In the month of June 2012 it was reported by various news sources that the famous Zig Zag Railway of Lithgow was in danger of closing, and indeed, has since closed. The iconic railway, which operated from 1869 to 1910 and has mainly been run on a voluntary basis for the last 35 years, has at least momentarily lost its latest battle, the threat of keeping up to date with piles of bureaucratic paperwork in the name of safety. Revered as a masterpiece of 19th century engineering, the railway offered visitors a spectacular ride zig-zagging up steep cuttings and high viaducts of the Blue Mountains sandstone panorama and has been a favorite outing for Sydneysiders and tourists alike for many many years.

Recently the Independent Transport Safety Regulator (ITSA) issued an ultimatum for the rail services to shut down by June 17 based on what it described as 150 instances of breaching ongoing safety issues. In an interview with The Lithgow Mercury, Michael Forbes, general manager of the Zig Zag, described some of the grievances being extolled by bureaucratic decision makers.
“Virtually all of the issues relate to the mountain of paper work imposed on organisations like ours by ITSR,” Michael Forbes said. “We get the same regulatory requirements as imposed on mainline rail services. If we need volunteers to man the trains or carry out trackwork it’s never a problem. But trying to get someone prepared to wade through the paperwork is a different story and as a result we have got behind,” he said.

To expect volunteer run organisations such as this to abide by every public transport standard guideline is like trying to get the weekend football sausage sizzle to conform to the safety regulations of a McDonalds. Practically it can’t be done, and to force it into play is nothing short of bureaucratic bullying. The Rail Regulator agrees there has not been any danger to passengers. There has only been one recorded fatality at the site, the case of a photographer getting a little to close to the edge of a cliff and falling off. Many more deaths would’ve likely occurred along the shoddy roads that lead there, which are maintained by the same governments presently inflicting this torment.

Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian, bowing to public pressure, said the government would provide expertise to address the safety concerns. “The Zig Zag Railway holds a special place in the hearts of many in NSW, and I have instructed Transport for NSW to provide its expertise to the organisation to see if it can meet the necessary safety obligations,” she said in a statement. But in a more foreboding recent proclamation, she added ‘it may be that the problems with Zig Zag are insurmountable’.

The Heritage Council of NSW on its own website praises the immense value of the Zig Zag Railway to NSW.
“The Great Zig Zag Railway is internationally recognised as a great feat of nineteenth century technology. Ever since it was first opened in the 1880s people have come from all over the world to marvel at this engineering masterpiece. It includes an extraordinary collection of railway bridges (also known as viaducts), tunnels and escarpments. The Zig Zag Railway runs a number of train tours which include commentary and photo opportunity stops. This is a must do during your visit to New South Wales.”
Well at the moment its not so much as a must do, but more of a can’t do.

What the Railway does have going for it is a proud history of heritage-tourism service, moving more than 2 million passengers over the years from all around the world, and a plethora of support, as we all know, rail buffs are a unique and resolute breed. A Save the Zig Zag facebook page has been created and visited by many already.
Click https://www.facebook.com/SaveTheZigZagRailway .

So Inheritance has no doubt there is light at the end of this railway tunnel, in the long term. But for now this is a lesson, not to let our finest heritage attractions be buried under mountains of modern day bureaucratic paperwork just to keep the NSW Govt public servants ahead of their dwindling relevance in heritage matters. In the public eye they are failures; failures to protect our heritage, our history, failures to act in the public’s interest, failures in the running of the state. The only thing they are good at is condemning, as they have done here. And, as is being played out here, only public response will overturn this putrid state mentality.

Title image Mike Smith courtesy The Telegraph

Now only a memory? Steam power crosses one of the several sandstone viaducts of the Zig Zag railway. Image source Destination NSW – Lithgow


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