About the Bellarine Railway
The Bellarine Railway is operated and maintained by the dedicated volunteers of the Geelong Steam Preservation Society, a not-for-profit organisation founded in 1970.
The society was the first Victorian preserved railway to be established entirely by volunteers. It first ran trains at Belmont Common in Geelong, before moving operations to the Queenscliff-Drysdale section of the former Victorian Railway’s South Geelong-Queenscliff branch line in 1976. The line is recognised as the oldest Victorian branch line still in operation.
Today the railway offers visitors a unique opportunity to re-live the sights, smells of a by-gone area by riding on a steam or diesel hauled heritage train, assembled from the railway’s collection of locomotives and carriages from 3’6″ narrow-gauge systems across Australia.
Victorian Railways History: A track winding back…
The Town of Queenscliff had its beginnings about 1852, when the State Government subdivided the area originally known as Shortlands Bluff as a seaside resort. Queenscliff became quite a popular resort with boats calling daily from many places, & Cobb & Co. coaches forming a road to Geelong.
However, the position that the town was in gave it an importance. The resort was important because of the Heads of Port Phillip Bay & the need to defend the city of Melbourne. The best place to defend Melbourne was at the Heads. On a prominent piece of land in Queenscliff, overlooking the Heads, Fort Queenscliff was built.
In September 1878, a contract was let for the construction of the Victorian Railways branch line from South Geelong to Queenscliff to service Fort Queenscliff so that Australia could be better defended. Messrs. Topham, Angus & Smith won the contract & for 58,997 pounds the line was built. It is interesting to note that the 21 mile long railway was constructed & opened in less than 9 months after the contract was let.
On May 21, 1879, The Governor of Victoria, The Marquis of Normanby, officially opened the Queenscliff branch line. A celebratory banquet was held afterwards in the Grand Hotel at Queenscliff.
At the banquet, the Minister for Railways, the Hon. John Woods, made the following speech:
“It is probable that, from a railway point of view, this line will not pay very well, but there are other things which should be taken into consideration as well as the paying capacity of a railway. This line is essentially a military line; it is a line which the colony may well be proud of & which our enemies might fairly stand in dread, for by its means men & material can now be concentrated on this spot from Melbourne in 90 minutes for the defence of the port.”
The poor paying capacity of the line eventually caused its closure some 97 years later.
When the very first trains ran they only catered for first class passengers. This was rectified in July 1879, when there was room for both first & second class passengers to travel along the branch per day. In September of 1879 a second train per day was introduced. The trains were scheduled such that residents of Queenscliff were able to commute to Geelong to work & tourists were able to make a day trip from Geelong to Queenscliff.
In January 1885, business was brisk on the line. 4 trains per day ran in each direction leaving Queenscliff at 7am, 12 noon, 5pm & 8pm. The corresponding trains left Geelong at 8:45am, 1:45pm, 6:40pm & 9:15pm. This was soon reduced to 3 trains per day.
D3-663 on the Sunday Service at Queenscliff Station in 1935.
Three trains per day ran until 1910, when the service was reduced back to 2 trains per day. in 1931 the line was catering for little traffic & the services were greatly reduced. Passenger services were dropped & goods trains ran on Tuesdays & Thursdays only. However, an excursion train was able to run on Sundays if required. A further reduction in services occurred in 1934 when the Tuesday goods trains were stopped.
A temporary revival in use of the line during World War 2 whilst mines were carried from the military base on Swan Island, just off Queenscliff, to Geelong. Up to 14 trains per day ran at this time. After the war finished, the once a week service was reintroduced & this lasted right up to 1951, when the restricted train services in Victoria saw the goods train run once a fortnight. Once the restrictions were lifted the weekly service was again reintroduced.
Traffic was insufficient for the weekly service to continue & in 1955 saw more changes, the goods train now ran once a fortnight & summer Sunday excursion trains were introduced. The excursion trains ran 2 Sundays of each summer.
In November 1958 the Goods train was dropped completely & the line was in the unique situation of being open for twice annual passenger trains. This did not last long & the line was closed in May 1959 beyond Cheetham’s Siding. (2 miles from South Geelong.)
A considerable amount of agitation was brought forward by the residents of Queenscliff & nearby towns towards the reopening of their railway line. In November 1959 the line was reopened thanks to the promise of business from the Laker shell grit works. The works were established to supply shell grit to glass makers in Spotswood & it was expected to send up to 1000 tons per week out by rail.
Again the service was a once weekly goods train, at first on Mondays but later on Wednesdays. The goods train was often worked by the rostered Geelong yard shunting locomotive, which even as late as 1970 was usually a steam locomotive. The Sunday excursion passenger train was recommenced. However, the shell grit traffic was the mainstay of the line and when this was stopped in 1973, the goods service stopped for the last time on the broad gauge railway. Again the line was in the unique position of being only open for infrequent passenger trains. During January’s the Sunday excursion trains ran whilst many special charted passenger trains ran throughout each year, mainly during summer.
In 1975 and 1976 many Victorian country branch lines were announced to be closing. One of the first to close was the Queenscliff line. The final day came on November 6 1976. The line closed in style with two trains running from Melbourne to Queenscliff. The first was a boy scouts excursion run with a diesel Locomotive, In a manner fitting the history of the line, the very last train was a steam hauled special for the Association of Railway Enthusiasts. The train had special stops for the passengers to photograph the last of the broad gauge trains to run to Queenscliff.
Stations along the branch line
(46 1/2 miles from Melbourne)
Opened on 1 November 1883 but did not become the junction station for Queenscliff until 1901
(46 3/4 miles from Melbourne)
Opened on between 13 September 1878 and 21 May 1879, closed on 5 August 1901, and junction extended to South Geelong Station
(47 1/2 miles from Melbourne)
A siding was provided for the Showground’s on 22 October 1891, and lasted until the showground’s were transferred to the current site.
Cheethams Siding (48 31/2 miles from Melbourne)
Opened on 17 December 1909 to service the Cheetham Salt Works. From 1910 until 1958 a two foot tramway ran from the salt works to the broad gauge railway at Cheethams Siding. The siding was removed in 1978.
Moolap (50 miles from Melbourne)
Opened on 1 August 1881. A siding was provided on 26 June 1890.
(52 miles from Melbourne)
Originally opened as Kensington Flat Station on 1 August 1881 and was renamed Leopold in 1886. A siding was provided on 29 March 1887, which was removed on 28 September 1960. The Station was abolished on 23 January 1961.
(53 1/2 miles from Melbourne)
Opened on 26 January 1880 and closed on 30 July 1881
(55 miles from Melbourne)
Opened on 30 January 1914 and closed on 23 January 1961
Scarborough (55 3/4 miles from Melbourne)
Opened on May 13, 1889 and closed on January 30, 1914, when all business was transferred to Curlewis.
Drysdale (57 1/2 miles from Melbourne)
Opened on May 21, 1879 when the line was opened.
(61 miles from Melbourne)
Originally opened as Marcus Hill Station on 1 February 1883 and was renamed Mannerim on 28 October, 1890. Mannerim was closed on 23 January 1961.
(6 3/4 miles from Melbourne)
Originally opened as Ocean Grove Station on 1 February 1883 and was renamed Marcus Hill on 1 February 1896. Finally renamed again to Marcus on 2 May 1904 and kept the name until it was closed on 6 February 1961.
(64 1/4 miles from Melbourne)
Opened when the line was reopened on 16 November 1959 and remained open until the line was closed on 6 November 1976.
(67 1/2 miles from Melbourne)
Opened on 21 May 1879. Was served by a three foot gauge tramway operated by the Australian Army from nearby Swan Island. The tramway was opened in 1896 and closed in 1958.