Lilyvale No.1 Tunnel (Tunnel No. 5) & Lilyvale No.2 (Tunnel No. 6) – Closed
While researching the old single line railway alignment throughout Helensburgh and surrounds, I discovered the existence of the Lilyvale No.1 tunnel (Tunnel No. 5), through the use of Google Earth and old maps of the area. The Lilyvale Tunnel No.1 formed part of the original South Coast/Illawarra Line which was born out of the need to link the area to Sydney with a rail line as the southern coal fields and extensive farming required this.
The Lilyvale No.1 tunnel (Tunnel No. 5), is an 80m single track tunnel with a slight curvature and one set of manholes in the middle on each side. It opened on the 3rd October 1888 and closed permanently on the 20th May 1915.
The Lilyvale No.2 tunnel (Tunnel No.6), is an 322m single track tunnel, opening on the 3rd October 1888 and closed permanently on the 30th May 1915.
A 27 year old life span is quite short for these two tunnels, and it appears the government of the time had a lack of fore sight. Both tunnels were used for mushroom cultivation after they ceased being used for the railways. My father has relayed stories of a gentleman he knew who used to run the mushroom production in both tunnels. He’d have to monitor the compost temperatures very closely for maximum mushroom cultivation.
At around 12 years of age I used to ride my motorbike down Lilyvale road, pass Bucky’s place and head on through Lilyvale Tunnel No.2. My friends and I would go a short way into the tunnel and turn the bikes off and wait for our eyes to adjust to the darkness. We would then start the bikes and head through the tunnel. As you head through the No.2 tunnel, it is dead straight until the last 50 odd meters, there it curves north-west toward the mine. At the time I had little knowledge of Helensburgh history, other than being founded on coal mining. As my friends and I emerged from the northern end of the Lilyvale Tunnel No.2, I could see the alignment veering left and head up into the bush somewhere, (it was completely overgrown at that time) and I remember thinking “where the heck did the trains go?” At the time it baffled me, but I would soon have to catch up to the others on the bikes so I would leave it at that. We would race our motorbikes up the sides of the deviation, (today’s train tracks) and head up towards the back of the rubbish tip. As mentioned in the first paragraph, the curiosity got the better of me and I had to research these tunnels.
I recently had the opportunity to visit that area again. With big thanks to a local property owner, I was down there in a flash. It had been a good 20 years since I last rode my bike down there.
Today it is peaceful, tranquil and still. The air echoed with Whip birds, Lyre birds and other fauna.
The lush green bushlands made the hike an enjoyable one. Retracing my steps to access the Lilyvale tunnels immediately saw me scratching my head. The original dirt track running down past Bucky’s is gone… completely overgrown. I managed to find a small track and continue on past the power sub-station that sits approximately on the site of the 1st Lilyvale Railway Station.
I made my way up to the entrance of the Lilyvale Tunnel No.2… the one I’m very familiar with. I enter it to find it well kept with blue metal laid through its entire length as it is used by the railway and Metropolitan Colliery for access. The No.2 tunnel is in remarkable condition for its age, (nearly 125 years). The high level and quality of the brickwork is astounding and my admiration for late 19th century engineering techniques, and the gangers (rail construction workers) just hit a new level. The walls are still painted up both sides of the No.2 tunnel as both Lilyvale tunnels had afterlives as mushroom farms for a good part of their existence… and it’s fair to say that they have been more a mushroom farm tunnel than a rail tunnel. The light in here seems greater now, than what my memory has me to believe. It just seems lighter in this tunnel now. One could walk through it without a torch but the curvature (near the northern end) is enough to completely obscure a view of one end to the other.
I continued out the northern side of the No.2 tunnel and immediately heard the rustlings from the Metropolitan Colliery (Helensburgh Mine). Just as I’m making my way up the old alignment, a couple of diesel engines hauling coal wagons come tearing out of the current Lilyvale tunnel heading north. Once it passes the serenity and calmness of the flora and fauna return. The track veers left and there is my answer… Lilyvale Tunnel No.1. I excitedly walk up to it and think that I’m completely satisfied with my discovery today. A HUGE smile manifest on my face, and a feeling of satisfaction.
The thought comes to me, that it seems nonsensical that the gangers didn’t blast a cutting through the hill, as the tunnel is not really tunnelling through that much; (a small spur of Stuart’s Range). I continue and walk straight through it, noticing it has only one set of manholes in the middle of the short tunnel. The tunnel is almost completely dry with little to no water leakage through its roof. The facades are in excellent condition with what appears to be not a single brick missing, and is likely to be the tunnel in best condition if you take all six disused tunnels in the area into account. On the mine side of the tunnel are a set of ominous looking gates that look quite new with a heavy gauged chain and lock. Lucky for me the gate is wide open and I pass through. I’m told there are some beautiful culverts under the new and old alignments but I could only find one on the day which appeared to be inaccessible. Will leave the discovery of those to another time.
Interactive Map Provided by © Bing Maps.
Continuing out of the Lilyvale Tunnel No.1, I walked the old alignment until I reach the Metropolitan mine boundary which is fenced and gated. In the late 1800’s, early 1900’s the railway line went across the Metropolitan Colliery’s current mine coal storage area and ahead through the dead straight Metropolitan Tunnel; exiting out at Helensburgh’s 1st Railway Station, (part of which is still there today). After some time, I head back the way I came. Along the way I visited the site of the 2nd Lilyvale Railway Station as I remember this from my youth. For more information about Lilyvale’s history visit: Lilyvale – The Almost Forgotten.
The two southern tunnels at Lilyvale are known as Tunnels No 5 and 6. Tunnel 5 has since been vested to the Department of Lands.
Images/Photos, and Article © Ian Piggott 2009-2013 – all rights reserved,