Burrinjuck Railway Background


Railway Plans

Key Features of the Railway

Types of Traffic Carried

Railway Operation

NSWGR Railway Operation

Further Reading


The Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area (MIA) was conceived as an ambitious scheme to provide water to the Riverina area in southern New South Wales to enable more stable food production. It required that the flow of local river and creek systems needed to be diverted or dammed.

The system is still regarded as a major engineering achievement comprising an elaborate series of weirs, canals and holding ponds (fed by upstream rivers and dams).

The construction of the "Barren Jack Dam and Murrumbidgee Canals Construction Act, 1906" was assented to on 19 December 1906 by the NSW Government. The centre piece of this act was the construction of the Barren Jack (Burrinjuck) Dam.

The Dam was to consist of a 200 feet (61m) high concrete walls and would require 50,000 tonnes of Portland cement. During the construction phase it was estimated that there would be up to 2000 people living at the Dam construction site and that transportation for approximately 100 tonnes per day of materials would be required to sustain them.

Access to the dam was through a number of steep river valleys.


Railway Plans

To meet the transportation requirements for the dam construction a number of options were investigated, including:

  • Road Transport - the building of a road and the use of a traction engine to haul the loads was considered, but discounted due to the cost of maintenance and the steepness of the terrain.
  • Standard Gauge Rail - was also considered to reduce the need to tranship goods from the mainline, but was also discounted due to cost and access problems.
  • Narrow Gauge Rail - was finally adopted due to the rugged terrain and the need for steep gradients and tight curves. The narrow gauge option allowed for minimum curves of 30m, rather then the more normal minimum curves of 100m required for standard gauge.

Finally on 13 March 1907, the Minister for Public Works authorised construction of the narrow gauge railway, from Goondah to Burrinjuck. The railway's parameters were as follows:

  • Length of the line: 26 miles 20 chains (42.23 kilometres)
  • Gauge: 24 inches (610 millimetres)
  • Rails: British Standard 30 lb per yard (13.4 kg per metre)
  • Sleepers: Hardwood 8 x 4 inches spaced at 2 feet centres (200 x 100 mm at 600 mm centres)
  • Minimum radius of curves: 1.5 chains (30.2 metres) compensated
  • Maximum gradients: 1 in 30 against the load, 1 in 25 with the load

Four (4) Krauss tank locomotives were purchase to operate the railway. These locomotives only had small storage capacities for coal and water. A train hauling 150 tons needed to stop four times enroute for coal and water re-filling. Though it appears more likely that a load of approx 40 tons was the norm for a train up the steep gradients from Burrinjuck.

The railway was opened for traffic in June 1908 and operated through to 1928.


Key Features of the Railway


Goondah (201.5 miles) was a station on the Main South line from Sydney. It was the transhipment point for all material and people travelling to Burrinjuck. In 1907, When the Burrinjuck railway was originally built, the main south was only a single track. An extensive depot and small village was established at Goondah to support the operation of the Railway.

In 1916, the Main South line through Goondah was duplicated and diverted to eliminate some steep gradients. This resulted in the need for the narrow gauge line to cross the standard gauge line. Over the years, this crossing was the subject of disagreements between the Railways and the Water Commission.

Goondah is an Aboriginal word for "storm" or "rain".

Three Mile

This was a coaling and watering point, with a loop provided for passing. Firewood was also loaded here.


This was a coaling and watering point, with a loop provided for passing. Firewood, wool and general goods were also loaded here. A platform was included to support the local population.

Wood Siding

Siding for the loading of firewood, located at the present intersection of the Burrinjuck Dam Access and Black Range Roads.


This was the highest point on the railway at 2,129 feet (650m) and had a coaling and watering point, with a loop provided for passing. A platform was included to support the local population. A firewood loading ramp was sited just before the Summit loop.

Swifts (also called 16m 40c)

This was a loop provided for passing. A platform was included to support the local population and was probably named after the local land owner.

Lake De Burgh

This was a coaling and watering point, with a loop provided for passing.

Log Siding

Siding for the loading timber and firewood. The siding was only used for a short time.

Corris's Siding

Setting down and picking up point at the extreme eastern end of the settlement in the Burrinjuck valley. Named after Harry Corris, one of the local residents.

Owen's Siding

Was a railway station and passing loop. Named after the local landholder, whose property was resumed for the Burrinjuck Dam and storage.

Featherstones's Siding

Fettling camp and track maintenance depot. Featherstone may have been the fettler ganger or foreman.

Aitcheson's Siding

Siding for the Contractor's depot and living area. Named after Donald Aitcheson, Foreman in Charge, Main Wall Construction for the Contractor. The Contractor for the dam was the firm of Lane and Peters, Civil Engineers and Contractors, Sydney.


Passenger and goods freight terminal, locomotive coaling and watering stage, locomotive shed. The locomotive turntable was approximately 0.5 kilometres further on.


The end of the Government Line, as defined in the General Conditions of Contract, Barren Jack Dam contract beyond which were the power station, firewood stack, cement and materials storage, and the site of the Burrinjuck Dam Works.


Types of Traffic Carried

The railway carried a significant quantity of people and materials as described below. This is all the more significant as it all had to be transhipped from the Standard gauge system to Narrow Gauge at Goondah.


Due to the remoteness of the dam, the railway carried workers, sightseers and parliamentary dignitaries to and from the site. Over it 20 year life more then 60,000 passengers were carried.


One of the key materials used in the construction of the dam was Portland Cement, and during the life of the dam over 59,600 tons was railed to the site.


Timber was used in the Dam Power Station to generate electricity. Timber was harvested locally and resulted in significant clearing of the local area. The railway carried over 80,000 tons of logs and firewood.

General Freight

To cater for the workers and their families as well as general building materials, the railway carried over 22,600 tons of general freight. This would no doubt have included local wool that was sometimes carried for local farmers.


The railway was well ballasted and maintained. The railway carried over 31,900 tons of Ballast. Most of this came from the local NSWGR Quarry at Illalong Creek.


Railway Operation

Rolling Stock
  • Locomotives - 4 Krauss 0-4-0 tank steam locomotives (named Jack, Dulcie, Archie and Robin)
  • Wagons - 9 x 10 ton wagons and 18 x 15 ton wagons
  • Passenger Cars - 6 x Passenger cars of various types
  • Guards Van - 1 x Guards van that doubled as a covered van
  • Petrol Railmotor - 1
  • Hopper Wagons - used to carry ballast and on the Sand Railway.
Signalling and Safe Working

Hand signals and signs were as used by the NSWGR. The only signals on the route were the ones protecting the crossing of the NSWGR line at Goondah. Each passing loop had a telephone box and no train was to leave the passing loop without first obtaining a "line clear" report from Burrinjuck. Train crews were instructed to keep a special look out for trains.

Despite the rather rudimentary signalling arrangements the line operated for 20 years without a major accident.

Train Running

Due to the limited water and coal capacity on the locomotives they were required to stop at four locations on their journey between Goondah and Burrinjuck.

The allowed approximate running time from Goondah to Burrinjuck was approximately 2hrs.

Schedule of Running Times


Passenger Trains (mins)

Goods Trains (mins)

Goondah to Three Mile



Three Mile to Marilba



Summit to 16m. 40c. (Swifts)



(Swifts) 16m. 40c. to Lake de Burgh



Lake de Burgh to Owen's



Owen's to Burrinjuck




NSWGR Operational Information

NSWGR Timetable and Shunting Instructions

Passengers and Goods traffic was carried to Goondah by the NSWGR and this operational information applied during the period of operation of the Burrinjuck Railway.

NSWGR Locomotive Load Table for Goondah Section of Main South

The tables below, from 1916 Engine Loads book, show the allowable loads for different classes of locomotives operating on the Main Southern Line in the operating period of the Burrinjuck Railway. The locomotive class numbers in brackets indicate the 1924 Numbering System, e.g. - Z12 is a 1200 Class locomotive.

Down Direction:


C (Z12), D261 (Z16)

E (Z20), S (C30)

A (Z19), B (Z24, Z25), I (Z26)

L (Z21, Z22)

P (C32)

N (C34)

NN (C35)

T (D50), TF (D53)

TF (superheated)

Goulburn to Demondrille Jct.










Up Direction


C (Z12), D261 (Z16)

E (Z20), S (C30)

A (Z19), B (Z24, Z25), I (Z26)

L (Z21, Z22)

P (C32)

N (C34)

NN (C35)

T (D50), TF (D53)

TF (superheated)

Harden to Cullerin










NSWGR Wagons and Passenger Cars used on Main South

Goods Wagons - were mostly 4-wheel stock, such as D, S, SS, C, IC, U, KH, etc. Early Bogie Vans were also represented on the line.


Further Reading

Many good references exist for this railway, perhaps the best if the following book:

The Goondah-Burrinjuck Railway by John R Newland