Saturday, September 8, 2012
WILLOW TREE RAILWAY STATION HERITAGE REVIEW
HERITAGE REVIEW – WILLOW TREE RAILWAY STATION
Located 375.700 km from Sydney on the Main Northern Line in the upper Hunter Valley, Willow Tree’s railway station is an important link to the NSW infrastructure from the late 1920s era.
The town of Willow Tree was initially just an Inn / motel for passing travellers but it was the coming of the railway extension as it headed north of Singleton into the Liverpool mountain ranges in the late 1870s which brought development to the area and allowed the small settlement to expand. The Main Northern Line was being constantly extended north from Singleton and the next extension of the line was from Murrurundi to Willow Tree. Due to the steepening gradient climb required the track had to be built with steep 1-40 both sides of the mountain range. This also required engineers to build a single-track tunnel at Ardglen. Willow Tree railway station was planned to be located on the Main North line (also once known as the Great Northern Line), which used to run in its full original form all the way from Sydney to the Queensland border town of Wallangarra. The construction contract for the station was initially based around a timber station building and station master’s residence.
The small station was finally opened as “Warrah” on 13 August 1877 but this was later renamed in 1879 to match the growing location as Willow Tree. As the rail system grew in the early 20th Century, so did Willow Tree station, with a turntable, goods shed and trolley shed all added to the yard. By 1910 further additions were seen with a night officer’s residence built and in 1912 a 5-tonne gantry crane for the goods yard was built. More development was seen in 1914 when a siding for the steam locomotives used on banking duties was constructed. The goods yard which was seeing more turn over, also had a cart weighbridge added the same year.
In 1929, a new station building was opened after the timber station was destroyed by a fire.
The original timber station was damaged by fire and removed in 1927 with a replacement planned to reopen soon after. The existing Willow Tree railway station is noted as one of the few remaining precast concrete drop panel made railway stations.
The style used in the 2nd generation station in 1927 at Willow Tree was a Type 12 Ac5 style in a “U” shape. Its construction method was common for most of the station buildings in the 1920s. (About 140 precast drop-panel concrete station buildings were constructed in regional NSW from 1919 until 1932).
The main building has a corrugated iron gabled roof (the original roof was cladded in fibrolite) joined by two pavilions each with a transverse gabled rooved projecting from either end. 2 chimneys for the waiting room and station staff fireplaces are still present. Small air vents were built into the building’s base to help ventilate the structure in summer. The main enterance to the station has a veranda supported by timber posts. The platform is covered by a steel, cantilevered awning with timber valances from the roof to the awning ends. The windows are crafted from timber frames but sadly most of them have anti vandal screening over them nowadays. There is an interesting example of artwork with coloured glass in the waiting room showing the station’s name. The doors are timber, most having some glass panelling to let external light in.
The parcels room which was originally the eastern pavilion section has a double sliding doors made from timber. As it is an operational Countrylink station, it still has a restored but mostly spartan original waiting room with brown painted original seating, original now disused fireplace, closed timber ticket office window and functional toilet rooms. The interior is a link to the past of the old NSWGR and is still used in 2012 There is a goods/out of parcel room which is still noticeable.
The 1877 era platform is of typical NSWGR design with a brick face and gravel/asphalt surface with wire fencing backing and is still in good condition. The overall length was extended in 1960 to accommodate longer trains which stopped at the station.
As the 1990s came the rationalisation of most NSW country stations and yards was underway which saw the removal of redundant and in most cases totally underutilised steam era infrastructure such as the turntable was once used but now no longer required. An out of shed and signal box which once stood on up side next to station building were removed in late 1990s.
Willow Tree used to have more frequent services in the past but with the rationalisation of country rail services, it now still gets a few but only on request in 2012. It is served by daily stops when passengers need to alight or get onboard by Countrylink Xplorers, which are found going from Sydney to Armidale and Moree and return.
Willow Tree Railway Station is of local significance as it is a rare pre-cast concrete drop slab building, being one of only a few examples of a once common building type still in existence in NSW and also well maintained. The 1920s era station building has aesthetic value as it is an attractive design as the use of precast concrete method which was used widely during the interwar periods as an easy and cost benefit cal material to mass produced railway infrastructure from.
The Willow Tree railway precinct is significant for its core historical values see it as a reminder as an important link to the progressive expansion of the Main Northern Line during the late 1880s. This line allowed NSW to prosper and for people, more importantly, to travel quicker, easier and via efficient transport from northern NSW via the upper Hunter Valley to Sydney. Periodic repairs will ensure it is kept to a reasonable standard. The unwanted vandalism damage of such beautiful structures is still a concern for any regional station in NSW.
Willow Tree remains an unmanned station but an active station which continues to the town of 169 people and surrounding region with a daily rail service operated Countyrlink. It is not expected to change in the near future from this limited service.