Page 40

More of the Blue Mountains.

Mount Piper Power Station.

Pam didn't want to visit this 'attraction' so I dropped her at the shops in Lithgow to indulge in retail therapy while I went to the power station. When I arrived at the appointed time the visitors' car park was empty so I thought I might be on my own. However, a few minutes later a coach arrived with about twenty five teenage school kids and a handful of teachers.

The first thing I learned was that my beloved camera would not be allowed inside the buildings, so I took a quick photo from outside and left the camera in the car.

Mount Piper Power Station

Mount Piper, Australia's newest base load coal fired power station. After fifteen years operation
it is spotlessly clean and nicely landscaped. It is almost fully automated.

Mount Piper is a coal-fired power station. What impressed me first about it was the total absence of visible smoke from the furnace chimney - I always associated coal burning with chimneys belching black filth and sulphur. Not at this power station. Yet, at full power, the furnace consumes 14,000 tonnes of coal per day. Just pause and think about that - fourteen thousand tonnes of coal per day! This results in 3,500 tonnes of ash per day. All that ash is removed from the furnace exhaust by a filter system consisting of fabric bags which trap 99.98% of the solids so there is apparently nothing coming from the stack. Of course, the dreaded greenhouse gas, CO2, is colourless so it was impossible to guess how much was leaving the stack to worsen globing warming. The cooling towers do have a visible discharge but that is just pure steam.

The coal comes from a local mine via a conveyer belt. It is crushed down to the consistency of talcum powder then mixed with air before it is blown into the furnace. In that form it burns instantly like a gas, generating temperatures of well above 1,000° Centigrade. The furnace is a vast size and I had the opportunity to look into it; it was like looking into the sun. It superheats water to 540° Centigrade at a pressure of 16,550 kPa. That water is converted to steam to drive the turbines. The turbines, in turn, drive two (surprisingly small, I thought) generators at 3,000 r.p.m. (50 hertz). These generators are capable of supplying 660 megawatts of power each. Before transmitting that power across country via those ugly high tension cables, the generator's output voltage is stepped up to 330,000 volts by transformers.

The station is operated from a large Control Room where a handful of men monitor computer screens on a central console, surrounded by a huge array of lights and gauges around the walls. Elsewhere in the plant we only saw one or two workers. Our guide said that the power station only employs about two hundred workers in total. He suggested a similarly sized Chinese power plant might employ eight thousand.

Currently, coal burning power stations receive a lot of bad press. Is this invisible discharge from the stack what is meant by 'clean coal'? Until all the carbon can be removed from the CO2 and disposed of safely (and that is some years away), then you can't describe any coal fired power station as 'clean'.

I recently watched a television program on Chinese nuclear power stations - perhaps you saw it. The scientist was asked how efficient a nuclear power plant is. He replied, 31% efficient - less efficient than a coal fired power station. This is born out by Mount Piper's efficiency of 36%. I wondered about all the water cooling that goes on, just so that it can be reheated later. I guess I don't understand enough about it.

Interestingly, this power station sells tomorrow's power today - literally! If the price offered is low, they cut back. If the price is high they sell all the electricity they can generate. One Christmas the demand had been badly underestimated and power stations were offered a huge price for any additional power they could pump into the grid. Mount Piper was already at full capacity but they knew that the generators were capable of being driven quite a lot harder without risk. The energy company made a small fortune that day and the rating of the generators was subsequently upgraded.

The Zig Zag Railway

Engine 1072

Engine 1072, City of Lithgow, arriving in Clarence station. Steam locomotives run at about 3% efficiency.
She was built in Maryborough in 1956 and was of the last design ever produced.

Many years ago, in 1860, there was a need to transport people and goods up and down a very steep mountainside from Clarence to the Lithgow Valley below. A normal railway was impossible because of the severe gradient, so a zig zag track was designed. The track layout took the form of a huge letter 'Z'.

Starting from Clarence station at the top of the hill, the train descended across the slope on what is called the Top Road which ends at the Top Points. There the engine uncoupled and changed ends. The Top Points were then changed and the train set off down the Middle Road to the Bottom Points where, again, the engine changed ends. The Bottom Points were switched, directing the train down the Bottom Road to its destination on the valley floor. There the engine changed ends yet again for the return trip. These days the tourist trains turn back at the Bottom Points where there is a station.

All this swapping around of the engine is very time consuming. Is it really necessary? Yes, said one of the railway's drivers. If the engine was at the back of a descending train and a coupling failed, it would be curtains for anyone in the runaway coaches. If that is so, why place the engine at the front going up the gradient, I asked. I did receive a very comprehensive reply but I was totally lost by midway through the explanation. It probably could have been abbreviated to Shut up and go away.

Note: This was before the introduction of Westinghouse brakes where compressed air from the engine holds all the brakes on the train off. Any failure results in all the brakes being fully applied.

The engineering of the track involved two tunnels through the rock and two sandstone viaducts. Today the trains run three times daily for tourists. Passengers can alight and take photographs each time the engine changes ends, and perhaps watch it top up with water. Steam engines are used on Wednesdays and at weekends. The sight, sound and smell of City of Lithgow straining up the steep gradients, belching smoke, brought back happy memories of childhood.

Train entering tunnel

The view from the carriage window as the train was about to enter a tunnel, and . . . half way through the tunnel.


Here, we were on the Top Road looking down at the two sandstone viaducts on the Middle Road
and, lower still, the double track on the Bottom Road, now electrified. The rock ledge on which
the Top Road runs can be seen above the viaducts, sloping down towards the Top Points.
Unfortunately a severe bush fire recently burned this whole area, as can be seen in this picture.

Overtaking Sign

OVERTAKING LANE 500m AHEAD.   Settle, City of Lithgow, that sign is on the highway.
The engine's nice and shiny but the carriages look like a wash wouldn't hurt. Or a paint job.

I have about 45 more steam engine pictures, would you like to see some? No, I thought not. You're clearly not a steam buff. Okay, how about I tell you Pam's favourite (and only) joke? Was that a Yes? Anything but steam trains and power stations? Right then, here goes.

What is the last thing a woman wants to hear when she's enjoying good sex? Honey, I'm home.

Well, you asked for it.

Govett's Leap

Don't get too excited, images of a distraught Govett leaping his horse over the edge of a cliff in despair after being thwarted in love are totally fallacious. William Romaine Govett was a boring old Assistant Surveyor who came across this waterfall by accident in 1831. Was he one of good old Matt Flinder's boys? Don't know. Anyway, Govett's Leap is a platform for viewing a waterfall plunging over a cliff. Not much water but plenty of fall.

Govett's Falls

Govett's Leap. What a shame a recent fire spoiled the foreground vegetation. Still, it's all part
of the cycle. There's a bit of a rainbow at the bottom of the falls, see it? No? Well, look harder.

View from Govetts

A fairly typical view from a Blue Mountains lookout platform.
The Govett's Leap falls are just off the photo to the right.

While we were at Govett's Leap a tour bus arrived with a very loud driver, so we listened in with interest to his version of how this landscape came to be formed. Millions of years ago continental plates collided, he said, and in the fullness of time, the ground between them sank. Since then weather erosion took over to leave what we see in the photo above. It's as good a theory as any.

Pam and Pete

Left: Pam looking at the picture she just took of me about to photograph her looking at the picture.
Right: Me about to take a photo of Pam checking the photo of me about to take a photo of her.

Just in case you're fed up with seeing all these lovely scenes and sunshine, I took a photo from our caravan door at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday, 25th February 2007. As darkness fell that evening nothing had changed. In the caravan we had the heater on; outside it was cold and everything dripped.


11:00 a.m., Sunday February 25th. Summer in the Blue Mountains.

Jenolan Caves

Just about everybody who has ever visited the Blue Mountains will have visited the fabulous Jenolan Caves. The weather still being misty, cold (14° C.) and wet in Katoomba, we decided it would be a good day to see the caves. To reach them we drove seventy kilometres, the last few kilometres being along a narrow, twisting road, frequently with an almost sheer drop on the left and only a wire fence attached to rotten stumps to prevent us going over if something went wrong. We crawled around hairpin bend after hairpin bend, praying nothing large was coming the other way. The final section took us through the Grand Arch, a huge natural cave in the side of the mountain through which a road has been built. It is only wide enough to permit one vehicle though at a time and if that vehicle is a tourist bus, the clearance on either side is negligible. Yet they do get through.

Grand Arch

The Grand Arch at Jenolan. Buses drive through here!

Jenolan Caves were discovered in about 1830. Thanks to John Lucas, a far-seeing Member of Parliament, the caves were protected as early as 1866 and so are still in wonderfully good condition. Lucas had observed that the increasing numbers of visitors were damaging the caves and there was talk of mining there. In return for his work in preserving the caves, the Lucas Cave was named after him.

Jenolan House

Caves House (left) providing accommodation, restaurants and bars. Right is the ticket office.
Caves House was commenced in 1896 and extended later.

New caves are still being discovered at Jenolan - about three hundred are now known - and doubtless there are more. Guided tours give public access to eleven caves and two more - the Devil's Coach House and the Nettle Cave - may be visited without a guide. This we did but not before we had toured the Lucas Cave first which involved nine hundred steps!

Lucas Cave

Two visitors on the boardwalk in the Lucas Cave, photographing the stalactites.


A crystal array of stalactites formed by the slow seepage of water containing dissolved calcium.

Each drip evaporates on the end of the stalactite without falling, leaving a further deposit of calcium. If the water seepage is greater and the droplet falls, evaporating on the cave floor, a stalagmite begins to grow upwards. When the two meet they form a column.

Broken Column

This column snapped when the cave floor subsided a long, long time ago.
Erosion from an underground river has been blamed for the movement.

That's it for Page 40. There are more cave pictures on Page 41 - just click below.

Footnote: This re-working of Page 40 was completed on 28 April 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.