By BELINDA SCOTT
STEAM was hissing from Betty and sweat was trickling off the visitors as Clarence and Coffs Harbour were joined together with gold-painted railway dog spikes yesterday.
Shirley Adams, the Clarence Valley Council's deputy mayor, and Coffs Harbour mayor, Keith Rhoades, took turns with the hammer to drive the last dog spikes into the most recent section of railway track laid by the members of the Glenreagh Mountain Railway (GMR).
This section of trackwork has taken the GMR restoration from Glenreagh to the bridge over Tallawudjah Creek, the boundary between the two local government areas.
Cowper MP Luke Hartsuyker, who was representing the Minister for Transport and Regional Service, Warren Truss, said the Glenreagh Mountain Railway was a fine example of a community project which had achieved excellent outcomes with the support of Regional Partnerships funding.
GMR has received Commonwealth funding of more than $235,000 towards the first stage of its project to restore 35km of the former Glenreagh to Dorrigo rail line as a working tourist railway.
Restoration of the old timber bridge, estimated to cost about $250,000 is the next hurdle for the group, which is now seeking further grant funding for Stage II of its project.
GMR vice president, Bob Farquhar, said restoration of the bridge would open up a further 15km of track to the steam railway group to repair and use, including areas of rainforest which would help to make the train trip a world-class experience.
GMR president, Colin Sambrook, said yesterday the steam railway had attracted 40,000 visitors in the past 18 months.
Guests travelled aboard Betty and a Melbourne tram from the GMR headquarters at Glenreagh West to the Tallawudjah Creek picnic area, beside the Tallawudjah creek bridge for yesterday's event, which included presentations of special dog spike plaques by GMR president Colin Sambrook and MC Artie Seewald, a morning tea and blessing of the track.
The Uniting Church's Rev Bob Richardson, a former steam engine fireman who worked with GMR engine driver Bryce Gilbert, blessed the line.
Among the 100 guests who attended yesterday's event was Barry Martin, the manager of special projects for the Bananacoast Credit Union, who said credit union members in the Orara Valley had remarked about the noticeable increase in trade since the GMR began holding steaming days.
He said Two Tails Wines, Kookaburra Cafe and Lady Matilda's Gallery and Cafe were among those who had reported more visitors.
While the GMR's oldest member, 91-year-old Jack Lowe of Grafton was unable to attend the day, the group's newest member, Barry Robbins, was among those on hand to respond to GMR President's Col Sambrook's call to drink a toast to the pioneers who built the original Glenreagh to Dorrigo railway line, using primitive hand tools. The branch line opened in 1924 but was closed in 1972 due to flood damage.
Mr Robbins, who joined GMR last week, was involved in hydraulic engineering before retiring to Woolgoolga and he is already involved in work on restoration of a historic tram.