Thursday, October 8, 2015

Richmond: All change for Tigerland

Richmond Railway Station lies just 3 km northeast of Southern Cross Station in the city of Melbourne and first opened in 1859 as Swan Street Station. Today Richmond is a major station on Melbourne's Metro Trains network. When alighting at Richmond however, you can forget any reference to the name Swan. This station lies smack in the middle of Tigerland.

Richmond Railway Station's platforms stand above busy Punt Road in the heart of Tigerland, 2015.

Swan Street Station was renamed Richmond in 1867, and over the course of its life has been rebuilt 4 times. The current elevated station dates back to 1960 and consists of 10 platforms that span across busy Punt Road. Punt Road Oval lies diagonally across the road from Richmond Station, and although AFL team the Richmond Tigers now play their home games at the 100,000 seat MCG, Punt Road is still considered to be the heart of Tigerland.

Sunset over the city of Melbourne as viewed from the southern end of Richmond Station, 2015.

There is a railway myth that I was keen to put to the test during my visit to Melbourne, and that was that by standing at the southern end of Richmond Station during evening peak hour, you were able to see 8 trains at once on the 8 different tracks that lead out of Flinders Street Station. So alighting from the train just on sunset early on a Friday evening, I headed to the southern end of the platform to see if it was true, and was it? Well, in a word, no. The covered pedestrian ramps that lead down to Punt Road block any opportunity to see all 8 tracks heading towards the city. What it did provide however, was a great view of the sunset over the city of Melbourne. Maybe the myth dates back to one of the stations earlier incarnations, when it may have been possible to view 8 trains at a time, but with this myth busted, and with a Friday night football crowd descending on the station for the Tigers game at the nearby MCG, it was time for this railway adventurer to catch the next train back to the city.

Richmond was just one of the many stations I visited during my 3 day railway adventure around Melbourne. From Geelong to Gembrook to the MCG, I covered 365 km by train while discovering some of Melbourne's best kept secrets by train. Its all in my book Train Tripping Around Melbourne which is easily downloadable onto your iPad, tablet or iPhone to provide a window seat guide to exploring the best of Melbourne by train. If you enjoyed reading this post, then for just 99 cents I know you will enjoy discovering the history, facts and funny stories that I unearthed while exploring Melbourne's railway stations.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Menzies Creek: Puffing Billy's heritage station

The Puffing Billy Railway is Australia's, if not the world's, finest example of a fully preserved working steam railway. And Menzies Creek Railway Station has been hauling trainloads of delighted tourists from all over the world ever since the 2 foot 6 inch narrow gauge railway reopened as a tourist railway in 1962.

Locomotive 14A prepares to uncouple from 6A at Menzies Creek to work a return train to Belgrave. 2015.

Back in 1962, Menzies Creek was the end terminus for the Puffing Billy trains from Belgrave, but it took just 3 more years for the tireless volunteer army of steam enthusiasts to reopen the line a further 3 km down the line to the town of Emerald.

Menzies Creek Railway Station on the Puffing Billy Railway as photographed in July 2015.

Situated 6 km from Belgrave, Menzies Creek Station was one of the original stations on the Gembrook line when it first opened back in 1900. It served as part of the Victorian Railways network, connecting with the 5 foot 3 inch broad gauge line at Upper Ferntree Gully until a landslide closed the narrow gauge line in 1953. Less than 10 years later however, the station was once more a hive of activity.

Even the amenities building built for visiting bus groups adds to the heritage feel of Menzies Creek, 2015.

Menzies Creek Station is the changeover point for day tour groups being shown the sights of Melbourne's Dandenong Ranges. Here the train is divided in two, with the front half proceeding to Lakeside and the rear half returning to Belgrave. As one throng of tourists leave the train to board the waiting road coaches, another group arrives to take their place, making Menzies Creek one busy little station.

Menzies Creek goods shed stands directly opposite the railway station, photo 2015.

While the tourists queue for a photo beside one of the century old narrow gauge steam locomotives, it is worth taking the time to look out the other side of the train window. You might just be able to spot the tiny Menzies Creek goods shed nestled among the towering eucalyptus trees.

A time-honoured walk. Puffing Billy Railway's Menzies Creek Station Master prior to departure, July 2015.

Menzies Creek is also the location of the Puffing Billy Narrow Gauge Steam Museum. First established in 1962, it is currently undergoing a massive refurbishment before it reopens to the public. But perhaps my best memory of Menzies Creek Station will be the sight of the Station Master ringing his bell while walking the length of the train shortly before pulling away for Lakeside. The sound of that bell followed by the shrill cry of the locomotive's whistle still plays in my mind whenever I close my eyes.

Menzies Creek and the entire trip aboard Puffing Billy are covered in my book Train Tripping Around Melbourne. Over 3 days of riding trains around Melbourne, I covered 365 km of rail line while visiting places such as Gembrook, Geelong and retracing Australia's first public railway to Station Pier in Port Melbourne. Designed as a window seat guide to exploring Melbourne by train, it is available from just 99 cents and can easily be downloaded onto your tablet or smartphone to turn an ordinary train trip into an extraordinary railway adventure of your own. If you enjoyed reading this post, then you'll enjoy all the facts, figures and interesting stories I dig up in my book Train Tripping Around Melbourne.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Belgrave: Tale of two stations

Belgrave's Metro Trains Station (above) lies 42 km north-east of Melbourne's Southern Cross Station. Located in the heart of Melbourne's Dandenong Ranges, Belgrave is a tale of two railway stations. The Metro Trains Station that marks the end of the Melbourne's suburban railway network, and the Puffing Billy Railway Station that lies just beyond the Burwood Highway overpass.

Belgrave's Puffing Billy Railway Station as seen on the approach from the Metro Trains platform. 2015.

A trip aboard Puffing Billy is a must-do when visiting Melbourne, and the easiest way to get there is by catching a Metro Trains service to Belgrave. Trains run hourly and the station is a short walk along a well-sealed path to the Puffing Billy Railway's headquarters.

Belgrave's Puffing Billy Railway Station before the crowds arrive for the first train, 2015.

The Puffing Billy Railway is a testament to the volunteers who fought to reopen the narrow gauge railway line. Built back in 1900 as a cheaper alternative for bringing timber and produce down from the hills of Gembrook, it was a landslide that ultimately led to the narrow gauge line's closure in 1954. By the time the line from Melbourne to Belgrave was reopened as a broad gauge electrified line in 1962, the Puffing Billy Preservation Society had reopened as the former line as a tourist attraction, running steam trains as far as Menzies Creek.

Today, Puffing Billy is regarded as Australia's favourite steam train, Belgrave Station, 2015.

Today the former 2'6" narrow gauge line operates all the way to Gembrook, with preserved steam locomotives hauling trains through the forest in much the same way as they did when the line first opened 115 years ago. The Puffing Billy Railway is regarded as not only Australia's favourite steam train, but one of the finest examples of a fully operating steam railway in the world!

Who doesn't like a ride on a steam train? Taken on my previous visit in 2005.

Perhaps the biggest thrill for the hundreds of tourists that make the journey aboard Puffing Billy each day, is the opportunity to sit with your legs dangling over the side of the carriage while watching the scenery pass by. And after a day riding the train through the Dandenong Ranges to either Lakeside or the end of the line at Gembrook, getting back to Melbourne is as easy as walking the path back to Belgrave's Metro Trains Station. Provided you can drag yourself away from the gift shop.

Trains waiting at Belgrave's Metro Station for the return journey to Melbourne, 2015.

Belgrave really is a tale of two railway stations. A place where the old has managed to find a place alongside the new. Belgrave and the entire trip aboard Puffing Billy from Belgrave to Gembrook were also the focus for the final day of my Train Tripping Around Melbourne adventure. While seeing just how much of Melbourne I could see by train and tram in just 72 hours, I covered a total distance of 365 km. Puffing Billy, Geelong and Australia's first public railway line are all covered in my 3 day self-guided railway adventure, and best of all, the book is available to download onto your iPhone, iPad, tablet or eReader for as little as 99 cents. If you enjoyed reading this post, then I do hope you get yourself a copy of Train Tripping Around Melbourne. Who knows? You may even find yourself setting off on an easily affordable railway adventure of your own.

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