G024 : Lapstone Zig Zag | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


G024 : Lapstone Zig Zag

Item details

Name of item: G024 : Lapstone Zig Zag
Other name/s: Lapstone Zig Zag Railway; Skarratt Park
Primary address: 15-17 Great Western Highway, Glenbrook, NSW 2773
Local govt. area: Blue Mountains
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
15-17 Great Western HighwayGlenbrookBlue Mountains   Primary Address

Statement of significance:

Refer to Assessment.
Date significance updated: 06 Jul 09
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: John Whitton
Builder/Maker: William Watkins
Construction years: 1867-1867
Physical description: Once the westbound train had crossed Knapsack Viaduct (G 025), it entered the Bottom Road of the ZigZag. There were points (and after 1890 a signal-box) where the Middle Road cut backwards and sharply upwards to form the middle stroke of the Z. Beyond the points, Bottom Road extended an additional 532 feet (175 metres) to a dead-end. It was in this area that the train stopped before it reversed direction to climb Middle Road. Similarly at the junction of Middle and Top Roads, Top Road ccntinued some distance to buffers on the edge of Knapsack Gorge. Here the train again reversed its direction to resume the journey over the Mountains. After 1877 there was a station, called Lucasville Station (G 029), on this extension section of Top Road. In 1886 the line of the Top Road extension was remodelled with a new parallel, more steeply sloped line to the west. Both of the lines of the Top Road Extension are clearly legible.

The line of track (now without rails) goes through well executed rock cuttings on the standard walk along Top Road from Knapsack Street and Skarratt Park. There is a pleasing stone culvert to the south of Lucasville platform. The culvert, which is still in operation, utilises a rock-cutting on the west side to divert run-off water deep under the track in a square channel constructed of stone blocks. The water then runs down a steep gully to the east.

To the west of the Upper Road there is a series of low sandstone terrace walls which probably marked the boundary between Lucasville estate and the railway.

The ZigZag is largely surrounded by bushland, interspersed with impressive views east to Sydney. The setting provides a striking sense of the nineteenth-century journey over the mountains as the traveller was entering into a wilderness.

At the southern entry to the Top Road of the ZigZag, at the end of Knapsack Street, there is a gate to inhibit vehicle access. Just beside this gate, on the northern side, there are four surviving sleepers and metal spikes, all that survives from the original railway track,
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Railway tracks and most of sleepers removed.
Some potential for further research into Breakfast Point halt.
Date condition updated:06 Jul 09
Current use: Walking Track and Park
Former use: Railway Line


Historical notes: After the railway on the Sydney plain reached Penrith in 1862, plans for an extension over the Mountains to the developing grazing, agricultural and mining areas of the west were accelerated. The route was approved and the necessary land acquired by the end of 1864. The ascent of the Lapstone Monocline (L 001, L 003, L 004) was the first major problem. The Chief Engineer, John Whitton, considered building a tunnel three kilometres long, but this posed immense problems. So he decided on a ZigZag instead, as he did for the descent
into Lithgow Valley on the other side of the Mountains.

The originality of the Lapstone ZigZag has been understated. Yet it was the first ZigZag constructed on any main-line railway anywhere in the world. The idea on which Whitton built came from the Indian railways. A friend of his, Solomon Tredwell, had in 1859 started the construction of half a ZigZag (with a reversing line and stone viaducts) at Bhore Ghat on the Moombai to Poona line: although Tredwell died in 1859, his widow saw the half ZigZag to completion in 1863, employing 42,000 men, and this feat was reported at some length in the Sydney Morning Herald on 3 July 1863. So Whitton knew of the conquering of the Bhore
Ghat, which posed problems very comparable to the Lapstone Monocline, both from personal and public communications. The way in which he adapted the Indian experience into a full ZigZag, approached over a exquisite, and very cheap, sandstone viaduct (G 025), was a substantial feat in world terms of railway engineering. (Lee, Colonial Engineer, 163-166; Sydney Morning Herald, 3 July 1863)

The contract to build this stretch of the railway as far as Valley Heights, including the viaduct and the ZigZag, was given to William Watkins in March 1863 and completed eighteen months behind schedule in December 1865. It opened for traffic in 1867. (Bianche, Building of the Railway, 75, 93-4)

While Minister for Mines under Robertson in 1875-7, John Lucas purchased land for a country retreat adjacent to the top road of the Lapstone ZigZag. There he built his house called Lucasville. The house, which was situated just to the east of the present RAAF base, has disappeared, but traces of its gardens and access paths are still visible immediately to the west of the ZigZag walking track.

For the convenience of himself, his family and his guests Lucas used his political clout to have a railway station built on the Top Road of the ZigZag. Lucasville Station opened in 1877 and the substantial concrete platform, with rock-cut steps leading west into Lucasville grounds, is still highly legible (G 029). There was also a station building which is visible in a distant photograph, but this has now vanished. Unlike Numantia at Faulconbridge, Lucasville was a public platform (for which the government paid), and it was probably used initially also by visitors to Ulinbawn and to W.C. Want's house above Knapsack Gully, although Breakfast Point halt 700 metres to the south gave an alternative. (Aston, Rails,
Roads, & Ridges, 13, after 24)

There were dangers on the extension wing of Top Road of the ZigZag, because goods trains going towards Sydney found it hard to brake effectively and the plunge into Knapsack Gully just beyond Lucasville Station was ominous. As a result in 1886 the line between the platform and the Knapsack buffers was rebuilt just to the west of the original track, cutting into the hillside: the upward slope of this safety measure is still evident today.

In 1890 signal boxes were at last built at both Lower and Upper (by then called Lucasville) Points. Previously these had been operated by pointsmen using hand levers. But almost immediately afterwards, the new Commissioner of Railways, E.M. Eddy, decided that the ZigZag should be replaced by what is known as the Glenbrook Tunnel Deviation (G 017). This new line left the old line at Bottom Points and climbed steeply to Glenbrook Tunnel (G018), which was completed at the end of 1892. With the opening of the deviation, both the Lapstone ZigZag and Lucasville station were officially closed on 18 December 1892 and the rails were raised. (Singleton, Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, 227, 126-8)

In 1930 58 acres (23 hectares) including the ZigZag were declared a Recreation Reserve, no, 62317, named Skarratt Park after a Blue Mountains Shire Councillor, Donald Frederick Skarratt (Woods, Yellow Rock to Green Gully, 148). In recent years the former ZigZag has become a Lands Department walk with an admirable small brochure.

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The construction of the western railway, opening up the interior of New South Wales for commercial and farming activities and making the Blue Mountains a popular, economical holiday resort, is of the highest State significance. The ascent of the Lapstone Monocline was the first great challenge west of the Nepean River and the designing of the ZigZag was a major success for John Whitton, the Chief Engineer: it was the first ZigZag built on any main line railway anywhere in the world, although half a ZigZag had been built on the Moombai to Poona line in India by friends of Whitton's in 1859-63 and Whitton was aware of its problems.

The Lapstone ZigZag has always been overshadowed by the splendours of the Lithgow ZigZag on the other side of the Mountains, which Whitton opened in 1869, but its historical importance is no less great. It was a pioneering masterpiece of railway architecture and engineering which was soon imitated overseas, most flamboyantly in Peru, Burma and New Zealand.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
John Whitton was the dominant figure in the heroic days of railway building in New South Wales. Appointed engineer-in-chief of the state's railways in 1857 until 1889, Whitton was an austere. efficient and visionary creator of the rail network which transformed transport within the state. As the recent biography by Robert Lee (Colonial Engineer, 2000) makes clear, he was a man of the highest significance to the State.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The Lapstone ZigZag is remarkable for its ability to evoke a feeling of the nineteenth-century railway journey over the Blue Mountains. The passage over Knapsack Viaduct, along embankments and through rock cuttings in largely undisturbed bushland provided a profoundly dramatic entry to the Blue Mountains. The views from the north end of Upper Road across Knapsack Gully to its superb viaduct and the later railway bridge and thence across the Cumberland Plain to Sydney are marred only by the Penrith Lakes development.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
Since the Lapstone ZigZag was the first of its kind not only in Australia but on any main-line railway in the world, the archaeological remains have substantial engineering significance at the State level.
SHR Criteria f)
Railway ZigZags are extremely rare in New South Wales, since tunnels superseded this technique at the end of the nineteenth century. Lapstone ZigZag is, moreover, the earliest of its kind.
Integrity/Intactness: High
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Recommended management:

Retain as a walking track. Investigate the sandstone retaining walls between the site of Lucasville and the Lapstone Zig-Zag. Establish accurately the boundary between public and private land to the west of Top Road.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental PlanLEP1991G02427 Dec 91 183 
Heritage study G024   

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
Blue Mountains Heritage Study1983G024Croft & Associates Pty Ltd & Meredith Walker  Yes
Heritage Study Review, Blue Mountains1992G024Tropman and Tropman  Yes
Blue Mountains Heritage Review2003G024Jack, Hubert, Lavelle, Morris  Yes
Technical Audit BM Heritage Register2008G024Blue Mountains City CouncilCity Planning Branch No

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Written 1863Sydney Morning Herald, 3 July
WrittenC C Singleton1956Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, 227, September
WrittenNell Aston1992Rails, Roads, and Ridges: History of Lapstone Hill - Glenbrook Part 1
WrittenR Blanche1977The Building of the Railway across the Blue Mountains and its influence on the economic development of Western New South Wales to 1900
WrittenRobert Lee2000Colonial Engineer: John Whitton, 1819-1898, and the Building of Australia's Railways

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

(Click on thumbnail for full size image and image details)

Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Local Government
Database number: 1170821

Every effort has been made to ensure that information contained in the State Heritage Inventory is correct. If you find any errors or omissions please send your comments to the Database Manager.

All information and pictures on this page are the copyright of the Heritage Division or respective copyright owners.