Katoomba coal tramway

2008
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Katoomba coal tramway

North's tramway [media]is part of the vanished mining heritage of the Blue Mountains. It carried coal and shale from the top of the steep industrial railway (now the world-renowned Scenic Railway) to the Great Western Railway at Katoomba. The Scenic Railway was only part of a much larger tramway system, which extended to the Ruined Castle and the Glen Shale mines in the Megalong valley.

North's tramway was a landmark of its time as it crossed valleys and watercourses, but it has gone largely unrecognised. It represents an important part of the mining and engineering heritage on which Katoomba is founded.

The history of the mines and the tramway

Three different seams of shale were found in the Megalong and Jamison valleys by Campbell Mitchell in 1870 and by the Reverend WB Clarke in 1841 and 1871. [1] John Britty North, often called the 'Father of Katoomba' for his mining and commercial interests in the nineteenth century, bought the land and the mining lease for Katoomba Coal Mine. North was mining coal as early as 1872 [2] although the mine was not registered until 1878. [3] Subsequently North extracted a slab of coal which was dragged up the incline before the tramway was built and transported to Sydney for the First Sydney International Exhibition in 1879–80. This coal sample won North a certificate from the exhibition and a contract from the government. [4] Historical photographs demonstrate that what is now the Scenic Railway was in operation around 1882 in the form of a dual track on the main incline near Katoomba Coal Mine. [5]

The Rai lway Guide of New South Wales of 1886 noted that JB North was the builder of the tramway, although a later source attributes it to the Australian Kerosene Oil and Mineral Company. Scholars agree that the Railway Guide of New South Wales is more likely to be correct, and this is consistent with other dating information. [6]

Exactly when the tramway was constructed is unclear. According to railway records, North's siding was built onto the main line at Katoomba between 1881 and 1882. [7] According to Luxton, the tramway from the top of the Scenic Railway to North's siding was completed by 1882 and the first load of coal was conveyed in 1883. [8] If the tramway was completed by 1882, then North certainly was the builder of the tramway, as he owned Katoomba Coal Mine at that time. Australian Kerosene Oil and Mineral Company took over the Glen Shale mines in 1890, and the Ruined Castle mines and Katoomba Coal Mine in 1891. [9]

By the end of the nineteenth century, cheap American kerosene refined from crude oil undersold local kerosene refined from kerosene shale. A drop in the world price of shale and coal caused a major decline in the profitability of the Jamison and Megalong Valley mines. The shale was running out and shale mining operations ceased around 1896. Katoomba Coal Mine was closed in 1903 and the mining equipment was dismantled. [10]

The tramway may have been partly dismantled from 1918, [11] but it was certainly inoperable due to changes to the Katoomba Coal Mine railway by 1925.

Katoomba Coal Mine operated intermittently in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, to close finally in 1945, as a consequence of the shutdown of the Katoomba powerhouse. [12] [media]The first party of passengers on the railway was reported in 1926, which led to the provision of removable seats in the coal wagon. In 1933 a special passenger carriage, The Mountain Devil, was built so that passengers and tourists could use the Scenic Railway, ushering in the new era for the railway. By this time there was a regular passenger service on the Scenic Railway in competition with the coal trade. [13]

What was the tramway like?

An extensive two foot gauge tramway system was laid down over the years to transport shale and coal to the railway at North's siding. … From the top of the cliffs, a cable-haulage line was taken on a perfectly straight location to North's Siding, near 'Essendene'. One gully in this section was crossed by a suspension bridge and the steep rise to the railway was on timber trestling. Both tramways were worked by steam winding engines, established at what is now the upper station of the Scenic Railway, hence the surround area became known as the 'Engine Bank'. [14]

From the top station of the Scenic Railway, the tramway crossed valleys on wooden trestle and suspension bridges, and consisted of dual-track endless steel rope pulling coal skips, which unloaded at North's railway siding. The tracks were two-foot gauge, the same as the incline.

The coal/shale loader at North's siding traversed the three siding tracks, which were in a cutting. Coal/shale skips on the outgoing tramway track were unloaded here into Government Railway coal trucks by a tippler, then turned on a turntable and sent back along the ingoing track. A low trestle bridge (called 'the Chute') spanned the headwaters of the Kedumba River as the tramway left the vicinity of North's siding, and then touched the top of a hill. Passing the hill, the tramway crossed a wooden suspension bridge of unknown design. [15] The suspension bridge, called the Swinging Bridge, was unstable and its swinging motion sometimes caused skips to fall off the track. Bells would ring to warn the driver to turn off his engine.[16] Another bridge, Hogan's bridge, brought the tramway to the Engine Bank.

The winding engine was a steam engine, later replaced by an electric engine. Engine power is needed for the whole route, including the Scenic Railway portion, which does not function as a self-acting incline since a self-acting incline will only work when loaded skips arrive at the top (not the bottom as is the case here). It is assumed that the empty skips continued down the incline to the coal mine, where the skips turned around on to the outgoing track and ran under another tippler, supplied with loaded skips from the mine. [17] A reconstruction of a tippler can be found at the bottom station of the Scenic Railway. The cover boy placed canvas sheets over the loaded skip and then it was returned back up the incline to the railway siding. [18]

Historical photographs remain of the tippler, the Engine Bank and the timber trestle bridge, [19] which was similar to the bridge in the Jamison Valley running from the bottom of Malaita Point to Narrow Neck. [20] The tramway was not visually overpowering although residents complained about the noise from the new winding engine used after 1925.

Where did the tramway run?

The track of the tramway is shown on several historical maps of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. [21] Railway history books also document the location of the tramway. [22] Unfortunately, these maps do not show the tramway route in relation to street plans, so the tramway can't be located with respect to modern Katoomba streets. Roadworks and other changes, particularly the extensive ones on the Great Western Highway, have obliterated parts of the route, such as North's siding.

The tramway easement still exists on the topographic map of Katoomba and as a legal entity. The route of the tramway is shown on the map. It is likely that the tramway ran on the space shown between Burrawang and Carlton streets, which is part of the tramway easement easily accessible to tourists. This easement lines up with the easement in the park, and with the current Scenic Railway.

Access to the tramway

Access to the tramway route is easy from local streets and from Frank Walford Park. The segment of the route on Scenic World property is not accessible to the public. The current Scenic Railway is an improved and modified section of the original tramway system.

Portions of the route can be viewed from a car, by following Carlton Street. In Frank Walford Park, access may be obtained either from the Park entrance near the swimming pool and the bush fire brigade, or from a bush track running off Valley Road. Visitors should take care not to trespass on private property or disturb any remnants on the route.

Relics of the tramway

Almost a century after the closure of the tramway, few relics remain. The bridges, railway and other structures associated with the tramway have disappeared, leaving only a small number of yellowing photographs in libraries, archives and personal photographic collections. However remnants of the tramway are still visible for those who look carefully.

The best areas to see remnants of the tramway are Frank Walford Park and along Burrawang Street. Remnants range from earthworks and embankments to rails, steel rope and coal litter. [23] The fence posts of the rusty park fence are rails from the tramway. Coal and shale litter can be found in a number of places along the route of the tramway. Of similar historical interest is the Catalina Race Track, which is still present in the park as a bituminised surface and safety barriers built from timber taken off the tramway structures. [24] Large mounds with embedded coal litter can be found in rugged sections of Frank Walford Park. On current maps can be seen easements for the tramway and the alignment of adjacent streets indicates the location of the tramway. There is considerable scope for archaeological investigation.

The tramway operated from 1882 for more than two decades. A large part of the market for its shale and coal was outside Katoomba and accessed via the Great Western Road. Later the coal trade was localised to Katoomba, and in particular, to the Katoomba powerhouse.

North's tramway is historically recognised in text, maps and photographs, although the record is incomplete. Physical evidence of the tramway still remains even after almost a century and further archaeological examination of the route would be worthwhile. The physical relics need interpretation as part of the process of understanding and reconstructing the tramway.

References

JR Bennett, 'The Katoomba Coal Mine', paper written for Blue Mountains Historical Society, 1972

JE Carne, 'The kerosene shale deposits of New South Wales', Geology, no 3, Memoirs of the Geological Survey of New South Wales, Department of Mines and Agriculture, Sydney, 1903

JE Carne, 'Geology and mineral resources of the Western Coalfields', Geology, no 6, Memoirs of the Geological Survey of New South Wales, Department of Mines and Agriculture, Sydney, 1908

GH Eardley and EM Stephens, The shale railways of New South Wales, Australian Railway Historical Society, New South Wales Division, Sydney, 1974

Suzanne Edgar, 'North, John Britty (1831–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol 5, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1974, pp 345–346

ME Hungerford and JK Donald, Exploring the Blue Mountains: A Heritage Field Guide, Kangaroo Press, Sydney, 1983

Katoomba City Council, 'Upper Kedumba River Valley Plans of Management', Katoomba City Council, Katoomba, 2004

M Keentok, 'Toil, Trouble and Triumph. The heritage of coal, shale and utilities in the Blue Mountains', unpublished manuscript, 2006

JR Luxton, Shale Tramways of Katoomba, Australian Railway Historical Society, no 291, pp 4–10, 1962

Railway Guide Map, New South Wales Department of Lands, Sydney, 1894

CC Singleton, 'The Railway Crossings of the Blue Mountains Part III: Katoomba – Bell', ARHS Bulletin, no 24, 1939, pp 41–44

P Stanbury (ed), The Blue Mountains Grand Adventure for All, Macleay Museum and Second Back Row Press, Sydney, 1988

Notes

[1] JE Carne, 'The kerosene shale deposits of New South Wales', Geology, no 3, Memoirs of the Geological Survey of New South Wales, Department of Mines and Agriculture, Sydney, 1903; JR Luxton, Shale Tramways of Katoomba, Australian Railway Historical Society, no 291, pp 4–10, 1962

[2] ME Hungerford and JK Donald, Exploring the Blue Mountains: A Heritage Field Guide, Kangaroo Press, Sydney, 1983

[3] Suzanne Edgar, 'North, John Britty (1831–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol 5, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1974, pp 345–346

[4] JR Luxton, Shale Tramways of Katoomba, Australian Railway Historical Society, no 291, 1962, pp 4–10

[5] Department of Mineral Resources, Historical photographs online gallery; P Stanbury, (ed), The Blue Mountains Grand Adventure for All, The Macleay Museum and Second Back Row Press, Sydney, 1988

[6] GH Eardley and EM Stephens, The shale railways of New South Wales, Australian Railway Historical Society, New South Wales Division, Sydney, 1974; JR Luxton, Shale Tramways of Katoomba, Australian Railway Historical Society, no 291, pp 4–10, 1962; JW Brown, Bent Backs: An illustrated social and technological history of the Western Coal field, Rotary, Lithgow, 1993

[7] CC Singleton, 'The Railway Crossings of the Blue Mountains Part III Katoomba-Bell', Bulletin (Australian Railway Historical Society), no 24, 1939, pp 41–44

[8] JR Luxton, Shale Tramways of Katoomba, Australian Railway Historical Society, no 291, 1962, pp 4–10

[9] GH Eardley and EM Stephens, The shale railways of New South Wales, Australian Railway Historical Society, New South Wales Division, Sydney, 1974; JE Carne, 'The kerosene shale deposits of New South Wales', Geology, no 3, Memoirs of the Geological Survey of New South Wales, Department of Mines and Agriculture, Sydney, 1903

[10] JR Bennett, 'The Katoomba Coal Mine', a paper written for the Blue Mountains Historical Society, 1972; GH Eardley and EM Stephens, The shale railways of New South Wales, Australian Railway Historical Society, New South Wales Division, Sydney, 1974

[11] GH Eardley and EM Stephens, The shale railways of New South Wales, Australian Railway Historical Society, New South Wales Division, Sydney, 1974; ME Hungerford and JK Donald, Exploring the Blue Mountains A Heritage Field Guide, Kangaroo Press, Sydney, 1983

[12] 'Annual Report of the New South Wales Department of Mines', 1929 and 1936; JR Luxton, Shale Tramways of Katoomba, Australian Railway Historical Society, no 291, pp 4–10, 1962

[13] GH Eardley and EM Stephens, The shale railways of New South Wales, Australian Railway Historical Society, New South Wales Division, Sydney, 1974; JW Brown, Bent Backs: An illustrated social and technological history of the Western Coal field, Rotary, Lithgow, 1993

[14] JR Luxton, Shale Tramways of Katoomba, Australian Railway Historical Society, no 291, 1962, pp 4–10

[15] GH Eardley and EM Stephens, The shale railways of New South Wales, Australian Railway Historical Society, New South Wales Division, Sydney, 1974

[16] JR Bennett, 'The Katoomba Coal Mine', a paper written for the Blue Mountains Historical Society, 1972; JW Brown, Bent Backs: An illustrated social and technological history of the Western Coal field, Rotary, Lithgow, 1993

[17] JW Brown, Bent Backs: An illustrated social and technological history of the Western Coal field, Rotary, Lithgow, 1993; GH Eardley and EM Stephens, The shale railways of New South Wales, Australian Railway Historical Society, New South Wales Division, Sydney, 1974

[18] JR Bennett, 'The Katoomba Coal Mine', a paper written for the Blue Mountains Historical Society, 1972

[19] JW Brown, Bent Backs: An illustrated social and technological history of the Western Coal field, Rotary, Lithgow, 1993; JR Bennett, 'The Katoomba Coal Mine', a paper written for the Blue Mountains Historical Society, 1972; P Stanbury, (ed), The Blue Mountains Grand Adventure for All, The Macleay Museum and Second Back Row Press, Sydney, 1988

[20] GH Eardley and EM Stephens, The shale railways of New South Wales, Australian Railway Historical Society, New South Wales Division, Sydney, 1974

[21] See Railway Guide Map, 1894; JE Carne, 'The kerosene shale deposits of New South Wales', Geology, no 3, Memoirs of the Geological Survey of New South Wales, Department of Mines and Agriculture, Sydney, 1903; JE Carne, 'Geology and mineral resources of the Western Coalfields', Geology, no 6, Memoirs of the Geological Survey of New South Wales, Department of Mines and Agriculture, Sydney, 1908

[22] GH Eardley and EM Stephens, The shale railways of New South Wales, Australian Railway Historical Society, New South Wales Division, Sydney, 1974

[23] M Keentok, 'Toil, Trouble and Triumph. The heritage of coal, shale and utilities in the Blue Mountains', unpublished manuscript, 2006

[24] JR Bennett, 'The Katoomba Coal Mine', paper written for the Blue Mountains Historical Society, 1972

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