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Puffing Billy Railway
Puffing billy
Some attributes
First Opened:

1900

Second Length:

25.1 km (15.6 mi)

Third Stations:

11

Other attributes
Fourth Service pattern:

3 to 6 services daily (except Christmas Day)

The Puffing Billy Railway is a narrow gauge 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) gauge heritage railway in the Dandenong Ranges near Melbourne, Australia. The primary starting point, operations and administration centre, main refreshment room (also selling souvenirs) and ticket purchasing are located at Belgrave station. Journeys may also be commenced at out-stations of which some have limited facilities for the purchase of tickets, refreshments and souvenirs. (Tickets may also usually be purchased from the conductor on the train.)

General

The railway was originally one of five narrow gauge lines of the Victorian Railways opened around the beginning of the 20th century. It runs through the southern foothills of the Dandenong Ranges to Gembrook. Being close to the city of Melbourne and with a post-preservation history spanning over 50 years, the line is one of the most popular steam heritage railways in the world, and attracts tourists from all over Australia and overseas.

The Puffing Billy Railway is kept in operation through the efforts of volunteers of the Puffing Billy Preservation Society, although intensive year-round operations have led to a few dozen paid employees to keep things going behind the scenes.

The railway aims to preserve and restore the line as near as possible to how it was in the first three decades of its existence, but with particular emphasis on the early 1920s.

 Operation

800px-Victorian Railways nA class 2-6-2 7A at Menzies Creek

V.R. NA Class 7A at Menzies Creek on 12 April 1971 with fireman clearing ash from the smokebox

Operations are centred on Belgrave, which houses the main offices of the railway (other offices are located at Emerald) as well as the locomotive running shed and locomotive workshops. It is also the base for track maintenance operations.

Most trains start from Belgrave and travel to Lakeside, or to the terminus at Gembrook, and return. The railway operates every day of the year except Christmas Day, with at least two and up to six advertised services departing Belgrave each day. One service each day has the option of first-class carriages and lunch.

A semi-regular service is the Dinner Train, which usually departs Belgrave on a Friday or Saturday evening and travels to Nobelius Siding, where the passengers disembark and have a sit-down dinner in the converted packing shed of the former Nobelius Nursery. After the meal, the passengers rejoin the train for the return journey to Belgrave. Savouries and drinks are served on the train.

A popular feature of a ride on Puffing Billy is sitting on the ledge of the open-sided carriages (see picture).

There is also a narrow-gauge railway museum adjacent to Menzies Creek station.

Locomotives and rolling stock

Locomotives

The railway owns every remaining narrow-gauge locomotive of the former Victorian Railways, and has restored to operating condition all except one, although not all are in serviceable condition at any one time. This fleet comprises five restored and one unrestored 2-6-2T NA class locomotives (3A is unrestored, while 6A, 7A, 8A, 12A and 14A have all been restored), and one G class Garratt (G 42) locomotive. All are restored, or being restored, to represent different eras in their development.

The railway also has a number of other steam locomotives from various sources, either on static display in its museum or in operating condition. These include a Peckett 0-4-0ST and Decauville 0-4-0T formerly from the West Melbourne Gasworks, and a Climax geared locomotive from the Tyers Valley Tramway. None of these locomotives are powerful or fast enough to operate on regular services, however they can occasionally be seen on special trains and at events such as Thomas the Tank Engine days.

Puffing Billy also offers driver experience days on the smaller steam engines. The Climax engine is being restored for this purpose as this engine has a commodious driving cab and is unique in Australia.

The railway also operates three diesel locomotives which are used on days of total fire ban, plant or works trains, or when insufficient steam locomotives are available, including in emergencies. The diesel locomotives originally operated on railways in Tasmania (D21, formerly V12) and Queensland (DH5, formerly DH5 and later CC02, and DH31, formerly DH59), and were regauged and rebuilt for use on the Puffing Billy Railway.

There is also a diesel Rail Tractor (NRT 1) used mainly for shunting rolling stock in association with the Carriage Workshops.

History

400px-Puffing billy in action 2003

Locomotive 12A on the famous Monbulk creek trestle bridge near Belgrave.

Pre-preservation

The line was opened in 1900 to serve the local farming and timber community. It originally ran from Upper Ferntree Gully station, the terminus of the broad gauge line from Melbourne and now part of Melbourne's suburban railway system, but it now begins at Belgrave.

The train, known to the locals as "Puffing Billy" amongst other names, stopped running in 1953 after a landslide blocked the line between Selby and Menzies Creek, and it was formally closed in 1954. Today the former line between Upper Ferntree Gully and Belgrave is serviced by Metro Trains Melbourne suburban electric trains, while the line beyond Belgrave has been reopened by the Puffing Billy Preservation Society.

Post-preservation

Following closure, a few "farewell specials" operated on the remaining usable section to Belgrave, which proved very popular. On 1 October 1955, the Puffing Billy Preservation Society was formed to keep the train running indefinitely. This continued until 1958 when the line to Belgrave was closed for conversion to a broad-gauge, electrified suburban line. The society then started work on restoring the Belgrave to Lakeside section, and on 28 July 1962, restored train operation between Belgrave and Menzies Creek.

Subsequently operations were gradually extended over the remainder of the original line to Emerald in 1965 and Lakeside in 1975 before reaching Gembrook, which was completed in 1998, and reopened on October 19 of that year.

Today the railway operates daily (except for Christmas day) as a popular tourist activity over 15 miles (24 km) with original steam engines, and is operated with some of the railway practices from the Victorian Railways 1900 to 1930 era, such as using the "Staff and Ticket" safeworking method and having conductors on board the trains.

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