Townsend's Colo Valley Railway Scheme

Last updated Feb 2016

Full name: George William Townsend (or "Townshend")
Birth date and place: 1834, Rugby, England.
Death date and place: 1919, Sydney

Early employment

In 1873 Townsend was employed as a managing engineer by the Great Britian Tin-mining company near Emmaville, NSW [4]. He also worked as an engineer for Indian railways [2] 3.

Working for the Railway Department of NSW

In 1874, Townsend was employed as a railway surveyor by the Railway Department of NSW. He resigned from this position and joined the existing lines branch in 1882, where he was employed as an engineer and draftsman [12].

In late 1883, Townsend requested a month's leave of absence to explore a new railway route west from Richmond via the Colo Valley. This was an area he had explored some years earlier [1]. 1 He was granted permission and was allowed to take a small party of men with him. After this trip he reported that he believed a railway line with gentler grades than the existing Blue Mountains line could be made along this route.[2] (The Blue Mountains line at the time descended from the mountains via the zig-zag railway route).

Townsend was subsequently given orders to undertake a more thorough survey of the Colo Valley route. He completed this in 1887, and provided an estimated cost of constructing a railway line through this country from Kurrajong, via Wheeny Creek, along the Colo and Capertee valleys. However, the Engineer-in-Chief, Mr Whitton, strongly disagreed with Townsend's analysis and thought the line would be significantly more costly to build through this rugged country [5]. T.H.F Griffin believed it was an impractical route, saying the Colo country " amongst the most rugged and impassable to be found in the colony..." and also pointing out the risks of frequent landslides and floods in this country [3].

Townsend's route, as marked on the parish maps of the era, clings mostly to the western side of the Colo, but crosses the gorge at four places - upstream of Angorawa Creek, downstream of Canoe Creek, and twice near Dooli Creek. In addition to this, the route crosses at least another 16 main creeks and rivers, some of which would be as difficult to cross as the Colo itself. Add to this the large number of tunnels and cuttings required, and the price for construction starts to look astronomical.

In 1888, ex-railways surveyor George Jamieson had this to say about the Colo route:

"Some 30 years ago things were very different from what they are now... If the Engineer-in-Chief had proposed a railway up the valley of the Grose, with 21 miles of tunnelling, 5,338,000 cubic yards of excavations, 5 miles of bridges and viaducts, some of which are 200ft. high, as proposed by Mr. Townsend on the Colo Valley, he would have been considered a fit subject for a lunatic asylum." [13]

Wheeny Creek

Tootie Creek and Mt Townsend

Angorawa Creek to Wollemi Creek

Capertee River
The surveyed route as shown on some of the parish maps for: Colo, Wheeny, Bowen, Wollangambe North, Wollemi, Govett, and Capertee

The last mention of the Colo Valley railway scheme comes from the Sydney Morning Herald of December 1890:

"The report of Mr. E. B, Price on the proposed Colo Valley Railway was laid upon the table of the Legislative Assembly a few evenings ago. The document showed that the line had been surveyed from Emu Plains to Rylstone, on the Mudgee line, and there appeared to be little doubt that 1 in 100 grades and 20-chain curves could be obtained right through, though at enormous expense. Mr. Townsend estimated the cost at 3,500,000, but Mr. Whitton considered the line could not be constructed under 5,000,000. The greater portion of the new country that would be opened up appeared to be of little value - too small, in fact, to do more than pay for the maintenance of the line. Its principal traffic would be derived from the area at present served by the existing railway. No scheme had yet been brought under notice which offered equal advantages to the proposal to duplicate and improve the mountain section of the existing railway. Even should a suitable alternative line be afterwards discovered, the money spent in duplication would not be lost, as the mountain traffic alone would before long become too great for a single track."[7]

The rugged country that Townsend's proposed line would have had to pass through.

The survey track now

For much of its length, the survey track was constructed on a natural step in the cliffs about 50-100 metres above the river on the western side of the gorge. Over the years, a few bushwalkers have reported finding low rock retaining walls marking an old track in various places. However the track has mostly been overgrown and washed away over the past century.



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