Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Puffing Billy

Finally! Having driven by on numerous occasions and promising the kids a trip, we finally headed out for a ride on the Puffing Billy.

Puffing Billy, a major tourist attraction here in Melbourne, runs between Belgrave and Gembrook. The tracks wind through forests, luscious fern gullies, and farmlands in the Dandenongs, just east of Melbourne. This line was opened on 18 December 1900 operating just over 29 km between Upper Ferntree Gully and Gembrook until 1953. In 1953, a landslide between Selby and Menzies Creek blocked the track and, because of mounting operating losses, the line was closed the following year.

In late 1954, the local paper worked with the Victorian Railways to organize one last running of the trains before the track was to be torn up. On 11 December 1954, 30,000 people came to say farewell to the trains. The popularity of this special became the catalyst to Puffing Billy's survival.

Continued interest in operating the line eventually led to the formation of the Puffing Billy Preservation Society. The majority of the staff are volunteers, and they are all incredibly friendly.

Fire, cool...

We're off

During the trip, the train passes over this lovely wooden bridge, now classified by the National Trust of Victoria. It carries the train over Monbulk Creek and the main Gembrook Road. It is around 91 meters long and 13 meters high.

Approaching the Trestle Bridge

Whilst winding through the forest, the atmosphere on the train is positively 'stoked'. Everyone is buzzing and enjoying the trip, many of them sitting on the sides of the carriages, hanging their legs and arms out.

Winding through the forest

Tall Ash!

A depression in the early 1890s brought a halt to the rapid expansion of railways in Victoria. In its place, 2 feet 6 inch narrow gauge lines were promoted as a way to link remote communities, particularly in hilly country, without the expense of the 5 ft 3 in broad gauge railways. Railways officials opposed them, citing the inconvenience and expense of a break-of-gauge, but a parliamentary committee eventually recommended that four experimental lines be built. None of the lines constructed ever made a profit and the gradual decline in patronage due to the increasing use of cars brought the inevitable reduction in services and hastened the end of the narrow gauge railway.

More rolling stock

Water Stop

From Belgrave, there are a few destinations you can head to. We find that going up to Lakeside (Emerald State Park) and back is just right, for us, and the kids.

Lakeside is a great place to alight from the train for a picnic and a peaceful stroll around Emerald Lake Park. We had been here a couple times via car, but this was the first time by train. Trains usually pause here for the crew to fill the water tanks and this offers train fans a great chance to see the action up close.

Lakeside Choo-Choo

Puffing Billy offer many different packages, check their site for details. What looks interesting for us is the Day Out With Thomas (you're never too old to meet Sir Topham Hatt!), and the Great Train Race where you can race Puffing Billy over some varying (read: hilly) terrain.