South Coast railway line, New South Wales

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This article is about the railway line between Sydney and Bomaderry. For the NSW TrainLink service operating on the line, see South Coast Line.
South Coast railway line
South Coast Line Logo.png
New South Wales metropolitan rail area, with South Coast railway line highlighted in blue
New South Wales metropolitan rail area, with South Coast railway line highlighted in blue
Termini Illawarra Junction
Stations 56
Opening 1887 (1887)
Owner RailCorp
Operator(s) NSW TrainLink
Sydney Trains
Depot(s) Mortdale for T sets
Eveleigh for H sets
Rolling stock T, H & Endeavour
Track length 152 kilometres
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
Route map
002.0 km from Main Suburban Line
Eastern Suburbs railway line to Bondi Junction
2.8 km Erskineville
4.8 km St Peters
5.3 km Sydenham
Metropolitan Goods line to Botany
Bankstown railway line to Birrong
6.8 km Tempe
Cooks River
East Hills Line to Glenfield
7.3 km Wolli Creek (to Airport Line)
8.4 km Arncliffe
9.6 km Banksia
10.4 km Rockdale
11.6 km Kogarah
12.7 km Carlton
13.7 km Allawah
014.8 km Hurstville
16.1 km Penshurst
17.1 km Mortdale
18.3 km Oatley
Georges River
Como (1st site) closed 1972
21.2 km Como
22.2 km Jannali
24.5 km Sutherland
Woronora Cemetery Branch
Cronulla railway line to Cronulla
26.3 km Loftus
Royal National Park branch
30.8 km Engadine
33.2 km Heathcote
038.7 km Waterfall
Waterfall Cutting (originally Waterfall Tunnel)
Sth Waterfall Temporary Junction
Cawley Loop
Cawley Tunnel
Helensburgh Temporary Junction
Old Helensburgh Tunnel
46.4 km Helensburgh
Helensburgh (1st site) closed 1915
Helensburgh Tunnel
Metropolitan Tunnel
Old Metropolitan Tunnel
Metropolitan Junction
Metropolitan Colliery branch
Lilyvale No. 1 Tunnel
Lilyvale No. 2 Tunnel
Lilyvale (1st site) closed 1915
Lilyvale Tunnel
Lilyvale (2nd site) closed 1983
54.6 km Otford
Otford Tunnel
Bald Hill Tunnel
56 km Stanwell Park
Stanwell Park (1st site) closed 1920
Stanwell Park Tunnel
Stanwell Park Viaduct
Stanwell Creek Tunnel
59.3 km Coalcliff
Coalcliff Colliery sidings
Coalcliff South closed 19??
Clifton Tunnel
Clifton closed 1915
62.5 km Scarborough
64.4 km Wombarra
66.2 km Coledale
68.6 km Austinmer
070.2 km Thirroul
Bulli Coal siding
Bulli Colliery
72.2 km Bulli
74 km Woonona
75.6 km Bellambi
77 km Corrimal
78 km Towradgi
79.4 km Fairy Meadow
81.3 km North Wollongong
082.9 km Wollongong
84.1 km Coniston
Port Kembla Inner Harbour lines
Port Kembla Line to Port Kembla
86.3 Lysaghts
Dendrobium Colliery siding
87.7 km Cringila
Port Kembla Steelworks rail network
88.8 km Port Kembla North
Port Kembla Outer Harbour lines
90.2 km Port Kembla
88.3 km Unanderra
Unanderra- Moss Vale line to Moss Vale
91.6 km Kembla Grange
Wongawilli Colliery siding
95.1 km Dapto
Yallah closed 1974
Tallawarra Power Station siding
103.3 km Albion Park
Oak Flats (1st site) closed 2003
105.5 km Oak Flats
Croom Tunnel
108.9 km Shellharbour Junction
Dunmore (Shellharbour) closed 2014
Dunmore Quarry siding
113.4 km Minnamurra
Bombo Quarry siding
117.6 km Bombo
Kiama Tunnel
119.2 km Kiama
Omega Tunnels (x4)
Omega closed 19??
128.6 km Gerringong
Toolijooa closed 1974
140.8 km Berry
Jaspers Brush closed 19??
Manildra starch mill siding
153.4 km Bomaderry (Nowra)

The South Coast railway line (also known as the Illawarra railway line) is a commuter and goods railway line in New South Wales, Australia. Beginning at the Illawarra Junction, the line primarily services the Illawarra and South Coast regions of New South Wales, and connects Sydney and Nowra through Wollongong and Kiama.

Opening in segments between 1884 and 1893, the South Coast railway line was built as an economic link between Wollongong and Sydney, connecting the industrial works at Port Kembla to the greater Metropolitan Goods railway network in Sydney. The line also serves as a public transport link for residents in St. George, Sutherland and the Illawarra. The 56-station, 153-kilometre line is owned by the NSW government's RailCorp, with passenger services on the line provided by Sydney Trains' Eastern Suburbs & Illawarra Line service in suburban Sydney and by NSW TrainLink's South Coast Line service in the Illawarra.

Line naming[edit]

The physical railway line is operationally and historically known as the Illawarra Line throughout its length from the Illawarra Junction at Redfern to its terminus at Bomaderry. Transport for NSW currently markets the suburban services to Waterfall and Cronulla as the Illawarra Line and interurban services south to Wollongong and Bomaderry as the South Coast Line.

Description of route[edit]

A Kiama service waiting to depart from Platform 7. Despite the destination of "Bomaderry/Nowra", the train terminates at Kiama and passengers must change for a diesel-powered train to Nowra.

Suburban section[edit]

The Illawarra line commences at the Illawarra Junction just south of Redfern station. Here, a dive-under allows inter-city services from the Illawarra line to cross underneath the main suburban railway lines to access Sydney Terminal.[1] From the Illawarra junction, four tracks head south through the stations of Erskineville and St Peters to Sydenham. Immediately north of Erskineville, the Illawarra lines are connected to the Illawarra Relief Lines which emerge from underground. These lines form the Eastern Suburbs line which opened in 1979. Heading south from Erskineville, the eastern-most pair of tracks are the Up and Down Illawarra lines which usually carry the T4 Illawarra Line passenger services.

The western-most pair of tracks are the Up and Down Illawarra local tracks which usually carry T3 Bankstown Line services and T2 Airport Line express trains operating via Sydenham. To the west of the four tracks between Erskineville and Sydenham there is a reservation for a further pair of tracks with partially constructed platforms at Erskineville and St Peters stations.

At Sydenham, six platforms are provided, with T3 Bankstown Line services generally using the western-most pair (platforms 1 and 2), T2 Airport Line peak hour services using the inner pair (platforms 3 and 4) and T4 Illawarra Line services using the easternmost pair of platforms (platforms 5 and 6). South of Sydenham, the Bankstown railway line branches off in a westwards direction. The Botany Goods Line crosses over the Illawarra line via a flyover. The line then reaches Tempe station, before crossing the Cooks River.

South of the Cooks River lies Wolli Creek station, where the East Hills line branches off to the west. The Illawarra line continues south as four tracks through a rock cutting to the stations of Arncliffe, Banksia and Rockdale. Rockdale station has five platforms, platform 1 (the most westerly platform) is currently unelectrified and disused but was previously a terminating point for electric passenger trains. South of Rockdale, the line passes through Kogarah station which has a shopping centre built overhead. The line then makes a westerly turn, heading through Carlton and Allawah stations.

The next station is Hurstville, which is where the four-track section ends and terminating facilities are provided. Like Kogarah, Hurstville has a shopping centre built above the platforms. South of Hurstville, the line becomes two tracks with bidirectional signalling. The line passes through Penshurst and Mortdale. At Mortdale is the Mortdale Maintenance Depot which lies on the eastern side of the tracks with access points from the south of the station. The line then continues to Oatley which has a set of points allowing trains to be turned-back. The line then crosses the Georges River over the Como bridge, which opened in November 1972 replacing an older single track iron lattice bridge which still exists to the east of the present structure and is used as a cycleway.[2][3] The line enters the Sutherland Shire, passing through Como station (which was moved to its present, new site with the opening of the new bridge in 1972), and Jannali before reaching Sutherland.

At Sutherland, three platforms are provided. The Cronulla line branches off in an eastwards direction south of the station. The former short branch line to Woronora Cemetery branched in a westerly direction at the south of the platforms. The line opened on 28 July 1900 and closed on 27 August 1944.[4] The line then continues south through Loftus, Engadine, and Heathcote. South of Loftus, the former Royal National Park line branched off, this has now been converted into a tram line connecting to the Sydney Tramway Museum, and connections to the mainline have been severed. The final station for the operation of suburban services is Waterfall station. At Waterfall, there is a train stabling yard and a train turnback (shunting road) south of the station. South of Waterfall is the site of the 2003 Waterfall train disaster.

Inter-urban section[edit]

The end of the line at Bomaderry station

The line then heads south through the challenging terrain of the Royal National Park and Illawarra escarpment. The line makes a steep descent down to Wollongong. The original alignment through the towns of Helensburgh and Lilyvale which opened in 1888 was bypassed by a new route in 1915. A new station at Helensburgh was subsequently opened with the new alignment.[5] A set of points allows the turnback of trains at Helensburgh. The line then proceeds through several tunnels down the Illawarra escarpment through the hamlets of Otford, Stanwell Park and Coalcliff.

South of Coalcliff, the line becomes single track as it passes through the Clifton Tunnel, before becoming double track again near Scarborough station. The line then proceeds south through the northern suburbs of Wollongong, then Wollongong and its southern suburbs. A terminating platform is provided at Thirroul, which is used to terminate peak hour services from Sydney, as well as local services.

At Coniston the double track ends with an electrified branch line heads east to Port Kembla. At Unanderra, the line to Moss Vale branches off to head west over the Illawarra escarpment to join the Main South line. The line continues south through Kembla Grange Racecourse where a simple platform servesthe adjoining racecourse. The line then reaches Dapto where a passing loop is provided. Dapto was the southern extent of electrification until 2001[6]

The line passes south through Albion Park (where another crossing loop is provided) to reach Kiama the extent of electrification. South of Kiama, the line continues as a single track non-electrified line through rolling dairy pastures via several tunnels to the towns of Gerringong and Berry before arriving at its terminus at Bomaderry on the northern bank of the Shoalhaven River. At Bomaderry, sidings connect to the Manildra Group's starch mill.[7]

Port Kembla branch[edit]

At Coniston, an electrified branch line proceeds east to Port Kembla with three intermediate stations.

The line is double track as far as just west of Port Kembla North and is used by freight trains as well as local passenger services. A stabling yard is provided at Port Kembla for overnight storage of electric trains.


A Sydney–Kiama railway was authorised by the New South Wales Parliament in April 1881.[8] Construction of the various sections was awarded by tender and commenced in October 1882.[8]

The Illawarra line branched off the Main Suburban Railway south of Redfern, at Eveleigh (Illawarra Junction). The line opened to Hurstville in 1884, Sutherland in 1885, Waterfall in 1886 and Clifton through to Wollongong and North Kiama (Bombo) in 1887.[9] The missing Waterfall to Clifton section comprised four large brick-arch culverts (and many small ones) and eight tunnels with a total length of over 4 km, delaying its opening until 1888.[8] Kiama and Bomaderry (servicing Nowra) opened in 1893.[9] The line was originally double track to Hurstville and continued as a single track, but was duplicated to Waterfall (except for the Como to Sutherland section) in 1890.[8] In 1886 a branch line was opened to Audley in the Royal National Park, which closed in 1991. In 1917 the Thirroul Locomotive Depot opened to service the steam trains on the South Coast line and it closed in 1965.

An extension of the line to the Jervis Bay area has been proposed as early as 1911.[10] In April 1971, the State Government announced the line would be extended to Jervis Bay if a proposed steelworks were built.[11]

In 1924, work began on a 57 km line connecting Unanderra with Moss Vale on the Great Southern line, which opened in 1932. It enabled the transportation of limestone from the Southern Highlands to the coast at Port Kembla. See: Unanderra - Moss Vale railway line.

Electrification of the South Coast Line was completed in stages reaching from Sydney to Loftus in 1926, Waterfall in 1980, Helensburgh in 1984, Wollongong in 1985-86, Dapto in 1993 and Kiama in 2001. The Kiama to Nowra section remains unelectrified.

Major structural problems with the Stanwell Creek viaduct were identified in late 1985, with one span close to collapsing and another badly cracked, requiring substantial repairs and stabilising work.[8]

On 31 January 2003, an Intercity Tangara passenger train (G7) derailed at high speed south of Waterfall station after its driver suffered a heart attack. The Waterfall train disaster resulted in seven fatalities and multiple injuries.

Helensburgh Tunnels[edit]

The Helensburgh Tunnels refer to a series of 7, now abandoned, tunnels between Waterfall and Otford. These tunnels were built between 1884 and 1886 and were part of the original alignment of the rail line. They were abandoned by 1920 when a new line was built.[12][13]

  • Metropolitan Tunnel (624 metres long, closed May 1915)
  • Cawley Tunnel
  • Helensburgh Tunnel (80 metres long)
  • Waterfall Tunnel
  • Lilyvale No. 1 Tunnel
  • Lilyvale No. 2 Tunnel
  • Otford Tunnel (1550 metres long, closed 1920)

Many goods trains were routinely divided at Stanwell Park and taken through to Waterfall in stages, effectively increasing the number of train movements on the line. The increasing congestion and steepness led to construction of a double track deviation, which opened between Waterfall and Helensburgh in 1914, Helensburgh and Otford in 1915, and Otford and Coalcliff (bypassing the by now infamous Otford Tunnel) in 1920. The deviation avoided the steep grades with a more winding route featuring sharp curves, deep cuttings, new tunnels and a curved viaduct over Stanwell Creek that required 3 million bricks in its construction. Although the new route was 5 km longer it reduced the ruling grade from 1 in 40 to around 1 in 80.[8]

The Clifton Tunnel is an eight tunnel in this section and built around the same time as the Helensburgh Tunnels. Unlike the others it remains in use and is the only single track section between Sydney and Unanderra.

Metropolitan Tunnel[edit]

This tunnel features the first Helensburgh railway station at its northern end. The station was opened on 1 January 1889 and closed in 1915 when a new station was built on the current line.

The Metropolitan Tunnel closed in 1915. In May 1928, the colliery completed the conversion of the tunnel to a reservoir by plugging the southern end with concrete and used by the Metropolitan Colliery as a reservoir until town water was connected. It now features a glow worm population. [13]

Otford Tunnel[edit]

Stanwell Creek viaduct

A steep ruling grade of 1 in 40 faced up (Sydney bound) trains almost all the way between Stanwell Park station and Otford. The main problem was the 1550 m long Otford Tunnel, which took the railway through Bald Hill from the coast at Stanwell Park to the Hacking River valley. The steep 1 in 40 grade and tight clearances meant that soot, smoke and heat could become unbearable, especially when a south-easterly wind blew into the southern portal or when a train stalled in the tunnel.[8][14]

A Mr B Chamberlain wrote about a stalled passenger train in 1890:[8]

Even with the windows closed, the carriages were filled with smoke and steam, women fainted and children screamed until the train backed down to Stanwell Park, and was finally staged up to Otford in two trips.

Regarding the crew, Chamberlain wrote:[8]

While the passenger with closed windows in an up train had an unpleasant journey… the unfortunate enginemen underwent a shocking ordeal. On tender engines both knelt on the footplate, coats over heads, to breathe the air coming from under the engine, the apron plate being raised for this purpose. Though the air was hot from passing around or through the ash pan, it was nonetheless welcome.

Attempts were made to overcome the problem with a ventilation shaft and chimney in the early 1890s and a blower system installed in 1909.[8]

Passenger services[edit]

The South Coast line passenger services currently consist of electric double deck multiple unit trains that operate between Bondi Junction or Central and either Wollongong, Kiama or Port Kembla. Diesel shuttle trains connect at Wollongong or Kiama and operate to Nowra. Although electrified to Wollongong in 1985, several diesel trains operated between Sydney and Nowra until 1991, one of which was the South Coast Daylight Express, operated as a locomotive hauled train of Budd and Tulloch type passenger cars which included catering facilities.[15]


  1. ^ Illawarra Line. Railcorp track diagram, 9 September 2002
  2. ^ "20 Years Ago" Railway Digest November 1992 page 442
  3. ^ Como (Georges River) Underbridge NSW Environment & Heritage
  4. ^ The Woronora Cemetery Branch Railway, Neve, Peter Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, August 1993 pp. 187–195
  5. ^ The Helensburgh Deviation, Singleton, C.C. Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin May 1966 pp. 97–106
  6. ^ "RIC Annual report 2001-2002" (PDF). Railcorp. Retrieved 8 January 2007. 
  7. ^ "Submission of shoalhaven City, 9 May 2005" (PDF). Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 8 January 2007. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Oakes, John (2009) [2003]. Sydney's Forgotten Illawarra Railways (2nd rev. ed.). Sydney: Australian Railway Historical Society, NSW Division. pp. 11, 12, 23, 24, 26, 54–56, 60, 73, 79–85. ISBN 978-0-9805106-6-9. 
  9. ^ a b "South Coast line". Retrieved 26 November 2006. 
  10. ^ The Sydney Morning Herald (8 February 1911). "Proposed Railways". Trove. John Fairfax Holdings (Original) / National Library of Australia (Archive). Retrieved 6 April 2015. 
  11. ^ "20 Years Ago" 'Railway Digest April 1991 page 142
  12. ^ Noone, Richard (5 June 2015). "Helensburgh tunnels: The eerie beauty of the Sutherland to Wollongong rail network" (html). Daily Telegraphh (News Corp). Retrieved 5 June 2015. 
  13. ^ a b "Helensburgh’s Railway Tunnels". Helensburgh and District Historical Society. Helensburgh and District Historical Society. 15 May 2015. Retrieved 5 June 2015. 
  14. ^ Tunnels on Australian Railways, by William A. Bailey, Austrail Publications, 1974, page 40-41
  15. ^ "The last Daylight" Railway Digest April 1991 page 118