Located at the 279.630 km marker from Sydney on the Gwabegar branch line, in mid western NSW, are the preserved remains of the Lue railway station and yard. This article will explore the reasons why the station was built and its history.
As some readers may be aware, the impact of the railways across NSW as they were built in the 1800s, in some cases lead to significant development in country towns and was in most cases driven by political desires. In some cases the railway’s progress ended up changing village’s and town’s names and at the other extreme, it caused even entire villages and towns to be moved, so they were near an active railway line. With this background knowledge, Lue like other towns in NSW hasn’t always had the same name since it was created – it was originally named “Dungaree”. The village was after debate, moved to accommodate the newly built Mudgee section of the railway branch line. After this move, the village was officially renamed “Lue” in 1884.
RAIL LEAGUE PUSH FOR BRANCH LINE TO RURAL TOWNS
Lue’s residents want for a railway service stretches back to the early 1870s, an era which also saw many other NSW country towns wanting railway connections, as the new transport method became extremely popular. The railway system as it expanded across NSW, was seen by many as becoming efficient at moving people and goods over a long distance, when compared to the only other transport method – the horse pulled road coach services.Around Mudgee and Lue, it was becoming very obvious to a growing number of people that extensions of the railway service was desperately needed. The extensions were necessary so that a link to their towns and villages, with the busy suburbs of Sydney and more importantly to other towns across NSW. Despite the famous Cobb & Co stage coach operator (once the largest and most enterprising road coach service in the world) providing an excellent service in the Mudgee region, people needing to travel and the movements of everyday goods and services could only be handled by so many stage coaches trips. With the invention of steam locomotives, the new era of mass transit was now becoming a reality which everyone wanted to ride on.
As Mudgee was the growing main regional town near Lue, people came together there from also around the region, just as they did in other towns across NSW, to form a local Railway League.
Mudgee’s league aim was to press the NSW state government to build a railway to Mudgee and beyond heading towards Binnaway. After much debate, discussion and reports, the Mudgee branch line was authorised in June 1879 by the NSW Parliament and in its final form was to be called the Gwabegar branch line. It was to be built and opened in a series of stages. The first section heading north from Wallerawang towards Capertee was completed in January, 1884. The second from Capertee to Mudgee – which included Lue – opened in September 1884. Before the Mudgee branch line was built, the town of Dungaree was moved to be near the coming railway line and at the same time, the renaming process saw the town of Lue officially approved.The main reason behind the choice of the location for Lue, was that the original Dungaree railway site chosen was not actually that suitable for railway operations as it was discovered rather late in the line building, that the station land laid on a gradient of 1:42. This steep gradient was unsuitable for the trains to start away easily on and shunting would have been a struggle if implemented. The surveyors decided to move the station location and surveyed another section of flatter land, which they found had a 1:400 gradient. This new location now to be named as Lue station, was much more suited to railway operations.
After construction, the Lue railway station was officially opened 10 September 1884 with the normal fanfare that all railway stations opening had in the early days of rail across NSW. The next section to open on the branch line was from Mudgee to Gulgong opening on April 14 1909. The final sections heading north from Gulgong to Dunedoo, Binnaway and onto Gwabegar via Coonabarabran opened in a period stretching from 1910 to 1925. Once completed this long branch line saw much traffic pass through Lue on up and down services.
Lue railway station was built to service the village and the rich farming lands in the surrounding area. The other benefits of the railway once opened and in use, was that a railway would give local residents fast and comfortable transport to their regional towns such as Mudgee, Lithgow and the rest of NSW via the new Gwabegar branch line.
LUE STATION – OPERATIONS
The first timetabled goods train to arrive at Lue in September 1884, (which then proceeded to the terminus at Mudgee) was a mixed goods and mail train. During its down trip it stopped at Lue and the guard and station staff offloaded much needed items for the residents. This was exactly the kind of impact that was intended to happen, as hoped for by the local railway league. From the first train, the services grew and so did reliance of the Lue region on the railway system for its living.
LUE STATION INFRASTRUCTURE
Lue railway station was for a small village, a fairly large station, well designed and built to the high standards which reflected the designers’ vision of the 1880s. The railway location is very prominent, being set back from the main road allowing space for its operation and thus is noticeable by passing travellers.
The main building station building was built in 1884 to a type 4 design, from solid brick. It is also classified as a standard roadside third class railway station building and was constructed as all other station buildings in NSW were with the booking / ticket office, waiting rooms and toilet sections to provide services to the passengers. The high workmanship even after 128yrs still shows and is noticeable to tourists and railway enthusiasts.
Lue station stands on 190m platform which was constructed from brick edging and a layer of gravel was used for the platform surface. The platform had on the down end a dock platform to accommodate wagons for unloading purposes. The station also had a loop line siding constructed opposite the platform which accommodated a stockyard siding service the needs of the local farmers.
The main station building features include galvanised iron roofs, glazed double doors, chimneys and sash windows gave the station a stylish look amongst the field on which it was place on. A signal box made in 1920s to a type 5 design was built from pre cast concrete blocks and remains relatively intact.
What some visitors may not readily notice is that Lue’s station design forms an important heritage link between the larger Rylstone railway station and the very impressive and massive railway station complex at Mudgee. This comparison helps to illustrate the vast range of types and sizes of station buildings which were built and used at many locations across NSW. Lue also contrasts with the smaller but similar designs used at Capertee, Kandos and several other locations on the same section of line.
The station had a few staff to run it, consisting of full time station masters in control, assistant station masters, night officers and porters. The night officers and porters assisted the station masters in maintaining the station in its opening hours. The station staff also sorted and processed in and out goods/mail at the parcels office located in the main building. Located very close to the station was the Station master’s house, which was built to the same style commonly seen across NSW.
The important role of the station master ensured they never had far to go when called in for work. The Lue station staff were always well liked by locals and over time, most of the staff would become well associated with local Lue social events. Due to the caring attention by the station staff, Lue once won the state station garden award due to its well maintained flowers and bushes.
Beside the key station staff, sections of the line around Lue always needed maintenance for track repairs. The track repairs was carried out by the local “fettler gangs” who would set up their tent camps around the station and then travel down or up the line to inspect and repair as required. Some of the fettlers also settled in the town, as did most of the station staff.
At times the locals were forced to travel a fair distance to Lue for their goods to pick up and the observant and caring station masters would open up to allow the farmers to pick up their goods without any delays. As the years passed, the railway staff were more and more interwoven into the local community and they were a big part in the lives of the people who lived along the line.
UP / DOWN PASSENGER AND GOODS SERVICES
As a medium sized station on a busy branch line, Lue had a variety of services passing through such as two passenger trains per day stop at the station and the weekly goods train. These passenger train services were running between Mudgee and Sydney and were steam hauled with a selection of carriages attached.
All goods and livestock required in the Lue region were loaded and shipped to Lue from the various Sydney goods yard by the weekly goods trains.
The goods train was a key link for Lue, as the railway network saw many local Lue products transported by rail around the region and NSW. A large variety of local produce was shipped out from Lue. Examples included cream which was transported to Mudgee to be used in the local butter factory, Lue local Arthur Potts bread was transported in large boxes to many places along the branch line to feed the hungry fettler teams by train and wool was taken to various NSW saleyard markets by train.
As goods demand grew, a trucking yard was built at the station yard so animals and goods could be dropped off/picked up easier. The livestock yard on the loop line was used as seen by twice weekly livestock trains which operated on each Monday and Wednesday and usually departed at 11am. These goods pickups mostly transported the local sheep in GSV wagons. Cattle didn’t feature as much in the railway era, as there were not as many around.
Before cars and development of society took over in the 1940s, local Lue residents used to gather at the station and watch with a keen interest the visiting steam trains or watch the passing express services as they came through Lue. Nowadays that vision is just a distant memory captured by photos or in a passing recollection.
Quite frequently children went to school were picked up on a Monday from Lue and taken to the larger towns such as Mudgee for a week’s schooling and returned to their homes by train on the Friday, with anxious parents waiting for them on the platform, with the station staff carefully ensuring all the movements were done safely.
THE END OF SERVICES AND BRANCH LINE OPERATIONS
The section of railway track between Kandos to Gulgong was subjected to at times, with heavy speed restrictions due to nature of the track and lack of repairs the late 1970s and into the 1980s. This track condition along with a drop in the traffic being carried lead to the closure of this section of the branch line on December 2, 1985. Lue station was officially closed in 18 March 1986 which cut the town off from rail services. It took a while longer for the branch line section to be fully suspended and this finally happened on 2 March 1992.
During the late 1990s the NSW state government planned to reopen the branch line section and this saw Lue station cleaned up after a few years of neglect and decay, with it being repainted in a heritage colour scheme. However the repainting didn’t see the station reopening, with it instead remaining boarded and locked up. To restore the only recently closed line, the NSW Government expended up to $11 million to resleeper the track along with repairs to the various bridges and level crossings. This limited work was done so it would attract more freight services to the region. After this rehabilitation work was approved, the section was reopened on 2 September 2000.
During the later period of the line‘s 2nd reopening, it was only seeing in some cases 1 heritage train movement a month and not much freight. Limited freight did eventually return but it was not enough to sustain the high costs of repairs/wages.
Sadly for country NSW, it doesn’t get the necessary attention from the state governments and this was highlighted when the NSW Government, again suspended the Kandos to Gulgong railway branch line section and closed all services…only 7 years later on 30 June 2007. It was costing RIC upwards of $3m a year to maintain the section of the line and the minimal income from a heritage operator was not enough to justify the line’s ongoing repair work in the long term. Other reasons were that RIC couldn’t guarantee the line was safe to move trains over at more than 20km/h due to the condition of the perway. When combined with 12 bridges, all which are over 100years old, this section is extremely intensive and costly to maintain even to a minimal standard. The wooden railway trestle bridge at Lue is an example of the bridges which are part of the overhaul concerns.
This line closure so soon, made locals at Lue see that the NSW Government really didn’t care about their transport needs. The Kandos to Gulgong branch remains like other suspended branch lines in NSW legally open tho just not in use. Stop blocks at Kandos and Gulgong seal the line shut for now from any train movements.
FUTURE OF THE STATION AND LINE
There is some hope that this closed section of the Gwabegar branch line that passes through Lue, may reopen in the long term with more freight work generating from north of Mudgee and Gulgong. This freight would have the ability to travel via Lithgow. Sadly for the moment, the NSW government has abandoned this section of the Gwabegar line and in doing so it seems to have forgotten about the country people and their long term needs for a railway service. A hope that a passenger service such as Explorer could provide rail passenger services on the branch line is still a long way off but as the Rail Leagues of 1870s showed, people will not be stopped in obtaining what they need by been vocal and standing up for their rights.
The section of line if it is to ever reopen again, will require $15m + to make it suitable for light trains. Upwards of 100,000+ timber sleepers will need to be replaced, since the last timber sleepers laid are now life expired.
Meanwhile the Lue railway station is found standing silent and intact- with its angular roof and brightly painted side walls, making it a significant local tourist destination to visit while in the area. The preservation of the railway station in 2012, allows Lue to share with passing travellers, a glimpse into how their town and its once travelled in the past.
Acknowledgements to Mid-Western Regional Council Library, Mudgee Historical Society.