Monday, 25 November 2013

Ballarat: Victorian Railways' Golden Era

The Victorian Gold Rush of 1851 gave birth to the town of Ballarat, 115 km west of Melbourne, and saw more than 20,000 miners working the gold fields by 1853. With all this new found wealth and the surge in the town's population that followed, calls for a railway line to connect the people of the gold mining area to the city of Melbourne were quickly heard. Work began in 1858, and no expense was spared in building the broad gauge line north-west from the port of Geelong to the town of Ballarat, with the line officially opening on April 10, 1862.

What you see when you visit Ballarat Railway Station today, is a result of the 1891 station upgrade of what was officially at the time Ballarat West Railway Station. Despite the government of the day spending one-and-a-half million pounds on building the 151 km double tracked railway line from Melbourne via Geelong, a more direct 121 km rail line between Melbourne and Ballarat was officially opened in 1889. This line became known as the Serviceton Line, or Western Line that connected the capital cities of Melbourne and Adelaide via the town of Serviceton on the Victorian/South Australian border. Later when Ballarat East Railway Station was closed in the 1960's and the station building near the site of the Humffray Street level crossing was demolished, the station simply became known as Ballarat.

A V/Line Sprinter railcar service to Ararat passes under the heritage listed signal bridge and mechanical interlocking level crossing gates in Ballarat that still stand today.

Ballarat Station itself is a lasting tribute to the wealth that was extracted from the ground during Australia's Gold Rush. Ballarat had by 1870 been proclaimed a city and the railway station reflected the prosperity of the government of the day. The funny thing I learnt however when visiting Ballarat Railway Station, was that the clock tower originally contained no clock. It wasn't until the heritage listed building was renovated following a huge fire on December 13, 1981 that moves were made to rectify this, and a clock was finally added to the clock tower in 1984. Many argue that the moves by conservationists to preserve the historic features of the Ballarat Railway Station precinct ultimately led to Ballarat being bypassed when a new standard gauge interstate line was built between Melbourne and Adelaide in 1995. Ironically the line was routed via Geelong and the broad gauge line beyond Ballarat was then closed to all traffic.

Ballarat Railway Station is one of only three Victorian Railways stations to have been built with a 19th century train shed.

Ballarat Railway Station however has since enjoyed a second revival. In 2005, Victoria's Regional Fast Rail project and the reintroduction of V/Line passenger trains west of Ballarat to Ararat, and later Maryborough in 2008 saw passenger numbers increase by 40% and led to the construction of a second railway station in the western Ballarat suburb of Wendouree to help ease parking congestion around the historic station precinct. Today there are more trains coming and going from Ballarat then ever before. So do you refer to Ballarat's golden era of railway travel as past or present? I'll let you be the judge. But if you're ever fortunate enough to visit one of Australia's most historic cities, even if you're not a railway enthusiast or train buff, take the time to walk along the platform and soak up the atmosphere of a time gone by. You'll be glad you did. Ballarat is just one of the many locations that feature in my book 30 Years Chasing Trains, available exclusively through the links below.

100 pages. Full colour print & eBook version available exclusively through

See also; Geelong: A 19th Century Survivor


ELeckie said...

My great great grandfather Peter Martin was the head porter at Ballarat West In 1887 he was badly injured there when struck by a goods train and he lost an arm. EM Leckie

Phillip Overton said...

That's too bad. I can only hope the Victorian Railways looked after him following the accident. Workplace Health & Safety wasn't what it is today back in 1887.