Cootamundra West Railway Station: How did that happen?

Another addition to the list of regional towns in NSW that once had more than one station: Cootamundra. With two hours to kill between trains in Cootamundra yesterday, I decided to check out Cootamundra West.

Cootamundra West was the first station on the branch line from Cootamundra to Lake Cargelligo, which opened in stages from 1893 to 1917. While the line had been built as far as Temora in 1893, Cootamundra West itself didn’t open until 22 March 1911, according to Given that Cootamundra’s main station is just 20 minutes walk away, it’s not entirely surprising that building a second station in town wasn’t the top priority.

The initial station must have been little more than a halt. The current building was announced in 1916 and opened in 1918. Here’s the announcement of the plans:

The double-story building (apparently now used by local community groups) is very substantial, and there’s still a signalling cabin on the platform as well.

At the time the station was constructed, trains from the branch line were not going to intersect with the main line at all. If you wanted to travel to Temora or Lake Cargelligo, Cootamundra West would be your only choice. The daily mail train usually only went as far as Temora, while services for West Wyalong and Griffith would use the line from Cootamundra West to Stockinbingal. Lake Cargelligo services always seem to have been less frequent.

The original services carried both freight and passengers in what must have been very basic trains. In 1938, diesel began replacing steam on the line and passenger-only services began. However, even before that station usage appears to have been dropping.

On 25 May 1930, the refreshment rooms were closed, with contemporary newspaper reports noting that the Temora mail train would now stop at Cootamundra West if required, but would otherwise continue on to Cootamundra’s main station.

1938 also saw a widely reported accident for the station’s gatekeeper, Mrs Williams:

One imagines Mrs Williams lived in the house that’s still adjacent to the level crossing (on the left in this picture):

In 1949, there was a proposal to convert the station building into accommodation for railway workers (reportedly, eight railway families were forced to live in tents because of a lack of housing in Cootamundra). While that didn’t happen, this suggests that even at that point the station itself was not being heavily used.

The Secretary for Railways apparently was concerned about the viability of these services by 1950, threatening to withdraw modern trains from country services if patrongage didn’t increase. Those threats don’t seem to have inspired more custom. In 1951, in a further mark of how usage of the line had deteroriated, some diesel passenger services were indeed removed, with those services reverting to steam.

In 1952, the assistant stationmaster at Cootamundra West retired after 42 years working for the railways. It’s tempting to assume that the role wasn’t replaced.

While this was once a busy double-tracked junction, it’s now just a single line. The rails for the second line have long since been removed, but some sleepers remain.

Passenger services on the line were withdrawn in 1983, and these days the main use for the line is for freight which is routed through Stockinbingal to the cross-country line to Parkes and beyond, thus keeping the main southern and western lines less congested. At Cootamundra West, congestion isn’t going to be a problem.

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