A single train carriage, donated by a NSW scrap-metal company in 2020, will act as the centrepiece of a smart old, but new, addition to the Tumbarumba to Rosewood Rail Trail.
A museum train platform, railway line and the carriage, housing a small museum, will now greet visitors and locals about to embark on the popular 21-kilometre hiking and biking trail that winds through the beautiful sub-alpine countryside and farmland characteristic of the Snowy Valleys.
The first built on a NSW government train corridor, the Tumbarumba to Rosewood Rail Trail opened virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the bitter wake of the 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires that raged in the Snowy Valleys for 50 days, incinerating some 130,000 hectares of land.
It was hatched from an idea back in 2003 when local Owen Fitzgerald had seen a VHS video on the Central Otago Rail Trail in New Zealand and dreamed of a similar trail from Tumbarumba to Wagga Wagga.
It may have taken 18 years to realise that vision but the new trail has been regarded as one of the saviours of the Snowy Valleys’ economy, with evidence of a 20 per cent spending increase in the Tumbarumba region, well above the state average of 12 per cent and substantially more than the Snowy Valleys average of 0.2 per cent in its first six months.
Counters installed along the trail indicated more than 40,000 people have made use of the rail trail since it opened in 2020.
But there’s been a colossal cerebral benefit.
Business, government and the community invited people with a range of skills and experiences to contribute to a project that tapped into the region’s rich railway and agricultural history, acting as a rehabilitating mainstay in the aftermath of the bushfires.
The recovery was aided by the integration of the Tumbarumba Men’s Shed into the project delivery.
And that’s where the carriage comes in.
Experienced project manager Ron Sommer is also the president of the Tumbarumba Men’s Shed and a member of the local historical society.
Ron acquired a guards’ van in 2020 through a generous donation by NSW scrap-metal company Sell and Parker, which also funded the van’s freight to Tumbarumba.
Ron was keen to secure the carriage as a project for the Men’s Shed, with no plans at the time for the museum aspect.
“Following the bushfires, we needed a big, hands-on project for men in the community to support mental health,” he said.
“Little did we know that this would then be even more important during COVID periods of isolation from intra and interstate family.”
The restoration project, Ron said, had been epic, involving some 25 volunteers.
“For example, we had to repair all the rust and replace the rotten floor. To do that, we had to remove the walls, and do to that, we had to remove the roof!”
But the work was attracting attention, so much so that a temporary sign had to be erected at their site.
“That’s when we knew we couldn’t sell it. Not only does it represent the proud, hard work of many volunteers, its history is connected to our town and the rail trail,” Ron said.
With several local committees working in alignment, plans have emerged to transform the guards’ van into a local museum.
Tumbarumba’s great benefactor, the Hyne Community Trust, has announced it will be supporting the Tumbarumba Historical Society by funding the construction of a museum train platform and the laying of a railway line at the start of the Tumbarumba Rail Trail.
The platform and track will host the railway guards’ van, meticulously restored as a museum piece from the original, which ran on the Tumbarumba branch line at its closure in 1974.
Hyne Community Trust director Bernadette Alleyn said the project was a testament to the spirit of the Tumbarumba community.
“The carriage was destined to be sold but with the support of Hyne Community Trust, we will be displaying this beautiful piece of history at the start of the ever-popular rail trail, where it will act as a museum,” she said.
The carriage is known as a ”guards’ van”, which was at the end of the train. It included a bathroom, seating area and kitchen for the replacement crew, plus a pair of periscopes so the guard could view along the top of the train and see signals.
Here people will be able to learn about the history of the carriage and the original rail line, and view a range of images showcasing the resilience of the town following the bushfires.
With further restoration work to be completed before the platform work begins, the carriage is expected to be moved into its forever home for the community to enjoy around May 2024.
The Hyne Community Trust was established in 2007 and has provided more than $700,000 to the Tumbarumba region, focusing on initiatives that create lasting benefits for the community.