Cowra's Railway History
Opened in 1923, Cowra Depot and roundhouse is the state's last survivor of medium sized railway depots designed to serve country areas, usually at the junction of one or more branch lines.
Situated mid point on a secondary main line connecting the southern railway to Melbourne VIC, with the main western line, Cowra also served the needs of two branch lines to Eugowra and Grenfell.
At its peak the depot employed 118 men with many more engaged at the station & on track maintenance. When it was finally abandoned in 1985 less than a handful remained. Those remaining drivers were relocated to the station, with no locomotives to be based in Cowra. The last unit, diesel shunting engine X211 having left in 1981.
The last passenger trains to both Blayney & Harden left on consecutive days in November 1983.
Freight lingered on the Blayney line until 1987 when that section closed, and, in December 1989 Cowra ceased to be an active depot with the last train under local control leaving for Harden on the 13th.
Seasonal winter traffic continued on the Cowra - Harden section with trains being stabled south of the Lachlan River while locomotives proceeded to the station for safe working duties.
Passenger services on the branch lines to Eugowra & Grenfell ceased in 1974 with goods trains hanging on until 1991.
There was later a revival of wheat services on the Grenfell line as far as Greenthorpe.
Cowra & The Lachlan Valley Railway Society
With the closure of the Cowra locomotive depot the responsibility for its preservation passed to the Lachlan Valley Railway Society which has maintained a presence there since 1977. Within a few months the roundhouse precinct have been transformed with extensive track resleepering and gardens, setting things up just in time for the Centennary of Railways to Cowra which took place on October 1986.
Following the closure of the Cowra – Blayney section negotiations began to allow LVR to operate heritage trains on the line, resulting in the first train between Cowra and Holmwood, a distance of 6km on 31st October 1992.
It was not long before services were extended to Blayney with LVR even operating diesel hauled wheat trains to Woodstock on that line and Trajere on the Eugowra Line in 1993-94
A government decision in 1999 to reopen the Cowra – Blayney section saw LVR lose it is exclusive use rights, however trains are still able to operate until the latest closure took place, first to Blayney and then Harden in 2009.
Since that time LVR has operated steam and diesel trains in other parts of the state however those still in Cowra remain landlocked. Moves are currently underway to once again reopen a short section of the Blayney line for heritage train operations.
From the time LVR arrived in Cowra in 1977 there has been a policy that in order to preserve the rollingstock it must first be protected.
The first shed was started almost immediately which was large enough to hold three carriages side-by-side. This policy continued for 20 years resulting in the present complex, which can house over 55 carriages and engines undercover; The largest in New South Wales.
Sadly there are still items in the open, some in desperate need of protection and some beyond help. There are plans for more covered storage but as always, money is the main enemy.
LVR has four steam locomotives, 5917, 3237, 5367 and 3026 as well as a rare vertical boilered Harman Steam Crane. The 59 and 32 currently operating elsewhere in NSW, while others are on display in the roundhouse. There are five CPH diesel railcars from the 1920s numbered 12, 16, 24, 25 and 31.
Three of these are based in Cootamundra for tours and charters, while 31 and 16 at Cowra; 31 under restoration and 16 in store.
Several later railcars of the 620 and 900 class are also waiting restoration.
To diesel shunting engines are on site to move things around when required these are ex-BHP D9 and ex NSW Water board "Planet".
There are several large timber sleeping and sitting cars from the early 20th century on display as well as several assorted freight trucks and vans.
After the depot opened in 1923 it was decided to construct a memorial to honour local railwaymen who gave their lives in the Great War 1914 - 18. After the Second World War more names were added.
This memorial has recently been restored and is now a feature of the once award-winning gardens. When the society took over the depot these had deteriorated to weeds and knee-high grass, however while not quite up to their previous standard, the gardens are tranquil place to reflect on what was once an extremely important part of our transport history.
The present day Lachlan Valley Railway Heritage Centre is not just a sterile, static museum, but rather a functioning rail facility where restoration and maintenance of locomotives and carriages is carried on in much the same and it has for over 90 years, albeit on a much smaller scale.
Lachlan Valley Railway Heritage Centre is open 9:00 to 5:00 every day except Christmas Day
Resident guy Eddie will be happy to show you around or you can take advantage of the self-guided map & brochure available on-site or by downloading it here