Investigation underway after heritage railway removed at Crookwell

Hannah Sparks1 June 2021
Removed track

A farmer has removed about 1.5 kilometres of heritage railway from crown land at Crookwell.

An investigation is underway into the unauthorised removal of a non-operational railway track by a cattle breeder at Crookwell in the NSW Southern Tablelands.

The track, which was built between 1900 and 1902, and is part of the Goulburn-to-Crookwell heritage railway line, was intended to reopen as a tourist attraction.

A group of local rail enthusiasts had applied for Federal Government and NSW Government grants to purchase pedal-powered rail bikes that would operate between Crookwell and McAlister on the old line.

However, the removal of about 1.5km of the track at Crookwell means the rail bikes could no longer reach McAlister.

The Goulburn Crookwell Heritage Railway group said it was notified of the track removal by a property owner who neighbours the cattle breeder and reported it to John Holland, which is contracted by Transport for NSW to operate and maintain the track.

READ MORE: Rail bikes revive historic train line in NSW Southern Tablelands

A Transport for NSW spokesperson told Region Media it is investigating the report.

“Unauthorised removal of rail line and other assets from non-operational corridors is not permitted, and if pursued would be treated as property theft,” said the spokesperson.

“Non-operational lines are still part of the network and can only be removed from the network once closed by an act of parliament.”

However the cattle breeder, Jeff Knox from Knox Farms on Roslyn Road, told Region Media he stood by his decision to remove the track.

Two men walking along rural non-operational railway line

A working party walks along the section of track – which has since been removed – to assess its use as a walking and cycling trail. Photo: Goulburn Crookwell Heritage Railway.

He said it cost more than $250,000 to remove the track but he did so after his prized bull, valued at $100,000, broke its leg in the track and was subsequently put down.

Mr Knox also said his lawyer told him other landholders had removed the track towards Roslyn, which is about 20km from Crookwell.

He said the removed track is still on his property for authorities to collect.

“We have not stolen it,” said Mr Knox. “We have not removed it and given it to someone else. The reason it came out was the railway line has caused untold animal tragedy.

“The railway line was built on sleepers and when the cattle walk across the railway line and the sleepers give way, their legs break – you have to shoot the animal.”

Mr Knox said Transport for NSW had not notified him of the investigation.

READ ALSO: Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout is ‘falling short’ in regional areas

“The railway department can squirm all they like, but it’s their job to maintain what runs through people’s property and to look after it,” he said.

“If it’s not looked after and it’s actually causing damage to farmers who have no fencing on either side, how are the stock to understand whose property is what?”

The Goulburn to Crookwell Railway Act 1899 shows the railway corridor is Crown Land and that there is no requirement for the authority to fence the corridor.

“Fencing the line in this instance is the responsibility of the property owner,” the Transport for NSW spokesperson said.

Mr Knox said he hadn’t contacted John Holland or Transport for NSW before removing the track.

He also said he is opposed to the rail bikes and a plan proposed by Upper Lachlan Shire Council and Goulburn Mulwaree Council to build a walking and cycling trail along the non-operational line, citing concerns about tourists being on his property and close to outlying buildings containing expensive machinery.

In the meantime, the Goulburn Crookwell Heritage Railway group said its biggest concern is that this could set a precedent for other landholders to remove the 3500km of non-operational tracks in NSW.

What's Your Opinion?

62 Responses to Investigation underway after heritage railway removed at Crookwell

JDW JDW 8:27 pm 18 Nov 21

Having spent many holidays during the 1950s on a relative’s sheep farm at Middle Arm I remember the railway line and train, from memory passing through twice a day, morning and afternoon return journey.

It was not a problem for landowners, and I believe that a walking and bicycle track would be an asset for tourism and residents.

neil neil 12:51 pm 08 Jun 21

Lets hope the greater community good prevails here. But, it’s going to take some courage from Government and the community.
We’d have gone through this a 100 years ago, when those before us (after much debate) decided to give up some land to create another economic corridor for Crookwells prosperity.
That railway corridor was great for Crookwell, but it’s been dormant for to long.
A new rail trail, for rail enthusiasts, cyclists, walkers, historians, natures lovers, young and old, would be a boon for Crookwell and the district. The same way, the reuse of theses economic corridors are so successful, in other parts of Australia and the world.

M. Textor M. Textor 9:45 am 08 Jun 21

People who grossly damage and illegally apprise public property are engaging in criminal acts and should be treated accordingly.

Peter Finch Peter Finch 11:37 pm 05 Jun 21

It is incomprehensible to believe that the owner of the late prized stud bull was unaware of long-standing plans to develop a tourist railway linking Goulburn and Crookwell.

If there were any hazards on his own propertry that may have jeopardised the safety of any of his cattle, I’m pretty sure those problems would have been rectified promptly.

So if the state of the railway line adjacent to the property were known to be unsafe, what measures were taken to protect cattle from danger? Obviously none, but how about a temporary electric fence, or blocking access to the unsafe area with rubble, stumps or old timber?

The fact that other landowners along this line may have removed railway infrastructure does not give everyone in the district permission to remove tracks and sleepers or to build a house, an airstrip or any structure or thing.

Paddy Paddy 6:39 pm 05 Jun 21

Did the informant (adjoining property owner) want to buy Knox’s farm? The photos look to be taken from McAlister Park.

I’m not sure people can walk along trainlines, after all, they’re ‘lines’ for ‘trains’

Angela Angela 1:12 am 05 Jun 21

Not your rail line to dig up, that it is indeed a selfish act . You have destroyed the property of taxpayers , knowing that it would block an idea , that could benefit so many people , ie the rail trail of which is a brilliant idea , to move us forward out of this downward spiral of depression , for a number of pps , so many Australians have made huge sacrifices to benefit others , crown land has been used for walking and bike tracks nationally and thats progress , and we should embrace progress or we stay in the dark ages , and thats no fun , we as a human race , should stop thinking that we are entitled for we are not entitled , to anything, we should however work together, for the one good . As for the animals we are all responsible for our own , keep your animals safe , build a fence.

SH SH 10:40 am 04 Jun 21

The railway is an existing and unique heritage railway line and is currently used by the Goulburn Crookwell-Heritage Railway a non-profit organisation. The Community are right behind it and has the potential to be a great tourist attraction for the region and the Community benefits from it. The old timers are all volunteers and have worked hard on that line for over a decade and a lot of people and children have enjoyed it. It is a shame that a person would be so selfish and so self- absorbed to rip up the line (who has no authority or ownership of) and prevent the community of such an opportunity. Not a great visionary in my books and who does he think he is!

The farmer would have known that the track is used by the Heritage Railway and that John Holland are the operators who are also responsible for the maintenance of the track. This maintenance work has also been carried out in recent times. The Crown owns the land on either side of the track and any reasonable person would be aware that you cannot just go and demolish a heritage railway line. The photos speak for themselves. A disgrace! What nonsense about the cattle being injured. This guy Knox should face the full force of the law and the Department of Transport and John Holland should pursue this vigorously. It’s all upside for them now and they need to act or the community take action. He should be held accountable and be charged and should rectify the site and put the line back where it should stay. Genuine and respectful Primary Producers in such a community don’t go on like this. No wonder the Knox Facebook Page is down!

Harry Harry 9:57 am 04 Jun 21

Throw the book at him.

John Peters John Peters 2:03 pm 03 Jun 21

As someone mentioned below, to fence the length of both sides of the 1.5km length of track would be no where near the alleged cost of $250,000 to remove the railway line. The farmer does not own the land which the track sits on, and he knows it! The farmer does not own the land either side of the track as well, 10 metres either side from memory. That land and the land the track sits on is NOT his property. If he had a grazing lease on the rail corridor he should have fenced the track area off if he was concerned about the safety and welfare of his stock. Failure to fence off the dangerous areas if he chose to do so is his fault and no one else’s.

Harry Redford Harry Redford 7:42 am 03 Jun 21

A completely selfish act on behalf of the landholder. Why takeaway the opportunity for city people to be able to enjoy our beautiful landscape and our history. Charge him with vandalism .

Brian Walker Brian Walker 9:29 pm 02 Jun 21

If its a “non operational railway line” that is causing grief to landowners and their livestock, then most definitely it should go, without question!!
No one should be going through other people’s private property, as strangers can’t be trusted and that’s a fact. Australia is a huge country, if people want to go “walkabout” then do so, just not on private property.
As for “Crown Land” going through “Private Land” that needs to be scrapped…ASAP!!

    Brian Brian 1:55 pm 03 Jun 21

    There are an awful lot of roads where farmers own land on both sides of the right of way. Same with major railway lines. Crown land lanes are also used to provide access to properties away from roads. So you are proposing that these roads, railway lines and access lanes be scrapped? regardless The bottom line is that this gentleman has done immense damage to land and infrastructure that does not belong to him.

    JF JF 5:27 pm 05 Jun 21

    The Crown,the public displace private exclusivity. It’s a misleading,nay, unlawful, to suggest a private person has a right of aversial possession to either Crown (public) land or to a public highway (road). Be that by fencing off, locks on gates, or physical interference for private gain

Rocky Rocky 5:34 pm 02 Jun 21

Can anyone tell me whether Knox had permission to take over the public road that leads from his place to Roslyn Road? I gather the bulldozers have been there as well.

Ian Anderson Ian Anderson 12:15 pm 02 Jun 21

This land is crown land and really is the property of the people.
As a farmer on the same rail track I welcome the Goulburn Crookwell Rail Trail and the added tourism and boost to the local economy these tourists will bring.
The act is one of vandalism and selfishness. The farmer says he spent $250,000- removing the rail track, it would cost him far less to fence that length of track.
The rail materials are still property of the crown and with the cost of steel now over $200 a tonne the farmer ought to be made to pay for the steel he removed.

Ian Anderson

    Matt Ford Matt Ford 2:45 pm 02 Jun 21

    This is like a baby throwing his toys out of the creche; if he hopes to subdivide & redevelop his block then you would think a 54km bike ride on the doorstep would be a fantastic asset.

    It’s good to hear a positive affirmation from an adjacent landholder who would number in the majority; I believe over 70% unequivocal support for this trail.

    At 54km multiplied by an average width of 20m, it’s the equivalent in area to over 100 rugby fields or 200 hockey fields of recreational trail, safely linking Crookwell to Goulburn for cyclists & walkers

LB LB 1:44 am 02 Jun 21

I attended that Rail Trail Corridor meeting in Goulburn a few years ago and it was made quite clear that the landholders only have a type of lease for the section and do not own where the rail line runs, regardless of it’s operation at that time and as stated could only be removed by an Act of Parliament.
If Mr Knox could afford $250k to remove the rail tracks, then he sure could afford to fence it off..
And the Bull would have been insured.
Sorry, no sympathy for his arrogance!

Marion Brace Marion Brace 9:53 pm 01 Jun 21

I think Mr Knox should be made to replace the line at his own cost, with new concrete sleepers so the line is upgraded at the same time. He can then fence it off, with crossings, so that his animals cannot get hurt again.
I don’t know what possessed him to remove the line in the first place, unless he was hoping to set a precedence that others would follow, thus stopping any future rail plans involving the public or rail vehicles being on his property.

Bill Good Bill Good 9:48 pm 01 Jun 21

John Holland obviously are not doing the job they are contracted to do so it is about time they were made to carry out the works side of their contract and maintain these lines if that is the requirement (which is along the lines of how this post was written).

Rebecca Gallagher Rebecca Gallagher 8:22 pm 01 Jun 21

good on him, they were never going to use this track,tourist track to what ??

    Matt Ford Matt Ford 9:01 am 02 Jun 21

    It’s a way of repurposing a state owned capital asset that is lying dormant. It is projected, by comparing to other successful rail trails, in Australia and overseas, to grow the state and local economies considerably. Particularly capturing NSW cyclists who are currently travelling to Victoria and money flowing over the border from the ACT

John Holstein John Holstein 7:23 pm 01 Jun 21

What an arrogant act. A landholder in the Tumbarumba area did a similar thing about 30 years ago to plant an orchard. He wasn’t prosecuted.
This person has robbed his community of a chance to convert a large piece of public infrastructure into a public tourism or transport corridor just because he wanted to have free access to the land. I hope he is prosecuted for breaking the law. If he was so concerned about the safety of his livestock he should have maintained the fences that were built for that purpose.

Ed Ed 6:56 pm 01 Jun 21

The fact is that the railway corridor IS RAILWAY LAND not his, if his animals were allowed to trespass or graze on said corridor, that would be at his risk. Our society has had a gutfull of these vandal cowboys trying disrupt community plans for community land. In this corrupt era we are experiencing maybe he even had the “quiet” political nod! OK I’m a conspiracy theorist but we are seeing these things occur frequently in the hope that the damage done will exhaust community will.I hope the damages bill sends him broke and he has to sell the farm!

David murray David murray 6:30 pm 01 Jun 21

Bloody disgrace no consultation at least consultation before going ahead