01 April, 2011

Riding the rails...

...well, the rail trails that is!
Whilst I run, walk and ride the sections of the river from Breakwater to Baum's Weir fairly regularly and have done for some years, I do occasionally venture further afield for a change of scenery. Of late, I have been riding more often and as a result of being able to cover more distance, have been looking for other tracks and trails to ride.
I have started by revisiting several of the tracks which I have run in the past: the Bellarine Rail Trail, the track to Waurn Ponds, the linear park running along the disused train line from the cement works to North Geelong, the Waterfront. All of these are - or have the scope to be - excellent community facilities for those wishing to run, walk or ride effectively from one side of Geelong to the other. 
Looking at the cement works across the junction of
the Barwon and Moorabool Rivers at Fyansford
And they all have one important feature in common: at some point, they all link, or will eventually link to the Barwon River.
So, with this in mind, yesterday's excursion stemmed from a couple of runs I'd done in the past and a desire to prove that I could run up "Cementies Hill" (the hill which runs up from Fyansford past the now decommissioned Australian Portland Cement works).
My original run in January of 2010, took in the river up to Fyansford, the hill and part of the old railway line running between the cement works and the docks. This line has not been used since the closure of the cement works, but a walking/riding track now runs beside the line. Much of the infrastructure is still present including the rails and signage.
Originally opened in 1918, the line ran from the cement works to North Geelong where it connected with the Geelong-Ballarat line, servicing the cement works and also providing a public goods service. Incidentally, Australian Portland Cement also ran their own private 3'6" gauge railway from 1926 which serviced the quarries, carrying limestone up to the works. When the line closed in 1966 the one diesel and six steam engines were preserved in various museums. Today, five of the six steam engines are in the keeping of the Bellarine Railway and some are used to pull the tourist train which runs between Queenscliff and Drysdale (see my subsequent blog).
Railway sign, Herne Hill
But now, back to my ride! From the cement works, I headed up Church Street to connect with the Waterfront to take me around to Limeburner's Point before working my way back home via East Geelong. All up, about 20km. Not quite half marathon distance. As far as runs go, it is a somewhat scrappy, disjointed route with several road crossings which make it difficult to get a decent rhythm going. From a cycling perspective it is not too bad, providing either off-road trails or on-road bike lanes the majority of the way.
What would be ideal is a complete loop for walking, running and riding linking Fyansford with the Waterfront and on the other side of town, the river to the Waterfront. I know this is under consideration by the powers that be, however it has yet to be fully implemented.
In September 2010 when the World Championship Cycling was on its way to Geelong, there was a significant amount of action around the trails. Various parts of the river trail were resurfaced, new signage was put in place and the beginnings of a shared footpath/bike track was installed on Swanston Street between the river and Fyans Street. This was a great improvement. The problem however, was the way the remainder of the link to the Waterfront was to be achieved. A Copenhagen style bike lane with a cycling lane running between the footpath and parked cars was mooted and rejected. Local residents and businesses had concerns about changes to the availability of parking which is already at a premium in the area. This idea was shelved.
Over subsequent months, an on-road bike lane was marked out as far as Kilgour Street and the necessary changes made to the footpath structure. The paint rapidly faded and nothing else happened. In recent weeks however, the paint has been re-applied and and new markings now take the lanes as far as the McKillop Street intersection. Great! But what now?
Over the last few months I have made regular use of the bike lane to the river but on Tuesday as I was riding to the Waterfront felt somewhat vulnerable without my paint barrier. I can only hope that there is enough cash in the budget to take the road markings as far as the Waterfront in the not-too-distant future. But of course, funding may not be the only issue. As far as I am aware from the local media, a decision was still to be negotiated as to exactly what form the remainder of the trail would take.
Lewis Bandt Bridge across the Moorabool Valley on the
Geelong Ring Road
At the other end of my proposed loop, things may be looking a little brighter, partly because some of the required infrastructure is already in place. An off-road track runs up the hill to the cement works. It is in good condition and connects conveniently with the river trail at the bottom and with the linear park at the top - assuming you have the lung capacity to make it up the hill, or the nerve to make it down. It is quite steep. I have heard several tales from more than one generation of those occasions when making it to the bottom didn't quite go as planned. Having said that, there is seating at the halfway point for those who need it, and the view is panoramic, taking in the nearby quarry and parts of the Moorabool Valley, including the newly-built Lewis Bandt Bridge on the Geelong Ring Road which pays tribute to the Geelong inventor of that iconic Australian vehicle known as the "ute". The following link provides an interesting description of how the ute came into existence: http://www.fastlane.com.au/Features/First_ute.htm
After making it to the top by whatever means, the linear park begins just a short distance across McCurdy Road. This section of the old railway line extends to the Church Street intersection where a road crossing is required. Its name acknowledges the achievements of Barcelona Olympian walker and local girl Gabrielle Blythe. This, incidentally, is only a short step from the new track which was built alongside the Ring Road. I have yet to investigate this track but when I do, it will probably form part of a future blog.
For now, let's continue with the linear park. The entire path is bitumen-sealed and follows along beside the rails which are still present, however a recent article in the Geelong Times informs me that this is not to be the case for long as the sleepers and rails are to be removed within months. What then happens to the land does not seem to have been clearly decided.
Tom McKean Linear Park
We can only hope that the plan is to continue the already substantial planting and perhaps undertake an upgrade of the track which is suffering from root-damage in some places. In general, the path passes behind houses in the suburbs of Herne Hill and Hamlyn Heights and after reaching Church Street becomes the Tom McKean Linear Park (another Geelong notable citizen whom I believe was a teacher), passing across the Midland Highway and stopping at Thompson Road.
This crossing is the busiest of the three and would be well served if the nearby pedestrian crossing were to be moved to the same location as the path. By now, we are in North Geelong and the scenery is significantly less residential and proportionally more industrial. There is less in the way of tree plantings, but this could be rectified.
It also occurred to me that a lengthy concrete wall could provide an interesting opportunity for a sizeable mural presenting a topic or topics relevant to the area and to the park itself. Also present along the course of the track was the usual array of bird life found in the urban woodland areas of Geelong which could no doubt be encouraged by further native plantings.
Unfortunately at this point, the trail comes to an abrupt halt at Douro Street in North Geelong and it is here that things become complicated. As the crow flies, we are no more than one kilometre from Corio Bay or a little under two kilometers from the end of the bollard walk around the Waterfront at Rippleside Park. However, between Douro Street and the Waterfront is a significant obstacle in the shape of the Geelong to Melbourne railway line, the Princes Highway and some fairly heavy duty industry. How exactly a walking/cycling path would pass through such an area remains to be seen. The present on-road option is to use the bike lane on Church Street, however this is not exactly a scenic, low-traffic alternative.
I have read of various potential plans including developing the track which extends around the coastline to Limeburner's Bay and beyond to Lara. I'm not sure if any of these options approached the issue of a connection to the linear park, however such an option would be a tremendous boon to the community and to the tourist industry generally.
Corio Bay
In the case of my most recent ride, I turned around at Douro Street and headed back the way I had come, however, having reached Corio Bay by whatever means and wanting to continue the loop, the cyclist, jogger or pedestrian can follow the path which runs around Corio Bay, passing the CBD and a variety of cafes and restaurants suitable for a leisurely lunch or a coffee and taking in the renowned bollards along the way. At Eastern Beach you can stop for a swim at the beautifully preserved art deco bathing facility before following the trail around to the Eastern and Botanical Gardens or, to complete our loop, rejoining Swanston Street and heading back to the river.
In the shape of the Barwon and the Waterfront, Geelong has two recreational facilities of international standard. Connecting them via nature trails of benefit to both locals and tourists alike would be of inestimal value to our city.

1 comment:

  1. Note: since I first published this post, the rails have been lifted and taken for reuse on the Bellarine Railway from Drysdale to Queenscliff, however the walking/cycling path remains. Additionally, I have heard in the last week that the one engine of the six which operated at the cement works which was not with the others at Queenscliff has just been added to their number.