3 August 2022

Cooma railway renovations moving full steam ahead thanks to heritage funds

| Katrina Condie
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Cooma Monaro Railway. Photo: CMR

The restoration of the Cooma Monaro Railway precinct is an important step in preserving a piece of Cooma’s history. Photo: CMR.

The famous Cooma Monaro Railway (CMR) Institute building and the adjoining tennis courts will receive a $310,000 makeover as part of a long-term community vision for the heritage precinct.

As part of the refurbishment, the institute’s hardwood and iron verandah awning will be replaced, while repairs will also be made to the original wooden floorboards and the annex kitchen.

The building will be painted inside and out and period 1950s school house lights will be replaced.

Once complete, the institute will be made available to the community for hire as a small function or meeting space, while the courts will also be available for stand-alone hire for social tennis.

The project also includes landscaping and the installation of a large retaining wall between the oil siding and the institute building that will provide the foundation for a new visitor walking path, connecting the platform with the northern end of the railway yard.

Member for Monaro Nichole Overall said the restoration would be a fantastic asset for Cooma as a future function and meeting space.

“As someone passionate about history and in particular, our regional history, I’m so pleased to be able to make this terrific announcement,” Ms Overall said.

“I congratulate the 50 volunteers of the Cooma Monaro Railway for their work so far on the buildings and I can’t wait to see the institute getting the love it deserves.”

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Cooma Monaro Railway president Gordon Strachan said the restoration was not only an important step in preserving a piece of Cooma’s history but it was “exciting to be able to make these much-needed facilities available to the community and local organisations”.

The institute building at Cooma was constructed in 1953, to provide a higher standard of educational learning for NSW railway employees and was a social hub for railway families to connect with each other.

As well as employment-related training, the institute was tasked with stimulating growth and intellectual development of employees in the arts, social, leisure, and physical recreations. ​

The NSW Railway Institute was formally opened on 14 March, 1891 and at the time was the only institution of its kind in the Commonwealth.

Built in 1928, the tennis courts are an example of the “Ant Hill” surface, constructed using crushed termite mounds. The courts will be restored to their original condition.

The railway is an entirely volunteer-run organisation and Mr Strachan said the funding was a really important step towards creating a unique heritage railway experience.

“We currently manage and maintain the Cooma Railway Precinct, with the support of Transport Heritage NSW who have assisted with the development of a concept plan to create a significant heritage railway attraction within the precinct,” he said.

“This work will allow us to progress with implementation of the first stage of visitor facilities that have been defined in the concept plan for the precinct.

“These facilities will provide us with an important revenue stream that ​we can use to continue our efforts in preserving our local history while providing the community and local organisations with much-needed facilities.”

The station buildings have been extensively restored and the volunteers are now working to secure funding for track repairs so they can operate a fleet of ex-NSW Government Railways CPH-class railmotors southwards out to Rock Flat and beyond to Nimmitabel and eventually on to Bombala.

The volunteers are in the final stages of their Travel for Pleasure museum exhibit in the restored Cooma Railway Station building.

While they receive some funding assistance from Transport Heritage NSW for the maintenance of the railway station, the remainder of the operation is entirely funded through revenue generated through fundraising activities such as the monthly fresh produce markets, ticket sales from the soon-to-open museum and hire of facilities such as those involved in this project.

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The rolling stock collection continues to grow with the recent delivery of a Steel Framed MB Timber Box Van (MB 22493) from the NSW State Collection which will be restored for static display.

The next major project in the development of the precinct will be the Rolling Stock Display Shed which will be constructed on the northern end of the station platform.

Cooma station and its railway link from Queanbeyan NSW was completed in 1889, with the southern extension to Bombala completed in the early 1920s.

As the gateway to the Snowy Mountains area, Cooma was a key Monaro destination for almost 100 years of rail services, until the line from Canberra was closed by flood damage to the bridge over the Numeralla River.

During its service, the line was used to convey tourists to the ski fields in the winter and recreational anglers for trout fishing in the warmer months.

Freight was always the big dividend for the railways, and Cooma railway yard was very busy with freight arriving for the Snowy Hydro Scheme, and plenty of wool-laden wagons heading back to Sydney.

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