Lithgow State Mine Railway Limited – Rising from the Ashes
The State Mine Railway had its beginnings in 1994 initially as a sub committee of the Greater Lithgow Mining Museum Inc. Its charter was to restore the State Mine branch line and to operate a tourist train to connect some of Lithgow’s major heritage sites which included Eskbank Station, Blast Furnace Park, the Lithgow State Mine and the Zig Zag Railway to produce what would have been the largest cultural heritage tourism precinct in Australia.
In the years that followed the organization went from strength to strength. It sort and gained considerable grant funding to enable the line to be extended into the Eskbank yard and build a number of platforms along the line. BHP Port Kembla donated a number of diesel locomotives which provided motive power for the tourist train operations. It became an accredited rail operator and was only a few weeks off operating a regular passenger service on the branch for the first time when disaster struck. In October 2001 a fire which was deliberately lit in the carriage shed brought everything to an abrupt halt.
Unfortunately the fire not only destroyed the shed and carriages but also took with it the willing band of volunteers, some of whom had been with the project since its inception. In the aftermath of the fire a new shed was erected and the remaining collection of locos and rolling stock were moth balled, in the hope that one day the volunteers would return to have another crack at establishing that much anticipated tourist attraction that Lithgow was desperately looking for.
In 2006 that call finally came. The Lithgow State Mine Railway Limited was registered as not for profit Company limited by guarantee. The separation of interests between the GLMM Inc. (Mining Museum) and the LSMR Ltd enabled the LSMR to pursue its rail orientated activities on the State Mine Branch and the Eskbank Yard leaving the GLMM Inc to continue the preservation of the State Mine site showcasing Lithgow’s coal mining history.
A considerable amount of time and effort was devoted to establishing the new Company and developing a strategy that would hopefully enable the organization to become self-sufficient and sustainable without having to rely on government handouts to survive. Unfortunately during this time there was not a great deal of physical activity happening on the ground.
In 2010 Tim Elderton of Elderton Engineering Services decided to establish his rail maintenance and servicing operations at the Lithgow State Mine Railway Workshops. Elderton Engineering together with State and Regional Development were instrumental in providing in excess of $170000 to upgrade the branch and carry out extensive repairs to the two rail bridges located on the line. Without this upgrade the opportunity to operate a tourist service on the State Mine branch line at some future date would not have been made possible.
Elderton Engineering Services and Southern Shorthaul Railroad have joined forces to provide maintenance and servicing for SSR’s fleet of locomotives. Working together under the banner of Lithgow Railway Workshop, the company currently employs 25 people including four apprentices based at the Lithgow State Mine Workshop (LRW). As a result LTW has become a strategic partner to the Lithgow State Mine Railway in providing the necessary maintenance and certification for the tourist railway’s locomotives and rolling stock.
Whilst a tremendous amount of work has already been undertaken there is still a great deal tobe done before this project can realize its full potential. As with most community based developments there is always one ingredient you can never have too many of and that is volunteers. We have a small band of dedicated people working on locomotives, both steam and diesel as well as carriages and railmotors. For the outdoor types there is track maintenance and lineside presentation (landscaping).....in fact there is something for everybody. Working bees are held every Saturday from 9am at the Lithgow State Mine Railway Workshops.
Lithgow’s future lies in its past and this project incorporating the tourist railway as its centre piece will play its part in building a heritage tourism base for Lithgow. Once established it will encourage people to visit the area to learn about the role the town has played in building a nation and above all enjoy what the Lithgow Valley and the surrounding area has to offer.