Main Northern Line's golden era

Full steam ahead: A train heading north from Walcha Road Station in the 1920s.
Full steam ahead: A train heading north from Walcha Road Station in the 1920s.

Upwards of 3000 people attended the festivities at Uralla on August 2, 1882, which celebrated the official opening of the 63.5-mile extension of the Main Northern Line from West Tamworth; the day was declared a public holiday in the Armidale and Tamworth police districts. The program of events concluded with a ball in the highly decorated goods shed.

Construction of the line continued with a New Zealand contractor, David Proudfoot, in charge of the extension from Uralla to Glen Innes. Cobb and Co built the section from Glen Innes to Tenterfield while Stephens and Co was the contractor for the final stage from Tenterfield to the Queensland border at Wallangarra.

Armidale Station opened on February 3, 1883, Glen Innes on August 19, 1884 and Tenterfield on September 1, 1886. The line to Wallangarra was opened on January 16, 1888 where it met up with Queensland Rail’s narrow gauge line, which had reached that point some 12 months earlier.

By April 1887, a line had been opened between Strathfield and Brooklyn on the Hawkesbury, and also between Hamilton and Gosford. This allowed passengers to Sydney to travel by rail to Gosford, board the General Gordon for a three-hour ferry trip to Brooklyn, then catch the train waiting to take them to Sydney. This removed the need to suffer the “60 miles of seasickness” on a coastal steamer, which was earlier used for travel between Sydney and Newcastle.

The ferry trip was shortened on completion of the Woy Woy tunnel in August 1887 and eliminated by the opening the first rail bridge over the Hawkesbury on May 1, 1889. Problems with one of piers saw both load and speed limits applied to the bridge until it was replaced with a newer bridge in July 1946.

The decline of the Main Northern Line began with the opening of the North Coast Line, which reached the Queensland border north of Kyogle in September 1930. A standard gauge line was constructed from there to Brisbane, making it a much more convenient route for interstate rail traffic than the Main Northern Line, despite the tardiness in building a rail bridge across the Clarence River at Grafton, where a passenger ferry service was in use until May 1932.

Many stations along the Main Northern Line closed during the 1970s. Wallangarra was the first to go, closing in May 1973 with quite a few closing in February 1975, including Wollun and Kentucky South. Rail traffic north of Armidale ceased when Ben Lomond Station closed on December 10, 1985.