Short History | Lineside Guide | John Whitton | Zig Zag Railway Builders | Zig Zag Reserve | Zig Zag Railways Worldwide | Bushfire 1997 | Timeline | Bibliography

Engineering Masterpiece of the 19th Century
A short History

General Map of ZZR

The Zig Zag Railway was built between 1866 and 1869, and acclaimed a major engineering feat of its time. It was constructed to enable produce to be taken to Sydney from the prosperous farming areas beyond the Blue Mountains and to develop the coal and iron ore deposits found in the Lithgow Valley.

The prodigious feat of bringing the railway from the top of the mountains to the valley below was accomplished by John Whitton, Chief Engineer of the NSW Government Railways. At the time The Great Zig Zag was regarded as one of the engineering wonders of the Victorian age.

A by-product of such construction was the development of locomotive boilers which could cope with steep slopes and this led to the construction of mountain railways in other parts of the world, particularly the Americas.

The Zig Zag consists of a series of sloping tracks forming the letter "Z" with reversing stations at Top and Bottom Points. The Top part of the 'Z' is Top Road, the middle part is Middle Road. Bottom Road is now only a short section leading to the Depot; the rest remains part of NSW State Rail network.

The track passes over three magnificent sandstone viaducts, through two tunnels. There are striking views over the surrounding countryside.

Detail Map of ZZR

By the end of the 19th century rail traffic over the Blue Mountains was heavy and the single track had become a bottleneck. This was relieved by the construction of a ten tunnel deviation through the escarpment, completed in 1910. Soon after the track on the formation was removed and the land reverted to bush. During the Second World War Clarence Tunnel was used as an ammunition store and after for growing mushrooms.

In 1972 a group of railway enthusiasts formed a Co-operative, started to rebuild the track and buy suitable rolling stock. The Zig Zag Railway Co-op Ltd. still owns and operates the railway. Trains first ran again in 1975 on Middle Road only. In 1986-7, with the aid of a NSW Bicentennial Grant, the track was extended along Top Road to Clarence, opening in 1988.

Until 1994 the railway operated on weekends, public holidays and NSW school holidays only using steam. Since then the railway has expanded operations and now runs daily with vintage diesel Railmotors providing midweek services.

Short History | Lineside Guide | John Whitton | Zig Zag Railway Builders | Zig Zag Reserve | Zig Zag Railways Worldwide | Bushfire 1997 | Timeline | Bibliography

Updated 16 November 2008