N470 exiting the Geelong Tunnel

Contents

Introduction


The Geelong Line was Australia's first country railway line, running between Victoria's two major cities. Built by a private company, it later passed into Government ownership. June 2007 marks the 150th anniversary of the opening of the line. Now part of the main interstate line to Adelaide, it sees heavy freight traffic, as well as being the busiest V/Line passenger line.

Top

Beginnings


The first proposals for railways in Geelong was for a 200 mile long wooden railed horse drawn tramway to run from Geelong to the Western Districts. Plans to be made for a railway to Melbourne in 1850, however the private company behind it collapsed within 2 months. It was not until February 1853 when a more concrete proposal was launched, and the Geelong and Melbourne Railway Company was formed.

Top

Construction


The first sod was turned on September 20th 1853 by the Lieutenant-Governor of Victoria Charles Joseph La Trobe at the site of the Geelong station. July 1864 saw the Government hire 100 prisoners to the G&MRC to work as labourers on the railway line construction. They were housed in the prison hulk (ship) 'Sacramento' moored off Limeburners Point. By the end of the year the hulk was moved to Williamstown.

By October 14th 1856 the line to Duck Ponds (now Lara) was completed, and a trial passenger train ran. November that year saw a mixed train running twice daily between Geelong and Duck Ponds. January 1856 saw this service extended to Little River.

The original intention for the railway line was to connect to the then under construction line from Melbourne Spencer Street to Williamstown, via a junction at Newport. However, the company behind this line had collapsed, and construction had fell behind, despite the intentions of the Government who took over. Because of this, a line was constructed down North Road, Newport, to the banks of the Yarra River at Greenwich. This line was completed on June 8th 1857.

Top

Opening Day


The opening day of the Geelong to Melbourne Railway was on June 25th 1857. The first train departed Geelong at 10am amid great fanfare. However two miles out of Geelong, Henry Walters, locomotive Superintendent for the G&MRC, was fatally injured when he was knocked from the train while passing under the bridge near the Ocean Child Hotel (today's Separation Street bridge).

The train arrived at Greenwich at 12:10pm, but because of the already full train and large number of intending passengers from Melbourne, a second train had to be arranged. The first train did not arrived back in Geelong until 4pm. On arrival the celebratory banquet started, with an estimated 4000 people served some 8 tonnes of food. It was held in the station itself, with the tracks being covered over and carpet laid.

Top

Early Days


October 3rd 1857 saw the first portion of the Williamstown line completed to the port, and a new connection at Newport was built to enable Geelong trains to terminate at Williamstown Pier. On January 17th 1859 was the Melbourne to Williamstown line completed, and another connection link was opened at Newport to run trains direct to Melbourne. This line remains in use today, the stub towards Williamstown now covered by the Newport Railway Workshops.

Financial troubles resulted in the London shareholders of the company voting in May 1859 to sell the railway to the Government. September 3rd 1860 saw the official transfer of the railway and all rolling stock assets to the Victorian Railways.

There were no fixed signals on the line until 1862, when early slotted post semaphores were provided at the Ballarat line junction at West Geelong (now North Geelong). By 1870 Gavan Duffy wrote that all stations had a home signal in each direction, with Werribee also having an up distant, and the Ballarat Line junction which had two distant signals.

Top

Network Expansion


Work begun on the Geelong - Ballarat line in 1858, and the line was officially opened April 10th 1862. This line was built to a high standard by the Victorian Railways, with double track provided throughout, stone station buildings at all of the initial stations, a number of stone bridges for roads that crossed the line, and the 1450 feet (442 metres) Moorabool Viaduct over the river of the same name. This line remained the only way from Ballarat to Melbourne until 1889 when the current direct line was completed.

The Geelong line was extended south-west in 1876 with the opening of the line to Winchelsea. Initial plans for this extension comprised of a line running along the Corio Bay waterfront towards Limeburners Point, where the line would then cross the hill and run down to the Barwon River. However this plan was rejected and the current alignment built instead, with a tunnel being built to cross the hill. The next 15 years way the line progressively extended to it's final terminus at Port Fairy.

A short 2 mile (3.3 kilometre) long spur was opened in 1878 to serve the Geelong Racecourse, which was then located on the banks of the Barwon River near Lake Connewarre. Branching from the main line at the site of today's Marshall station, the line was only served by special race trains until 1906, when the racecourse was relocated to it's present location. The branch was lifted in 1909.

The next line to be built was the Queenscliff branch which opened in 1879. It left the main line near South Geelong, and ran via Drysdale to reach the terminus of Queenscliff. This branch remained under Victorian Railways ownership until 1978, and is now preserved by the Bellarine Peninsular Railway.

The last round of branch lines to open were located further from Geelong to serve the timber and agricultural resources of the Western District and the Otway Ranges.

The branch from Irrewarra (near Colac) to Beeac was the first in 1889; this line was later being extended cross country to Cressy and Ballarat over the next 20 years.

The 17.6 km long Moriac to Wensleydale branch followed 1890; the 31.9 km Birregurra to Forrest line in 1891; and the 35.9 km line from near Camperdown to Timboon in 1882, and the 19.6 km long branch Terang to Mortlake in 1893. The Colac - Beech Forrest narrow gauge line opened in 1902, which was later extended to Crowes. Closures of these branch line began in the late 1940s, and by the 1960s all were closed, with the exception of the Mortlake line which lasted to 1978, and the Timboon line which was closed in 1986.

Top

Growing Traffic


Built to a budget, the original single line of track had always been a constraint on railway operations to Victoria's second city.

1898 saw the introduction of the Large Electric Staff method of safeworking. Trains entering the single sections of track are required to have in their possession a metal rod (or token) known as a Train Staff. These Staffs were kept in a special instrument that only permitted one Staff out at a time, so preventing more than one train on a section of track. The sections of track were Newport, Laverton, Werribee, Little River, Lara, North Geelong, and Geelong. Trains were forced to stop at each station, then wait at each station until the line ahead was clear and be given the Staff.

1911 saw some improvements, with the long section Werribee to Little River being split into two, with the opening of a crossing loop at Manor. This loop remained open until the duplication of the line in 1970.

At the same time, industry in had Geelong expanded. The Geelong Harbour Trust commenced building Corio Quay and the associated Freezing Works opened in 1909; the Oriental Timber Company sawmill in 1909; and the cement works at Fyansford opened in 1912 (the branch line opened in 1914); and the Grain Elevators in approximately 1915.

Further improvements followed in 1914, with Corio Station opening as a crossing loop. Also the Large Electric Staff was replaced by a miniature form, allowing the Staff to be exchanged between train and station without stopping.

The 1920s was marked by further industrial growth. The Phosphate Works opened in 1924; the Ford Siding opened in 1925; and a rail served distillery opened at Corio in 1928.

Top

New Technology


The Victorian Railways responded to this traffic growth in 1928 though the provision of two remote controlled crossing loops, and the installation of newer and more efficient safeworking.

On the Geelong line, one of the busiest sections of track was between Newport and Werribee. However, in this section the only place for trains to cross was at Laverton. To cure this, two new crossing loops were opened - Rock loop midway between Newport and Laverton, near the site of Galvin station; and Drome loop midway between Laverton and Werribee. The signals and points at these new loops were remote controlled, from Newport and Werribee respectively. These panels were the first such installation in Victoria.

The capacity of the line was increased by installing an entirely new form of safeworking to the Geelong line. Known as Automatic and Track Control (ATC), this system dispensed with the need for trains to carry a Train Staff on the single line sections. Instead, the authority to travel on these sections was given by signals. The signals were set up in such as way that only one train in one direction was permitted in each section at a time, thus ensuring head on collisions were prevented. A further benefit of this new system was the provision of intermediate signals inside each section. This allowed multiple trains running in the same direction to be allowed into a single line section, but while still providing protection to each train from collisions. This system of safeworking is still used on the Geelong line today, though with much newer signalling and control equipment.

Top

Electrification


After the end of World War II, the Victorian Railways announced their rebuilding project, 'Project Phoenix'. At the same time, in April 1950 the Parliamentary Public Works Committee released a report into electrification of the Geelong line. The report recommended that the line between Newport South (the current end of the wires) and Geelong be electrified, as well as duplication of the line between Newport and Werribee, and North Geelong to North Shore. The cost was estimated at 1,188,000.

The Victorian Railways were happy with this recommendation, as continued black coal shortages were affecting the use of steam locomotives, and main line diesels were not yet in use. A publicity flyer published by the VR early in 1951 stated that work would commence after the completion of the electrification works on the Gippsland line. However in 1952 the budget for Project Phoenix was cut from 12.5 million to 6.8 million, forcing the VR to cut back the works.

Electrification of the Geelong line was among those works cut, with the Hansard for September 30th 1952 stating there were more pressing demands, and on October 7th 1953 the Minister for Railways stated that electrification of the Geelong line was not as desirable due to the introduction of main line diesel locomotives. It was not until 1983 that the Geelong line saw electrification, but as an extension of suburban services to Werribee from Newport.

Top

Duplication


The cancellation of the electrification plans did not negate the need for more track capacity. Duplication works commenced at the North Geelong end of the line, with the commissioning of a new line from there to Corio opening in February 1959. This line was set up for bidirectional running, allowing shunting to be carried out on one line while through trains used the other.

Another part of this project was the construction of a underpass to serve the Grain Loop and Corio Quay. Also completed in 1959, it enabled trains shunting these industries to have direct access to North Geelong Yard without needing to cross the main line on the level, blocking through trains.

Newport to Werribee was the next section to be progressively duplicated, started in 1965 and completed by late 1968. Werribee to Little River was next, completed in October 1970 and resulting in the closure of Manor station. Little River to Corio was the last section, with duplication not being completed until 1981.

Top

Passenger Traffic


Initial traffic on the Geelong line consisted of local trains to Geelong, in addition to longer distance services to Warrnambool and Port Fairy. There were also passenger services on the Queenscliff branch, and on the line to Ballarat.

From at least the 1950s Werribee was served by local trains that stopped all stations, often by railmotors. Railmotors were also used on the Ballarat line until the 1970s. Other than local trains, the Ballarat line also also used an an alternate route for trains to Ballarat, Mildura, and Dimboola.

Commuter growth begun in the late 1960s, with South Geelong being served by peak time Melbourne trains from 1968. By the 1980s there were approximately 10 trains each way daily provided for Melbourne commuters, operating as up to 8 car long consist of wooden bodied carriages.

The 'New Deal' for V/Line in October 1981 shook up passenger operations, closing almost a dozen small stations in the Geelong Region. Train timetables were sped up, and a plan drawn up to replace aging wooden bodied carriage stock with new air conditioned steel carriages. It was not until 1991 that the last of the wooden carriages were taken out of service from peak time trains.

1983 saw the line to Werribee electrified and made part of the suburban network, and the elimination of a number of stops from Geelong services. Werribee trains initially operated along the main line, with a shuttle from Newport to Altona, but in 1985 were altered to run via the newly opened link from Westona to Laverton.

Top

Freight Increases


Industrial expansion continued at a slower pace for the next few decades. 1964 saw the opening of the Waurn Ponds cement works to the south of Geelong, and the Phosphate Works gained a much expanded yard in 1967.

The 1980s were marked by a change towards large 'block' trains on a single cargo. The unloading facilities at the grain elevators was altered to a balloon loop in 1981 to decrease unloading times, and oil trains to Shell begun to run as fixed trains to a particular destination.

Top

Standard Gauge


During the late 1980s and early 1990s there were a number of proposals for a Standard Gauge railway line from Melbourne to Adelaide. The route between these cities at that time was of broad gauge, the same track as used throughout Victoria, but incompatible with the rest of the nation. Debate continued for a number of years about the route the line would take - the flatter but longer path via Geelong and Cressy, or the more direct but hilly line via Ballarat.

A final decision was made by 1993, and the route via Geelong was chosen. Construction begun in 1994 with the building of a parallel track between Newport and North Geelong, and the conversion of existing track elsewhere. The line opened in May 1995. The line was funded by the then Labor Federal Government under Prime Minister Paul Keating, as part of the 'One Nation' infrastructure development program that ran between 1991 and 1995.

Top

Privatisation


The late 1990s were marked by the privatisation of the previously government owned railway operations in Victoria by the State Government under Liberal Premier Jeff Kennett.

Passenger rail services beyond Geelong to Warrnambool were put to tender in 1993, the contract being awarded to Victorian Railway Company P/L (trading as West Coast Railway). Initial services were with hired V/Line stock, but from 1995 used its own locomotives and carriages purchased surplus from the PTC. This arrangement remained until 2004, when the franchise was handed back, and V/Line took over operations.

Rail freight in Victoria was privatised by the Kennett Government in the 1990s, with V/Line Freight being sold in 1999 to Freight Victoria, a consortium made up of Rail America and Macquarie Bank. The early years of private ownership saw the beginning of log traffic to Geelong from Gippsland. FV was brought out by Pacific National in 2004, and since then the amount of rail traffic in Geelong has dropped. Bulk export grain is now the main traffic in Geelong; the remaining traffic being logs, oil, cement and some less-than-carload goods.

Top

Passengers Today


2004 saw the opening of Marshall station to the south of the city and the associated extension of Geelong services. The most recent development was Regional Fast Rail works on the Geelong line, and the associated new timetable introduced in March 2007. 160km/h running was introduced along with new VLocity railcars, a decrease in travel times, and an increase in the number of services. Finally in 2014 the V/Line Geelong line service was extended further south to another new station - Waurn Ponds.

Top

Sources


  • The majority of opening and safeworking dates are via Andrew Waugh.
  • Additional sources used are listed in the Sources section.