19 January 2021

Tenders open for abandoned regional rail line

| Edwina Mason
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Scott Ferguson, Steph Cooke, Mark Liebich, Paul Toole and Bill West.

Member for Cootamundra Steph Cooke has welcomed the news from NSW Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole that tenders are now open to develop a concept design for the disused Blayney-Demondrille railway line, otherwise known as the Cowra Lines. Pictured from left: Blayney Shire Council Mayor Scott Ferguson, Ms Cooke, Weddin Shire Council Mayor Mark Liebich, Minister Toole, and Cowra Council Mayor Bill West. Photo: Supplied.

The next step in investigating the potential reactivation of the Blayney-to-Demondrille railway is underway, with tenders open to develop a concept design that will examine the condition of the line and associated infrastructure.

This development marks a solid commitment from the NSW Government to a project that has long been a thorn in its side, with local communities refusing to scrub the discarded rail network which essentially provides an inland transport route between Harden-Murrumburrah and Blayney, and west to Grenfell, Eugowra and Forbes.

The network, also known as the Cowra Lines, served regional NSW for many years until it was progressively suspended between 2007 and 2009.

READ ALSO: Path to redemption for old regional railway network

In an announcement made on 19 January, 2021, NSW Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole said the project has the potential to drive new opportunities, with a need to build a resilient rail network as the long-term freight task increases across the state.

“This section of railway has not been used for more than a decade, and for its reactivation to be viable it will need to be able to meet the needs of today’s freight trains of 25-tonne axle loadings with speeds up to 80km/h,” he said.

Entrance to Carcoar Tunnel.

Historic sections of the Cowra Lines railway – such as the 280m Carcoar Tunnel, built in 1888 – will need special attention to ensure they meet modern operational standards. Photo: Supplied.

Minister Toole said more than 450 bridges and culverts, 100 level-crossings and 179km of track would require upgrade and replacement.

“On top of that, we also need to examine the condition of other associated infrastructure, such as tunnels, stations, communication huts and amenity buildings,” he said.

Minister Toole said the Cowra Lines had the potential to be economically viable when freight capacity on the Main West is constrained in the future.

“Having conducted a rail feasibility study on the corridor last year, calls for tender to develop a concept design moves us one step closer to determining a closer project delivery cost,” he said.

Welcoming the news is Member for Cootamundra Steph Cooke, who has campaigned energetically on behalf of various groups who have long aired concerns about the heaving reliance on road transport throughout the region.

She said this next stage of design work will help determine whether the Cowra Lines could progress to the construction phase.

“Upgrading the line to these standards will ensure it is suitable for important freight movements – especially during harvests – and provide a viable alternative means for getting product to our ports,” said Ms Cooke.

“Undertaking this high-level design now will speed up work on any future reactivation of the line.”

Ms Cooke said some of the features of the line, such as the heritage-listed Cowra rail bridge and Carcoar Tunnel, are more than 130 years old and would require special attention to ensure they’re sturdy enough and provide the clearances needed for freight operations into the future.

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John Holstein2:26 pm 03 Jan 22

I moved back into Country NSW in 1977 from City Living and worked at Canowindra & Cowra. At that time, passenger services to Canowindra had been suspended, but freight was still carried there & on to Eugowra. Cowra had the choices to travel to Sydney via Blayney or Demondrille to utilise the Western Line or the Southern Line. Freight arrived in Cowra via Rail & over $3 million was spent on a freight hub at Cowra in the early 1980’s, only to have the line closed about a year later & trains replaced by trucks.
A few recent trips along the goat track they call the Olympic Highway have revealed severe deterioration of the line, but it is not quite yet ready for retirement as it services some vital communities along the way.
I am a great proponent for Rail Trails & this line would surpass many in terms of scenery, climate and tourism potential, but I do concede that it would be far better served as a rail corridor.
I now live adjacent to the main Southern line in a predominantly grain growing area where I see grain silos lying empty and grain trucks moving produce to huge open air storage points served by rail, but in most cases the trip is now 30 to 40 kilometres instead of 10 or 12 as it was in the 1960’s.

Roger Gagliardi2:38 pm 31 Mar 21

If the government is serious about its activation plans, it also needs to reopen the Canberra to Cooma railway and continue it through to Jindabyne via Berridale. This would greatly alleviate the heavy traffic on the Monaro Highway, especially in peak winter periods, also offering a new tourist service that would also connect to Bombala.

It would be great if the line could be brought back into operation. As for Carcoar Tunnel could it be opened out to make it a deep cutting. So much of the railway is all old steam age alignments with steep gradients and sharp curves. I don’t hold out much hope of the two branches to Grenfell and Eugowra being brought back into use with Cowra Council having removed the bridges in Cowra that carried the Eugowra branch citing “safety” reasons. A lot of track ballasting was done on the line shortly before it closed.
If another line could be put in at Demondrille off the up main southern line making it a connecting spur onto the Blayney-Demondrille line then there would be no need to run to Harden and run the locos round their train to head back to Demondrille and up the line to Blayney.
If the same thing were done at Wallerawang with a connecting spur onto the Mudgee line and the Mudgee line was reopened to Gulgong where it connects with the Ulan line then freight trains could easily run up the main southern line to Demondrille and onto the line to Blayney and then onto the main western line to Wallerawang and then onto the Mudgee line to Gulgong to run on the Ulan line avoiding Sydney altogether.
The new inland rail route is only single track and if the Blayney Demondrille line could be made to accommodate double stack container trains by opening out Carcoar Tunnel which would need to have the heritage order on it lifted or deepening the tunnel and the same with Capertee Tunnel then double stack container trains could use the line.

Deepening the tunnel sounds the go aye.👍

Deepening the tunnels is one way but the condition of Carcaor Tunnel is not good and deepening plus repairs to the tunnel lining may cost more than opening it out. It’s heritage listed but that can be lifted. Still all we’ve had at present on the whole line is words, words, words. Actions speak louder than words but cost more.

We need to see a committment from.all authorities to reinstate rail right across the country.

Lindsay Richmond4:12 pm 22 Jan 21

Been talking about this since Pontious was a Pilot, just do it. Should never been closed in the first place, ditto all the branches that had many grain receiving points. So much for strategic, efficient transport planning in the past?

Greg standen10:28 am 21 Jan 21

I was an asm at young railway station

I can remember how much freight was carried on the line between Blayney & Harden, likewise the two branch lines, much of the old types of freight no longer exists especially for this line, but much of the reason was the condition of the lines, various governments over the times were not prepared to bring the line up to more modern standards, also in part was the very effective turning away of freight of many types across much of NSW during the later 60’s & on into the 80’s that saw the general decimation of so many branch lines that were left with no business and costs transferred to regional roads with road transport taking over.

The old rail bridge at Cowra is a wonderful reflection of old world infrastructure brought up to date by modern technology and bridge building methods, I would doubt that the bridge would need a great amount of money to repair where needed. I would say that the Carcoar Tunnel is perhaps the biggest issue along the line, aside from the old bridges, and grades on the line which really still are of old steam age routing.

The tunnel as such to cope or cater for more modern train movements and loads though does provide the largest hurdle for the line on the Northern or Blayney side of Cowra. To bring the tunnel up to modern standards that would remove much of the problems from a former time, would not be cheap and still could provide provide problems as such unless the old was removed and rebuilt but, have we not seen enough of our history destroyed by the same method and reasoning in many areas in the NSW regions?

The tunnel as is could well remain as a tourist attraction by general safety improvements for people to walk through, to do so would mean a diversion section of track could well cost not much more than a rebuild or refurbish for rail traffic of the tunnel. A new route on the western side of the tunnel constructed by means of a cutting progressing under the Mid West Highway with a road bridge over the line and have it connect back to the existing upgraded line on the Cowra side of the tunnel.

While this may not be cheap, it would be interesting to see a cost comparison between the tunnel upgrade and new bypass to see what difference there would be and benefits to and for the future.

This and so many other regional railway lines need to be reinstated! Our roads would be in much better shape if we kept using these lines. Well worth the public expenditure.

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