Thirty years ago today, the first electric train arrived in Wollongong.
And it was late – by nearly two months.
On February 4, 1986, the electrification of the train line to Wollongong was officially opened – with Transport Minister Barrie Unsworth riding the first train.
But it’s something that should have happened in December 1985, said University of Wollongong transport expert Associate Professor Philip Laird.
Prof Laird said the line was due to open on December 15, 1985 – the then State Rail Authority had even printed up timetables and special commemorative tickets.
“But then at the last minute they had to suspend the trains because of the Stanwell Park viaduct,” Prof Laird said.
“They mined too close to the supports of the Stanwell Park viaduct. It was closed down and they spent more than $6 million to strengthen the viaduct so it was safe to operate.”
Before February 4, 1986, the only way to get to Wollongong by rail was to catch a diesel train from Sydney.
“We had the oldest and slowest and fewest trains to Sydney compared with Gosford or the Blue Mountains,” Prof Laird said.
“Most of them were through-running diesels but there weren’t that many of them.”
In terms of travel time, they were generally slower than today’s run to Sydney.
“I can remember some of them taking two hours, particularly the all stops,” he said.
The Wran government announced plans to electrify the line in 1979 – at an estimated cost of $196 million.
The 1981 state budget had just $5 million allocated to the project. But, by 1983, Wollongong had become a marginal electorate and so got more attention – that year’s budget earmarking $50 million for the line.
Crews worked around the clock seven days a week until the line was finished – which cost of $230 million in 1985.
But it made a big difference for Wollongong.
“When we got the electric trains there were more of them and the reliability picked up,” Prof Laird said.
“There was an improved service so it was worth the wait.”