Monday, 12 May 2008

The Railways - Puffing Billy line.

Photograph from The story of the Dandenongs by Helen Coulson. (Published by F.W.Cheshire, 1959

In this blog we will look at the third railway line in Casey Cardinia, the famous and much loved Puffing Billy line. The railway line had been extended from Ringwood to Upper Ferntree Gully in 1889 and locals were keen to have a rail service to Gembrook. A Gembrook Railway League was established, as was a Sassafrass Railway League. This community agitation paid off with the passing of the Fern Tree Gully and Gembrook Railway Construction Act on August 151898. The railway that was built was of narrow gauge (2 feet 6 inches) and opened officially on December 181900. The Stations on the line at the time of the opening were Upper Ferntree Gully, Monbulk (later called Belgrave), Menzies Creek (at one stage called Aura, until it was changed back to Menzies Creek), Emerald, Devon (later called Cockatoo Creek, then Cockatoo) and Gembrook. By the 1940s the Stations were Upwey, opened 1901; Tecoma, opened 1924; Belgrave; Selby, opened 1904; Menzies Creek; Paradise, later called Clematis, opened 1902; Emerald; Nobelius Siding, opened 1904; Nobelius, opened 1927; Lakeside, opened 1944; Wright, opened 1904; Cockatoo; Fielder, opened 1929 and Gembrook.

The Little Train ,as it was affectionately known to locals, was not allowed to travel at a greater speed than 15 miles per hour (about 24 kph) and the 40 mile (about 65km) journey from Melbourne to Gembrook took four hours.

Carl Nobelius of Gembrook Nurseries at Emerald was an early supporter of the line and he had his own Siding built in 1904, beside his packing shed. By the start of the First World war the Nobelius Nurseries occupied over 80 hectares and produced 3 million trees for sale.

Nobelius Siding in 1904. Taken from Nobelius Heritage Park : an illustrated guide by Jo Jenkinson.
(Published by Emerald Museum, 2002)

The Little Train was popular with the locals though the line generally made a loss. It was recommended for closure in 1936 but a public outcry kept the line open for timber, potatoes and market garden produce. A landslide near Menzies Creek, in August 1953, blocked the the line and it was announced that it would close permanently in mid 1954, but once again the public rallied. The Puffing Billy Preservation Society (P.B.P.S) was formed on June 8 1955. The name Puffing Billy, a nick name for the various locomotives, has been in use since 1903 but became prominent in the 1950s.

The Society operated Puffing Billy trains between Upper Ferntree Gully to Belgrave until February 23, 1958, after which the narrow gauge rails were replaced with a broad gauge and the line was electrified. This journey is pictured at the top.

The P.B.P.S spent the next few years working to re-open the line, beyond Belgrave. The landslide was was by-passed and a new track was built . This work was undertaken as a training exercise by the Citizen Military Forces (a forerunner of the Army Reserve). The track had to be re-sleepered in parts, rolling stock looked after, stations prepared. The Puffing Billy line was officially opened to Menzies Creek in July 1962. Three years later in July 1965 Puffing Billy returned to Emerald, ten years later in 1975 to Lakeside and finally on October 18 1998 it returned to Gembrook. Puffing Billy has carried 8 million passengers since it re-opened in 1962.

That the Puffing Billy train still runs today is a testament to the dedication of the volunteers of the Puffing Billy Preservation Society. The official Puffing Billy website can be found at

A number of books have been been published on the Puffing Billy line - click here to  see what the Library holds.


Anonymous said...

Love your posts Heather. Interesting to read, even for a non resident!

Anonymous said...

What a fascinating journey- I've sent this link to a few railway fans I know! Pru

Archrux said...

Thanks for the post :)
Pretty sure the 'Puffing Billy Preservation Society' photo is leaving Upper Ferntree Gully, just uphill from where the rail bridge now is.
- A.

Andrew said...

Great article, however may I correct a few details? The Gembrook line opened on the December 18 1900, not 19. The stations on the line at opening also included Upper Ferntree Gully, with Upwey added in 1901 and Tecoma, opening in 1924. Devon became Cockatoo Creek before becoming Cockatoo. In the third-last paragraph, "Lakeside" is one word, not two.

Heather said...

Thank you Andrew, I have made the corrections. Heather