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Otford Tunnel Rail Trail opportunity

[We apologise that this story was originaly reproduced without proper acknowledgement of the author, Jamie Honan. Our careless plagiarism was in the interests of furthering the Rail Trails concept and no offense was intended. Ed.]

Original story by Jamie Honan

Photos and story courtesy of Rail Trails for NSW website,

An 1880s lack of foresight in the building of the rail line between Sydney and the Illawarra, could become a boon for cyclists.

“It was not a mistake made in building the line at a grade of one in forty… this was following the standards of the day having regard to the financial and engineering resources of the colony,” says Terry Boardman, from the NSW Railway History Society.

“As Illawarra industries multiplied and passenger numbers increased trains became heavier and the steeply graded track began to cause problems.

“When winds blew from the south and trains were ascending towards Otford the locomotive smoke tended to follow the train into, and through, the tunnel.”

The steam trains would stall, passengers and crew would choke, be overcome with fumes, and suffer burns in the tunnel.

A ventilation shaft was built in 1891, but the problems persisted. Eventually the line between Waterfall and Stanwell Park was replaced along a different route.

The remnants of the line are still present with the longest and most significant section being the 1550 metre Otford to Stanwell Park tunnel.

Fast forward to today.

The magnificent Sea Cliff Bridge, between Coalcliff and Clifton, forms the focal point of the Grand Pacific Drive.

Wollongong Council has plans to link a bike path from Stanwell Park to the extensive bike track already running from Thirroul down to Lake Illawarra. The Stoney Creek Bridge section already complete.

With the support of Rail Trails for NSW, a forward thinking group of Illawarra residents are asking for the Otford Tunnel to be opened for walkers and cyclists. The Tunnel is a significant Illawarra attraction, an historically significant landmark, that fits easily into Wollongong’s tourist and healthy lifestyle plans.

One benefit of the tunnel for cyclists would be the provision of a zero traffic route from Otford to Stanwell Park. At the moment, there is a short, narrow climb from the Otford Pie shop, then an easy descent to Bald Hill where the hang gliders launch, then a very narrow, steep descent down to Stanwell Park.

The existing northern route up the Stanwell Park hill can be daunting even for experienced cyclists. Coal trucks are an ever present threat.

Because existing roads have been built on the old railway route, access from the Standwell Park side should not be a problem. However, the northern end lies on privately leased property and is currently not accessible to the public.

A number of tourism opportunities already exist in the Otford area.

The Apple Pie Shop, only open weekends and public holidays, has provided sustenance for many cyclists after the long climb up from the Royal National Park.

Or perhaps you enjoyed a “Robber’s Dog”, a hot dog with a number of embellishments. The Hot Dog trailer at Bald Hill was run for many years by Rex ‘Buckets’ Jackson, the infamous Minister for Corrective Services who was himself sent to prison for organising the early release of prisoners to meet his gambling debts.  Jackson is still well regarded in the area, Helensburgh has a Rex Jackson park.

The original hot dog trailer is undergoing repairs.

Otford Cottage Bed & Breakfast is situated in the lush green valley of Otford. The houses are Heritage listed, brick semi-detached cottages built in the 1890s for the engineers and surveyors building the new south coast railway line. They have beautiful, original hardwood timber floors and 3 metre high timber ceilings along with fire places in the main rooms.

At the Apple Shack at Glenbernie Orchard you can taste the famous ‘Howler’ Cider, or even pick your own apples and nectarines.

For more information about the disused railway tunnels and other attractions in the Otford, Helensburgh, Stanwell Park area, visit:

For more Rail Trail information visit


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