The Altona Line originated as a short branch from the main Geelong railway to serve Williamstown Racecourse in 1885. The line was soon extended to serve the seaside town of Altona by land developers. It remain as a backwater on the suburban system until the 1980s when the line was extended though to Laverton, and Werribee services was rerouted along it.
The Altona Line started as a 1.1 km branch from the main Geelong line to serve Williamstown Racecourse. The line was first used on April 6 1885, and special services were provided for race meetings. Overhead wiring was provided early in the suburban electrification project, being commissioned on August 27, 1920. Trains ran as required from Spencer Street, until 1935 when they were altered to run from Flinders Street (as with Flemington Racecourse trains). The racecourse was closed after World War II but it was not until May 22, 1950 that the overhead equipment and sidings were removed.
South west of the racecourse, the Altona and Laverton Bay Freehold and Investment Company was subdividing land. To make the land more attractive to buyers, the company built a private railway running from the Racecourse line though it's land, terminating at a station named Altona Beach, a kilometre west of the current Altona station. The line was signalled as a siding, with the junction located at Williamstown Racecourse.
Opened on November 9 1888, passenger services ceased on August 14 1890 after a lack of interest in property sales. The line remain unused until 1906 when the Victorian Railways came to an agreement with the then owner of the line, Mr. W.H. Crocker, to stable trains on the line during race meetings.
From November 17, 1917 the railways made an agreement with the new landowner, Altona Beach Estates, to work a limited service over the line on their behalf. The terminus of the line was also altered to the current Altona station. The land company incurred losses on the line every year, so by the 1920s sought to dispose of the railway. The Victorian Railways assumed control of the line on October 1 1924, the land company handing over the line free of charge, as long as the line would continue to remain part of the suburban system, and that the debts of the company to the VR would be waived.
A number of coal mines operated in the Altona area from the 1900s until the early 1920s, with at least one of them having it's own railway siding branching westward from Altona station.
Electrification of the line was completed by October 2, 1926. Trains were operated as shuttles from Newport hourly, as they had in the years before except more frequently. On July 11, 1955, two direct peak hour services were provided on the line, with more direct trains provided from May 12 1963, but at the expense of direct trains to Williamstown.
The next major change was track duplication from Newport South on the Geelong line commissioned on October 22, 1967.. The physical junction of the lines was relocated west to the actual divergence of the lines at Altona Junction, and automatic signalling was also provided on the single line section to Altona. Before this time the two lines operated independently to Newport South.
Extension to Laverton
In 1980 the Victorian Transport Study recommended the closure of the Altona branch. In October 1981 some morning peak services were cut, as well as all off peak and weekend services being replaced by buses. By July 1982 the weekday off-peak services were restored.
In December 1982 the Ministry of Transport produced the report "Public Transport Study, Altona / Williamstown". It considered five options for the line:
- no change
- reintroduce weekend and evening services
- abandon line
- extend line to Westona
- extend line to Laverton
The final recommendation was to extend the line to Laverton, direct all Werribee trains along the new route, and to build a new station at Westona. Extension of the line as far as Westona was first brought up in 1965, when the route west from Altona station being gazetted in a parliamentary report.
The report found that for Werribee passengers travel times would be extended by 3 minutes, with 2700 passengers / day affected. 254 trips / day from Galvin and Paisley would also be affected by the change. Improved services would be provided to 160 passengers / day due to the new station, and more services would be provided to 810 existing passengers each day. It was estimated that 7000 new trips a year would be made because of the extension, and 50 jobs would be created during the 10 month construction period. The estimated cost was $6 550 000 and a scheduled completion date of late 1984 the target.
The director of the Ministry of Transport endorsed the report and on March 2 1983 he recommended the Railway Construction and Property Board to work start on the project without delay. The proposed start was February 1984 and completion would be in November same year.
The extension was 4.4 km long, and provision was made for future duplication. Three alternate routes were considered, the one eventually built, and two which deviated to the south to avoid industrial land. 79 m and 89 m longer, these routes required additional embankments over the retarding basis so were rejected.
One third of the route was already rail reserve, 5.9 ha was privately owned undeveloped light industrial land, and the remainder a MMBW retarding basin. As originally proposed five roads would need to be closed, and one new level crossing constructed at Maidstone Street.
The Altona City Council wanted an additional level crossing to be provided at Grieve Parade, but was initially told in the Environmental Effects Statement stage that traffic volumes did not warrant it. However this crossing was eventually included in the project.
The elderly wooden overhead wiring supports were also upgraded to steel, and the line from Altona westwards to Westona was opened on January 20, 1985, and then to Laverton on April 11, 1985. Suburban services to Werribee were diverted from the mainline to the new link soon after.
The line was initially operated as single Staff and Ticket section from Newport South to the terminus at Altona, but without the use of tickets so only one train was allowed on the line at one time. Signal boxes existed at Newport South, and Williamstown Racecourse.
For race traffic special workings were implemented. The normal train staff was replaced with two temporary Staffs and Ticket boxes, one for the Junction to the Racecourse, the second from the Racecourse to Altona. Due to the long length of the first section and the frequency of trains on the line, the first Staff section was divided into four 'Visual Block' sections by the opening of levers 'A', 'B', and 'C'.
Levers 'A', 'B', and 'C' were small trackside huts, provided with two levers, controlling an up and down home signal. Before clearing the home signal for a train, the signalman controlling the entrance to the section must actually see that the train in front has cleared the home signal in advance. In times of fog Absolute Block Working was brought into use, with block instruments provided at the Junction, levers 'B, and the Racecourse.
When the Racecourse was signalled the Altona line did not see regular passenger traffic, so was signalled as a siding with disc signals, and the Racecourse platform was the main line. Signals at the Racecourse and Levers 'A', 'B', and 'C' were crossed when there was no race traffic, the layout at the Racecourse being set for Altona.
After the closure of the Racecourse the Altona line reverted to Train Staff and Ticket without the use of Tickets, until bidirectional automatic signalling was provided to Altona on October 22, 1967. Today crossing loops exist at Altona Junction, Westona, and Laverton Loop.
- Electric Railways of Victoria - S.E. Doorman and R.G. Henderson
- Newsrail - September 1988
- Altona - Laverton Rail Link Environmental Effects Statement - July 1983 (revised September 1983) - GHD Transport Consultants for the Ministry of Transport