Full steam ahead for old Wolgan Railway

“Shay under the bluffs” painted  by Phil Belbin a renowned railway artist and appears with the permission  of Mrs Belbin and the Belbin Family

There was a flurry of excitement this week, when it was announced that a local not-for-profit had made a bid on a Lima Shay locomotive in Oroville, California. The attempt was met with disappointment when the bid was unsuccessful, but the Wolgan Valley Wilderness Railway, a registered unit of a the company COC Limited, remains undeterred.

To discover more about this fascinating series of events, we spoke to Michael Wilson, the Chairman of COC Limited, to find out more about the not-for-profit company and its bid to buy the engine. We also spoke to him about the next step for the business now that Oroville council has voted for the Shay to remain in its home at Hewitt Park in Oroville, California.

According to Michael Wilson, COC Limited is a local not-for-profit company formed to preserve, promote and protect Lithgow’s unique rail & industrial heritage. Its registered business unit, the Wolgan Valley Wilderness Railway, was developed specifically to preserve the original Wolgan Valley Railway formation.

Michael Wilson said the Wolgan Valley Wilderness Railway hopes to preserve this important part of local history through developing the old 51 kilometre rail corridor into a Rail Trail. ‘It will be an accessible walking and cycling track for visitors to the region, and a potentially great new tourist attraction for the Wolgan Valley,’ he said. As a part of this development, the business wanted to obtain and restore a Shay locomotive, with some hope that it might eventually run on a length of rail down the original track.

‘The standard gauge Shay was the original locomotive on the railway,’ said Michael Wilson. ‘We’ve been looking for one for over 4 years now. There were only seven Shay locomotives of that sort ever imported into Australia, and four belonged to the Commonwealth Oil Company, the United Kingdom based company that operated the Wolgan railway between 1907 and 1932. Unfortunately, those locomotives are long gone. The locomotives sat rusting and heavily vandalised at Newnes for years before they were cut up for scrap metal in 1955.’

Oroville’s decision not to sell the Shay locomotive was reached only a few days ago at a council meeting on Tuesday. At the meeting a crowd gathered to protest the sale of the Shay. When he heard of the community’s reaction, Michael Wilson said, ‘I’m not surprised the people of Oroville were concerned about the Council selling it off. In fact, I would have been disappointed if there’d been no public response.’ He added, ‘If a similar thing were to happen in Lithgow, I’d be the first to ask questions.’

Michael Wilson said that he hopes the response brings about some positive results. ‘The community and Council in Oroville weren’t doing anything with the Shay, and I like to think that we’ve done something positive in turning the community from being a bit complacent to thinking that something needs to be done with the engine. Maybe we’ve given the council some direction to do something with it.’

It looks like this may be the case with the Oroville council having moved to not sell the Shay locomotive and to form a committee to come up with solutions to restore the historic train.

Michael Wilson said that the Wolgan Valley Wilderness Railway hasn’t given up on getting a standard gauge Shay for the railway. ‘We have other people we’re talking to,’ he said. ‘Meanwhile, the Rail Trail is progressing.’

NSW is sadly lacking in Rail Trails, with only a few scattered throughout the state, but in other states, such as Victoria Rail Trails have been a great success. ‘The paths built along the old railway corridors link towns and tourist locations,’ said Michael Wilson. ‘They can often become major attraction, and offer a great experience in the long term.’

Michael Wilson said that they soon hope to have carriage of the corridor, which will mean they can start to clean up the trees and shrubs that have grown over parts of the corridor, turning it into a proper walking and cycling track. The team at Wolgan Valley Wilderness Railway have been working for a long time on bringing this about and its wonderful to see things moving forward.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Wolgan Valley Wilderness Railway then you can find them on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/WolganValleyRailway, or at http://www.coclimited.com.au/