Passenger trains began travelling the magnificent engineering feat known as the Stanwell Park Viaduct in October 1920 when the rail deviation between Otford and Coalcliff was opened to traffic. The Hurstville Propeller reported on Friday 15 October 1920:
OTFORD TUNNEL CLOSED.
New Stanwell Park Station.
At last the dreaded Otford Tunnel has been closed, and the new deviation of the line around Stanwell Park put into use. The change was made this week.
The Railway Commissioners state that the closing of the tunnel will mean an acceleration of train services on this line.
The Otford tunnel was always regarded as a bugbear by the railway authorities, because of the steep grade in it, which necessitated two locomotives to draw each train on the up journey.
In addition, the air, despite the working of an electric fan, was very heavy, and as failures occasionally occurred in the tunnel, passengers at times experienced great distress.
The new line branches off at Otford, and continues for two-miles, past the Stanwell Park station, which has been shifted higher up the hill, and rejoins the main line at Coalcliff. As the grade is now good trains can be worked by a single engine.
The jewel in the crown of the deviation though was undoubtedly the towering Stanwell Park viaduct. The Hurstville Propeller reported on Friday 9 April 1920:
Stanwell park deviation
Wonderful Engineering Feat
For some time past important deviation works have been in progress on the Illawarra line about Stanwell Park. The portions now nearing completion extends from Otford to Coalcliff.
The deviation is 3 miles 73 chains in length, an increase of only 54 chains, and, as well as obviating the objectionable tunnel by taking a higher level, will afford passengers a striking glimpse of the ocean and a more comprehensive view of the picturesque beach and township of Stanwell Park.
The duplication, which was commenced two and a half years ago, has necessitated very heavy work, which but for the introduction of up-to-date rock boring machinery would have probably occupied a much greater length of time.
There are three tunnels on the deviation, but their combined length — 363 chains — is only about half that of the old tunnel, and their grade is 1 in 80, as compared with 1 in 40.
One feature of the work is the immense viaduct crossing Stanwell Creek. It comprises eight arches of 43 feet span, and the height from the bed of the creek is 127 feet. It is one of the highest structures in Australia and some conception of its size may be gathered from the fact that 5 million bricks have been used in its construction.
130 FEET !
Man’s death fall at Stanwell Park
During a perilous descent to reach a viaduct spanning Stanwell Park Creek to recover the body of Robert Doyle, 40, a fettler. Constable Bleechmore, of Stanwell Park, slipped and fell 15ft. Beyond a severe shaking he was uninjured.
Doyle, who had complained several times of feeling ill, was working with a gang of men yesterday afternoon and one of the party left for medical assistance. When he returned Doyle had disappeared, and later his mutilated body was found beneath the viaduct. It had fallen from a cliff 130ft. above. The Journey down the hill to recover the body took two hours.
– Sydney Sun, Wednesday, 3 January 1934.
The viaduct today remain a landmark on the South Coast Railway. In 1985, during electrification work, the structure was found to have serious engineering faults, and a major upgrade was needed to reinforce the bridge.
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