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Puffing Billy (not his real name) must be the most well known steam railway in Australia. Distinguished by being the first railway preservation effort in Australia, the railway has grown from humble volunteer beginnings in the late 1950s to become a fully operational and professional railway system. Although it still relies heavily upon volunteer labour, there is a dedicated professional staff of about 30 full time employees who oversee the daily running (except Christmas Day), including trains that now run all the way to the recently (Oct 1998) restored terminus at Gembrook.
The Belgrave to Gembrook line is the sole (original) survivor of a number of narrow-gauge (762mm or 2ft6in) built by the Victorian Railways from the 1890s as "pioneering" branch lines. The narrow gauge lines were Wangaratta to Whitfield (1899), Upper Ferntree Gully (UFTG) to Gembrook (1900), Colac to Beech Forest/Crowes (1902/1911), and Moe to Walhalla (1910). The latter line has been relaid from Thompson River to Walhalla, and the line was opened by the Victorian Premier Steve Bracks in March 2002. Trains operate every Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday, public holidays and all of January. The website is at Walhalla Goldfields Railway .
The lines were all closed in the 1950s, except Colac to Crowes, which hung on until 1962. The UFTG-Gembrook line was closed in 1952 by a landslide at Selby, and for a while, some excursion trains were run between UFTG and Belgrave until that section was closed for gauge broadening and electrification in 1958.
A group of enthusiasts worked hard to reopen the line, and in 1962, permission was obtained to run from Belgrave to Menzies Creek, rerouting around the landslide with the aid of some sharp curves and army assistance. Since then, the line has been gradually reopened to Emerald (1971?), Lakeside (1978?) and recently, Gembrook (1998).
During a period while I was a volunteer at the Emerald Carshops, I occasionally took my camera along to capture some steam action going past. Many of these photos come from around Emerald, but there are a few others.
Bill Russell has a series of pages on the Victorian Government Narrow Gauge Railways that gives additional information on Puffing Billy and related railways systems in Victoria.
If you want to see Peter Peckett's big brother, visit The Wakahine Tourist Railway
For another Garratt at Puffing Billy, see also APC-1
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