The Cooma Monaro Railway (CMR) is an Australian heritage railway based at Cooma Station in the alpine region of southeast New South Wales. Cooma station and its railway link from Queanbeyan NSW was completed in 1889, with the southern extension to Bombala completed in the early 1920s.

Cooma Station has changed little from this photo taken in 1925. (Mitchell Library photo)

As the gateway to the Snowy Mountains area, Cooma was a key Monaro destination for almost 100 years of rail services, until the line from Canberra was closed by flood damage to the bridge over the Numeralla River. During its service, the line was used to convey numerous tourists to the ski fields in the winter and many recreational fishermen and women for trout fishing in the warmer months. Freight was always the big dividend for the railways, and Cooma railway yard was very busy with freight arriving for the Snowy Hydro Scheme, and plenty of wool-laden wagons heading back to Sydney.

A freshly restored CPH 22 stands outside the Cooma Locomotive Shed in 1998. (CMR collection)

For 10 years there were no trains to be seen in the Monaro area, until CMR commenced operations in December 1998. Services were run by our CPH-class railmotors, of which we have three (CPH 6, 8 and 22). We also have CTC 55, which is a matching carriage to the CPH class with a driver’s compartment at one end.

In 2014 CMR ceased rail operations due to the decaying state of the track north from Cooma to Chakola. Since then CMR has undertaken considerable work to repair, restore and upgrade the infrastructure with the Cooma Railway Station Precinct. The former District Locomotive Engineer’s building has been rebuilt from a shell-like state to a functioning headquarters for CMR members. The building now has a fully functioning kitchen, office, training room and ablutions facilities for men and women.

P-class locomotive 3325 is seen taking on coal at the coal stage in Cooma yard during an Australian Rail Heritage Society tour train visit on Saturday, 23 September 1966. At far left is the brick District Locomotive Engineer’s building, which has been extensively restored and now serves as CMR’s headquarters. (CMR collection)

Electricity and potable water have been re-established in the yard, and security measures, including cameras and a palisade fence now protect the precinct. Extensive repairs and restoration work at the station are nearly complete, with the Station Master’s Office (restored to an 1890’s configuration), the Waiting Room and the Signal Box all now available for viewing by the public.

The Station Master’s Office has now been restored to an 1890s finish. (CMR photo)

Work is now proceeding on establishing the museum collection, much of which will be displayed in the restored Parcel Room. Of great excitement to the members and to the community is the commencement of fund sourcing for repair to our track from Snowy Junction (adjacent to the Cooma racecourse) south through to Rock Flat, which will allow CMR to recommence heritage rail operations. We have chosen to head south to Rock Flat rather than return north to Chakola because the ongoing asset maintenance  costs for rail infrastructure is significantly less owing to the pioneer line standard of track, the reduced number of large timber bridging & culverts, ​no boundary fencing requirements, the ballast used is dirt or ash, and most of the vegetation control within the corridor is taken care of by livestock.

In the meantime, CMR’s first public engagement activity is now upon us, with the commencement of monthly Fresh Produce Markets at the refurbished Cooma Station to commence on 13 December 2020.

A 48-class diesel locomotive stands ready to take the Cooma Mail train back to Sydney in 1979. (Bob Grant photo)