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The Dorrigo Branch line history

The following briefly outlines the history of the region, why the railway came to Glenreagh and then continued up to Dorrigo.


The Glenreagh to Dorrigo Branch Line is a comparatively late branch line in the New South Wales Railway network. The first major branch lines in the Colony were built in the late 1870s and early 1880s, most feeding the highly profitable and rapidly expanding inland wheat belt. By 1900, the New South Wales railway system stretched westwards to Bourke, northwest to Moree, southwest to Albury, Hay and Temora, and south to Cooma and Nowra.

On the north coast, however, there had been no construction beyond West Maitland, with the exception of a short line from Murwillumbah to Lismore, approved in 1892, to link the rich lands of the Tweed and Richmond to the Clarence River. It was felt by successive governments that the northern coastal settlements were adequately served by the river and coastal port system. The settlers of the Dorrigo Plateau began an intensive campaign to link the area to the projected North Coast Railway Line. Consequently, it was not until 1905 that work began on the construction of the North Coast Railway Line.

In 1903, a Public Works Committee considered the construction of a line from the North Coast to Dorrigo and thence inland to Guyra, in connection with the proposed Casino-Tenterfield Line. Linking Guyra to the North Coast would allow produce to be sent from the New England Region to either Grafton or Coffs Harbour. It was believed that the best route, in terms of settlement and industry, lay between Guyra and Glenreagh or Coffs Harbour, via Guy Fawkes and Dorrigo.

Three possible routes for the coastal portion of the line were investigated: Coramba-Dorrigo, Coffs Harbour-Dorrigo (the Bonville Route); and Glenreagh-Dorrigo, via Bushman’s Range. The Glenreagh to Dorrigo route was subsequently chosen. The proposed Glenreagh to Dorrigo section of the line was 43 miles 16.5 chains (69.5 km) long and involved a number of tight, 10 chain (200m), curves.

At this time, most of the timber from the Dorrigo Plateau was hauled by road to Armidale or to Grafton. On the 28 December, 1910, the Glenreagh to Dorrigo Railway Act was passed by the NSW Government providing for the construction of the first section of what was intended to be a line linking Glenreagh, and hence the North Coast Line, to the inland town of Guyra. It would be three years, however, before survey work commenced (1914). The Glenreagh to Dorrigo Line would be the only section of the proposed line to Guyra to be constructed. In early 1917, work on the line was interrupted and would not recommence again until 1920.

Glenreagh Opens in 1915

The First Phase of Construction of the Dorrigo Line

Construction of the Glenreagh to Dorrigo line officially commenced on 17 August, 1914, following plans and specifications prepared by the Public Works Department (PWD). Control of the works lay in the hands of the contractor, Norton Griffiths and Company. Work ceased on 28 March, 1917, when Norton Griffiths’ contract was terminated.

By the time that Norton Griffiths’ contract was terminated, a significant change had occurred in the construction and administration of New South Wales Railways.

From 1 January, 1917, following the passage of the Government Railways (Amendment) Act, 1916, responsibility for the survey and construction of Government railways and tramways passed from the Public Works Department to the Railway Commissioners. The Railway Commissioners, however, did not immediately resume work on the Glenreagh to Dorrigo line. The prosecution of World War I (1914-1918) caused acute shortages of men, money and resources. As a result, some public works were suspended, including construction of the Glenreagh to Dorrigo Line.

The Second Phase of Construction and the Lowanna Railway Station Buildings

Construction work on the Branch Line recommenced on 12 March, 1920, almost three years after work had ceased. During the interim period, extensive washaways and mudslides had occurred along the partially constructed line. As a result of this damage and, given the high annual rainfall of the area, the likelihood that it would occur again, it was decided that the original earthworks were too light. The construction of heavier earthworks and the use of heavier rails increased construction costs. The Glenreagh to Dorrigo Branch Line would ultimately be among the most expensive lines to be constructed in New South Wales.

Glenreagh town buildings in 1921

The Line on Completion

As work on the Glenreagh to Dorrigo Branch Line neared completion, there were renewed calls for the extension of the line to Guyra, resulting in further Public Work Committee inquires in 1923, 1926 and 1927. As a result of these inquiries, the Guyra to Dorrigo Construction Act 1928 was passed on 16 June, 1929. Work on the line commenced at the Guyra end in 1929, only to stop in 1932 as a result of the deepening economic depression. Work never resumed.

The Glenreagh to Dorrigo Line was officially opened on 23 December, 1924. Upon completion, the line was 43 miles 16.5 chains (69 km) long, with eleven stops, twelve sidings (mostly servicing timber mills), fifteen bridges and two tunnels. Overall, the line climbs 736 metres.

The first timetable for the Branch Line listed a daily Monday to Saturday passenger connection with the mail train from Sydney. There was also a daily Monday to Saturday goods train, with passenger car attached. In November 1927, the passenger train ceased. The daily mixed service continued to run until May 1931, when it was replaced by a thrice-weekly service.

The main stops along the Branch Line and their facilities at the time of opening were, from Glenreagh to Dorrigo:

Glenreagh – Glenreagh Station was the junction of the Glenreagh to Dorrigo Line with the North Coast Line. The Station opened in October 1915 as part of the North Coast Line. Glenreagh Station consisted of an island platform, one main crossing loop, a transit siding and goods sidings. In the days of steam, it had a steam depot, water tank, turntable and carriage shed facilities at the Grafton end of the yard. The branch line left Glenreagh Station from the southern end of the yard; trains to the south were required to reverse.

Timber Top – Timber Top had a crossing loop, a goods siding (opened on 18 December, 1925) and a small signal box with electric staff instruments. There was no platform. The loop and signal box were abolished in 1972.

Reid’s Siding – Reid’s Siding opened on 1 October, 1929 and closed on 14 May, 1942.

Moleton – Moleton was located near Mole Creek and had a small platform and siding; the latter was closed on 10 May, 1961.
Two miles up the track stood

Mole Creek Tank, with watering provisions for steam locomotives and de-ashing facilities.

Lowanna – The Lowanna Railway Station Yard, Lowanna, New South Wales, has local historic, social and aesthetic significance as a small intermediate railway station in its rural setting. The Lowanna Railway Station Yard has local historic significance as part of the Glenreagh to Dorrigo Branch Line, constructed between 1916 and 1924.

The Lowanna Railway Station Yard stands in Gumbaynggirr country. European settlement on the North Coast of New South Wales began at Port Macquarie, where a penal settlement was established in 1823. The first free Europeans in the area were cedar getters, who reached as far north as the Richmond River by the early 1840s. When most of the red cedar had been logged from the Orara forests and Eastern Dorrigo Plateau, the timber getters and millers turned their attention to hoop pine, silky oak, rosewood, ironbark and blackbutt. The shift from cedar to other timbers in the late nineteenth century maintained existing settlements and encouraged the establishment of others. Following the clearing of the timber, farms and later dairies were established on the Plateau; potatoes also became a favoured crop.

The significance of Lowanna Station, as the only staffed intermediate station along the line, is manifest in the presence of a precast concrete Station Building (Type Pc.3), Signal Box and Men’s toilet lock, constructed c.1924. These buildings have historic and technical significance as part of a larger group of precast concrete station buildings designed by engineers and erected by NSW Railways during the interwar period. The Lowanna Railway Station Building was one of at least eighteen Type Pc.3 station buildings constructed, and is one of at least eight still standing. It is the only concrete station building in the Coffs Harbour Local Government Area.

Other structures of significance in the Yard include a Gang Hut and Yard Crane. It is planned to restore this crane when funds are available.

The Lowanna Railway Station Yard has local aesthetic significance as a prominent element in the immediately surrounding landscape. The Station and township of Lowanna are located in a large clearing within otherwise heavily-timbered countryside. There are important view corridors towards the Yard from approach by road and rail and the surrounding countryside. Significant view corridors out towards the heavily forested surrounds visually connect the site to the timber that was its primary reason for being. Lowanna Railway Station Yard has social significance for the Glenreagh Mountain Railway Inc., who own the lower half of the Glenreagh to Dorrigo Branch Line, and for the local community. It also has significance for wider heritage interest groups, as indicated by its listing on the Coffs Harbour LEP 2000.

When tenders were called for the construction of the station buildings along the line, the local newspapers agitated for construction using local timber; the Railway Commissioners assured them that this would be the case. Nevertheless, Lowanna and Dorrigo Stations were provided with precast concrete buildings. The tender for the construction and erection of the station buildings at Lowanna was advertised in the Government Gazette in September 1923. The Station building was a standard type used by NSW Railways and known as a Type Pc.3 Station Building.

The Lowanna Station Building is classified as a Type Pc. 3 station building. This building type was one of a number of standard designs used by New South Wales Railways during the period 1917 and 1932. The standard plan for this station type can be found in Appendix 4. The use of standard buildings across the New South Wales Railway System began during the 1880s under the Engineer-in-Chief, John Whitton, as a means of balancing budgetary restraints with community expectations. The type of station allocated to a New South Wales country town after 1880 frequently reflected the status of a branch line and/or the size and significance of that town.

The need for economic station buildings was particularly true of the mid 1920s, which marked the beginning of a period of stringency for the New South Wales Railways. Concrete slab construction, of which the Lowanna Station Building, Signal Box and Men’s Toilet Block, are examples, had been in use in Australia since the early 1900s. If you like to learn more about the PC style type of station buildings more information can be seen at this link

Ulong – Ulong had a platform and goods loop.

Brooklana – Brooklana had a short wooden platform (since removed) and two dead-end sidings.

Mulhearn’s or Lloyd’s Siding – Mulhearn’s Siding had a small wooden platform with a dead end siding. This siding was renamed Lloyd’s Siding in 1942.

Cascade (Earp’s, Woodcock’s and Beveridge’s Siding) – Cascade had a curved platform and two dead-ended sidings serving local mills.

The station was initially known as Earp’s, Woodcock’s and Beveridge’s Siding before being changed to Cascade in 1925.

Briggsvale – Briggsvale had a 100 ft platform and one dead-end siding serving a local saw mill.

Wild Cattle Creek – Wild Creek, later Megan, had a platform and goods siding and, later, a crossing loop and de-ashing facilities.

Leigh – Leigh, the highest stop on the line, had a short platform.

Dorrigo – Dorrigo Station is the terminus of the line. The station had a 250ft platform, a run round loop, goods loop, potato siding (later), loading bank and stockyard with sidings.
Off the platform road, there were locomotive facilities, a coal stage and a steel 60ft diameter turntable, as well as watering facilitates.

While never considered a profitable line by NSW Railways, the Line played a critical role in the development of the regional economy, transporting a range of goods, most notably timber, within and out of the area. During the period 1924 to 1957, when the line offered passenger services, it connected the occupants of the small communities of the Dorrigo Plateau to each other and the outside world. A daily (except Sunday) passenger service and a daily mixed service ran until 1927 when the passenger train ceased. The daily mixed service was replaced by a thrice-weekly service in 1931. All provision for passenger services ceased in 1957.


Z19, D50 and 44 class diesels were the most common types found utlised as motive power.

The Glenreagh to Dorrigo Line was plagued by slippages and mudslides throughout the period of its operation. In October 1972, after a series of slippages, the line was unofficially closed. Lowanna Station, along with many of the stops along the line, was closed in September 1975. In 1993 the Glenreagh to Dorrigo Railway (Closure) Act 1993 was passed by the NSW Government clearing the way for the sale or lease of the Branch Line. The line was officially closed by notification in the NSW Government Gazette of 17 December, 1993. Two groups tendered for the line, the Glenreagh Mountain Railway Inc. and the Dorrigo Steam Railway and Museum Inc. GMR now controls the line from Glenreagh to a point about halfway between Lowanna and Ulong, while the Dorrigo Steam and Railway Inc. controls the remainder of the line.


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