Friday, 9 May 2014

Railway Archaeology - Ballarat Heritage Weekend

This weekend (May 10th and 11th) is Ballarat Heritage Weekend. One of the many events planned for the weekend is the steam train shuttles between the historic Ballarat Station and Lal Lal, on the line to Geelong. The trains will be run by Steamrail Victoria, a preservation group, and will run with one locomotive at each end, with restored carriages in the middle.
Y112 in 2013

The first loco is Y112. It is one of only two remaining Y-class locomotives, and the only one that is operational - Y108 is a static display at the Australian Rail Heritage Society museum in Williamstown. Built in 1889, it was originally badged Y419, and was the 238th locomotive built at Ballarat's own Phoenix Foundry, which used to be on Armstrong Street. The Y-class locos were originally designed to be mainline heavy-goods locomotives, but also did many miles hauling passenger trains around suburban Melbourne prior to electrification in the late 1910s. They started to be withdrawn from regular duties in the mid 1920s, after which they did shunting work in the yards of various stations, until the last one was finally withdrawn from service in 1963.

Y112 itself was in service from 1889 to 1961, after which it was preserved as a static display near Civic Hall in Ballarat for many years, until it was restored to active duty and started running again in 1996. Although it was originally restored by Steamrail Victoria and workers of the short-lived West Coast Railway company on a volunteer basis, it is actually owned by the Ballarat Historical Society, and is now maintained and run by Steamrail Victoria.

K153 in 2013
The other locomotive is K153. The K-class locos were built at the VR Newport Workshops from 1922 (K153 was built in 1940) but they were still in use right up until 1979. This was partially due to their remarkable versatility - the K-class did pretty much any job they threw at it, starting out primarily on various freight jobs (especially on lines with steep gradients) but also being used for many passenger services later in its life. Like the Y-class, it spent the end of its career doing shunting work in railway yards, with North Ballarat Workshops' K162 being the last steam train in such a role on the Victorian Railways.

Artist's impression from 1862 (source unknown)
The journey starts off at Ballarat Station, which dates back to the opening of the Geelong-Ballarat line in 1862. Upon the first train's arrival, only the northern building was standing (as the above artist's impression shows) though the current roof was completed shortly after. The southern building was completed in 1877, with the famous portico and clocktower added in 1891 to give us the gorgeous station we use today. The Inside Story, a project that seeks to collect the social history of Ballarat's heritage buildings, will be showing short films about the station's history in the portico throughout Heritage Weekend.

Ballarat Railway Station in 2012
Due to the competition between Ballarat West and Ballarat East councils, Ballarat had two stations built within 800m of each other - Ballarat East Railway Station being right next to the Humffray Street level crossing. Although the councils were amalgamated in the 1920s, Ballarat East Station remained open until the 1960s. The northern platform still remains today, and the southern building still houses heritage steam trains awaiting repair. A turntable still remains at Ballarat East for turning around heritage trains for events like this, but most of the yard is used by Bombardier to maintain the modern VLocity trains.

Ballarat East, then and now
After passing Ballarat East, and the place where the old Buninyong Line once diverged from the mainline, the train heads towards Lal Lal, leaving the current Melbourne-Ballarat line at Warrenheip, before passing the former sites of Navigators and Yendon Stations. Nothing remains of Warrenheip, Navigators or Yendon stations.

Presumably due to signalling constraints, the train doesn't actually make it to Lal Lal Station - a beautiful old bluestone building that is still in reasonable condition - but stops about 2km short, at the Lal Lal Block Point, which is about halfway between Lal Lal and where Yendon station used to be.

A few years ago the shuttles went in the opposite direction, heading on the line towards Maryborough and stopping at Sulky, about halfway to Creswick. Like Lal Lal Block Point, this is really just a field in the middle of nowhere nowadays (although there used to be a junction to Waubra via the Ballarat Racecourse there) but both trips nonetheless offer scenic views and the old-style charm of riding in your own compartment behind a steam engine. Since the last time the shuttles ran to Sulky, regular V/Line passenger services have been restored to Maryborough, so if you want to see that part of the terrain, and go further to see historic stations at Creswick, Clunes and Talbot, you can do so (in a VLocity).

All in all, it's a great way to celebrate some local history and discover some of Ballarat's heritage charm - and with the FedUni Tweet Ride on the Saturday, it's even worth dressing up for!


  1. Very interesting read. Thanks for writing it!

  2. A bit of extra info re Y112. My father was the president of the historical society at the time and he and fellow enthusiasts went round all the remaining Y class locos to find the one needing the least amount of work to restore. This loco was then put on display behind the Civic hall. i can remember the engine being rolled down Armstrong St hill on temp tracks. He also removed the gauges and had them put in the firebox prior to having the firebox doors welded shut. I myself worked at the Ballarat North workshops and was able to witness the last steaming of K162 as it went between the workshops and Admin Building appearing out of a cloud of steam. Oh to have had a camera on that occasion. Several weeks later I had the Honour of removing the number plates and makers plates from the engine.

  3. Will the Ballarat Heritage Weekend continue in 2015?