Woy Woy Tunnel

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Woy Woy Tunnel
Northern portal of Woy Woy tunnel.JPG
Northern portal of the tunnel
Location Woy Woy
Coordinates 33°29′27″S 151°16′56″E / 33.490946°S 151.282199°E / -33.490946; 151.282199Coordinates: 33°29′27″S 151°16′56″E / 33.490946°S 151.282199°E / -33.490946; 151.282199
Start 1 March 1884
Opened 16 January 1888
Owner RailCorp
Line length 1 mile 4 chains (1.7 km)
No. of tracks 2
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)

Woy Woy railway tunnel opened on 16 January 1888 between Wondabyne and Woy Woy stations on the Main Northern railway line in New South Wales, Australia.


Mullet Creek culvert on the southern approach to the tunnel
Looking towards Woy Woy from above the northern portal of the tunnel
Entrance to World War II demolition tunnel and chamber above northern portal of the Woy Woy railway tunnel
Interior of the World War II demolition tunnel

Statistics & facts[edit]

  • Tunnel length: 1 mile 4 chains (1.7 km);[1]
  • Construction without cessation night and day, excepting only upon Sundays;[1]
  • 300 men employed in the excavation works;[2]
  • Over 100 tons of gunpowder and 10 tons of dynamite;[1]
  • Perforation work by 10 percussion rock-drills using by compressed air obtained from a 40 horse-power engine;[1]
  • Excavation of rock 124,500 cu yd (95,200 m3);[1]
  • Bricks laid 10,000,000 approximately[1] supplied by Gore Hill Brickworks;[3]
  • Cement casks1 no less than 10,000;[1]
  • Built on Homebush-Waratah Line to connect Northern and Southern systems of railway.[1]
  • At completion it was the longest railway tunnel in Australia;[4]
  • During construction the tunnel entrance had a crimson streamer stretched across it with the Latin phrase Labor omnia vincit, meaning, Hard work conquers all;[2]
  • The hill rises 600 feet (180 m) above the tunnel;[2]
  • The tunnel is straight.
  • The tunnel has an average 1 in 150 gradient[5] with short steep approaches.


  • Construction commenced 1 March 1884;[1]
  • Breaking through ceremony 17 July 1886;[1]
  • Official opening 16 January 1888.[6]

Problem during construction[edit]

Sydney Morning Herald extract

15 November 1887, Mr. H. Deane, inspecting engineer of the Railway Department, returned to Sydney from an inspection of the Woy Woy tunnel. It was revealed that a creek which passes over a portion of the tunnel was swollen by an unusually heavy rainfall. The water forced its way through the creek bed, around a portion of the tunnel lining and found an outlet through the weep-holes of the masonry work. No damage was done to the tunnel. To prevent the possibility of any future problems arising, it was proposed to temporarily channel the creek over the tunnel using flumes, whilst constructing a permanent solution.[7]

Creek diversion above southern portal of Woy Woy tunnel

Homebush-Waratah line[edit]

The construction of the Homebush-Waratah line was broken up into sections:[6]

Between April 1887 and May 1889, the Woy Woy Tunnel's major benefit of significantly reduced travel times were not able to be fully appreciated by passengers until the completion of the Hawkesbury-Mullet Creek section of track which involved the construction of the first Hawkesbury River railway bridge. Prior to the opening of the Hawkesbury-Mullet Creek section, which was dictated by the opening of the Hawkesbury River bridge, passengers disembarked from either Hawkesbury River, from the south, and Mullet Creek (closed 11 September 1897), from the north. Mullet Creek was located 400 metres north of the current Wondabyne station and 1.5 km from the western entrance to the Tunnel.[8] Passengers were required to catch a ferry between Hawkesbury River and Mullet Creek that met with trains at both terminus.[6]

Gauge and Loading Gauge[edit]

The line was built with 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) tracks and a loading gauge that accommodated 8-foot-4-inch-wide (2.54 m) carriages on double track with 11-foot (3.4 m) centres.

In 1910, a new nation standard loading gauge was adopted for all mainland states, which was applied to all new works. In the 1920s, in the Sydney electrified area, the wider standard allowed for 3+2 seating in lieu of 2+2 seating.

Problems started to arise when in 1960 when the line though Woy Woy was electrified using so-called narrow stock. More problems arose in the 1972 with the introduction of double deck carriages, which required the removal of brickwork in the top corners of the circular tunnel profile with the roadbed lowered.

In the 1990s so-called medium width stock of 3.00 m, such as the Tangara trains, were allowed through Woy Woy Tunnel.

Original planned tunnel location[edit]

The following extract is from the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, 1 December 1881, Answers to Questions, as reported by The Sydney Morning Herald, in relation to connecting the Great Southern and Northern Lines via the construction of the Homebush-Waratah Line:

...From this point the line takes a north-easterly direction towards Flat Rock Point, crosses the channel between the southern mainland and Long Island; thence across the Hawkesbury River to Dangar Island (37 miles [60 km] from Redfern); and thence across the main channel of the river to a tunnel through the cliffs on the northern bank to Patonga Creek; thence by a tunnel through the high land between that creek and Woy Woy Creek, thence across that creek and skirting the western shore of Brisbane Water, across Narrara Creek through to the village of Gosford (49 miles [79 km])...[9]

This original route and Tunnel location was not adopted.


19 January 1917, a fettler was killed and another severely injured in the Woy Woy tunnel by a goods train. Prior to the tragedy the train had a minor accident inside the tunnel about 100 yards from the Woy Woy end. In order to get it out, the train had to be uncoupled in the middle and the engine proceeded to Woy Woy with the first half of the train. As the engine with the first half of the train went pass 3 fettlers and a ganger working just inside the tunnel on the down rails (those leading to Gosford) they merely regarded it as a complete train. When the engine returned from Woy Woy for the second half of trucks it ran back on the same line. The workers hearing the engine approach, travelling tender foremost showing no light, mistakenly thought they were stepping out of the way of a train heading in the opposite direction. Mr Julius Christiansen, of Woy Woy, was hurled forcibly against the wall of the tunnel and died almost instantly of head injuries. Mr James McKay, also of Woy Woy, was knocked down by Mr Christiansen's flight, and received slight injuries to the leg. The other fettler and the ganger escaped uninjured.[10]

24 November 1917, a young man named Darcy Bell (aged 29) was killed in the Woy Woy tunnel by the 2 p.m. passenger train from Sydney. Bell, a returned soldier, was employed by the Railway Commissioners as a guard at the southern mouth of the tunnel. He was proceeding to his work when the accident occurred.[11]

12 September 1921, at the inquiry held by the District Coroner, Mr W. E. Kirkness, regarding the death of Cecil T. Pike (aged 22), a railway shunter at Clyde, who was knocked down and killed by a passenger train in the Woy Woy tunnel shortly after 10 pm. The deceased was spending the weekend fishing at Wondabyne and was in Woy Woy earlier in the evening. He returned to Wondabyne with another railway employee on a tricycle, but afterwards walked back along the line to look for a coat which had been dropped. His body was found about 80 chains from the Woy Woy end of the tunnel. A verdict of accidental death was returned. The coroner remarked that there was no evidence of any negligence on the part of the train officials.[12][13]

21 September 1931, a Hawkesbury College student fell from a train In Woy Woy tunnel, his thigh being broken and one of his legs severed.[14]

22 August 1940, three men were killed and four others injured by a good train in the Woy Woy Tunnel shortly before 1 pm. The seven men were employees of the Railway Department who were, along with another 50 men in 3 gangs, working in the tunnel on draining and concreting the lines. Two trains passed through the tunnel going in both directions, the men were warned of their approach by the watchman. The trains left dense smoke in the tunnel which has electric lights along the walls. Visibility in the tunnel was poor due to the train engines’ smoke. A few minutes later a goods train travelling from Enfield to Broadmeadow entered from the Hawkesbury end, the seven men were not aware that this train was approaching and it was on them before they could jump to safety. The driver of the goods train did not see the men, a man's cap was found on the front of the engine at Woy Woy Station. Those killed were: Michael Shelley (aged 47), married of Punchbowl suffered decapitation and a severed leg; John Dillon (aged 37), married of South Woy Woy suffered a broken neck, Lynton Munce (aged 44) of Paddington suffered decapitation and Andrew Jack Blackie (aged 41), married of West Wallsend. The injured were: William Whitten (aged 31) of Cardiff who suffered a fractured skull, severe abrasions and lacerations all over his body; Andrew J Blackie (aged 41) of West Wallsend who suffered a fractured skull and internal injuries; Reginald Mason (aged 28) of Adamstown who suffered a fractured skull and ribs and Angus Blakely (aged 41) of West Wallsend who suffered a fractured skull and severe lacerations. With the exception of Blackie, all were married.[15][16] Andrew Jack Blackie died in Newcastle Hospital approximately 24 hours after the incident.[17] Men engaged on railway repairs in the tunnel decided at a meeting to refrain from working in the tunnel until visibility at either end was clear. The men requested for trains to be run on one line through the tunnel during repair work. The proposal to stand by to await a clearing of the smoke would reduce the element of risk to a reasonable minimum and reduce the danger to life to a positive minimum.[18] 19 September 1940, at the inquest yesterday into the death of four men who were killed by a goods train in the Woy Woy tunnel, the driver of the train said that his vision was blank for part of the journey through the mile-long tunnel.[19] During the Inquest the District Coroner, Mr C. J. Staples, said that they were the victims of a system that sometimes put earnings and profits above human life.[20] Mr Staples returned a finding of accidental death and was quoted as saying,

I hope the Railway Commissioner will tighten up the efforts for greater safety for his employees. When union officials ask for safety conditions it should not be thought that they are putting one over the boss. Employers should recognise workmen's and union's fears and I believe this would result in the saving of life. You may hear that such people are agitators trying to make it harder for the Commissioner. But I hold that the men and officials concerned who advise on safe working conditions should be given serious consideration.[21]


1.^ Circa 1886, both Australian and imported cement was packaged in wooden casks, each containing 3 bushels, about 4 to 4.25 cubic feet (about 170 kg net) depending upon the fineness of the cement. The density of cement specified in 1886 for City of Sydney use was 112 to 113 pounds per bushel.[22]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Public Works, The Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday 22 July 1886, p.3 (accessed 30 June 2011)
  2. ^ a b c The Woy Woy Tunnel, The Sydney Morning Herald, Monday 19 July 1886, p.4 (accessed 30 June 2011)
  3. ^ "Gore Hill Brickworks". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 9 February 1891. p. 9. Retrieved 30 June 2011. 
  4. ^ "The Illawarra Railway between Waterfall and Clifton". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 20 September 1888. p. 8. Retrieved 30 June 2011. 
  5. ^ Woy Woy Railway Tunnel, Heritage Sites, Environment & Heritage, NSW Government (accessed 7 June 2014)
  6. ^ a b c Opening of the Hawkesbury Bridge, The Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday 2 May 1889, p.7 (accessed 30 June 2011)
  7. ^ News of the Day, The Sydney Morning Herald, 16 November 1887, p.9 (accessed 7 July 2011)
  8. ^ Main North Line, NSWrail.net, (accessed 30 June 2011)
  9. ^ Connection with the Northern Railway, Answers to Questions, Legislative Assembly, The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 December 1881, p.2 (accessed 7 July 2011)
  10. ^ Remarkable Tunnel Accident, The Advertiser, 20 January 1917, p.14 (accessed 7 July 2011)
  11. ^ Returned Soldier Killed, The Sydney Morning Herald, 27 November 1917, p.7 (accessed 7 July 2011)
  12. ^ Gosford, Country News, The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 September 1921, p.10 (accessed 7 July 2011)
  13. ^ Railway Fatality, The Sydney Morning Herald, 30 August 1921, p.7 (accessed 7 July 2011)
  14. ^ Summary, The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 September 1931, p.1 (accessed 7 July 2011)
  15. ^ Run Down in Tunnel, The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 August 1940, p.1 (accessed 7 July 2011)
  16. ^ [1] The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 August 1940, p.10 (accessed 7 July 2011)
  17. ^ Another Tunnel Victim Dies, The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 August 1940, p.14 (accessed 7 July 2011)
  18. ^ Tunnel Accident, Workmen Demand Safety Precautions, The Sydney Morning Herald, 27 August 1940, p.11 (accessed 7 July 2011)
  19. ^ Tunnel Tragedy, Homes News, The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 September 1940, p.1 (accessed 7 July 2011)
  20. ^ Rail Tunnel Tragedy, Home News, The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 September 1940, p.1 (accessed 7 July 2011)
  21. ^ Rail Tunnel Tragedy, Criticism By Coroner, "Profits Above Life", The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 September 1940, p.17 (accessed 7 July 2011)
  22. ^ James, D.P., and Chanson, H. (2000). "Cement by the Barrel and Cask." Concrete in Australia, Vol. 26, No. 3, pp. 10-13 (ISSN 1440-656X)

External links[edit]

Media related to Woy Woy tunnel at Wikimedia Commons