Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Lakeside: Puffing Billy's picnic train

They say no visit to Melbourne is complete without taking a ride on Puffing Billy. Turns out they are right, whomever they are, judging by the hundreds of passengers who board Australia's favourite steam train for the daily picnic train to Lakeside Station.

Lakeside Station is situated just past half way on the Belgrave-Gembrook tourist line. Photo 2015.

Lakeside Station sits at the bottom of Emerald Lake Park, 13 km from Belgrave Station and 795 feet above sea level. Following the closure of the 2 foot 6 inch narrow gauge line to Gembrook in 1954, the Puffing Billy Preservation Society fought hard to reopen the former 1900 Victorian Railways line as a tourist attraction, and from 1975 to 1998 Lakeside Station was the end terminus for the Puffing Billy Railway.

The motley collection of station buildings that lend Lakeside Station its charm, photo July 2015.

Despite the line opening in 1900, a railway station didn't exist at this location until 1944 when Emerald Lake Park was first opened to the public. At the time, the station consisted of nothing more than a short platform and a station name. Today however, the station consists of a fine collection of restored buildings that have been moved to the site. The majority of trains running on the Puffing Billy Railway still venture only as far as Lakeside Station, simply because of the popularity of Emerald Lake Park for day-trippers keen on enjoying a picnic lunch.

The small 2'6" gauge railway sure has some mighty big level crossing signs! July 2015.

Lakeside Station sits just above Emerald Lake Park, and nearby there are barbeques, a cafe and even a permanent model railway display. The island platform is also a hive of activity at train time when the locomotive is uncoupled, moved and topped up with water, before running around its train and coupling back on in readiness for the return trip back to Belgrave. The daily routine becomes a happy-snap hang-out for tourists the world over, who are keen to have a photo taken beside the steam locomotive or with the driver. Lakeside is also a crossing point for trains on the single track line, often providing the sight of 2 locomotives in steam standing on opposite sides of the platform.

Locomotive 12A ready to return to Belgrave stands ready at Lakeside Station, July 2015.

Once the train empties its hoard of passengers onto Lakeside's lengthy platform, and the tourists have all taken their Kodak moment, Lakeside Station becomes a quiet place to soak in the atmosphere of a fully preserved working steam railway. Amidst the creaking of the vintage narrow gauge timber carriages, one can almost hear the leaves falling.

That's me enjoying a moment of solitude before the next train departs Lakeside Station, July 2015.

Over the course of 3 days in July 2015, I travelled 365 km by train around Melbourne, the Dandenong Ranges and Geelong in search of Melbourne's best places to visit by train. Lakeside and the entire trip aboard Puffing Billy are all detailed in my window-seat guide Train Tripping Around Melbourne.

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