As you travel along the Goolma Road you'll see parts of the Sandy Hollow-Maryvale rail line that were never used. However, until around 40 years ago that's what the entire route would've looked like. Here is the history of the stopped-started-stopped, unfinished then half-finished project.
The concept for the Sandy Hollow-Maryvale line dates back over a century to 1911 as a decentralisation project to tie in with a proposed port at Port Stephens. The port - which didn't eventuate - and link was to service primary regions in western NSW such as Bourke, Cobar, Coonamble up to Dubbo.
A number of attempts were made to get the shelved project started, but it wasn't until a quarter of a century later that funds were allocated and the line was started as an unemployment relief scheme during the Great Depression. During WWII work was restricted before ceasing completely in 1951.
During the following decades a number of appraisals looked into completing the line, but rejected the project. In 1970 a cost-benefit analysis found that the project was not economically warranted, with anticipated traffic for freight and passengers expected to be too low to justify it.
However, in 1976 the government was encouraged to look at it again.
There's coal in that there Ulan
In the mid-1970s, the confirmation of large coal reserves in Ulan - along with increasing global demand and the possibility of Australia becoming a major exporter - put the Sandy Hollow-Maryvale line back on the table. As rail access to the port of Newcastle made the most sense.
Furthermore, the route was almost done. It was estimated that around 95 per cent of the earthworks were completed; four of the five tunnels were finished; and 16 major bridges were in place.
However, it's at this point that it can be thought of as two lines. And indeed, the Bureau of Transport Economics' (BTE) 1979 evaluation considered the project in two stages for the purposes of their report.
Stage 1 was the 128km route from Sandy Hollow west to Gulgong. Whereas Stage 2 was the remaining 72km from Gulgong to join the Great Western line near Maryvale.
And although the case was put forward to complete the entire line, right from the division of the project into two parts, Stage 1 had precedence - not just in name. The BTE pointed out that only Sandy Hollow to Ulan was required for access to the coal loaders in Newcastle, with the additional 23km to Gulgong included in the stage to transport coal to domestic markets which was being hauled by road at the time.
In the early 1980s Ulan Coal mine expanded with the establishment of the open cut mine and subsequent underground mine, along with the preparation plant and rail loading facility. So 'Stage 1' of the Sandy Hollow-Maryvale line finally had rail added and saw trains - around half a century after work on the route began.
Despite the recommendation by the BTE that the Gulgong-Maryvale section also be completed - for freight and agricultural purposes - work on 'Stage 2' didn't commence. Pieces of the infrastructure and the earthworks can be seen from the Goolma Road, snaking through paddocks and into the countryside.
What could've been? Well, the entire route was envisioned as a link from the west/north-west of NSW to the Hunter - and Newcastle would become the closest port for grains, metalliferous concentrations and other freight.
Prior to either stage being completed, Dubbo to Newcastle via Sydney was a distance of about 630km, a finished Sandy Hollow-Maryvale line would cut that down to just over 400km. Congestion in Sydney was only a concern at the time, especially with urban transport thrown into the mix.
Trains such as those hauling ore from Cobar (or grain from Nyngan, seen in Myles Harris-Ayling's video series, one seen below), do travel over the Sandy Hollow line, linking from other lines such as Gwabegar going through Dunedoo and Gulgong. They too would benefit - not to mention, getting to Maryvale does get closer to Parkes and therefore the Inland Rail project currently being built.
Surprisingly, the final stop in the story of the Sandy Hollow-Maryvale line may not have been reached yet. In 2018, the NSW Government announced the Fixing Country Rail projects that would be funded, which included $1-million for a feasibility study into the 'Maryvale to Gulgong Corridor Opening'.
Alongside the 'Kandos to Gulgong Line Reinstatement Feasibility Study'.
Time will tell whether this will be another appraisal that won't get the line to Maryvale or - perhaps - a step towards finally finishing the job.