“I’ve had better weeks!”
That’s how the acting general manager of the Zig Zag Railway Michael Forbes yesterday described the crisis situation facing Lithgow’s most famous tourist attraction.
After 40 years of mainly voluntary work at Zig Zag, that was probably an understatement on a grand scale by Mr Forbes.
On Monday there was a bombshell dropped on the community when it was revealed that the Zig Zag Railway has been given until June 17, now just eight days away, to give reason why the tourist railway should not be forced to shut down its services.
The Independent Transport Safety Regulator (ITSA) issued the ultimatum based on what it described as ongoing safety issues.
ITSA agreed in its statement that there had been no actual danger to passenegers.
And according to Michael Forbes there never had been.
“Over the years we’ve safely carried over two million passengers,” he said.
In that time the only fatality was a Zig Zag volunteer worker who fell from a cutting while attempting to take a photograph.
“Virtually all of the issues relate to the mountain of paper work imposed on organisations like ours by ITSR,” Michael Forbes said.
“We get the same regulatory requirements as imposed on mainline rail services.
“If we need volunteers to man the trains or carry out trackwork it’s never a problem.
“But trying to get someone prepared to wade through the paperwork is a different story and as a result we have got behind,” he said.
This had resulted in the steam trains being ordered out of service some weeks ago but the vintage rail motors have been allowed to run until now, and will continue to run daily at least until the June 17 deadline.
“The tourists who come here from around the world come to experience a steam train ride that we have been unable to provide.
“That means we lose about half of our income,”
Mr Forbes said the Zig Zag has been carrying out required work on the viaducts and tunnels and has been forced to arrange an inspection every year by a heritage architect ‘at our expense’.
Mr Forbes said the Zig Zag board has been encouraged by a ‘torrent of support’ from various sources including Lithgow Council and this had clearly stirred government action.
“We’re now waiting on a meeting with the Department of Transport to see what assistance is being offered,” he said.
But, he said, the current serious situation at Zig Zag was being aggravated ‘out of all proportion’ by disgruntled former members of Zig Zag who had contacted Sydney radio ‘shock jocks’ pushing their own views.
An unfortunate consequence of the crisis is that nine full time employees are facing a loss of their jobs.