HISTORY & PRESERVATION
Winding through forest and open land in Central Victoria, the Victorian Goldfields Railway is a remnant of the extensive branch line railway system which served rural Victoria from around 1880 through to the 1970's. Branchline railways, radiating from the main lines, reached into sparsely populated regions, providing transport for farm produce, tapping the natural resources and promoting the settlement of new areas.
The line from Castlemaine brought rail connection to Maldon and Muckleford, achieving the aim of providing transport and communication to this isolated area. With time, the value of the branchline railway waned as the increased use of road motor transport reduced the isolation of rural areas. The Maldon Railway, no longer a vital link, outlived its usefulness and like the other 'light' lines of Victoria, closure and dismantling appeared to be the only prospect.
Closure came, but through the efforts of volunteers the line has taken on a new life as a heritage railway, enabling the visitor to see, hear and participate in an active steam railway from the era of the branchline.
Castlemaine, Muckleford & Maldon
Gold was discovered at Forest Creek (Castlemaine) in September, 1851. The area became known as the Mount Alexander Diggings, taking the name from Mount Alexander near by. The Government set up its camp in the area which became Castlemaine. Developing with the wealth of the goldfields, the township was laid out with wide streets, botanic gardens and grand buildings, much of which remains today.
Gold was found to the west of Castlemaine in the area of forest around Mount Tarrangower in 1853. The township of Tarrangower, renamed Maldon in 1862, originally a small centre based on the districts pastoral activities, grew as the quartz mining developed. Prosperity was closely aligned with the winning of gold. When the mining wound down, the population of Maldon decreased. The last active mine closed in 1926. The town changed so little over the years, that in 1966 the National Trust awarded Maldon with the title Notable Town, the first in Australia. Maldon today evokes a strong feel of the past, with its unique collection of buildings and reminders of its gold mines.
The Muckleford Creek runs north to south in the valley between Castlemaine and Mount Tarrangower. This water course became a main water supply for the Tarrangower Diggings. The settlement of Muckleford developed with much of its considerable population being housed in tents. Few substantial buildings were erected and even fewer survive to this day. The Muckleford railway station, the only intermediate station on the Maldon line, is located approximately 3 kilometres north of the Muckleford township area. For a number of years the area fostered an extensive fruit growing industry, today sheep and cattle grazing are the dominant activities in the Muckleford Valley.
The railway reached Castlemaine in the form of the main Melbourne - Bendigo Line in October, 1862. This long, classically engineered railway tapped the booming goldfields at Bendigo and Castlemaine and ushered in a new era of transport to the goldfields and towns of Central Victoria.
The Bendigo line was soon extended to reach the Murray River at Echuca, and Maryborough was the destination of a cross-country line from Castlemaine.
As work progressed on the Maryborough line, the citizens of Maldon started to press for their own railway. By the time the Castlemaine-Maryborough line opened (July 1874) they were petitioning their parliamentarians with demands for railway connection to further open up land in their district.
In 1876 a preliminary survey was undertaken for a railway from Castlemaine to Maldon and on to Newbridge. In 1881, the Victorian Parliament authorized a number of new lines including a 10 mile (16 kilometre) branch from Maldon Junction (about 1 km from Castlemaine on the Maryborough line) to Maldon.
In August, 1882 the contract was let for the construction of the Maldon line to A. Nicholls and Co. The country was described as difficult for a railway. Heavy earthworks were necessary and two major bridges required. Built to 'light-line' construction, the line included grades of 1 in 40, sharp curves and rail of 60 lb./yard. The line opened for traffic on 16th June, 1884. 1891 saw the opening of a 10 mile (16 km) extension of the line to Shelbourne.
Two mixed (goods & passengers) trains five days a week were provided with the opening of the line, this was soon increased to three return trips per day. With the opening of the extension, one mixed train per day served Shelbourne. 1924 saw the introduction of an AEC rail motor which provided four trips per day Monday to Friday, with the mixed running through to Shelbourne three days per week. Declining population from the late 1920's reduced the demand for rail services, which were cut back as the years passed. The AEC rail motor and all passenger services were withdrawn during the Second World War (1941) through wartime fuel shortages. A weekly goods train through to Shelbourne coped with the traffic until the line closed.
Bushfire damage to several bridges in 1969 resulted in official closure of the Maldon - Shelbourne Extension in 1970. With the closing of the Shelbourne extension little reason remained for keeping the Castlemaine - Maldon line open. The Maldon line officially closed in December 1976. Several steam-hauled enthusiast specials were the last trains to venture through the weeds to Maldon.
Even prior to the closure of the Maldon Line, preservation moves were underway. The rapid demise of the branchlines throughout Victoria dictated that preservation of at least one line was vital. The choice would be governed by two main considerations, firstly the suitability of the line for restoration and ongoing maintenance by a volunteer workforce and secondly the line's potential as a tourist attraction. Under this criteria the Castlemaine & Maldon Line presented itself as most suitable. Within the same month as the official closure of the line, the Castlemaine & Maldon Railway Preservation Society was formed at a meeting held at Maldon.
With membership drawn from both rail enthusiasts and local residents, the Society set about the task of securing the line, obtaining rolling stock, gaining legislative changes to permit the operation of the line as a tourist railway and financial support. Progress was slow through the early years.
Steam Locomotive K160 was purchased from the Victorian Railways in 1979, moved to a siding at the Mayfair Complex at Bendigo in 1980 and received attention by Society members. Later transferred by rail to Castlemaine, continued attention saw restoration complete by early 1986. Wooden bodied passenger carriages and goods stock were purchased, many by individuals providing the funds for purchase of particular items. Further steam locomotive purchases included K157, J549 and E371. The rolling stock progressively arrived and was stored in Castlemaine Yard.
Track restoration commenced at the Maldon end, with the line between Maldon Station and the Bendigo Road Crossing available for trains by Easter 1986.
Reopened in Stages
In the weeks prior to Easter, 1986, Steam Locomotive K160 was transferred by road to Maldon, while a set of rolling stock was taken out along the line hauled by an 0-4-0 diesel locomotive on loan from the APM Broadford Paper Mill.
The Official Re-opening was on Easter Saturday, 29th March, 1986 with the noted historian Prof. Geoffrey Blainey declaring the Railway open again. Trains operated between the Station and the Bendigo Road, a distance of about 1 kilometre, with the engine pushing the train out from Maldon and pulling it back in.
As track restoration progressed, the trip length increased in stages. By Easter 1996 Muckleford was reached. The track at Muckleford had been re-laid, the platform road and the turnouts in heavier rail and the station platform reinstated. The loop siding enabled the locomotive to 'run-around' its train and so be at the front of the train in both directions of the journey.
With funding from the State and Federal Governments restoration of the 8 kilometre section of line between Muckleford and Castlemaine was commenced in 2001. The works in this section included relaying the track and extensive repairs to the one iron and five timber bridges. Work at Castlemaine reconnected the West Yard, reinstated the locomotive turntable and upgraded the mechanical signalling.
A temporary closure of the Castlemaine - Moolort Section of the Maryborough Line by Pacific National commencing on the 17th December, 2004 allowed the running of VGR trains into Castlemaine Station under the Tourist Railway Provisions. The first VGR train to Castlemaine Station ran on Saturday the 18th December, 2004 and public trains commenced the following day. The Official Opening into Castlemaine was on the 20th March, 2005.
The Rolling Stock Collection
A large collection of rollingstock from the branchline era has been secured. An unequaled array of 4 wheeled goods trucks along with goods and passenger brake vans and a selection of wooden bodied passenger carriages are now resident on the line.
Additions to the locomotive stock include steam locomotive D3 646, obtained from static display at Maryborough, diesel-electric T 333 and F 212. Locomotive Y133 is on Lease from the Seymour Heritage Rail Centre.
Steam Locomotive J549 was one of the last steam locomotives in main line service. It was returned to service on the VGR in 1992. A varying array of both VGR owned and leased engines are available for service on our various services and works train duties. See Stock Register for more details.
The VGR Workforce
Volunteers maintain and operate the railway. From track work and rollingstock maintenance to crewing of trains and stations and administration. A small number of full & part-time employees complement the efforts of the volunteers.
Castlemaine & Maldon Railway Preservation Society
The Castlemaine & Maldon Railway Preservation Society has a membership of over 300. From the membership is drawn the volunteer workers, and much of the financial support necessary for the ongoing development of the VGR.
VGR Chart of Events:
VGR Chart of Events - a listing of some of the important dates and events in the History of the Castlemaine to Maldon Railway, the Preservation Society and the Victorian Goldfields Railway.