I'm a Victorian freelance writer & photographer living in the Macedon Ranges north of Melbourne.
Published June 13th 2013
All Steamed Up in The Goldfields
The Victorian Goldfields Railway provides an intriguing link to the States gold rush history around the city of Castlemaine and the township of Maldon, both the scene of rich strikes at the very centre of the world's greatest ever gold rush.
Victorian Goldfields Railway is based in Maldon
The historic Goldfields Railway is based on the remnants of a branch line which ran from Castlemaine on the main Melbourne to Bendigo line, to Maldon. It was opened on 16th June 1884 and originally carried two trains five days a week, quickly increasing to three return trips a day. In 1891 a 10 mile (16 Kilometre) extension to Shelbourne was opened with a daily service.
The Goldfields Railway runs return trips between Maldon, Muckleford and Castlemaine
Although passenger trains were suspended during World War 2 services continued to Shelbourne until 1970 and to Maldon until 1976.
The closing of the line was quickly followed by the formation of the Castlemaine & Maldon Railway Preservation Society, a group of enthusiasts and local residents who immediately set about acquiring the line, suitable rolling stock and the necessary government approvals to allow for the establishment of a tourist railway.
All steamed up with places to go ... departing Maldon for Castlemaine
Ten years of restoration work and the acquisition of additional rolling stock saw a partial reopening of the line by Easter 1986 with the official opening ceremony conducted by the noted historian Professor Geoffrey Blainey on 29th March.
Pride of the VGR fleet, this steam locomotive positions itself to hook up the passenger carriages
Day one of the operation though was barely a glimmer of its former self with only a little more than a kilometre of track available and the engine pushing carriages out from Maldon and pulling them back.
It was 1996 before the track was open to Muckleford and December 2004 before the first Victorian Goldfields Railway train reached Castlemaine.
Maldon Station is home to this engine on static display
Today the VGR maintains 15 Kilometres of track, an impressive array of steam and diesel locomotives, rail-motors, rail-tractors and passenger & goods vehicles. Several return trips run daily on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays throughout the year including special 'Steam Trains For Kids' on selected dates.
For a real touch of class passengers can ride the 'Tambo' parlour car, a 1919 built carriage which originally served as a sleeper on the Melbourne to Adelaide Overlander service.
The romance of steam travel is alive and well on the Victorian Goldfields Railway
Having undergone a lavish restoration the 'Tambo' now offers an extended 'gentleman's lounge', light refreshments and a rear observation platform, the perfect option for a slightly self-indulgent return to the romance of steam.
A host of optional extras, some with a significant price tag, are available which allow groups or individual enthusiasts to work with the crew in the yards, the guards van and drive the steam or diesel locomotives.
Pottering around the railway stations at Maldon, Muckleford and Castlemaine with their rolling stock, sheds and turntables provide visitors with a fabulous insight into 19th century Victorian rail transport and a stepping stone to the rich history of the central goldfields.