This week, with school holidays upon us, The Past Present is focusing on a holiday favourite – The Scenic Railway in Katoomba. This postcard, which dates to around 1935, shows the Scenic Railway in its early years as a tourist attraction. Although today we think of the Scenic Railway, the steepest incline tramway in the world, as a kind of tourist rollercoaster, it began its life as a working tramway, servicing mines.
The Scenic Railway was just one part of a network of tramways which serviced kerosene shale and coal mines in Katoomba. The tramways were built to bring coal and kerosene shale to the railway siding which was constructed in 1882. By 1895, the mines in the area were struggling and when in 1925 the Katoomba Colliery was registered, the tramways were decrepit. The Katoomba Colliery aimed to reopen the mine situated at the bottom of the hill, and sell coal to the Katoomba Power Station, the local hotels and residents. They needed a way to get the coal to the top of the hill though, so they set about fixing up the tramway which became known as The Scenic Railway.
In the late 1920s, the Scenic Railway had its first non-coal related passengers, a group of bushwalkers who were hauled up in a coal skip. Management realised the potential of the tramway and built seats into some of the coal skips. When The Great Depression struck, the mine closed, but the tramway continued to operate, now focusing on passengers and tourists. They replaced the coal skips with a specially built passenger car called ‘The Mountain Devil’. The rest, as they say, is history!