Smokey Mountain facing the bulldozer

The former Smokey Mountain and Grizzly Flats Railroad has closed after five decades of providing a place for locomotive enthusiasts and tourists to enjoy the joys of steam trains.

The Railroad was first opened in 1967 by Arthur Birch at the Australian Reptile Park before being relocated to its current site on Mountain Rd in Halloran in 1975.

The ‘new’ site officially opened to tourists in 1977 and visitors could enjoy a ride along the four kilometres of track winding through the bush and wetlands at the site.

Former volunteer at the Smokey Mountain and Grizzly Flats Railroad, Ray McDonald, said the park saw tourists and enthusiasts from all walks of life visit before it was closed to the public in 1998.

“The railroad officially opened to the public in 1977 and it closed in 1998.

During this period, the railroad saw 450,000 people travel on the railway.

“All we really had at the site was the trains and a picnic area.

The Railroad in the early days, somewhere between 1973-75

“It was really for train enthusiasts as it is the only site with a 12-inch gauge.

“I started as a volunteer in 1997 where I started out cleaning and firing the engines, and eventually I ended up driving them.

“One of my favourite memories of the railroad was when I purchased one of the locomotives.

“I’ve been a train enthusiast since I was seven years old, so it was quite special to me when I had the opportunity to buy one of the trains,” McDonald said.

The railroad was closed in 1998 due to Council re-zoning the site, requiring the railroad to apply for a new development application to continue operating which McDonald said would have costed over $1M.

The closure was also a result of the inflated cost of public liability insurance after an incident that year.

Since then, the railroad has been operating a few days a year for family and friends.

“Before COVID, we were having three to four running days for family and friends, and on these days we would run the trains around the track from 9am to 5pm.

“The public were never directly invited to these days, but friends who were invited were always welcome to invite their friends.

“They were pretty fun days and I’m not sure how more people didn’t hear about it as the trains certainly made a lot of noise.

“Apparently you could hear the whistle of the train from Warnervale Station,” McDonald said.

The last trains were run on October 8.

Today, the railroad is facing the bulldozer, as the site is being re-developed into an industrial park.

McDonald says the trains currently at the site will most likely be moved into storage, as there are no suitable places in NSW for the trains to be relocated.

While it may be the end of the line for the Smoky Mountain and Grizzly Flats Railroad, its legacy will live on YouTube, where the channel Warnervale Steam Railway features all kinds of videos on the railroad including slideshows of old photos and point of view ride-alongs.

Harry Mulholland

4 Comments on "Smokey Mountain facing the bulldozer"

  1. adrian samuel | October 20, 2021 at 12:43 pm |

    Thank you for the article about the end of the railway, as the only surviving member of the group of three who started the monumental task of building the railway fifty years ago, it is sad to deal with its demise, but with the area now changing from rural to factory sites, for the railway to continue in its present location would be a financial nightmare to deal with, unfortunately to relocate the railway to another acreage in the area would face a similar problem.
    I have considered starting the process all over again, but time & mainly the money side is the problem, therefore what we set out & achieved fifty years ago can no longer be realised a second time.
    We had always hoped that the railway would continue to exist for future generations of children & adults to experience & enjoy, as it does in other countries, but unfortunately that will not happen.
    I would like to keep the collection of steam locomotives & rail equipment together as I either built or maintained them, but they will be probably sold and dispersed to other parts of the country & overseas.

  2. Andrew Tailby | October 23, 2021 at 3:55 pm |

    I remember this place as a child going for a ride or 2 and its a shame that it closed to the public as could have been another tourist draw card for the coast and kept the bush area instead of seeing it all removed to make way for new homes

  3. Peter Lougher | October 23, 2021 at 11:57 pm |

    Well said Adrian. A very sad time for you and all involved. What a shame.

  4. Peter Lougher | October 24, 2021 at 12:00 am |

    Well said Adrian. A sad time for everyone. What a shame.

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