Zig Zag railway opening day, people standing near steam train

“It’s magic”: Restoring the heart of the Zig Zag Railway

The Zig Zag Railway (ZZR) workshop has been returned to its former glory as part of a project managed by NSW Public Works, enabling the iconic railway to operate at full capacity.

After a 10-year closure, passenger services resumed at the Zig Zag Railway in May 2023 to the delight of locals and visitors.

This was, in part, possible because the ZZR workshop had recently been refurbished.

“The restored workshop provides an area to carry out the servicing of the rolling stock and the rest of their operations to maintain their tourism operations and the Zig Zag Railway network,” said Aaron McDonald, Project Manager, NSW Public Works.

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Zig Zag Railway workshop project - restoring the heart of the railway

A substantial refurbishment

In February 2022, Crown Lands engaged NSW Public Works to administer the contract and project manage the construction phase of the workshop project.

“The ZZR workshop project involved the reconstruction of the workshop, which was damaged in 2013 from bushfire and flood events,” said Mr McDonald.

We bring in a range of project managers with experience in many disciplines across the construction space and provide advice throughout the construction phase. “NSW Public Works also facilitates the collaboration between contractor and principal and other stakeholders during the construction phase.”

The project was funded by the NSW Government through Crown Lands.

“Crown Lands contributed $3.6 million towards a larger overall effort to assist the Zig Zag Railway property return to service after a decade-long break caused by storm and fire damage to their facilities,” said Greg Sullivan, Executive Director, Land and Asset Management, NSW Crown Lands.

The existing workshop was substantially refurbished.

“Major structural components were replaced, new cladding for walls and roof, very significant upgrades in terms of fire safety and, importantly the construction of retaining walls to stabilise the site,” he said.

The workshop project, completed in September 2023, complements efforts by the ZZR Co-op to restore the railway and rebuild its safety management system to get accreditation to resume passenger services.

Zig Zag railway workshop damage photos
Zig Zag Railway workshop - prior to restoration

Logistics and access challenges

The complex workshop project required teams to work through logistics and access issues.

“The complexity really stems from the very inaccessible site coupled with the fact that the workshop is actually only a couple of metres away from an operating railway,” said Mr Sullivan. “Getting equipment and materials onto the site was only possible with the cooperation of the rail authorities and could only be done when the rail line was not in operation.”

Working close to the Sydney Mainline was a major challenge.

“It’s a live train line with 15,000 volts DC out there,” said Geoff Parish, Construction Manager Central West, Joss Facility Management, the principal contractor.

“We've had a pretty close relationship with Sydney trains, and the local signalling reworks have been fantastic for the project.”

Mr McDonald added, “With a construction project where you've already got the users of that space operating during the construction, that brings additional complexity to the project.” “Zig Zag Railway Co-op and Joss worked really well together to make sure that everyone can do what they need to do concurrently through the construction phase of this job.”

Mr Sullivan agreed that collaboration was key to the project’s success.

It's only really been able to be successfully delivered through a very collaborative effort between Crown Lands and our partners, NSW Public Works and the Joss Group, as well as Sydney trains, the Council and the Rural Fire Service.”

The project also engaged and developed relationships with trades and suppliers from the local area.

“We had plumbers and steel workers from Bathurst, and got painters and carpenters from the Lithgow region,” said Mr Parish.

Zig Zag Railway opening day images of steam train in operation and completed workshop
Zig Zag Railway opening day and completed workshop

“A special project”

The 154-year-old railway dates back to 1869 when it first opened as part of the Main Western rail line serving mountain runs until 1910, when a track deviation was installed.

“I was lucky to attend the re-opening of the Zig Zag railway in May this year,” said Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Jenny Aitchison, “and it was great to see this iconic tourist attraction welcome back families and rail enthusiasts alike after several setbacks including bushfires, floods and storm damage.

The restoration and opening of its locomotive workshops today will ensure this much-loved historic railway will be able to showcase Australia’s steam train era to a new generation of young trainspotters."

Rebuilding the workshop was a “special project”, said Daniel Zolfel, Acting CEO, Zig Zag Railway Co-operative.

“Not only for Zigzag Railway, but the people delivering the works, JOSS Facility Management, NSW Public Works and Crown Land.

Without this team, we absolutely wouldn’t have been able to undergo such a large scale and intricate project, given the logistical issues, positioning and the geographical issues of the place and sheer demand on the work.”

“[The] Department of Crown Lands and NSW Public Works have been essential in delivering this project,” said Mr Zolfel.

For the first time in 10 years, since 2013, ZZR staff and volunteers can work in a dry, safe and secure space with everything they need to do their jobs appropriately.

“We are now kicking off another restoration of a steam locomotive. We're increasing our staff levels, so we're employing from the local Lithgow areas and the surrounds. “We're going to be able to increase our passenger carrying capacity and operate more frequently.

“As a not-for-profit organisation, for every dollar we make, we invest it back into the business. So, the more capacity and more money we're generating, the more steam locomotives and the more experiences we can bring online.”

Since the railway opened in May 2023, weekend train trips have sold out.

“Just being able to bring the magic and power of steam to the state and to everyone who's visiting our railway is really special,” said Mr Zolfel.

“We're sold-out weekend after weekend, and that is magic.”