When we think of steam trains we think of Puffing Billy, the zig zag railway and Coffs Harbour. What the ????? Most people thought Coffs was full of bananas, beaches. Well think again, work is full steam ahead ( sorry ) on restoring an old line just west of Coffs. To get to Glenreagh, take the Orara Way, which runs west from Coffs all the way through to Grafton, a wonderful 80 km drive away from our coastal region.
Glenreagh is a sleepy old village. Complete with "The golden dog '', a great old pub that has stood the test of time, a general store, and a great pie shop, that sells home made pies and cakes that are to die for.
This line was established in 1924 and ran between Dorrigo and Glenreagh. The line was mainly used to remove timber, which abounds in this rugged region. Opened in 1924, the line climbs 736 metres in 69 kilometres via steep grades, sharp curves, fifteen bridges and two tunnels. It was shut down in 1972 due to flood damage. A non-profit organization '' GLENREAGH MOUNTAIN RAILWAY INC ( GMR ) , is leading the way to fully restore this line. Their aim is to operate a heritage tourist railway on the Glenreagh to Ulong section of the former Glenreagh to Dorrigo railway line, which is situated a 30 minute drive from Coffs Harbour in the beautiful Orara valley. In may 1999 GMR purchased the lower half of the line from Glenreagh to Ulong, a total distance of 35 kilometres. There are a total of 8 sidings on this track, many which are still overgrown in desperate need of a loving touch, but due to the dedication of the members of the GMR these old sidings and track are slowly being restored to their former glory.
At the Glenreagh end of the line a total of about 7 kms is up and running, complete with a fully restored steam locomotive and carriages. Their engine , 1919, is a ninteen class loco, entering service in nsw in 1878. These engines had the longest working life of any loco in nsw with some reaching 95 years when the era of steam ended in 1973. The engine 1919 is the pride and joy of GMR. DUring the years 1953 till 1958, 1919 was allocated to grafton, but spent most of its time at Glenreagh. It was retired in 1972 , to a kids playground in Forbes for many years. In 2001 it was transported to Glenreagh for restoration, and was completed in 2004. As well as the loco and several carriages, GMR also have an old tram that runs the line as well. Instead of having overhead power to run the tram, a detroit diesel generator supplies power. Glenreagh is always alive with activity, with open days to ride 1919, the tram and market days all to raise money to help in the restoration of the line. A huge shed here that ajoins the track at Glenreagh is filled with old red rattlers that are being painfully restored to their former glory, spare parts that are stacked the roof, display boards that are filled with old black and white pics from the days gone by, trikes and pieces of old stations that are yet to be given a new lease of life. At the dorrigo end there are a number of engines, carriages, buildings, track and even an old army tank to explore.
After some fun filled hours here, you can venture west from Glenreagh along Timbertop road, that runs along the restored line, giving you a chanch to watch 1919 and the tram run freely along the line. Leaving here, keep on Timbertop road for 6 kms and turn right onto the dirt, this is still Timbertop road. The change from here, green dairy farms, to the top of Timbertop, which is scattered dry timber, is pretty dramatic. A further 6kms , turn right on to Morris road. This road is fine for a soft roader, and a great road for the missus to learn to drive on. Leaving the turn off you enter some pretty dramitic rainforest sections, huge vines climb the towering gums, with the ever lasting lantana making its presence felt. Every now again stop the car, get out, and listen for the bell birds, and the wonderful whip bird calls. Follow this road till the cross roads, with a left turn here, you are now at the Timbertop station. Care here if you fight the long grass and inspect the old station, as the railway line hides in the grass and a stumble might be in order. Between Timbertop and Glenreagh several tunnels are on this line, and apparently the sleepers, line and tunnel section are in excellent condition, a big bonus for the volunteers.
After turning left here, continue up for approx 3 kms. Here at the Timbertop road sign, you can make out part of the old line where it crosses the road. Its here you can really see the work thats needed to clear the line. Continuing up the road for 4 kms, turn left into camp creek road. Here you will start coming back into farm land, green paddocks with fat cows fill this area. Stay on this road for about 12kms, this will bring you into Lowanna. As soon as you enter Lowanna, relics lie beside the track, as well as plenty of carraiges that are yet to be restored. A left turn when you cross the line will take you to Lowanna station, which has been fully restored. This is pretty exciting for the members of GMR as they now offer trike rides from Lowanna to Ulong.
As you wander around the old carriages you almost cry as you see the work that has to be done, and wonder is it really worth it ??. But to these volunteers there is only one answer.
As you continue on through Lowanna, a sleepier town than Glenreagh, you can glance across the paddocks to the horizon, pondering how hard it must of been in those days at the turn of the century. A 4km tar road will take you to a t intersection, a left turn here will take you back to Coffs Harbour, wandering down through stands of massive tallowood trees, pockets of tree ferns, with stags and elks, and our wonderful friend lantana. This is is winding 15 km road back to Coffs but the veiws are just magic as you wander back down the mountain.
Here is an old video shot when the track was in good condition. Imagine how great it would be if it was up and running !!!
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