Puffing Billy is Australia’s favourite steam train and one of the finest preserved steam railways in the world. The Puffing Billy runs on narrow gauge (762mm) in the Dandenong Ranges from Belgrave to Gembrook. Around 900 volunteers contribute their services for the running and maintenance of Puffing Billy. On any day there are 30 to 50 volunteers working on the railway supported by a team of paid staff. The Railway operates every day except Christmas Day. It runs on 24km of the original mountain tracks and travel through the forests and fern gullies of the magnificent Dandenong Ranges. The open sided carriages of Puffing Billy are the best to see the stunning views on the way.
Stations with stops on the way
Gembrook Station is located at the end of the Puffing Billy line. It is also home to Railway’s day out with Thomas and Santa Special. There is a refreshment room at the station and Souvenirs, food and beverages are also available at the station.
Puffing Billy crosses three timbers bridges between Lakeside and Cockatoo station. These bridges span small creeks and the second bridge being the highest on the line with 15.2 metres. The third bridge over the Cockatoo creek is the lowest point of the line. On its way to Cockatoo the railway skirts the northern boundary of the unspoilt Wright State Forest.
The Lakes Side station is located within the Emerald Lake Park and is the half way point along the line to Gembrook. Emerald lake park is equipped with BBQ facilities, picnic tables and paddle boats are available for hire at the lake.
Emerald is the highest station in the Puffing Billy line at an altitude of 318 metres. Puffing Billy’s carriage workshop is housed at Emerald. Emerald Station building is the only original station building intact in the line.
Menzies Creek is the first stop after Belgrave and is the destination for many tour groups. As Puffing Billy is a single rail line. It is only at stations such as Menzies Creek you can watch trains passing by. It is also home to Puffing Billy Museum.
Belgrave is the headquarters of Puffing Billy Railway and most trains commence their journey here. At the refreshment shop one can purchase souvenirs, food and beverages. At the locomotive Running shed and Workshop here is where the storage, maintenance and restoration takes place on Puffing Billy Trains.
Puffing Billy fares depend on what length of the journey one is travelling. You can catch the train from any of the stations along the way. Detailed information about the fare can be found from their website
History of Puffing Billy
After many years of agitations from farmers living the Dandenong Ranges, the Colonial administration authorised the construction of a railway line from Upper Ferntree Gully to Gembrook in August 1898. The railway on a narrow gauge extending around 29km were completed and the first train steamed into Gembrook station on 18th December 1900.
The Railway served as an affordable way to take the produce to the markets in the city. The goods and passengers were carried together in the train. After the 1920’s the Dandenong Ranges started attracting tourists from all around Australia. Even with increased patronage, the railway was still making losses. By the 1930’s due to the effect of recession the losses became huge. After the World War II situation became even worse and the Gembrook line was running only two or three services a week. In 1953 a major land slide happened half way between Selby and Menzies Creek that covered the tracks with rocks and mud. The Railway did not show much interest in clearing the tracks and bringing the operation back to normal. The line was declared closed in 1954.
But the closure of the line was met with public outcry to preserve the heritage line for future generations. A petition was submitted to the State Parliament pleading the retention of the service.
Puffing Billy preservation society was formed in 1955 with the intention of bringing the railway line back to life. With extensive lobbying from the group, Victorian Railways agreed to run trains from Belgrave and Upper Ferntree Gully on weekends and public holidays.
The extension of modern electric train service on Broad gauge to Belgrave again put a death knell on Puffing Billy. If not for a group of volunteers who took up the challenge of rebuilding repairing old tracks and building a new station at Belgrave, Puffing Billy would have been history. Four years of hard work by volunteers and their sympathisers put the Billy back on track on 28th July 1962 from Belgrave to Menzies Creek. Since then it never looked back. In 1998 after building another 11 km of track it was extended upto Gembrook.
Address of Belgrave Station : 1 Old Monbulk Road, Belgrave VIC 3160
Puffing Billy – Spirit of the Dandenongs by Nick Anchen
That Little Train – Puffing Billy Railway 1900 – 1953 by Peter Cuffley
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