The History of Puffing Billy
The Puffing Billy Railway was one of four low-cost 2’6″ (762mm) gauge lines constructed in Victoria in the early 1900s to open up remote areas. The present line between Belgrave and Gembrook. It is the major part of the line which opened on 18 December 1900. The 18.2 mile (29km) Upper Ferntree Gully to Gembrook narrow gauge line was always a scenic attraction to the people of Melbourne, who began travelling on excursion trains for day trips and weekend holidays in the hills during the railway’s earliest years.
In 1953, a landslide blocked the track and, because of operating losses, the line was officially closed in 1954.
The present-day success of Puffing Billy has evolved from the humble beginnings of its rescue by determined members of the Puffing Billy Preservation Society, which was formed due to the public interest.
Volunteers with the blessings of the Victorian State Government and the assistance of the Citizens’ Military Forces, by-passed the landslide and reopened the line from Belgrave to Menzies Creek in 1962, Emerald in 1965, Lakeside in 1975 and finally to Gembrook in October 1998.
“If the line had been officially closed and the gates locked, then it would take heaven’s own movement to reopen the railway.”
– David Bourke
Puffing Billy History - A brief timeline
Puffing Billy Preservation Society History
The initial role of the Puffing Billy Preservation Society, founded in 1955, was to provide a financial guarantee against loss to the Victorian Railways, which continued to operate the little train between Upper Ferntree Gully and Belgrave. PBPS volunteers acted as “safety officers” and were involved in promotional and fundraising work.
When that section of the line closed in 1958 for conversion to an electrified broad-gauge line, PBPS members became physically involved in construction and track work under Victorian Railways supervision.
Upon re-opening between Belgrave and Menzies Creek in 1962, volunteer roles extended to station staff but loco crews and guards continued to be Victorian Railways staff positions, while the PBPS Executive Committee acted as Manager of the Railway.
Excursion train at Belgrave c. 1955. From the Norm dePomeroy collection.
The first three decades of the 20th Century with particular emphasis on the early 1920s focuses on the Railway’s most active and optimistic period. It also offers the greatest scope in the presentation and interpretation of a whole range of developments. Four historic colour schemes for NA locomotives can be represented within the era, as can the full range of rolling stock. It is this era then, that has been adopted as the “Era Of Significance” for the Puffing Billy Railway.
This Era Of Significance brings an essential logic to the presentation of the Railway. “Operating” or “living” museums usually choose a significant era as their central theme so that patrons can be offered a variety of exhibits or experiences which have an authentic inter-relationship.
Restorations, reconstructions, general works and new developments will conform to specifications based on detailed research into the period 1900 – 1930.
Where modern requirements must be considered, they will be designed to harmonise with the elements which do conform to the Era Of Significance.
Locomotives will only be restored to a colour scheme and configuration that was historically carried by each locomotive. Since only 1A & 2A carried the “Baldwin Green” livery, this livery will not be represented as these locomotives are long since scrapped. 3A & 6A will be restored to the V.R. Green livery and characteristics, 7A & 12A to the V.R. Red livery, with 8A & 14A to the “all over black” livery.
In simple terms, everything that is part of the scene of the Railway i.e. from locomotives and rolling stock to buildings, fencing, signs, furniture, etc. and even staff clothing, will be representative of the Railway, or of the Victorian Railways generally, as it operated in the 1900 – 1930 period. The aim is to take the visitor “back in time” as it were.
Some aspects will be the restoration of original features, some will be exact recreations of original features and some will be new features designed to fit the Era Of Significance.
Do you have any photos, newspaper clippings or memories of Puffing Billy’s past?
We are always interested in your recollections, photos etc. of our heritage. Please email Puffing Billy Archives with your memories or mail them to:
Puffing Billy Archives
PO Box 451