The start of the Main Northern Railway line through Walcha

Original idea for Armidale: An artist’s impression of a horse drawn railway running on wooden rails.
Original idea for Armidale: An artist’s impression of a horse drawn railway running on wooden rails.

The 1856 proposal by the governor of NSW, William Denison, to terminate the steam railway on the Main Northern Line at Lochinvar, with a horse-drawn tramway used from there to Armidale, was overturned in 1857 after argument by John Whitton, the newly installed engineer-in-chief of the Railways Department.

The Newcastle to West Maitland portion of the Main Northern Line was opened in July 1858 but it was not until October 14, 1878 that it reached West Tamworth. In the meantime, there were many meetings and much lobbying in regard to the path of the extension north of Tamworth.

One plan put forward was for an isolated line connecting the Port of Grafton to the tablelands with feeder lines to Tenterfield in the north and Armidale in the south. It failed to gain support in New England.

Another plan was for a line from Tamworth to Tenterfield via Manilla, Barraba and Inverell to avoid the high cost of climbing onto and descending from the tablelands. It failed due to superior political clout by the voters of New England.

After much discussion, and a change of government, the plan to have the line pass through Uralla, Armidale, Glen Innes and Tenterfield on its way to Wallangarra was adopted. Armidale residents successfully opposed a variation to the plan that saw Armidale bypassed by several miles to save the cost of building the line through some difficult terrain.

In the meantime, there had been plenty of lobbying to have the railway pass directly through Walcha, but this was never considered to be viable due to higher construction costs with little if any increase in revenue.

Walcha did however lobby successfully for some changes to the original planning. The Commissioner for Railways wrote to the local Railway Committee on May 12, 1880 advising that the station to service Walcha was to be located at the 227-mile peg from Newcastle. C.D. Fenwick replied on behalf of the local committee saying: “A large public meeting at Walcha found the location to be objectionable and concluded that a station at the 222-mile peg would be the most suitable as it would save five miles of railway and four miles of road.”

The government reversed its earlier decision and agreed to the present location of the station at Walcha Road. This required significant extra work including the cutting away of the hillside at the station site and the removal of some 40,000 cubic yards of rock and soil.