After a hard shift on June 13, 1895 coal miner Robert Hales was walking home through the relatively short 80m Helensburgh Tunnel south of Sydney when a steam train appeared behind him. He ran, but not fast enough and his body was cleft in two with the halves found some distance apart. Some say his ghost still haunts the tunnel and can be seen running from the darkness as if trying to flee!
Of course, this is just one of the legendary tales surrounding the abandoned railway tunnels on the old Sutherland to Wollongong line.
Years after Hales’ grisly demise, on August 14, 1912, John Joseph McNamara boarded a train for the races in Sydney, he caught the train home that evening but never made it.
The next day his body was found with head, chest and neck injuries, in the Otford Tunnel, in a dreaded 1550m stretch of steep grade that used to choke passengers with thick clouds of smoke and steam every time south westerly winds blew into it from the ocean.
Officially called the Metropolitan Tunnel, is the 4th tunnel on the original Illawarra Line, and is a 624m single track tunnel located between the Helensburgh Tunnel 1st (Tunnel No.3), and the Metropolitan Colliery.
This underground passage was built in the 1880s and It opened on the 3rd October 1888, but its use was short-lived: in fact it closed permanently on the 30th May 1915, after years of soot and smoke built up within the space and made it dangerous for the trains’ crews and passengers to pass through.
The tunnel was used as a mushroom farm in the 1960s and 70s but bushwalkers talk of a ghostly figure disappearing from the corner of their eye or feeling an icy hand on the back of their neck!
In followed years, the whole tunnel was full of water, giving rise to rumours of there being an abandoned steam train under water.
However, early 1995 saw the clearing and removal of rubbish out of cutting to the northern portal as the Colliery had plans to use the tunnel as a water reservoir. When the tunnel was drained in 1995, that rumour was denied, and no steam train was found.
Drowned railroad tracks lead to an abandoned passageway nearly lost within a waterfall of leafy greenery. Once inside, an enchanting blue glow illuminates the dark and dank tunnel.
One end of the tunnel became sealed shut so it could become a reservoir. The north entrance, too, became blocked from years of mucky debris building up outside. Before it was drained, the whole tunnel was nearly hidden behind a thick veil of lush nature and the entire passageway was full of stagnant water.
However, the tunnel wasn’t completely abandoned: in fact, a colony of glowworms, one of the largest in all of New South Wale, moved in and made its home on the roof. The insects illuminate the stale air, like a constellation of blue-green stars.
Still today, the tunnel still floods fairly frequently, and on days where the water level is particularly high, people pass through the small waterfall that tumbles across the entrance with pool floats or inflatable canoes in hand. They then paddle deep into the darkness until they reach the spots where the ceiling becomes brightest with the soft glow of the bioluminescent bugs.