Our Company Background
COC Limited emerged from a company that was formed in 2006 which was set up to operate a tourist railway. At the time the Board of the Lithgow State Mine Railway Limited were trying to come to terms on a company structure that would satisfy all of its expanding needs and allow it to follow opportunities as well as achieve its goals. It quickly realised that having one company to handle a diverse range of activities including rail operations, volunteer management, managing property leases, preserving heritage sites and leasing vast tracks of land for Rail Trail development would need a specific focus and at least two separate entities to oversee the operations.
The decision was made to leave railway operations and volunteer coordination with the Lithgow State Mine Railway Limited and a new company was formed to specifically deal with property ownership, land & property management, heritage preservation and the development and promotion of industrial heritage tourism opportunities.
Given the organisation had commenced work on securing land across the Newnes Plateau which was the original formation of the Wolgan Valley Railway to develop what will become a 52 kilometre Rail Trail stretching from Newnes Junction to the Wolgan Valley. As a result of this development it was fitting then that we honoured the Company that built that railway and the oil shale works in the Wolgan Valley at the turn of the 19th century as well as the interests it acquired at Torbane and Hartley Vale with the acquisition of the New South Wales Oil and Shale Company.
The Commonwealth Oil Corporation Limited was chosen as the name to operate the new entity under. Unfortunately it could not be registered as Commonwealth as it had an inferred link to the Australian government and so the name was abbreviated as the original was to COC Limited. After an absence of nearly 80 years the company which was a household name in Lithgow at the time was to rise once again to be at the forefront of preserving and promoting Lithgow’s rich industrial heritage.
The Commonwealth Oil Corporation Limited was a company registered in the UK in 1905 and later in Australia as a foreign company. The Company’s main objective was to build and operate the massive oil shale refining works and railway located in the Wolgan Valley near Lithgow NSW Australia. This impressive undertaking funded largely by a handful of private investors including Sir George Newnes was begun in 1906 and was to become one of the largest industrial ventures in Australia post Federation.
As a precursor to the works being built it was necessary to construct a railway line from Newnes Junction near Clarence to the refinery site at Newnes in the Wolgan Valley. The line with a distance of some 52 kilometers including two substantial tunnels traversed some of the most spectacular and inaccessible country encountered at the time. This amazing feat was achieved in 14 months with some 1100 men working tirelessly without any sort of modern mechanical equipment.
The plant begun operations in 1907 and after a relative number of years of starts and stops with commercial uncertainty, the takeover of a new owner (John Fell & Co) and continual industrial unrest the works finally closed 1932. Some of the plant and equipment were relocated to the newly established Glen Davis shale oil works and the Clyde Oil refinery in Sydney. The railway line was removed in 1942 as part of the war effort and was sent to the Middle East. The Commonwealth Oil Corporation Limited was deregistered as a Company in September 1937.
Our Company Profile
COC Limited (“the Company”) is a limited-by-guarantee not-for-profit company registered with the Australian and Securities Commission, under the Australian Corporations Act, 2001. It was registered on 15th January 2009.
The Company was established as an entity which would provide a base to undertake normal company functions as well as being a driving force to developed and promote a number of significant projects with long term benefits for Lithgow.
COC Limited is operated voluntarily by a dedicated group of individuals with a common purpose in mind who have a very good links into community, industry and government to help achieve its goals.
The Company has a number of primary functions and responsibilities:
1. COC Limited currently manages and will own land in its own right at the Lithgow State Mine site (pending the current land sub division being finalized);
2. The Company holds all License Agreements for land and property for projects it is directly involved with both railway and non-railway.
3. COC Limited has registered a number of business names in which it uses to drive various developments. In some cases there are committees set up under those business names to manage the developments. The list of business names currently registered to COC Limited include;
• Eskbank Rail Heritage Centre
• Wolgan Valley Wilderness Rail Trail
• Wolgan Valley Wilderness Railway
• Bluebird Rail Operations
4. The Company is currently overseeing the development of two major projects of which both have the ability to produce economic development and employment opportunities for the region as well as preserving our local heritage in a sustainable way. These projects which have functioning committees assigned to them include:
• Eskbank Rail Heritage Centre (ERHC)
• Wolgan Valley Wilderness Rail Trail (WVWRT)
The current legal structure is used as it provides COC Limited more flexibility in operating across more than one (Australian) jurisdiction than a traditional incorporated not-for-profit association. Like an incorporated association however, the Company cannot pay dividends or a return to its members. Limited-by-Guarantee requires members to underwrite any liability should the company fold, to the amounts specified in its Constitution.
Our Company Operations
COC Limited is chartered with preserving, promoting and protecting Lithgow’s unique rail and industrial heritage which might otherwise be lost if we didn’t take steps to secure it for preservation and find innovative ways to use it.
In the last ten years since its creation the Company has been quietly going about its business being at the forefront of developing and capitalising on opportunities that could bring economic benefits to Lithgow through its interests in rail and industrial heritage tourism. It has involved itself in a number of projects and opportunities which may not of even got a start had it not become a catalyst to do so.
COC Limited is set to become the owner of 2.58 hectares of land at the State Mine site which will include the rail corridor and Workshop building which is home to the Lithgow State Mine Railway (a sister organisation to COC Limited) and a rail maintenance provider, the Lithgow Railway Workshop once the property sub division has been finalised. The property serves as the terminus for the tourist railway as well as providing the home for locomotives and rollingstock owned by the Eskbank Locomotive Depot & Museum and operated by the LSMR.
Property Under Licence
The Company administers under licence a number of properties owned by Sydney Trains which include the Eskbank Station Master’s residence in Railway Parade, the former Lithgow Station Booking and Parcels Office in Eskbank Street and the Eskbank Yard which includes the Eskbank Station precinct, the site of the former Eskbank Locomotive Depot and the State Mine branch line.
In 2010, COC Limited registered the Eskbank Rail Heritage Centre (ERHC) as a business unit of the company to promote the development of the Eskbank yard, which comprises the former Eskbank locomotive depot in the eastern end of the yard and the station precinct in the west as the centre piece from which a tourist train will operate from Eskbank Goods Shed along the State Mine branch to the Lithgow State Mine site showcasing the three main industries that Lithgow has built its foundations upon; coal mining, railways, iron and steel making and other heavy industries.
Our most recent project was the establishment of the Lithgow Railway Workshop in our building located at the Lithgow State Mine site where locomotive maintenance, servicing and provisioning is undertaken. This project revolves around a unique mix of commercial and heritage operations resulting in a partnership that is delivering dividends not only to the organizations concerned but to the community as a whole. This venture has been operating since 2011 and currently employees 30 full time employees including a number of apprentices.
Since 2014 COC Limited has also been promoting the establishment of a “rail trail” across the Newnes Plateau on the original alignment of the Wolgan Valley Railway which was built in 1907. It has been working with Forestry NSW, the Lands Department, and NSW Parks and Wildlife to secure the right of way to provide the region with its very own rail trail across the Newnes Plateau from Newnes Junction to the Wolgan Valley. COC currently has 10 kilometres of the 53 kilometres under licence from the Department of Lands. Negotiations have been underway for some time to secure the next 30 kilometres of the rail corridor from Forestry NSW which will bring the Rail Trail to the NSW parks & Wildlife boundary.
COC Limited is currently working with major rail industry players to establish a maintenance and training facility both in theory and practical terms utilising the Western Sydney University campus and the Eskbank Yard and State Mine branch. This will be developed along the same lines as the operation at the State Mine site where we have a number of partners who see the value of what we are trying to achieve for both the community and our heritage.
Given COC Limited’s connection to the oil shale industry at Newnes and its interest in the iconic Shay locomotives which were imported from the United States to operate its railway it was only logical that COC Limited would look to secure a Shay locomotive to become the centre piece of a fitting tribute to the Commonwealth Oil Corporation Limited’s efforts to develop the Shale oil works at Newnes. The quest to find a 3 truck, 70 ton Lima shay locomotive commenced in 2010 and they would soon find out just how difficult the task was going to be.
During the sixty or so years that the Lima Locomotive Works were building shay locomotives for the world market they constructed 2768 locomotives in various gauges and sizes. Australia received 20 shays in that period of which there were only 4 standard gauge which were purchased by the Commonwealth Oil Corporation. Today, worldwide there are only 116 known surviving examples of which approximately 20 are operational and most are found in the United States.
After a few years of searching the COC Limited located a 70 Ton 3 Truck Shay in California almost identical to the two 70 ton locomotives which operated at Newnes. Negotiations for the purchase began in 2012 and were concluded in August 2014 with the purchased of a 70 ton 3 truck shay S/N 2366 from Chris Baldo (Roots of Power Museum California). COC facilitated the search and purchase of the loco which is now owned by the Eskbank Locomotive Depot & Museum ( a sister company of COC Limited).
Once restored #2366 will be renumbered to follow on in the Commonwealth Oil Corporations locomotive roster as COC No.5. The shay will be displayed at Eskbank and operate on the Lithgow State Mine branch. COC Limited is currently facilitating the locomotives shipping from its current storage location to a port facility for cleaning and packing into containers for the sea voyage to Australia.