Bombala railway line

The Bombala railway line is a branch railway line in the south of New South Wales, Australia. The northern part of it forms part of the main line from Sydney to Canberra, but the southern part is closed. It branches off the Main South line at Joppa Junction, south of Goulburn. The line is used by NSW TrainLink Xplorer services running between Sydney Central and Canberra station.

Bombala Line
Bombala railway at Mount Fairy.jpg
Bombala railway at Mount Fairy
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in)
Route map

Main South line at Joppa Junction
Lake Bathurst
Mount Fairy
junction of Captains Flat line
Brooks Bank Tunnel
Molonglo River Bridge
Pine Range Tunnels x2
Queanbeyan River Bridge
Ingalara Creek Bridge
Colinton Tunnel
Bredbo Rail Bridge
Numeralla River
Rock Flat
Holts Flat
An Xplorer crosses the Queanbeyan River headed for Canberra station


The line was opened in stages to Tarago (January 1884), Bungendore (March 1885), Queanbeyan (September 1887), Michelago (December 1887), Cooma (May 1889), Nimmitabel (April 1912) and Bombala (November 1921).[1]


The section of the line, between Bungendore and Queanbeyan, was the most challenging to construct, with three tunnels, a major sideling embankment along the Molonglo River gorge (also known as 'Pine Valley'), and two major bridges, across the Molonglo and Queanbeyan Rivers.[2]

The construction contract for the line from Bungendore to Michelago was awarded to Johnstone and Co., on 27 May 1884. They used 1,700 men on this section, with another 100 working around Tomakin to cut and saw timber.[3]

Queanbeyan station opened on 8 September 1887,[4] with work already well advanced on the extension to Michelago.


Michelago station opened on Wednesday, 7 December 1887. On the previous day, The Sydney Morning Herald published a detailed description of the engineering works done between Queanbeyan and Michelago.[5]


The contract for the Michelago to Cooma section was awarded to Walker & Swan on 18 August 1885. Cooma station opened on 31 May 1889.[6]

During construction of the railway from Michelago to Cooma, much of the major works in this section—four bridges, a tunnel and some cuttings and high embankments—lay between Michelego station and the far side of the Bredbo River. There was also a major bridge over the Numeralla River, The construction contractor had 600 men working on the line and living in tents.[3][7][2]

National capitalEdit

During the process of determining the site of the new national capital, consideration was given to extending the line to Bombala, Dalgety, and Delegate—all proposed national capital sites—with potential further extensions to the port of Eden and to reach the Victorian border to link to complementary extensions of the Victorian Railways.[8][9] The later extension to Bombala, was not related to the national capital selection.

After Canberra was selected as the capital, work began in 1913, on a short line to connect the new capital to then existing Cooma railway, at Queanbeyan.[10]


The Cooma railway line, as it was known at the time, is nominated in the description of the Australian Capital Territory in the Second Schedule of the Seat of Government Acceptance Act 1909. Although the railway lies entirely within New South Wales, from Brooks Bank Tunnel north of Burbong to the locality known as 'The Angle' (just south of the small settlement of Williamsdale), the western boundary of its corridor forms the border with the Australian Capital Territory.[11]

Nimmitabel and BombalaEdit

The line between Cooma and Nimmitabel opened in April 1912.[12] Work on the line beyond Nimmitabel was suspended, due to lack of funds during the First World War.[13] The extension of the railway to Bombala opened in November 1921.[14]

Closure of the southern end of the lineEdit

The Bombala line at Bredbo

On 26 March 1986, the line south of Cooma was closed.[15]

Passenger services south of Queanbeyan ceased in September 1988.[16] A bridge carrying the line over the Numeralla River at Chakola was declared unsafe so freight services south of Queanbeyan ceased in May 1989.[17] However a special steam train service did operate through to Cooma a few weeks later, albeit without passengers over the bridge in question.[18]

The line between Joppa Junction Goulburn and Queanbeyan remains open, and is served by three daily NSW TrainLink Xplorer services in each direction operating between Sydney and Canberra.[19] The majority of freight traffic on the line are refuse trains for the Woodlawn Bioreactor at Tarago.[20] Fuel trains ran to Canberra until January 2009.[21] From 6 March 2015, a joint venture between Espee Railroad Services (owned by the ACT division of the Australian Railway Historical Society) and local company Access Recycling began operating weekly freight trains loaded with scrap metal from Canberra to Port Botany via the Canberra branch and Bombala line.[22] This service with ended when Espee and the Canberra Railway Museum closed.

The 49 kilometre section between Queanbeyan and Michelago was also re-opened in April 1993 for heritage tourist operation by the ACT Division of the Australian Railway Historical Society.[23] The line available for traffic was truncated to Royalla as it deteriorated, until finally being suspended at the beginning of 2007 as a result of storm damage.

To reopen the line, substantial sleeper replacement will be required, approximately 16,000 pieces. In addition, one major timber bridge, at Jerrabomberra Creek, will need to be replaced, and some other minor bridgework and other works undertaken. The ARHS was investigating a large pile of steel sleepers that would probably have been sufficient that were lying unused along the northern line. However recovery work plan was never completed by the ARHS. The ARHS formally relinquished its lease on the Queanbeyan to Michelago section of track in 2011, and has subsequently concentrated its activities to boutique novelty trips for Canberra's population on the Canberra to Bungendore section of the line.[24]

In October 1999 Freight Australia commenced operating log trains a couple of kilometres south of Queanbeyan to Hume.[25] This freight though has now ceased also, with a stop block being placed at Queanbeyan, at 321.72 km, clear of Frame F crossover, signifying the current operational end of the Bombala line.[26]

At the Cooma end of the line, there is another heritage railway, the Cooma Monaro Railway, that was formed in 1992, when a group of local Cooma people decided to restore Cooma Railway Station.[27] After the group had restored the station, efforts were then made by the group to acquire some rolling stock and re-open a section of track. This came to fruition starting in 1998, with over 17 kilometres of railway track reopened and restored CPH railmotors operated between Cooma and Chakola.[28][29][30] Since January 2014, train movements though are suspended on this section of track while the CMR works towards compliance with the requirements of Rail Safety National Law.[31]

At the Bombala terminus, a railway museum has been created, with a view to increasing local tourism. It is highly unlikely that a tourist train service will be instituted though, with vast tracts of rail missing between Bombala and the preceding station at Bukalong siding.[32]

The futureEdit

The section of track between Michelago and Chakola remains an obstacle for the reopening of the line between Queanbeyan and Cooma. Realignment of the Monaro Highway has in a few cases encroached on the rail line reservation[33] and there is also the rail bridge over the Numeralla River which would need to be replaced to meet modern standards. Hope has been raised a number of times for the full reopening of the section of rail between Queanbeyan and Cooma. In recent times, mining operations have commenced near Cooma.

There have also been calls for the line to be used for local services from Canberra through Queanbeyan to Bungendore.[34]

The future of the far section of line from Cooma to Bombala seems less certain. Originally designed for the area's farmers to move their cattle, sheep and produce, this section seems to have fallen victim to the modern age.[35] Early last century, the builders of the Cooma to Bombala line hoped that some continuity would eventually follow, with future rail construction and services from Bombala continuing down south across the Victorian border. This is evidenced by the main line and perway at Bombala continuing some distance past the station. This joining up with the Victorian Railways network never eventuated, despite Victoria having a rail line 100 km away at Orbost until 1987.

In August 2018 the NSW government announced a $1m feasibility study to examine re-opening the Canberra to Bombala rail line, as well as the extension of the line to the Port of Eden.[36][37] The feasibility study (May 2020) concluded that a Canberra to Eden rail line was not viable, due to high costs and low returns, with a benefit-cost ratio of 0.1.[38] A rail trail has been proposed for the line, between Queanbeyan and Bombala as a means to preserve and make use of the rail corridor and its remaining heritage features,[39] although that could conflict with plans to reopen the tourist railway near Cooma.


The disused line south of Cooma is extensively featured within a 30-minute piece of digital art entitled "En Route" by Sue Healey.[40] The disused station at Jincumbilly is the most clearly identifiable section used. This is currently[when?] viewable on Wynscreen, a 23 m-long video screen constructed as part of the Wynyard Walk project.[40][41]



  1. ^ Stokes, HJW (1984). Railways of the Canberra and Monaro Districts. Canberra: Australian Railway Historical Society, ACT Division. pp. 4, 5.
  2. ^ a b "The Cooma Railway". Manaro Mercury, and Cooma and Bombala Advertiser (NSW : 1862 - 1931). 6 January 1886. p. 3. Retrieved 4 December 2020.
  3. ^ a b "OUR ILLUSTRATIONS. The Iron Horse and Cooma". Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 - 1912). 20 March 1886. p. 587. Retrieved 4 December 2020.
  4. ^ "Queanbeyan Railway Station group". New South Wales State Heritage Register. Office of Environment & Heritage. H01226. Retrieved 2 June 2018.
  5. ^ "GOULBURN TO COOMA RAILWAY EXTENSION". The Sydney Morning Herald. 6 December 1887. p. 4. Retrieved 8 January 2016 – via Trove (National Library of Australia).
  6. ^ "Cooma Railway Station and yard group | Heritage NSW". Retrieved 24 September 2021.
  7. ^ Plowman, Suzannah (September 2007). "Thematic History 1823 – 1945, Cooma-Monaro Shire, New South Wales". Victoria Design & Management Pty Ltd. p. 39.
  8. ^ "Southern Monaro [cartographic material]". Trove. Retrieved 6 October 2021.
  9. ^ "[General description of means of access to the sea from Dalgety] : to accompany my report of 27th October '05 description". Trove. Retrieved 6 October 2021.
  10. ^ Stokes, HJW (1984). Railways of the Canberra and Monaro Districts. Canberra: Australian Railway Historical Society, ACT Division.
  11. ^ "Documenting Democracy". p. 6. Retrieved 7 December 2021.
  12. ^ "NEW SOUTH WALES GOVERNMENT RAILWAYS". Government Gazette of the State of New South Wales. 17 April 1912. Retrieved 9 November 2021.
  13. ^ "The Railway". Bombala Times. 25 May 1917. Retrieved 9 November 2021.
  14. ^ "Bombala Line". Retrieved 6 October 2021.
  15. ^ "Last Train to Bombala". Railway Digest. June 1986. p. 184.
  16. ^ "Cooma". Railway Digest. February 1989. p. 55.
  17. ^ "Last Cooma Freight". Railway Digest. July 1989. p. 237.
  18. ^ "High Drama or Farce and Tragedy". Railway Digest. August 1989. p. 261.
  19. ^ "Southern timetable". NSW Trainlink. 7 September 2019.
  20. ^ Thrower, Louise (16 February 2012). "Waste on the double". Goulburn Post.
  21. ^ "Fuel by rail – A Victim of Progress". Trackside. 22 February 2010.
  22. ^ McIlroy, Tom (6 March 2015). "A new railway plan for Canberra's scrap metal". The Canberra Times.
  23. ^ Railway Digest. June 1993. pp. 213, 248, 260. {{cite magazine}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  24. ^ "Michelago Tourist Railway". Archived from the original on 9 March 2009. Retrieved 9 October 2010.
  25. ^ "Freight Victoria's NSW Log Traffic". Railway Digest. December 1999. p. 15.
  26. ^ "MTR Gone?". Railpage.[user-generated source?]
  27. ^ "History". Cooma Monaro Railway. Archived from the original on 22 January 2013.
  28. ^ "Rail Returns to Snowy Mountains". Railway Digest. January 1999. p. 42.
  29. ^ "Cooma News". Railway Digest. July 1999. p. 44.
  30. ^ "Operations". Canberra Monaro Railway. Archived from the original on 18 October 2012.
  31. ^ "Railway stopped". Cooma Monaro Express. Fairfax Regional Media. 13 February 2014. Archived from the original on 9 April 2016. Retrieved 24 June 2014.
  32. ^ "Bringing back some of railway's past". Bombala Times. Fairfax Regional Media. 24 April 2013. Retrieved 24 June 2014.
  33. ^ "Sleepers". Railway Digest. February 1992. p. 52.
  34. ^ "Reopening of train line makes sense: Queanbeyan Mayor". News Online. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 3 October 2006. Archived from the original on 9 November 2008. Retrieved 7 November 2007.
  35. ^ "The Old Bombala Road and rail line". ABC South East NSW. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 6 June 2014. Retrieved 24 June 2014.
  36. ^ "Canberra to Eden rail link to be investigated". Merimbula News. 22 August 2018. Archived from the original on 22 August 2018.
  37. ^ "Study to investigate rail link between Canberra and the Port of Eden". Rail Express. 23 August 2018.
  38. ^ Canberra to Port of Eden Feasibility Study, Executive Summary. New South Wales Government. 2020.
  39. ^ "Home". Monaro Rail Trail. Retrieved 9 January 2021.
  40. ^ a b "About". Sue Healey. Retrieved 6 February 2021.
  41. ^ "Wynscreen". Transport for NSW. 5 February 2021. Retrieved 6 February 2021.

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