Eight antique carriages and wagons, including the oldest operational carriage in Australia built in 1882, have been damaged in what Zig Zag Railway’s chairman has described as a “malicious attack” on the site.
Police have said up to $400,000 worth of damage had been wrought upon the railway sometime between February 18 and Sunday, March 4, when the vandalism was discovered.
A carriage on a secluded section of the track was pushed up the railway and left to freewheel into a cliff and other rolling stock was harmed in a second collision.
The carriage left to roll down the incline was an antique open wagon built in 1950; police believe it to be beyond repair.
“It caused a large amount of damage,” a Lithgow police officer said.
Along with the open wagon, two other carriages were detached from several others stored on a siding and their brakes removed.
Police believe the unknown persons who entered the railway attempted to push these up the incline as well and failed to do so, releasing them 50 metres on and causing them to collide into other rolling stock.
Zig Zag Railway said that in total eight wagons, carriages and a dining cart had been damaged, including the BV 270 Composite Brake Van, which is the oldest operational passenger carriage in Australia, built in 1882 by G & E Negus of Maryborough.
Seven windows were also smashed in the recently restored Top Points Signal Box.
Zig Zag Railway chairman, Lee Wiggins described the damage as a devastating blow to the volunteers and the local community.
“I am lost for words,” Mr Wiggins said.
“I can’t imagine how those volunteers feel, seeing all their work destroyed, and worse further damage done. How do we convince them to turn up and start all over again?
“This is not just Zig Zag’s loss, it’s a loss for rail heritage in Australia and for our local community who are so keen to see the return of this treasured tourist attraction.”
The railway is currently investigating what items are repairable.
“One of the carriages damaged was built in 1882 and was the oldest operational carriage in Australia,” he said.
“That carriage survived everything the last 137 years could throw at it, including the two major bushfires, only to be destroyed by a senseless attack.”
Mr Wiggans believes the people responsible for the damage had to have some knowledge of railway infrastructure.
“This was not someone recklessly breaking windows and spraying graffiti, it was a malicious attack on the hard work of our volunteers,” he said.
“We have faced our fair share of challenges and setbacks while rebuilding the railway, but this was a personal blow.”
Last year Mr Wiggans said the railway would re-open in 2018, however he retracted that statement in February of this year saying unexpected works and delays had arisen in 2017.
“We have a dedicated team and membership who are pouring their blood, sweat and tears into to getting this railway up and running again.”
He said directors had also dedicated a large amount of time to pursuing a legal action, which was resolved in the Supreme Court in October.
Police are asking anyone who can assist their investigation to contact Lithgow Police Station or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
They said they will be performing a full forensic examination of the site.
The Lithgow Mercury has so far not been able to access the site to take photos of the damage.