The history of the Richmond Vale Railway goes back to 1857 when the first section was opened from Hexham, on the banks of the Hunter River, to Minmi near the Sugarloaf Range, a distance of five and a half miles.
In 1904 John Brown, who had taken over complete control of the J. & A. Brown Company, started a branch line from this first section through the Sugarloaf Range to Richmond Main Colliery and Pelaw Main Colliery near Kurri Kurri - a distance of twenty-two miles. A large locomotive shed was constructed at Pelaw Main with a major repair shop at Hexham. Richmond Main Colliery was John "Baron" Brown's pride and joy.
This mine was once the largest vertical shaft mine in the Southern Hemisphere.
At its peak the mine employed over 1200 men and boys, and had a stable of over 200 pit horses. In the 1920's it was the most modern mine in the nation.
Coal production commenced in 1914 from the Holmesville seam, 4.1 metres thick at a depth of 241 metres underground. In 1926 Richmond Main Colliery set a world record (which still stands today) for coal production in a vertical shaft mine, with 3,482 tons wound up a single shaft in one 8-hour shift.
The economic collapse of 1929 and the following depression marked the start of the decline for Richmond Main. By 1947, coal production was down 2,050 tons per 8-hour shift.
Mechanisation in the coal mining industry in the 1950's saw the retrenchment of many workers. After producing fourteen and a half million tons of coal the mine was closed Friday 7th July 1967.
A Power Station was constructed on this site by 1912, initially to supply power to nearby Pelaw Main Colliery. Over the years installed capacity was upgraded from 2,000kw to over 10,000kw. Power was generated at Richmond Main until 1976, and was then connected into the state grid. The distinctive cooling towers cooled the water from the powerhouse before it was drained into the cooling dam for eventual re-use in the Powerhouse.
We are fortunate that much of Brown's masterpiece survives. Visit the mining museum in the old Administration Building and view underground mining equipment.
In 1961 Pelaw Main Colliery was closed and on July 7th 1967 the famous Richmond Main Colliery ceased production. The last train from Richmond Main Colliery ran on the 28th July 1967. This only left the section operating from Hexham to Stockrington Colliery.
September 22nd, 1987, the last regular steam-hauled train ran to Hexham on the Richmond Vale Railway. This train also had the distinction of being the last non-preserved steam-hauled train in Australia.
The R.V.R.M. commenced limited operations in 1984 using diesel motive power at Richmond Main Colliery site.
In 1991, the R.V.R.M. re-opened the Direct Passenger Line (D.P.L.) from Richmond Main Colliery to Pelaw Main Colliery. This line had been built in 1922 after several accidents on the Miners Passenger Trains, which ran from the township of Pelaw Main to Richmond Main Colliery via Richmond Vale Junction. (Richmond Main Colliery was the only mine, in the Hunter Valley, NOT to have a township for the miners.)
R.V.R.M. members returned steam locomotive Marjorie, late in 1986, to service after an extensive overhaul.
1988, Coal and Allied, now the owners of the J & A Brown's mines and railway, placed four South Maitland Railway’s 10-class steam locomotives from Hexham in the R.V.R.M.s care. These were the last steam locomotives in commercial use in Australia.