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Richmond Vale Rail Trail - Trail Description



Richmond Vale Rail Trail

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Type: Rail trail
Location: Hexham to Richmond Vale in the north west Newcastle area
Start/end: Newcastle to Richmond Vale
Status: Possible
Length open: 0km
Terrain: Hilly
Contact Region: Newcastle Area
Underpass below the Pacific Highway near Minmi (2013)
Underpass below the Pacific Highway near Minmi (2013)
Not yet open



This trail is a proposed trail and is not open

  • A great future rail trail in the Newcastle area
  • Possible 28km trail through spectacular coastal hinterland 
  • This line has three beautiful brick lined tunnels 
  • Wonderful railway infrasture including bridges, deep cuttings, and huge embankments 
  • Would link Newcastle with Kurri Kurri and Cessnock
  • This trail could link up with many other cyclepaths in Newcastle and the Cessnock wineries


This old private railway corridor has great possibilities as a rail trail. It offers the chance to visit little seen areas due to the rugged terrain it traverses. Although quite close to roads at times, the majority of local residents would not know of it's existence. The trail would start at Hexham, and traverse a large swamp area before approaching the small village of Minmi. The line branches off towards Richmond Vale Colliery and Kurri Kurri at this point. After a short distance past the Pacific Highway underpass, you will come to the first tunnel in the Seahampton area. Deep cuttings and more tunnels before you come to the junction to Kurri Kurri. The Richmond Vale Colliery is now closed, but the Richmond Vale steam Society have a wonderful collection of engines, carriages and other railway memorabilia which is on display on the third Sunday of each month.

Newcastle Cycleways movement is working closely with Newcastle and other councils involved, to make this trail into a reality.

This project is starting to build serious momentum. The success of rail trail developments elsewhere in Australia, the Central Otago Rail Trail in New Zealand, and numerous lines overseas are inspiring examples of what can be achieved by concerted effort to preserve these historical treasures by restoring them to a modern purpose. This line will never haul coal, people or other commodities again. Nevertheless, the prospect of tourists being able to ride virtually the entire distance from Newcastle to the vineyards on a safe, scenic and historic track may be closer than you think!

Background Information

The company formed by James and Alexander Brown, immigrants from Scotland who arrived as young men to New South Wales in 1842, became what was undoubtedly the premier coal mining venture in the first hundred years of the colony. Operating numerous mines in the Newcastle area, in Burwood to the south and Minmi to the west, the J & A Brown firm and other early mining companies built numerous railways to take coal to port for export (Alexander Brown having pioneered coal shipments to Singapore, China and California in the 1860s and 1870s).

In 1857, Mr. John Eales completed a railway line from his mine in Minmi to the banks of the Hunter River at Hexham, where the coal was loaded onto ocean-going vessels. The 6.4km crossing of the Hexham Swamp by this 10km line was considered a major feat of engineering in its day. The mines and lands of John Eales were shortly thereafter acquired by J & A Brown, who expanded the Minmi coal fields and established a major shipping operation at Hexham.

Of the many collieries established by J&A Brown and its related entities (later combined to form Coal & Allied Industries Ltd), none was greater than Richmond Vale Colliery (later renamed Richmond Main) to the west of Minmi across the Sugarloaf Range. Destined to be the most modern coal mine in Australia for decades, it was built with no expense spared by James Brown’s son, John “Barron” Brown. In order to facilitate the export of coal from the new operations, a 19km extension to the Hexham to Minmi line was constructed, which became known as the Richmond Vale Railway.

The new line was completed in 1905. It branched from the old line a few kilometres north of Minmi (Minmi Junction), crossed Blue Gum Creek and traversed three tunnels on its winding way through the Sugarloaf Range to Richmond Vale on the other side. It was eventually extended to Pelaw Main near Kurri Kurri, and branch lines were built to carry coal from numerous mines in the region.

The Richmond Vale Railway operated continuously for 83 years, and when it finally closed in 1987, was the last commercial steam-operated freight line in Australia. The closure of the Richmond Vale line signalled the end of an era in the development of Australian railways.

As with most of the railways abandoned over the last 100 years, the Richmond Vale line has become derelict, its timber trestles falling into disrepair or collapsed. The three original tunnels however, are in remarkably good shape and are a testament to the men who built them.

Ever since the line closed in 1987, it has been the subject of campaigns to convert it to a shared “rail trail”. The ultimate aim of these schemes is to eventually link Newcastle (including the CBD and University) with the towns of Kurri Kurri and Cessnock, and ultimately the vineyards of Pokolbin in the Hunter Valley (a distance of over 60 kilometres). The combination of terrains and environments, the history of the pioneering development, the challenging distance and the major destinations at each end would provide substantial basis for a colossal community asset, providing transport, tourism, recreation, environmental and heritage values.

Recently a glimmer of hope has emerged that the rail trail may yet be built. A large portion of the land owned by Coal & Allied, including most of the length of railway easement, has been transferred to state government ownership, and designated as conservation lands administered by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS). In a remarkable departure from conservation to recreation, the NPWS now actively supports the establishment of the Richmond Vale Rail Trail, and is planning to maintain that portion that traverses these lands. NPWS has commissioned a scoping study to examine the requirements for construction and approvals. Three local councils (Newcastle, Lake Macquarie and Cessnock) all support the development in principal, as do many other stakeholders, such as the University of Newcastle’s Tom Farrell Institute for the Environment, both state and local tourism bodies and many of the Hunter Valley vintners.


To see what Newcastle Cycleways movement is doing click HERE

 January 2016

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13 July , 2021 by c.j.b

The project has now being 'upgraded' to a $46.5 million spend.

31 May , 2021 by simplysafe

My take on rail trails. Through my involvement with the Port Fairy to Warrnambool Rail Trail. Before the trail opened Koroit and Port Fairy towns were diminishing. Since opening sometime back, new facilities and resources have come into existence. Koroit has a brewery and two new coffee shops. It has two pubs that have flourished. The old railway station has been retained. Playgrounds, skate park and ball courts have been created. There are places along the trail to stop and have a picnic and shelter if needed. Port Fairy has seen more coffee outlets with lots of fair. The trail has offered new businesses and availability of resources to make it a premium place to ride and enjoy. I hope this brings some creative thought to establishing rail trails in other states. All the best, Graeme Broderick.

18 December , 2017 by c.j.b

Unfortunately, proponents have been pushing for a $14 million budget to build this-- basically to replace the old bush rail line used by MTBs with an over-built concrete cyclebahn. A big problem is the trail is/will be covered in snakes from the adjoining wetlands. (I saw 6 the last time I MTB'd from Hexham to Minmi.) The weekend Family Cyclists however will be more bothered by the speeding Strava weenies that've found a new base after harassing the users of the Fernleigh.

11 January , 2016 by RVRT Inc

The private ownership issues have been resolved

11 January , 2016 by RVRT Inc

Richmond Vale Rail Trail Inc (RVRT) has been established to help promote the trail. A $50k feasibility study was completed in 2015 and shows the trail as sustainable, The City of Newcastle (Council) is the lead for this development in conjunction with the two other councils. The Richmond Vale Rail Trail will rum from Newcastle to Kurri Kurri. The trail will have a trail-head at Shortland Wetlands Centre off Sandgate Rd Shortland. The description given lists it as a basket case - IT NEVER WAS!! The current intention of the three councils is to run it on the same basis as the Fernleigh Track. Temders have been called for an EIS etc to progress the trail. The initial trail traverses the Hexham Swamp using a disused water pipeline to get to the RVRT line at Hexham. For greater detail contact RVRT Inc by email on Thanks David Atkinson NCM RVRT sub committee and Vice Chair RVRT Inc.

13 October , 2014 by bshwckr

This would put Newcastle/Hunter Valley on the map as the cycling capital of NSW.

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Next stage in development of the Richmond Vale Rail Trail near Newcastle

(Posted: 18/08/20)

The proposed Richmond Vale Rail Trail (RVRT) near Newcastle NSW would be a wonderful rail trail. The Trail is a long disused colliery railway from the coastal city of Newcastle across Hexham Wetlands, through bush and farmland, through three beautiful brick-lined tunnels, numerous cuttings and over several bridges to reach the town of Kurri Kurri, which is on the doorstep of the Lower Hunter wine region.


Cessnock City Council Trails Strategy recognises value of colliery rail network

(Posted: 23/06/20)

Cessnock City Council (CCC) recently released their Trails Strategy. The Strategy was developed by CCC and by Tredwell Management to "provide a vision for the region’s trails network with a consistent policy framework to guide development and management of trails across the Local Government Area (LGA)".


NSW continues the momentum for developing cycling facilities

(Posted: 19/06/20)

Lake Macquarie and Newcastle City Councils are showing what can be done when it comes to building great facilities, including rail trails, for cyclists.


NSW is getting closer to having another rail trail

(Posted: 04/05/20)

The NSW Government Department of Planning, Industry and Environment has announced a $75,000 funding boost towards the Richmond Vale Rail Trail Project, west of Newcastle in NSW.


Richmond Vale Rail Trail takes a step closer to reality

(Posted: 23/03/16)

The much-vaunted $14 million Richmond Vale Rail Trail is a step closer to reality, with Newcastle City Council agreeing on Tuesday night to complete a concept design and environmental impact statement.


Richmond Vale Rail Trail moves to the next step of Development

(Posted: 13/01/16)

The proposed Richmond Vale Rail Trail near Newcastle moved a step closer with the three councils involved working work together on the next stage of the process.