Wednesday, 28 May 2008

The Railways - The Strzelecki Line

The train leaving Yannathan Station, Easter 1940, on the way to Bayles.
From the Bayles Fauna Park Collection.

In this post we will look at another railway line which traversed the Casey Cardinia region -  the railway line which used to run from Koo Wee Rup to Strzelecki. At its opening in June 1922 it was known as the Koo Wee Rup to McDonald’s Track Railway. McDonald’s Track had been surveyed between 1860 and 1862 by George McDonald. It ran between Lang Lang, Poowong, over Mt Worth to Moe with the aim of providing a stock route through to Sale. The Gippsland Railway line through to Sale was completed in 1879 and early McDonald’s Track settlers, especially those around Poowong, soon began to agitate for a railway line to help ease their transport problems through the densely forested, damp hills. The 32 kilometres (20 miles) or so between Poowong and Drouin took over a days travel and all goods and produce were carted on pack horses or drays.

Various routes for a railway line were suggested including one from Drouin to Welshpool via McDonalds Track or Drouin to Poowong via Longwarry. The Great Southern Railway line to Port Albert via Koo Wee Rup, Leongatha and Foster was opened in 1892, by-passing Poowong. The opening of this line coupled with the draining of the Koo Wee Rup Swamp saw fresh demands from the McDonald Track settlers and the Swamp settlers for a new line. The Swamp was a large producer of dairy products and vegetables and there was also a growing sand mining industry. In 1912 a new Railway line was proposed from Koo Wee Rup to McDonalds Track via areas of the newly drained Swamp.

The Koo Wee Rup to McDonalds Track Railway Construction Act was proclaimed on October 12, 1914 and construction began on August 4, 1915. Construction of the line was slowed by the re-allocation of resources during the First World War and didn’t resume with any pace until 1919. Construction was carried out in three stages. The Swamp area from Koo Wee Rup to Heath Hill, the foothills area of Heath Hill to Triholm and the mountain area from Triholm to Strzelecki. 

The line officially opened June 29, 1922 although the Bayles Station commenced limited operation over a year earlier on February 10, 1921 and Catani had opened for limited operations from May 1921*. 

The finished line was 49 kms (30 and a half miles) in length and unfortunately for the people of Poowong they were bypassed once again. The first timetable had three trains per week carrying both passengers and goods but lack of patronage saw the Strzelecki station close in November 1930 and less than 20 years after their opening Triholm, Topiram, Athlone and Heath Hill closed in August 1941. The passenger service also closed in August 1941. Yannathan was now the terminus.

The train at Bayles. 
Image: Bayles Fauna Park Collection.

The farm produce, cattle and milk and the sand mining from the Koo Wee Rup Swamp kept the Catani and Yannathan Stations open until April 1950 and Bayles to February 1959. The site of the Bayles Railway station is now the Fauna Reserve and various remnants of the Railway service can be seen there. There is also a display of historic photographs.

At the peak of the rail traffic in 1926 Koo Wee Rup Station had a staff of eleven and had 48 passenger and mixed trains and 72 goods trains per week.

This information comes mainly from Steam to Strzelecki : the Koo-Wee-Rup to McDonald’s Track railway by Merilyn Ramsay. Published by the Australian Railway Historical Society in 1991. Unfortunately it is now out of print.

*Date of Bayles Station comes from Mickle Memories of Koo Wee Rup: for young and old, v.1 by Dave Mickle (The Author, 1983) p. 75. He quotes the Koo Wee Rup Sun, but I have checked the originals from February 1921 and can't find a reference. Marilyn Ramsay quotes the same date and her source is the Koo Wee Rup SunMarilyn Ramsay also writes (p. 47) that Railways Weekly Notices refer to Bayles and Catani being open during construction on 21 May 1921, and Heathhill and Topriam on 7 March 1922. The Argus of June 23, 1921 reported the fact that Bayles and Catani were open for limited use - see below.

Notification that Bayles and Catani Stations were partially open for business

The Argus of March 9, 1922 also reported that three months before the official opening the following stations were open, with some limits. Warneet was the original name for the Topriam Station. 

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