower point is then switched to the central arm track, and the loco then pushes the train backwards up the angled section until the train is clear of the top arm, where it then proceeds on its way. With a good signals team switching the tracks at the appropriate times, the whole procedure could be carried out in 20 minutes.[6]

Sketch of the Lapstone Zig-Zag--note that the "Points" had to extend long enough to cater for the full length of a train. As demand for longer trains grew and the Zig-Zags could not adapt, they rapidly became "bottlenecks". 'Lucasville Platform' was built at the Top Points level because the then Minister for Mines, John Lucas, had a holiday cottage on the escarpment, and he needed convenient access.


The Railway Arrives at … ‘Karabar’ / ‘Karabah’?

Ultimately, in a triumph of engineering for such a young colony, the eastern obstacles were overcome: Victoria Bridge, the Knapsack Viaduct and the Lapstone Zig-Zag all now shone, so that feverish work on the remaining single-line track could proceed all the way to ‘Weatherboard’.

Building the Blue Mountains' railroad. Note that it is single track. The labour shortage in NSW was so acute that the govt. paid the fares of 500 'navvies' enlisted in England to help build the line--from When We Rode The Rails, p. 40

 When this section of the Great Western Line was opened to great fanfare in 1867, it comprised six stations: ‘Watertank’ (Glenbrook)—so named because all locos needed refilling from Glenbrook Lagoon after their uphill climb—‘Wascoes’ (Blaxland), ‘Springwood’, ‘Buss’s’ (Woodford), ‘Blue Mountains’ (Lawson)—this is why Lawson now claims itself to be the original ‘Blue Mountain’,--and ‘Weatherboard’ (Wentworth Falls) itself. After the western (Lithgow) zig-zag was completed in October 1869, when the first train traversed it and arrived at ‘Bowenfels’, the rail crossing of the Blue Mountains was complete.

Given the rugged terrain and the basic 'Pulling and Lifting' power available to workers, the line was completed with amazing rapidity.

On October 1st, 1881, ‘Karabar Platform’ and waiting shed was opened. The name of this first railway platform is believed to have been derived from the name ‘Karadra’, an Aboriginal Elder of the Boorooborangal, or Nepean nation.[7] A certain ‘Karabah Terrace’ presently runs behind some houses on Florabella Street and the Warrimoo Public School, no doubt memorialising this place-name, but with a different spelling.

The Railways always referred to the area as 'Karabar', but NSW Lands Dept. oscillated between the 'r' and the 'h' spelling, as evidenced in Survey Maps and this sign.

Confusion surrounding the spelling of the name ‘Karabah/Karabar’ can feasibly be explained by different spellings in two survey maps produced in July and September 1909, where the former spelled it with an ‘r’ and the latter with an ‘h’[8] …could it be the original name for the area later to be known as Warrimoo was borne of a spelling mistake, or maybe even the fuzzy vision of a Lands Dept. or Railways clerk?

 The 100ft (30 metres) platform was positioned at the Sydney side of the No.3 Level Crossing, which lay somewhere between the present Warrimoo Station and Valley Heights. The platform was placed about 500 metres west of the current Warrimoo Station and was probably built with the aim of servicing residents of a proposed new subdivision, since in 1882, Richardson and Wrench opened a new estate named ‘Karabar’.


The G-23 loco emerges from a cutting at Woodford in 1867, pulling the standard number of two carriages. The two smaller 'bogey' wheels at the front allowed speedier travel around curves--from a sketchbook by 'Mountains artist, Jo Booker.

Whatever the case, the arrival of this new platform signaled a new stage in the establishment of settlement at Warrimoo, and the ‘Mountains generally. Firstly, land could now be developed along agricultural, industrial, commercial, or residential purposes with heavy transportation available nearby.

 Secondly, thousands of railway workers now witnessed the powerful beauty of the Blue Mountains which previously had remained largely unnoticed, being a mere transit space to the goldfields or sheep stations out west. Now it became a place of residence for fettlers, signalmen, gatekeepers, engineers, stationmasters and the host of other workers and suppliers to the railroads.

Thousands of Railway workers now experienced life in the Blue Mountains. Most lived in 'tent cities', and some even successfully experimented with market gardening near the tracks, as shown in this photograph--from When We Rode The Rails, p 41.

Platform Upgrades

It wasn’t long before the Lapstone Zig-Zag became a bottleneck of ever-growing rail traffic so Whitton’s dream of a tunnel on the escarpment was revisited, along with a general upgrading of the line to allow more crossing and overtaking trains. Thus, additional to a new ‘Glenbrook Tunnel Loop’ being constructed for ‘up’ trains from Sydney, a ‘Signal Box Loop’ was established midway between Glenbrook and Springwood which served to divert trains while others passed or crossed them.

The line as it would've looked passing through 'Karabar', prior to the erection of a platform. A plan for Residential development was soon to follow--photo from When We Rode The Rails, p.41

The new loop was at ‘Karabar’ and it was set up in 1895 and upgraded even more extensively in 1902, when the railway was duplicated. Naturally, a ‘Signals Box’ of this importance would have necessitated a Signal Man, who, along with the Gatekeeper required to ensure vehicular traffic crossed the line safely, must live in the vicinity and be able to answer emergency calls and adjust signals along the line.

Illustration of the changes made to Karabar: top drawing shows the 1895 addition of a 'Crossing Loop', allowing trains to pull over and allow others to pass. A mere 7 years later, in 1905, the line became fully 'dual carriageway', with the 'Signal Box' still playing an important function--from Railway West Chronicles p. 128

A central question arises…could this ‘Gatekeeper’ and ‘Signalman’, their families ensconced in their cottage homes, have been the first European residents of Warrimoo, or had the 1882 Richardson and Wrench subdivision gained some sales such that other settlers had arrived before them in the early 1880’s?

A typical sandstone Railwayman's cottage, this one is at Valley Heights. Could a similar one have existed next to the Crossing at Karabar, near where the present Citizens Hall now stands? Could the first residents of our township have lived there? Certainly, there is no trace of such a cottage left anywhere in Warrimoo.

The evidence seems to point to a pretty slow uptake in the market, because the Karabar Platform was closed down on December 9th 1897 due to a ‘lack of patronage’. It was re-opened in 1902 and the Signal Box was again upgraded in 1909, but it would appear that  fire or misuse (?) destroyed the remnants of the ‘platform’ by 1914(?) and the Signal Box was subsequently shut down, leaving the whole area in a kind of limbo…

[1] CHAMBERLAIN, D.S. Railway West Chronicles—Penrith to Orange, Bathurst, 2012 p.27
[2] NSW Railways Crossing the Blue Mountains
[3] CHAMBERLAIN, D.S. op. cit. p. 31
[4] Ibid. p. 27
[5] Ibid. p. 27
[6] ADAM-SMITH, B. When We Rode The Rails, Lansdowne Press, Sydney 2012, p.45
[7] LUPTON, Maisie et al, Warrimoo Public School, The First Twenty Five Years, 1987, p.11
[8] Land and Property Information HLRV—