PUFFING BILLY TO EXCEED VISITOR CAPACITY IN 2018
One of Victoria’s major tourist attractions, Puffing Billy Railway, has received an injection of $8.2 million from the State Government to allow for the long-awaited build of a new Discovery Centre at Lakeside station – a key project that will assist the Railway to expand its operations and meet growing visitor demand.
This significant funding commitment, coupled with the federal government commitment of $5.5 million and the $2 million that Puffing Billy is contributing, will allow the construction of the $15.7 million Discovery Centre to commence before the end of 2018 and be complete by late 2020.
According to Puffing Billy CEO, Mr John Robinson, with the existing network currently at near capacity, these works are vital to cater for growing demand. “In 2016/17 alone, more than 487,000 people flocked to the railway with 60% visiting from overseas. This is the highest patronage of any narrow gauge steam heritage railway in the world that is volunteer-based, not for profit!”, Mr Robinson said.
“This latest funding announcement is extremely positive news as the new Discovery Centre will provide an enhanced visitor experience, allowing passengers to learn about the region and its history, as well as the history of the Railway,” he said.
“It will give passengers a reason to commence their journey at Lakeside and provide all-weather experiences that are not currently available. It will be an education and interpretation centre that also houses a café, gift shop and convention facilities,” Mr Robinson said.
“Puffing Billy is expected to reach visitor capacity in 2018 unless strategic, long-term funding is made available for infrastructure developments and facility upgrades, so we are very pleased to receive this support from the government,” he said.
“Our volunteers are excited about this project as the Discovery Centre will provide state-of-the-art facilities for our volunteers as well as open up new volunteering opportunities on the railway,” Mr Robinson said.
A major economic driver for the Dandenong Ranges, Puffing Billy is operated by the Emerald Tourist Railway Board and is a not-for-profit organisation that provides more than $10.2 million in value-added economic activity and $6.8 million in wages every year. Since 2012, visitor numbers have grown from 267,000 per year to more than 470,000 per year, with the railway’s capacity, under current operations, sitting at 480,000. Projections indicate that Puffing Billy could attract up to 730,000 passengers by 2027, which represents a huge economic benefit to the region and Victoria.
“This funding announcement will help kick off the first phase of the Puffing Billy Master Plan 2017, which already has the support of many stakeholders and key influencers, such as local MPs, Councillors, businesses, and organisations that rely on Puffing Billy as part of their operations, including tour operators and school groups,” Mr Robinson said.
For further information, please visit Puffing Billy’s website at www.puffingbilly.com.au
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