Valley Heights Locomotive Depot Heritage Museum
During the construction of the Great Western Railway it appeared almost impossible to construct a railway line over the Blue Mountains. It was eventually achieved by constructing a line with gradients as steep as 1 in 30, with curves of 8 chain (160 m) radius and the use of a zig-zag at Lapstone. The line was eventually opened up for traffic as far as Weatherboard (Wentworth Falls) on the 11th of July 1867.
On the 17th May 1875 a platform was opened to service the private residence of the Colonial Treasurer. the Hon. Geoffrey Eager MLA/MLC. The residence was originally The Valley Inn, later the Woolpack Inn and then the Welcome Inn. When the Hon. Geoffrey Eagar purchased the Inn he renamed the residence The Valley and later renamed it Wyoming. The platform was originally called Eagar's Platform. Public facilities and waiting shed were erected in 1877 and the platform renamed The Valley and on the 19th August 1880 it was renamed to its present name, Valley Heights. The present island platform was built during the duplication of the line between Glenbrook and Springwood in 1902, but the locomotive depot was not constructed until 1913 when the duplication of the line between Glenbrook and Emu Plains was completed. The depot was available for service on the 21st December 1913, but was not officially opened till 31st January 1914, at which time the locomotive depot at Penrith was reduced in status. With the duplication and regrading of the line, the heavy grades below Valley Heights had been eliminated, the ruling grade from Penrith to Valley Heights being 1 in 60.
The depot at Valley Heights consisted of a locomotive yard, 10 bay roundhouse, 18 metre (60ft) turntable, an elevated coal stage, water tanks and columns and provided pilot (assistant) engines for trains travelling to Katoomba and beyond. Pilot engines were placed in the lead of the train's "through" engine over a given section of track. The engines at Valley Heights not only piloted over the longest distance in NSW, but also had the envious distinction of having to operate over the longest continual and most steeply graded mainline in Australasia. The section from Valley Heights to Katoomba, a distance of 20 miles 16 chains (32.7 km) has a ruling grade of in 33, rose a total of 2,200 ft (670 m), the gradients varying from 1 in 60 to the steepest of 1 in 31.
During the steam era the depot had a continual allotment of eight D50 or D53 class standard goods engines and generally two C32 class engines. The standard goods engines based at Valley Heights gave sterling service as they piloted almost every freight and passenger train destined for Mt. Victoria, Lithgow and beyond. Such trains being the Central West Express, the Mudgee Mail, the Forbes Mail, the Cowra Mail, the Coonamble Mail, The Fish and numerous freight trains. The pilot engine on arrival at Katoomba would be detached from the train, turned on the turntable and return, light engine back to Valley Heights where it would be rostered for further duties.
During the peak of the steam era an average of 30 trains during any 24 hour period required piloting from Valley Heights. The 32 class engines, although used for pilot working were also used to operate passenger trains emanating from Valley Heights, one such train being The Chips. It is believed that approximately 80 men manned the depot ranging from Firemen to Fuelmen, fitters, drivers, cleaners, chargemen, drivers, roster clerks and a District Locomotive Engineer. Engine tone ups and minor repairs were carried out at the depot but major repairs and overhauls were carried out at Enfield depot. Valley Heights depot never had its own allotment of engines, they were loaned from Penrith and, on its closure, from Enfield.
Water for the depot was supplied from the dam at Wentworth Falls (Wentworth Falls Lake), to a storage tank at Lawson. It was then gravitated through pipes beside the railway line to Valley Heights. Engines were coaled by chute from an elevated coal stage, the coal stage being dismantled shortly after the electrification through to Lithgow was completed. Electrification of the western line beyond Penrith began in the mid 1950's with the section to Valley Heights being completed on the 23rd October 1956.
The 2nd of February 1957 saw the end of steam operations from Valley Heights. On this day No. 27 passenger was hauled by steam locomotive 3662 and on arrival at Valley Heights electric locomotives 4611 and 4617 backed out of the depot and assisted the train to Katoomba. From that train all steam hauled trains, both freight and passenger were electrically assisted to Katoomba, until complete electrification saw steam removed from the scene. Valley Heights depot was still required for duties and supplying engines for a few locomotive hauled passenger trains. Valley Heights drivers also worked "The Chips" and other commuter trains into the Mountains.
The depot in latter years was basically a very efficient freight wagon and electric locomotive repair workshop, the electric engines receiving minor repairs and complete overhauls at the depot. A variety of freight wagons were also repaired at the depot. The demise of Valley Heights depot began when the 85 class electric locomotives were introduced in 1979 and through working of freight trains commenced. The demise was accelerated with the introduction of the 86 class locomotives in early 1983. From the mid 1980's the number of trains requiring piloting from Valley Heights had been reduced to a handful each day, the number of locomotives required for this duty being reduced to only 3, sometimes as few as 2 being necessary. With the announcement of the closure of Valley Heights depot by the Greiner Government in October 1988, the depot was gradually closed and equipment removed. One electric locomotive being available for any pilot work on offer. The end occurring during the last week of January 1989 when electric locomotive 4627 had the distinction operating the last train to be piloted from Valley Heights to Katoomba. And so a milestone in NSW railway history had ceased operation and had faded into history.
An interesting aspect regarding the Valley Heights Loco Depot, according to Valley Heights resident Mr. Clyde Bruce, was that fledgling pilots in the late 1940's and early 1950's used the depot as a bearing on their flight path as they headed west from Sydney. The smoke from the depot could easily be seen from a height of a few thousand feet and was an ideal location to be used as a sight for their bearings. Mr. Bruce obtained his private pilots licence through the Kingsford-Smith Flying School at Bankstown.
References used in compiling this article came from:-
- Places of Historic Interest on the Lower Blue Mountains. (Springwood Historical Soc.)
- Blue Mountains Railways. William A Bayley
- Lapstone Zig Zag Railway. William A Bayley
- Local Railway Men
- The Railway News, Sept/Nov. 1973