Zig-Zagging through a bushfire

By | Category: Travel news

Image © Zig-Zag Railway

You will have seen the images of the bushfires that are ablaze in NSW, Australia. You may not have seen the news that one of the major tourist attractions in the Blue Mountains where some of the worst blazes are occurring has been burnt out.

Lithgow’s Zig-Zag Railway has had a chequered past in the last twenty years but the ravages of the last week are going to shut it for some time. Ten carriages, accommodation carriages, sleeping carriages, a meeting room, workshop, office and over a thousand new sleepers were ruined by the fire and the caretaker for the railway lost her property and nearly everything she owned apart from what she was wearing at the time.

The Zig-Zag was the only heritage railway in Australia that ran almost every day for the benefit of visitors. Taking passengers through seven kilometres of spectacular scenery through the Blue Mountains, it also reminded visitors of the struggles that pioneers had in constructing this railway in the 1860’s when it opened linking the rich mining areas with the coast. The construction – led by an ex Yorkshiremen from near Wakefield, John Whitton, took three years to build. Resurrected by volunteers in the early 1970’s, it was a narrow gauge railway that had already undergone more than enough to make any grown man weep. Sixteen years ago another bushfire severely damaged it. Last year there were floods and subsidence. The railway was closed because of safety concerns many of which were connected to the difficult landscape that the trains run through and the need for additional health and safety concerns that this brings. The line was due to re-open this October.

Now who knows when that will happen?

In the early nineties my children travelled on the railway, enjoying themselves as they peered out of the windows down into the valley below. We still have a souvenir, one of those pens where you hold up and the train moves from one end of the pen down to the midpoint. Being quite young at the time, when we got home, the kids spent ages just watching the train move.

Now the rebuilding will cost some millions of dollars once the area is safe to go back to. Insurance will cover some but fundraising will be needed. As will the dedication of volunteers to return and start the project up again.

The bush is resilient and grows back rapidly. In a year or so’s time, it might be hard to know that a bushfire had swept through there. It will take a lot longer before I can ride on the Zig-Zag again.

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