Puffing Billy Railway
The Puffing Billy Railway is a preserved narrow-gauge steam railway in the Dandenong Ranges on the outskirts of Melbourne, Victoria.
The railway was only the second railway in the world to be preserved, following the Talyllyn Railway in Wales, and is one of the world's best known preserved railways.
It operates daily (except Christmas Day) over a line 15 miles24.14 km
1,200.002 chains long between Belgrave and Gembrook in the Dandenong Ranges to the east of Melbourne, largely with the support of volunteers, although paid employees handle the core of driving duties, as well as workshop and administrative positions.
History of the line
The railway line over which the Puffing Billy Railway operates is one of four 2'6" gauge lines the former Victorian Railways (VR) built to open up mountainous regions of the state.
The line originally ran from Upper Ferntree Gully to Gembrook, a distance of 18 miles28.968 km
1,440.003 chains, and was opened in 1900.
Although the line was originally built to provide transport for the timber being cut in the Dandenong Ranges and potatoes and other farm produce on the cleared land, being close to Melbourne it also became popular with people visiting the Dandenong Ranges, and had considerable passenger traffic.
Following continuing operating losses and a series of landslides which blocked the line, the VR closed the line in 1954. However, a newspaper-sponsored operation of some farewell trips over the remaining usable section (from Upper Ferntree Gully to Belgrave) extended its life a little, and then the Puffing Billy Preservation Society was formed to keep the line running indefinitely.
The VR closed the remaining section of the line in 1958 and converted it to a broad-gauge electrified line, so it became part of Melbourne's suburban railway system.
When the Puffing Billy Preservation Society was formed, they arranged with the Victorian Railways to operate trips over the three-mile-long4.828 km
240 chains usable section of the line to Belgrave on holidays and weekends, with the Society selling tickets and guaranteeing the VR against any operating losses.
When this section was closed in 1958, the Society set about restoring operation over the section from Belgrave to Lakeside, a distance of 8 miles12.875 km
640.001 chains. They obtained the assistance of the Citizen Military Force (Army Reserve), especially for bypassing the 1953 landslide. A completely new station on a new site was also constructed at Belgrave. However, the goals were scaled back, and the line reopened in 1962 for just the four-mile6.437 km
320.001 chains section from Belgrave to Menzies Creek.
The line was still under the control of the VR with whom the Society had an arrangement to operate it for them. The Society provided volunteer staff for non-safety-critical roles such as selling tickets and manning the stations and refreshment kiosks, whilst the VR provided train crews and other safety-critical support.
The line was extended two miles3.219 km
160 chains to Emerald in 1965, and another two and a quarter miles3.621 km
180 chains to Lakeside (Emerald Lake) in 1975, fulfilling the original goal.
Because of continuing difficulties with the government-owned Victorian Railways operating the line for the Society, the Victorian Parliament passed the Emerald Tourist Railway Act in 1977 which transferred ownership of and responsibility for the line to the Emerald Tourist Railway Board, a new body set up for the purpose. This Board comprised appointees from both the state government and the preservation society.
The new board hired staff to take over some of the roles formerly performed by VR employees, including drivers and workshop and track staff. At the same time, the role of volunteers was expanded to include the tasks of locomotive firemen, train guards, and signalmen, with suitable training and certification. Later, driving was also opened to volunteers, although a group of employed drivers still provides the core of the driving duties.
In 1998 the remaining section of the line to Gembrook was reopened, bringing the length of the operating line to 15 miles24.14 km
1,200.002 chains. This required complete rebuilding, as all track, bridges, platforms, buildings, and signalling equipment had previously been removed. The right of way, however, had always remained with the railway.
Running through the southern edge of the Dandenong Ranges, the Puffing Billy line has many gradients and curves.
In fact there are no straight sections longer than 26 chains523.034 metres
1,143.995 cubits and very few level sections. Most grades are around 1 in 40, although there are two sections of 1 in 30. Most curves are between 3 chains60.35 metres
131.999 cubits and 10 chains201.167 metres
439.998 cubits in radius.
From Belgrave the line drops down to the bridge crossing Monbulk Creek (see picture above) then rises until Menzies Creek is reached.
From there it drops until it crosses the Belgrave-Gembrook road, then rises gently until Clematis before rising at 1 in 30 to Emerald, which at 1045'0.319 km
318.516 metres is just short of the second-highest point on the line. Leaving Emerald, the line begins a long down-grade to the lowest point on the line at the Cockatoo Creek crossing about half a mile0.805 km
40 chains before Cockatoo station, then climbs at 1 in 30 to the highest point on the line about a mile1.609 km
80 chains before Gembrook, after which there is a short downgrade before a nearly-level run to the terminus.
Although often travelling close to ridges, the country that the line travels through includes patchy timbered areas broken by small farms, and many homes, so for much of the journey distant views are not obtainable. Around Menzies Creek, however, there are views south across Cardinia Reservoir and beyond towards the Mornington Peninsula and Arthurs Seat. The line cuts through the very southern tip of Sherbrooke Forest just after leaving Belgrave, and the northern edge of Wright Forest between Wright and Cockatoo. The timbered areas include various types of eucalyptus trees and tree ferns.
After Fielder the forests give way to farms, and approaching Gembrook there are views north to Mt. Donna Buang and the Warburton Ranges.
The mainstay of the operating fleet are the five NA-class 2-6-2T engines, built to a Baldwin design between 1901 and 1914. These are supplemented with the sole surviving (of two built) G-class Beyer Garratt, built in 1926. In addition, there are three mainline diesel locomotives used on days of declared Total Fire Ban, when insufficient steam engines are available, for emergencies, shunting, and works trains. The railway also has several smaller locomotives used on special trains, including a Climax locomotive. This locomotive is one of only five operating in the world, the only one built for this gauge, and one of the last ever built.[note 1]
Double-heading has been a common practice on the railway for many years. In particular, because of the demands of coach tour groups, the 10:30am train (see Operations, below) will have up to 16 carriages hauled by two locomotives, with the second locomotive and additional carriages being detached at Menzies Creek and returned to Belgrave to form part of the 12:30pm train. If the Garratt locomotive is being used on the Luncheon train, this means that the 10:30am train will be hauled by an NA locomotive plus the Garratt; on other occasions it will be two NA locomotives. This is arranged on an ad hoc basis according to traffic demands, although since December 2014 this has become a permanent operation on weekends during the warmer months.
Details of locomotivs
- Details of operational locomotives
- Locomotive origins
|Locomotive||Builder||Date built||Original owner||Original gauge||Withdrawn [note 2]||Next owner|
|3A||Victorian Railways (Newport Workshops)||1900||VR||762mm30 inches||1955||Lord Mayor's Camp (Portsea)|
|6A||Victorian Railways (Newport Workshops)||1901||VR||762mm30 inches||—|
|7A||Victorian Railways (Newport Workshops)||1905||VR||762mm30 inches||—|
|8A||Victorian Railways (Newport Workshops)||1908||VR||762mm30 inches||1955||Beaumaris City Council|
|12A||Victorian Railways (Newport Workshops)||1912||VR||762mm30 inches||1954|
|14A||Victorian Railways (Newport Workshops)||1914||VR||762mm30 inches||1962|
|G42||Beyer Peacock, Manchester, England||1926||VR||762mm30 inches||1962|
|D21||Tasmanian Government Railways, Launceston||1968||TGR||1067mm42.008 inches||1983|
|DH5||Walkers, Maryborough, Queensland||1968||Queensland Government Railways||1067mm42.008 inches||?||State Electricity Commission of Victoria|
|DH25||Walkers, Maryborough, Queensland||1969||Queensland Government Railways||1067mm42.008 inches||?||Racecourse Mill|
|DH31||Walkers, Maryborough, Queensland||1970||Queensland Government Railways||1067mm42.008 inches||1994||ETRB|
|NRT1||Ruston||1951||State Electricity Commission of Victoria||915mm36.024 inches|
|Climax||Climax Locomotive Works, Corry, Pennsylvania||1928||Forest Commission of Victoria||1067mm42.008 inches|
|1711||Peckett & Sons, Bristol, England||1926||Metropolitan Gas Coy., West Melbourne||762mm30 inches||1941||Whistle Stop Amusement Park, Frankston|
|986||Soc. Anonyne des Usines, Couillet, Belgium||1890||Metropolitan Gas Coy., West Melbourne||762mm30 inches||1930s|
|861||Soc. Anonyne des Usines, Couillet, Belgium||1886||Metropolitan Gas Coy., West Melbourne||762mm30 inches||1930s|
|T.A.C.L.||1928||Forest Commission of Victoria||762mm30 inches||1949||Walhalla & Thomson River Steam Tramway|
- Locomotive acquisitions
|Locomotive||Acquired from||Date acquired||State when acquired||Work done||Restored to service [note 3]||State|
|3A||Lord Mayor's Camp (Portsea)||1977||Rusted static exhibit||—||—||Stored|
|8A||Beaumaris City Council||1970||Static exhibit||Rebuilt||1982||Operational|
|14A||Victorian Railways||Stored operational||Overhauled||1965||Operational|
|D21||Australian National Railways||1983||Stored||Regauged, rebuilt, renumbered, new livery||1987||Operational|
|DH5||Mackay Sugar Mill?||?||Operational?||Regauged, overhauled||?||Operational|
|DH25||Racecourse Mill?||?||Operational?||—||—||Stored (for spares?)|
|DH31||Queensland Government Railways||1995||Operational?||Regauged, overhauled||1996||Operational|
|NRT1||Melbourne & Metropolitan Board of Works||1977||Operational?||Restored||1978||Operational|
|Climax||Forest Commission of Victoria||1965 [note 4]||Non-operational||Rebuilt||2005?||Operational|
|1711||Whistle Stop Amusement Park, Frankston||1974||Operational?||Restored||1981||Operational|
|T.A.C.L.||Walhalla & Thomson River Steam Tramway||1974||Stored||Restored||2000||Operational|
The main carriage type used on the Puffing Billy Railway are the 25 NBH-class open-sided carriages (and derivatives), of which 11 were originally built by the Victorian Railways in 1919, four built by the preservation society in 1975/76 to replace four other VR-built ones that had been scrapped, and the remainder built between 1981 and 1998. The basic type of these carriages have two doors per side and seat 28 passenger on seats running longitudinally along the centre of the carriages, facing outwards. They are numbered 1 to 23 and 51 to 52.
Nos. 51 and 52 are 4'121.921 cm
48.001 inches longer than the others, having one set of double doors on each side substituting for one of the single doors, to cater for wheelchair passengers.
Nos. 11, 21, and 22 are classified NBHC as they include a guard's compartment. Nos. 21 and 22 can also accommodate three wheelchairs.
All these vehicles have half-height walls on each side, with two horizontal bars above the walls. Blinds, originally made of canvas, can be unrolled to provide weather protection, but are normally rolled up. Passengers are permitted to sit on the sides of these vehicles, with their legs outside the carriages.
The oldest carriages in operation are the end-platform carriages originally built between 1899 and 1904. No. 1 has been restored to near-original condition, while the other two are classified NBD as they include a (non-original) guard's compartment. No. 5 is used as a catering vehicles for the railway's luncheon and dinner trains (see below).
Two NB-class compartment carriages are in the operating fleet, both being modified to include guard's compartments. One is classified as NAC.
There is one combined passenger and guard's van in operation, as well as one guard's van (with no passenger accommodation). They are classed NBC and NC respectively.
Seven of the NQR-class open goods wagons have been modified for passenger operation, seating 28 passengers on seats arranged similarly to the NBH carriages. One of these, No. 146, is an open vehicles, whilst the remaining six have a canopy over them for weather protection, in a style similar to that used by the Victorian Railways before (and one some lines after) the NBH carriages were built to cater for passenger traffic greater than the existing passenger fleet could handle.
The remaining carriages are classified as NAL, with the "L" indicating that they were originally operating on the Mt. Lyell Railway in Tasmania. These end-platform cars are a distinctly different design with a wider body and curved sides. They are used exclusively for the railway's luncheon and dinner trains.
The Puffing Billy Railway has at least one example of every class of passenger and goods vehicle formerly operated on the Victorian Railways narrow gauge lines
The railway operates every day of the year except Christmas Day, with several different timetables operating depending on the time of the year, the day of the week, and school or public holidays. A typical timetable is shown at right.
Most days of the year, three trains are in operation. All start from Belgrave. One does two return trips to Lakeside (the second only to Emerald during winter weekdays), one does a single return trip (incorporating the Luncheon carriages, see below), and the other does a return trip to Gembrook (Lakeside during winter weekdays). Trains in opposing directions cross each other at Menzies Creek and Lakeside.
During the height of the Christmas holiday period, four trains operate between them five return trips to Lakeside and one return trip to Gembrook, with the latter adding a return trip from Gembrook to Lakeside where passengers may connect with trains to and from Belgrave.
One Lakeside train each day is a "Steam & Cuisine Luncheon Train"; it includes at least one of the NAL carriages catering for pre-booked passengers who will be served lunch on the train.
As far as possible, all trains are steam-hauled, normally by a single NA-class locomotive.
These trains typically have up to eleven carriages and are about 115 metres377.297 feet
5.717 chains long (the platform at Belgrave is 190 metres623.36 feet
9.445 chains long). The 12:30pm Luncheon train is often hauled by the Garratt locomotive and can have up to 16 carriages.
The railway caters for large numbers of coach tour groups, most of which travel just from Belgrave to Menzies Creek on the first train of the day.
The railway often operates "dinner" trains on Friday and Saturday evenings. Many of these are for social and other groups, but some are available for pre-booked public travel. These comprise up to the four NAL-class carriages, and operate to Nobelius Siding, between Nobelius and Emerald, where the former nursery packing shed served by the siding has been converted to a dinner and dance venue.
Several times a year the railway has a "Thomas the Tank Engine Day", with the Peckett locomotive dressed up as Thomas operating a short-distance push-pull service from Emerald with a diesel locomotive at the other end.
Members of the public wishing to drive a steam locomotive are catered for with "footplate experience trains", comprising No. 986 and a couple of carriages, operating a couple of trips between Emerald and Cockatoo. Passenger on this train are family members and friends of the driver for the day.
Also operated are numerous themed trains, such as Santa Specials, as well as trains hired by outside groups. These normally comprise an NA locomotive and the carriages from one of the regular services.
Safeworking and signalling
The railway uses a modified form of the Staff and Ticket system used by the Victorian Railways. It has been simplified by not allowing trains to shunt outside yard limits without the Train Staff, but is also more complicated by allowing for the operation of "fire patrols". Fire patrols are small petrol-powered four-wheeled vehicles (trolleys) which are also used for track maintenance. At times of high fire danger (the Dandenong Ranges is one of the most bushfire-prone areas of the world), these trolleys operate five minutes behind each train to check for any fires that might have been started by the passage of the train. Track maintenance trolleys do not normally operate on the same safeworking rules and trains, but following an accident when a train collided with one of these fire patrols, the Victorian Railways modified their Staff and Ticket rules to allow the operation of Puffing Billy's fire patrols within that system. Specifically, when a fire patrol follows a train the train operates on a Ticket and the fire patrol carries the Staff (or ticket if another train is to follow), but does not have to wait for the train to travel right through the section.
The railway uses standard Victorian two-position somersault semaphore signals, except that there are also three three-position semaphore signals, the only such operating signals left in existence in Victoria. These are used to prevent trains entering level crossings while shunting, at Belgrave and Emerald.
Apart from the three three-position signals, signals are mainly used on approach to stations, specifically Belgrave, Menzies Creek, Emerald, Lakeside, Cockatoo, and Gembrook. Belgrave and Lakeside (down end) also have signals controlling departure from the station, because of facing points used by departing trains. Menzies Creek also has signals controlling departing trains, because of the mainline points being locked in both directions. Belgrave, Menzies Creek, and Lakeside have both inner and outer home signals, to allow for trains to shunt without entering the Staff sections.
Because the railway is a preserved railway, it makes little sense to have closed (decommissioned or demolished) stations. However, in practice, only about half the stations are normally used, with the remainder being mainly part of the preserved heritage of the railway. If Nobelius Siding is not counted, trains stop at every second station, skipping each other one.
The following details only refer to the stations as they have existed since preservation.
As the VR retained the original site of Belgrave station for their new station, the Preservation Society had to build a completely-new station.The new station was built on a straight section of track on a 1 in 40 downhill grade. The new station comprised a platform and station building (moved from the original station), a run-around road and loop siding, and a locomotive road with a loco shed and coal stage. The loco shed contained an inspection pit.
The risks involved with having the main station on a significant grade eventually resulted in a new station being built, although most of the old yard was retained for stabling carriages.
A new locomotive shed was constructed just around the bend from the station, although this was later turned into a workshop and extended. So a third locomotive running shed was built on the outside of the curve between the second station and the workshops. A new main line just beyond the first crossing was built adjacent to the original, and the original track became another siding for the storage of carriages.
The new (third) station, now on level track, has a platform 190 metres623.36 feet
9.445 chains long, extending much of the way around the first curve.
The station is also the headquarters of the railway, with the second floor of the station building holding the main administrative offices (the other is at Emerald).
Belgrave is one of the largest towns in the Dandenong ranges, and of course the railhead for the suburban line to Melbourne.
Selby is a non-stop station with a simple shelter. It is located next to a former road, now a footpath.
The town of Selby has numerous houses, a few shops, a school, a fire station, and an old church.
Menzies Creek was the terminus of the line when it reopened in 1962, and following reopening to Emerald in 1965 became a crossing station. It has been completely rebuilt over the years, with little of the original station remaining.
The station has an island platform, an interlocked signal box, a loop siding (original), and a siding to the adjacent museum, which siding also contains an inspection pit used for inspecting the running gear of the rolling stock.
Although there are a fair number of houses in the area, there is no real town centre. The former general store adjacent to the railway is closed, but there is also a church, a school, and a fire station.
Clematis is a non-stop station, although trains do sometimes stop here by prior arrangement for groups visiting the adjacent hotel. It also has a loop siding used for loading firewood, which is used for lighting up the steam locomotives. The station building was formerly used by the Preservation Society's youth group, although these days is just used for storage.
There are a fair number of houses in the area, but no town centre other than the Paradise Hotel, which back onto the station. There is also a fire station.
Emerald is the most original station on the line, although a number of additions have been made to it. When trains returned to the line in 1965, it contained a passing loop and loop siding, plus a dead-end siding. A large shed erected by a former lessor became the railway's carriage workshops, and an additional dead-end siding was added.
A large goods was erected and is the headquarters of the Signals and Telegraph branch of the railway. A turntable was added at the Belgrave end to allow for turning vehicles around (the original railway never had a turntable), and later a locomotive shed was added to house the smaller operating locomotives.
The town of Emerald is the largest on the line after Belgrave, and is a busy centre with churches (including St. Mark's, a large Anglican church near the station), schools, numerous shops, fire station, RSL club, restaurants, etc.
There are two "town centres", one being adjacent to the railway, and the other about 700 metres2,296.588 feet
34.797 chains away. In the town is one of the Railway Board's administrative offices.
Nobelius Siding was a goods siding—the only siding outside station limits—originally built to serve the packing shed of the adjacent Nobelius Nursery, the largest plant nursery in the southern hemisphere. The packing shed has now been converted as a dinner-dance venue, and the evening dinner trains stop there, so the location is now used for passengers.
Nobelius is a non-stop station, comprising a platform and a simple shelter.
There is no town of Nobelius, although there are a small number of houses nearby.
Lakeside was a minor stop with almost no facilities prior to preservation, but became the terminus following extension from Emerald in 1975. It is still the terminating point of most trains.
A completely new station was built, then later completely rebuilt. The current station has an island platform, and there is a dead-end siding at the Gembrook end, only used occasionally.
The station is sited in the Emerald Lake Park which occupies most of the former Nobelius nursery (the railway between Nobelius Siding and Lakeside forms the southern boundary of the park). The park itself contain a small lake, paddle boats, a large model railway, picnic and barbecue facilities, amphitheatres, and bush walks.
Wright is another non-stop station. It has a simple shelter, but the platform has not yet been reinstated.
There is no town of Wright, and very few houses close by.
Cockatoo has a platform and a basic station building used only for railway operating purposes. The station has a loop siding, but the former passing loop has not been reinstated. Cockatoo is the terminus of the Footplate Experience Trains that the railway operates, but otherwise sees little use, with few passengers boarding or alighting, although all passenger trains through the station do stop here.
The town centre of Cockatoo is adjacent to the station. The town has a small shopping centre, churches, a fire station, and a school.
Fielder is the last non-stop station, comprising a short platform and a simple shelter. The station was originally named after a local family, and descendants of that family contributed to a reinstated shelter in the preservation era.
The station has seen some use as the terminus of shuttle trains from Gembrook before the line was fully reopened from Lakeside.
There is no town of Fielder, and there are only a small number of houses nearby. The station is, however, adjacent to the Gembrook main road.
The original Gembrook station comprised a run-around loop and a loop siding, two dead-end sidings at the down end serving timber tramways, a dead-end siding at the down end as an extension of the main line, and another siding which originally held a locomotive shed, water tank, and loco inspection pit.
Almost nothing remained of the original station when the line was reopened from Lakeside, but all tracks were reinstated except one of the timber sidings. The original inspection pit was restored, and the original water tank stand was refurbished and provided with a new tank. A station building was reinstated on the original platform site, and is used for railway operating purposes, but trains do not normally use this platform.
The main departure from the original station was that a completely new platform and large station building was provided on the dead-end extension of the main line, adjacent to the main road. This is known as the "town platform" to distinguish it from the restored "heritage platform", and is where all trains terminate. With no run-around available here, all arriving trains must shunt back to the heritage station where the locomotive runs around the train, then pushes it back to the platform for the next departure.
The town has a small shopping centre, a fire station, a museum, churches, and a school. The hotel opposite the station has been closed in recent years, but may reopen.