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The Lithgow Zig-Zag

Zig Zag map
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The Lithgow Zig Zag was created where the Main West line descends the western side of the Great Dividing Range, about 100km west of Sydney. In order to reach the bottom, the track switches back on itself twice. The Lithgow Zig Zag was opened in 1869 and remained in use until 1910 when it was bypassed by a different route utilizing 10 tunnels to descend the range.

Stage 1 - 1869 to 1897

The original single line headed north from Mount Victoria along the ridge known as the Darling Causeway. It then turned west and entered the Dargans Creek valley. After climbing out the head of this valley it reached an escarpment where the Zig-Zag was constructed to reach the valley floor. From here it continued west to Lithgow. This section was opened on 18 October 1869.

There was one station in the section, Clarence, and two tunnels (Clarence Tunnel and Zig Zag Tunnel). The former was located just to the west of Clarence, with the second in the Middle Road of the Zig Zag itself. There was to be a third tunnel between Zig Zag Tunnel and Bottom Points, but this was opened out during construction.

Stage 2 - 1897 to 1910

In 1897, the first major change was made, known as Dargans Deviation. This involved traversing the Dargans Creek Valley on the northern side of the creek instead of the south.

The line was still single-track at this point, and this soon became a bottleneck. In order to alleviate this, electric staff crossing loops were added at Edgecombe in 1901 (between Clarence and Top Points) and Dargans in 1902 (between Bell and Clarence).

In 1906, a new junction and station were constructed at the first Newnes Junction. The junction was for the private Newnes Line.

Stage 3 - 1910 - present

By 1910, it had become evident that a new route was required for the descent to Lithgow. Accordingly a new route, known as the Ten Tunnels Deviation, was built. As its name suggests, it featured 10 new tunnels, and it bypassed the Zig Zag. The new route broadly followed the previous one as far as Newnes Junction, before turning south and taking a more circuitous route via the tunnels to emerge from the final one near the base of the Zig Zag.

The existing stations were all closed, with Newnes Junction relocated closer to Sydney, and a new Clarence station built where the line goes under the Bells Line of Road.

The Newnes Line closed after 25 years of operation in 1932, and only the formation remains.

In 1972, a group of enthusiasts formed the Zig Zag Cooperative, and took over the track between the original Clarence station and Bottom Points. The tracks was relaid to narrow gauge and ex-Queensland rolling stock obtained with the goal of running a tourist railway over the line. Today, the Zig Zag Railway is a successful tourist operating based at the restored Clarence station.

In 1980, a balloon loop was constructed near Newnes Junction to serve the nearby Clarence Colliery.


Little sign of the original formation remains, as it has been taken over by the Bells Line of Road. The Zig Zag Railway is running a thriving operation between Clarence and Bottom Points. A new Cityrail platform, Zig Zag was constructed on the Main Western line to allow public transport access to the Zig Zag. The previous stations at Newnes Junction and Clarence have closed, with little trace of the latter remaining.

In recent year, rail traffic on the Clarence Balloon Loop has ceased. Taking advantage of this, the Zig Zag railway are planning to extend their operations over the former Dargans Deviation into Newnes Junction station.