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Lost Railways: Otford and Waterfall Disused Tunnels

The railway line south of Sutherland to Wollongong was built between 1884 and 1886. The section of line between Waterfall and Otford passed through rugged country, much of which is in the Royal National Park. So difficult was the terrain, a number of tunnels had to be built. Most of these are no longer in use, having been replaced by longer, straighter tunnels on a more direct route. The abandoned tunnels are all still accessible via an interesting bushwalk between Waterfall and Stanwell Park.

Waterfall Tunnel (Tunnel No.1): Located 1.6 km south of the present Waterfall station. 191 metres long, it was duplicated in 1914, at which time it was opened out and is now a deep cutting.

Cawley Tunnel (Tunnel No.2): 381 metres long, this tunnel which passes through Cawley Range, was used as a mushroom farm until 2000. The Northern Entrance is not fenced off but it is gated at the Southern End. Access is possible, but it is quite a challenge to get there. Robert Hails, a coal miner at Helensburgh s Metropolitan Colliery, was tragically killed by a train in 1895 as he walked through a tunnel on his way home from work. It is uncertain whether the accident happened in the Cawley tunnel, as reported by the Illawarra Mercury  or the Metropolitan tunnel which is closer to the old Helensburgh station. Cawley, situated between Helensburgh and Waterfall on Cawley Road, is today just a name on a map, an area of land along a small creek of the same name, but in the late 1800s through to the early 1900s, it was a bustling settlement housing many hundreds of railway workers and their families. The actual site of the village is now part of the Garrawarra State Conservation Area.

Helensburgh Tunnel (Tunnel No.3): Located at the northern end of the original Helensburgh station, it is an elliptical-shaped tunnel on a single track alignment measuring 80m in length with a distinct curvature. The southern approach to Helensburgh Tunnel first had a packing shed in the cutting which was boarded up with corroded and tarnished corrugated iron. The southern end is blocked by a concrete wall constructed by the Metropolitan Colliery about 5 metres in from the southern end of the tunnel. Opened 3rd October 1888; closed 30th May 1915.

Metropolitan Tunnel (Tunnel No.4): 624 metres long, it is located at the southern end of the original Helensburgh station. It is the 4th tunnel on the original Illawarra Line, and is a 624m single track tunnel nestled between the Helensburgh Tunnel 1st (Tunnel No. 3), and the Metropolitan Colliery. The original Metropolitan Colliery Junction is located at the southern end of the tunnel. The Colliery has leased the tunnel for many years and use it as a dam for mining purposes and dust management. In years past the whole tunnel was virtually full of water, giving rise to rumours of there being an abandoned steam train under water. Early 1995 saw the clearing and removal of rubbish out of cutting to the northern portal as the Colliery had plans to use the tunnel as a water reservoir. When the tunnel was drained in 1995, that rumour was put to rest; (no steam train was found). Not being used in mushroom production has enabled the Metropolitan Tunnel to host one of the largest colonies of glow worms in NSW. Tthe area is very accessible but wearing waterproof footwear is recommended. Opened 3rd October 1888; closed 30th May 1915.

Lilyvale No. 1 Tunnel (Tunnel No.5): 80 metres long, this straight tunnel has been used as a mushroom farm and today a State Rail access road passes through it. The Lilyvale Tunnel No.1 formed part of the original South Coast/Illawarra Line which was born out of the need to link the area to Sydney with a rail line as the southern coal fields and extensive farming required this. Both Lilyvale tunnels were used for mushroom cultivation after they ceased being used for the railways. Opened 3rd October 1888; closed 30th May 1915.

Lilyvale No. 2 Tunnel (Tunnel No.6): located beyond the original Lilyvale station and alongside the existing Lilyvale tunnel, the 332 metre long tunnel passes through Stuart s Range. It has been used as a mushroom farm and today an access road for the State Rail Authority passes through it. The facades are in excellent condition with what appears to be not a single brick missing, and is likely to be the tunnel in best condition if you take all six disused tunnels in the area into account. Opened 3rd October 1888; closed 30th May 1915.

Otford Tunnel (Tunnel No.7): The Otford Tunnel is the grand tunnel, of all the six disused rail tunnels in the Helensburgh and surrounds area. None of the other five existing tunnels have more written about them than the Otford Tunnel. Technically it is the No.7 tunnel on the Illawarra line, measuring 1550m in length, more than double the length of any of the other five tunnels. The tunnel is dead straight right up until the Stanwell Park end where there is a short curve. The original single-line tunnel was the most dreaded of the tunnels on the Waterfall to Otford section of line as it had a grade of 1 in 40. A further problem was that south westerly winds coming off the ocean blew directly into the southern portal, blowing smoke back into it.

Complaints by passengers and engine crews about the lack of air in the tunnel led to a vent being installed in 1891. The tunnel was eventually bypassed when the Stanwell Park deviation was brought into operation in October 1920. In 1942, the Army exploded a demolition charge 30 metres in from the southern end of the tunnel, completely blocking it just inside the southern portal and preventing intrusion of an advancing hostile enemy. During the early 1960 2s, mushroom farmers leased the tunnel to cultivate mushrooms. The 1970 2s saw the mushroom farmers clear the fallen debris from the explosion and erect a rectangular concrete brace which allowed passage once again. Accessing the northern end of the Otford Tunnel is almost impossible if you don't know how to access it.

The original line including the tunnels detailed herein were abandoned between 1914 and 1920 when the Helensburgh and Stanwell Park deviations were brought into service to make the line easier to handle for the steam locomotives of their time. Ironically, the older, more direct route of the original line, would be far quicker and better suited to the electric trains of today than the route they now follow.

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  • Helensburgh Tunnel southern portal

    Otford Tunnel

    Cawley Tunnel

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