With kilometres of disused tracks sitting around, rail services - or a lack thereof - is somewhat of an elephant in the room for the local region. And back in 2007 when the word was out that the Kandos to Gulgong line was about to be closed, hundreds turned out to voice their opposition.
Not for the first time
Before getting into rally 13 years ago, it's worth acknowledging that it's not the first time that locals had to state their case for rail. As Peter Johnson wrote for the Historical Society's Muse, it took decades of effort for Mudgee to get a railway line in the first place.
In 1859 Lyttleton Holyoake Bayley, who was a candidate for the seat of Mudgee, spoke about the idea at a meeting while those planning the western line were still figuring out what to do about the Blue Mountains. A decade later the Zig Zag Railway was completed and a year after that the line was extended to Wallerawang.
As a rail network was being created, Mudgee seemed to be in the too hard basket, due to its location. In 1875 a petition with over 2,000 signatures was presented to the Minister of Works, Jack Lackey, who indicated that an exploratory survey was underway.
In 1877 - the same year that the Bathurst to Orange line was opened - local MP Richard Rouse highlighted the district's produce and estimated revenue a line could generate. And funding for a Wallerawang to Mudgee railway was tabled, but failed to pass Parliament.
Five governments had poured over the project, before funding was eventually allocated in 1879, with the first sod turned by Sir John Robertson in the following year. However, in the early decades the line operated at a loss, thought to be because it didn't extend beyond Mudgee.
In 1909 it was opened to Gulgong, then subsequently to Dunedoo and to Coonabarabran by 1917. By the 1990s the Kandos to Gulgong line, for the most part, was closed.
A new century, a new hope
In the late 1990s, re-opening the Kandos-Mudgee-Gulgong line had a supporter in then Minister for Transport and Roads Carl Scully. With the government carrying out initial investigation of the potential for re-opening disused rail lines, including the local one.
And if you go to the Mudgee station you'll find the plaque commemorating the "official re-opening" on September 2, 2000. However, the line was not properly upgraded during this time and led to a 20km/h speed limit being put in place.
We'll never know if the Minister could've gotten the project finished. As his time in the portfolio - ending in 2003 - was marred by the Waterfall train accident.
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The public gets on-board
In 2007, Rail Infrastructure Corporation recommended that the Minister for Transport suspend use of the Gulgong to Kandos line until additional funding could be sourced.
This prompted a rally at the Mudgee Station to save the line, with over 500 people braving the cold June weather to lend their support. The event also included the arrival of a historic train from Canberra.
As well as a performance by Australian country music stalwart Troy Cassar-Daley, who opened with his song 'I wish I was a train' - indicating his support for the rail line. He said, "politicians and people in the city don't realise how much country communities need services like the rail line out here".
Event organiser, Rob Gillham said "it was a sneaky announcement from state-owned Rail Infrastructure Corporation to close the line without anyone noticing, so we had to do something to save a vital part of the region's infrastructure". And that a working line would be of benefit to the region in terms of; tourism; freight; minerals; grain from the west; fuel; ore; and could be a means to reopen the region's abattoir.
Then-member for Calare, Peter Andren, also recognised the potential of the line as a part of the national transport infrastructure. And said it provides part of an inland link around Sydney in the event of a serious accident or other blockage of the main line north of Sydney.
"Not only should it be part of any long term plans to carry coal, cement and other produce, but it's a line of significant security importance," he said. "It requires major spending to bring it up to modern freight train standards and should be part of the national rail grid. Let both sides of politics, state and federal commit to the inclusion of this line on the Auslink program."
He also called for a commitment to the restoration of Ben Chifley's engine. Adding, "a restored Chifley engine should become part of the rail tourism boom a properly maintained Lithgow-Mudgee-Newcastle rail link would prove".
One of those suggestions did occur. But despite the passionate work of all involved, use of the line would be suspended in 2007.
The reinstatement of the Kandos-to-Gulgong rail line in order to supply coal to the Mt Piper Power Station has been tabled and is the subject of a feasibility study, which is set to conclude this year.
However, with the possibility that EnergyAustralia could favour using existing line, "a longer way around through Dubbo", yet another opportunity of a Mudgee rail revival may not leave the station.
- This article was produced from the archives of the Mudgee Historical Society and Mudgee Guardian/The Weekly.