Zig Zag Railway

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This article is about the tourist attraction and railway line. For The Great Zig Zag railway line, see Lithgow Zig Zag. For the track feature, see Zig zag (railway).
Zig Zag Railway
BB18¼ 1072 City of Lithgow in the head
shunt at Top Points station
Locale Lithgow, New South Wales
Terminus Clarence, Bottom Points
Commercial operations
Name New South Wales Government Railways
Main Western Railway
Built by Patrick Higgins (contractor for NSWGR)
Original gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
Preserved operations
Operated by Zig Zag Railway Cooperative
Stations Clarence
Mt Sinai Halt
No1 Viaduct
Top Points
Bottom Points
Length 7 kilometres (4.3 mi)
Preserved gauge 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm)
Preserved era 18 October 1975 - October 2013 (second)
Commercial history
Opened 18 October 1869 (first(
Closed 16 October 1910 (first)
(bypassed by Ten Tunnels deviation) Second: 2013
Preservation history
1975 Bottom Points to Top Points section opened 18 October
1987 Top Points to Mt Sinai section opened 4 April
1988 Mt Sinai to Clarence section opened 29 October

Zig Zag Railway is an Australian heritage railway outside of Lithgow, New South Wales operating on the Lithgow Zig Zag line which was part of the Main Western line from October 1869 until October 1910 when replaced by the Ten Tunnels deviation. It was reopened as a heritage railway in October 1975.

In June 2012 the Zig Zag Railway closed for an indefinite period following accreditation issues with the New South Wales Government. It was aiming to resume services in October 2013, but was severely damaged during the 2013 NSW Bushfires.[1] It is hoped to restart in 2015.[2] There is currently no fixed timetable for reopening but estimates given for getting an engine back on the tracks range from six to 12 months from January 2015.[3]

Preservation history[edit]

Top Points station in July 2006
A historical view of the Zig Zag Railway line with Top Road and number 1 viaduct in the foreground, Middle Road and viaducts numbers 2 & 3, and Bottom Road still part of the Main Western line to the right
Lithgow Zig Zag routes
Dargans Deviation Junction
Newnes Junction (2nd)
Newnes Junction (1st)
Newnes railway line
Clarence (1st) - part of ZZR
Clarence (2nd) - closed
Summit of Route
Clarence Tunnel
Ten Tunnels (x 10)
Mt Sinai Halt
No. 1 Viaduct
Top Points (ZZR)
No. 2 Viaduct
No. 3 Viaduct
Belmore Tunnel
Bottom Points (ZZR)
Zig Zag
Bottom Points ZZR Depot
Mileage 92.1 Junction
156 Lithgow

As the end of steam operation in New South Wales approached, in 1967 a group of steam enthusiasts headed by Ian Thornton were keen to establish an operating steam museum. The Lithgow Zig Zag was chosen as a suitable site based on its accessibility by day-trippers from Sydney, its scenery, abundant water supplies and availability of coal. In March 1969 negotiations commenced with the Zig Zag Trust, the Department of Lands and the Lithgow City Council.[4][5]

In 1972 the Lithgow Switchback Railway Co-op Limited was born and this became the Zig Zag Railway Co-operative Limited in 1974. At this time, the Commissioner for Railways only made heritage locomotives and rolling stock available to the officially sponsored New South Wales Rail Transport Museum. Thus the line was relaid to 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) narrow gauge as used in Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania rather than the New South Wales 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) to allow locomotives and carriages to be procured from these states.[5]

In 1975 the new track was complete on the Middle Road between Bottom Points and Top Points. On 29 August 1975 1046 operated the first journey from Bottom Points to Top Points. Services commenced on 18 October 1975, the 106th anniversary of the original opening.[5]

On 4 April 1987 the line was opened along the Top Road between Top Points and Mt Sinai and on 29 October 1988 through to Clarence.[6] A further extension to meet the Main Western line at Newnes Junction has been started with track laid for 50% of the distance.[7]

Former schedule[edit]

The Zig Zag Railways was unique in New South Wales being the only heritage operator to run every day except Christmas Day. On Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays railmotors were operated. Every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday a steam loco with train would operate with Sunday having a two train timetable. Special events included a Day Out with Thomas and a Wizards Express event held a couple of times per year. During most school holidays steam services ran every day. Passengers could join the service at Bottom Points where Zig Zag railway station is served by NSW TrainLink services from Sydney or at Clarence which is adjacent to the Bells Line of Road.

Accreditation and incidents[edit]

The Independent Transport Safety Regulator (ITSR), an agency of the Government of New South Wales, regulates safety and accredits railway operators pursuant to the Rail Safety Act, 2002.[8] In August 2006 the ITSR identified the Zig Zag Railway (and one other operator) as a "higher risk" isolated line operator because of its complex operations and high numbers of passenger trips. The ITSR gave Zig Zag Co-operative additional time to develop a safety improvement plan in order to comply with the Act, that took effect for all heritage railway operators from 1 January 2007.[9]

On 1 April 2011 an incident occurred resulting in a collision between a maintenance vehicle and a two-car rail motor, between Clarence and Top Points stations. Travelling in opposite directions and carrying one passenger (in the Hy-rail) plus one driver of each rail vehicle, two injuries were sustained and the collision caused a minor misalignment of the track. A subsequent investigation by the Office of Transport Safety Investigations found that the principal error was miscommunication. The inquiry also identified that a number of other factors were found to have contributed to the collision, particularly a lack of radio communications; operational safe working errors; the delayed notification of the accident; poor maintenance of registers; passengers travelling in the driver's cab; fatigue; and excess speed.[10]

From March 2012 only railcars could be operated and in June 2012 the ITSR ordered a cessation of all services until a number of safety issues were addressed.[11] The railway was aiming to resume services in October 2013.[12]

October 2013 bushfire[edit]

The Railway was severely damaged by the 'State Mine Fire', part of the October 2013 bushfires. The Railway suffered millions of dollars of damage which included ten passenger carriages, accommodation carriages, a nearly completed shower block and meals room, a spare parts centre and workshop. One thousand new railway sleepers were also lost as was the caretaker's converted accommodation carriage. The caretaker was "lucky to escape with her life" according to the Zig Zag's CEO Michael Forbes. Much of the damage was suffered by original railway equipment from the 1920s. It is estimated that the railway would take a full year to recover from the State Mine Fire.[13]

Locomotives and rollingstock[edit]

The locomotives and rollingstock on the Zig Zag Railway have been mainly sourced from Queensland Railways but there are also items from the South Australian Railways and TasRail.

The railway has a large collection of other rollingstock including Queensland Railways 2000 class rail motors, Queensland Railways Evans carriages, Tasmanian Diesel locos, South Australian end platform carriages and several older carriages.

Steam locomotives[edit]

218 The Yank
Number & Name Description Disposition Livery
218 The Yank QR 2-8-2 AC16 Operational, Zig Zag Railway's most recent restoration, returning to steam in 2008 Black
934 QR 4-8-0 Class C17 Withdrawn pending overhaul. Red
966 City of Rockhampton QR 4-8-0 Class C17 Static Black
1046 QR 4-6-4T DD17 Operational 1975 until the 1980s, fully dismantled with parts stored in various places around the railway Blue
1047 QR 4-6-4T DD17 Operational from the 1970s until the early 1990s, overhaul started but now halted. Green
1049 Stormin' Normin QR 4-6-4T DD17 Restored by Hunter Valley Training College, Penrith 1994, now withdrawn pending overhaul. Blue
1072 City of Lithgow QR 4-6-2 BB18¼ Restored to service early 1980s, currently undergoing major overhaul. Black
402 SAR 4‑8‑2+2‑8‑4 Garratt Class 400 Static Green

Diesel locomotives[edit]

Emu Bay 1004 at Bottom Points Station pulling\pushing a Thomas special event train with a DD17 steam locomotive at the other end
Number & Name Description Status
1003 Emu Bay Railway Bo-Bo Class 10 Purchased as a source of spare parts for 1004 in March 2001.
1004 Emu Bay Railway Bo-Bo Class 10 Operational, restricted to shunting duties due to condition of tires. Its vacuum brake has been converted to air train brake and its auto coupling to hook and buffers. Zig Zag named it Emu Bay in recognition of its Tasmanian heritage. Purchased March 2001
5802 Mount Isa Mines In Service
6 Mines engine, powered by Gardner engine, designed to haul low level flat wagons Disposed of in 2013. Formerly used for hauling works trains.


Number Description Status
2006, 2011, 2051 QR 2000 class rail motor Operational.
2020, 2008 QR 2000 class rail motor Awaiting Restoration
2016, 2055 QR 2000 class rail motor Burnt in October 2013 bushfire. Fate to be determined

The carriages used to inaugurate services were five South Australian Railways end platform carriages made redundant by the opening of the standard gauge Broken Hill to Port Pirie line purchased in 1972. A set of five end platform carriages were purchased in 1974 from the Public Transport Commission but ultimately not used when 15 Evans carriages were purchased from Queensland Railways in 1986.[4][5]

Film use[edit]

In 2003 the railway was used in the production of the Hollywood film Stealth.[14] The area stood in for mountainous regions in North Korea and locomotives were specially painted with Korean Chosongul (Hangul) characters.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Holliday, Rebekah. "Fire tears through iconic Zig Zag Railway". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 19 October 2013. 
  2. ^ Zig Zag Railway Zig Zag Railway retrieved 13 January 2015
  3. ^ Zig Zag Railway battling adversity to finally get itself back on track Blue Mountains gazette 20 January 2015
  4. ^ a b Bentley, James (1988). Black Smoke Blue Mountains. Robert Brown & Associates. pp. 123, 127. ISBN 0 949267 58 9. 
  5. ^ a b c d The Lithgow ZigZag Railway. Zig Zag Trust & Zig Zag Railway Co-op. 1976. 
  6. ^ "Zig Zag Railway On Top" Railway Digest August 1987 page 260
  7. ^ personal observations
  8. ^ Rail Safety Act, 2002 (NSW)
  9. ^ "Discussion paper: Safety regulation of heritage railway operators". Independent Transport Safety and Reliability Regulator. NSW Government. November 2007. Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
  10. ^ "Collision between Hi-Rail and Rail Motor, Zig Zag Railway, Clarence: 1 April 2011" (PDF). Rail Safety Investigation Report. Office of Transport Safety Investigations. 2011. Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
  11. ^ Update on Zig Zag Railway Transport for NSW 6 September 2012
  12. ^ Zig Zag Railway postpones reopening Lithgow Mercury 14 May 2013
  13. ^ Holliday, Rebekah (19 October 2013). "Fire tears through iconic Zig Zag Railway". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 19 October 2013. ... we've had fires before but this is the first one that's gone through the workshop, the first time we've suffered damage to this extent. 
  14. ^ "Stealth (2005)". 

Further reading[edit]

  • Full Steam Across The Mountains - Phil Belbin & David Burke - Methuen Australia 1981
  • Blue Mountains Railways - William A Bayley - Locomotion Productions 1980

External links[edit]

Media related to Zig Zag Railway at Wikimedia Commons

Coordinates: 33°28′18.33″S 150°11′39.20″E / 33.4717583°S 150.1942222°E / -33.4717583; 150.1942222