Found at the 370.540km marker is the Merriwa railway station, which was also designated as the terminus of the Muswellbrook to Merriwa branch line. For 71years a regular train service frequented this branch line connecting the far western Upper Hunter region to the NSW rail system and beyond.
The railway station and yard at Merriwa grew from a local push in the late 1880s to acquire a railway to their town and surrounding region just like ever other town in NSW was doing at the time. Unusually, unlike other towns, Merriwa was not considered and approved for quite a while by the NSW Government with a decision to go ahead with building the line not appearing until 1910. The perway work which used day labour crews started on the new line in mid 1912 which saw it progress slowly out from Muswellbrook along the chosen route. The branch line in its original form started at the Muswellbrook station yard and then turned left and headed into the valleys passing through a number of small but significant locations which had lucky enough gained platforms. It then ended at Denman where full terminus facilities were built.
In late 1912 an official railway and government party arrived at Merriwa to begin the ground work for the coming of the rail service. Interestingly it would be another 5years until a functional railway would operate from Merriwa due to minimal funds allocated to the building the branch line.
An interesting aspect to the development of Merriwa as the new terminus was due to the line being extended, was that Denman had from 1915 to 1917, a small locomotive depot to service the steam locomotives used on services. After Merriwa was opened, Denman lost its locomotive depot which at that time consisted of a coal stage, engine shed and turntable. Some of these facilities were moved to Merriwa and reused. Denman did retain basic watering facilities for the trains which passed through via use of 2 water tank/water column which were found in middle of the station yard. Nowadays all that remains at Denman is a forlorn large water tank rusting away. All other historical station and yard traces are long gone.
The still standing Merriwa station building was originally built in 1917. It was constructed as a Type 7 timber building as 19.68m long and 3.94m wide. It had a skillion roof and water tanks placed at each end to collect water run off. From the up end the layout of the building comprised a female toilet, station master office, booking office, waiting room and parcel office/goods out off. A fireplace was located in the station master’s office. The colour of the building originally was a deep brown colour but in later years it was painted in a variety of colours such as white, blue and cream.
A station master, assistant station master and porter were normally rostered to work the station according to records. Perway fettlers were at times known to camp around the barrack and water tank while they were in town between track work duties.
A sturdy timber lined and sand topped 86m platform was constructed to facilitate the passenger boarding. A large platform sign and lamp post were originally located on the eastern end of the platform.
The timetables for services were placed on the station building walls for passengers to view along side the railway bylaws.
The services along the branch line to Merriwa was based around 3 services a week for initial demand in the 1920s and over time this increased to move the growing local passenger and goods traffic.
At its peak the Merriwa branch line in the 1960s saw up to 32 services a week bring passengers and freight to and from the town. CPH Railmotors could travel at 35mph, while a 30 class locomotive could do 25-30mph on the branch line.
Railmotors took 2hr to travel from Merriwa to Muswellbrook while steam powered goods trains took around 5hrs.
A large corrugated iron goods shed was built opposite the station at the same time as the station. This goods shed had windows, sliding doors and a small loading deck to assist with in unloading wagons. A gantry overhead 5 ton crane was also built opposite the station and near the goods shed to assist in loading heavier items in the goods wagons. At Merriwa in the 1920s a major outwards source of freight and revenue for the railways was the hefty supply of local rabbits which were canned and then shipped intrastate. The railway service dramatically reduced freight costs involved for the movements of such large quantities. This form of rail transport also benefited the local wheat farmers when a new wheat silo was constructed at the east end of the yard.
The original goods yard which was found to the east of the station had 4 main rail tracks to handle the needs of the terminus. An extra road was built when the silo was opened for service. Found in the south-eastern section of the yard were a few of these extra roads. They were used for loading of local farmer’s cattle and sheep via the stock race. A stock pen and associated trucking yards was built to handle the demand for movement of livestock in and out of the town. The stockyard was modified sometime in the 1940s and demolished in the 1980s. Commonly seen goods wagons in the yard were BSV, BCW, S and U wagons/trucks followed in later years by BWH wagons.
Due to steep grades both to and from Merriwa, the Sandy Hollow to Merriwa section of branch line saw that locomotives could only handle around 250-300 tonnes load on the average steam train movement. Once past Sandy Hollow and Denman on way to Muswellbrook, the load was built up more as the track section consisted of easier gradients.
A small locomotive depot was built around 400m to the west of station to replace the former depot found at Denman. The Merriwa depot comprised a 60ft manual turntable built, a small barracks building for locomotive crews, a water tank with water columns and a coal stage. A long covered locomotive shed was built but it was commonly seen to house a CPH between trips in the later years. The shed also had an inspection pit. The types of locomotives used on th
e Merriwa line in the early days included 24 and 25 Class steam locomotives along side 30 Class and 50 Class. By the mid 1920s, the new CPH passenger rail motors were in service and these were found operating out to Merriwa on weekly services.
Merriwa had the fortunate distinction of being the last ever rural NSW railway branch line to operate steam powered locomotives and this historical era finally ended in September 1970.
In the diesel era from 1970 onwards, 47 and 48 class locomotives were frequently seen hauling freight to and from Merriwa. The much loved CPH passenger services ended early in 1973 and from then on until the closure in 1988, only diesel freight services worked the line. At times visits by special charter or visits by the vintage heritage trains occurred, such in 167 on the station’s and lines 50th anniversary, which saw many people come to the station and yard.
The Merriwa branch line was suspended and services stopped in December 1988. During the last 24years the junction at Sandy Hollow has been removed and straight railed. The cease of services to Merriwa like many other towns across NSW, then saw the station and associated infrastructure fall into decay and extensive weeds and grass take over the remains.
Since 1988 local groups used the Merriwa station for craft purposes but the station fell eventually into further decay with noted issues such as weeds growing, tall grass and paint coming off the buildings,when they didn’t continue their lease.
It was noted that local vandals caused major damage to both station building and the goods shed which included breaking windows, significant fire damage, illegal squattering and dumping of rubbish litter.
Many of the yard frames have been removed and are found lying around rusting in the scrub. The main infrastructure items such as locomotive shed, barracks building, steam locomotive water tank, coal stage, male toilet/lamp room were removed from the yard. All that physically remains is a station building, goods shed, turntable and most of the yard’s railway track. A safety fence has remained around the goods crane to prevent injuries. The turntable is intact but locked shut after it’s decommission.
In late 2009 a group of people attempted to form a very long term project which was based around a plan to restore the station into a small local railway museum to house assorted memorabilia. Since 2009 it has taken nearly 3years to just repaint and recondition the very small station building, due to lack of interest from volunteers and a variety of other factors, some which have caused significant unwelcomed problems for the project.
Local council occasionally mows the extensive quick growing grass growth and a new silver coloured station building roof was added via ARTC funding this in 2011. The goods shed tho unusually has in 3yrs not yet being touched much for unknown reasons.
It should be noted that there had been some significant sponsorship gained for the project with support coming from Dulux Paints with nearly 200 litres of free paint supplied and a local nursery donating plants (both sponsors were acquired for the project by this article’s author in 2010). A new platform sign made by locals was erected in 2011.
At current the future long term preservation plan sees the volunteers forming a small museum and possible information centre. Due to lack of detailed information it is not known what else is planned but it is known that some minor work is being conducted on site by a very small group of people. It is believed due to the extensive nature of the restoration costs for future works such as yard and branch line resleepering and costs associated with leases, that the station museum will be potentially the limit of the work on the railway project.
Additionally the once hoped for functional rail heritage project which would of seen operational heritage trains carry tourists from the site on tour trips down the line has diminished somewhat over the past few years due to above reasons. Potential acquisition of suitable static / non operational rollingstock as well is still a few years away again due to costs. In view of the time taken to complete the repaint of station building now up to 3years, the planned relaying the railway line in yard and branch line with new sleepers will present a massive long term and costly challenge to such a small group of volunteers.
It is noted on NSW Government notices that anyone wishing to access the site, which is under a short term 5yr sub lease from John Holland for either photos or visits requires extensive approvals and should obtain full written permission before visiting the premises. Approvals can be obtained from the lease holder MRS organisation, with current contact Brian Leedham, who is also well known as the rail historian for Merriwa.
It is noted that while under repair, as it is a working site/reconstructed railway, the platform is out of bounds due to being chained off for safety. Internal inspections of the station building are not allowed due to works being undertaken and because the station is still not open for tourist visits.
The station does not cater for any tourists visits since there are no facilities present. The Merriwa Railway station building reconstruction project when completed at some point in the future, will serve as a local Merriwa memorial dedicated to Merriwa’s well known railway historian Brian Leedham.