03 April, 2011

Still on the rails...

Perhaps not surprisingly, disused railway lines provide excellent opportunities for councils and local communities to develop nature trails and linear parklands and as I discussed in my last post, this is the case in Geelong. Of course, the old line to the cement works is not the only linear park in the region and not even the first I discovered as a result of my perambulations.
Queenscliff Station
Nor is it alone in linking to the Barwon and the network of trails across Geelong.
A much more extensive and so far, better developed, linear park is the Bellarine Rail Trail which extends essentially from Swanston Street in South Geelong (which in turn links via the bike lane to the Barwon), all the way along the old Queenscliff line, through Drysdale to the little seaside town of Queenscliff.
The trail follows the route of the former South Geelong-Queenscliff railway line which was constructed in 1878/1879 primarily to service Fort Queenscliff. The new line enabled the movement of troops and supplies back and forth from Melbourne. The Fort was a key stronghold in the defence of the capital during times of war, being located at the narrow entry point into Port Phillip Bay.
Steam train at Queenscliff Station
At the same time, Queenscliff was - and from its establishment in 1852 - always has been a tourist destination and the railway line also serviced this industry as well as providing transport for the permanent population. Whilst it was never the busiest of lines, it was none-the-less and important link in Victoria's rail network, serving the Bellarine Peninsula through various changes in fortune until its final closure in 1976.
Almost immediately, the Geelong Steam Preservation Society stepped in and from 1979 ran the line from Queenscliff, initially to Laker's Siding and then to Drysdale as a tourist facility with their base of operations being Queenscliff. The service continues to run to the present day using steam and diesel locomotives to pull the heritage carriages between Queenscliff and Drysdale.
The Bellarine Rail Trail
near Leopold
It has been suggested that it might be possible to extend the rail service as far as Curlewis in the future, however that is a distant goal.
Interestingly, the railway has recently acquired three engines from the Puffing Billy museum. Two of these spent their working lives on the privately-run "Fyansford Cement Line" which carried limestone from the quarry below to the cement works above for storage or transport on the Fyansford branch line. Beside the Queenscliff line some distance outside of Drysdale, is a siding which stores rollingstock, including as it happens, a number of goods wagons also from the cement line.
Further information on the Bellarine Railway can be found at the following address: http://bellarinerailway.com.au/
Engine built by the Vulcan Iron Works
which worked at the Fyansford cement
works, now at the Bellarine Railway
Whilst the train runs only between Drysdale and Queenscliff, for those more interested in riding, running or walking, the good news is that the Bellarine Rail Trail - as mentioned - extends the entire distance from Geelong to Queenscliff through the surrounding countryside and the outskirts of Geelong.
At one time or another I have covered all of the trail either by bike or running. I have run the trail from Queenscliff to Drysdale on three occasions in various weather conditions - including this January through mud, rain and puddles. The terrain is undulating and scenic being both coastal and rural with the usual array of bird and plant life, complemented by sheep, cattle, horses and hay bales. On each occasion I have run to Drysdale then caught the train back to Queenscliff with various family members.
A year or so ago I also ran the remainder of the trail from Drysdale to South Geelong and then home on one occasion (also in the rain as I remember) and in recent weeks have cycled the trail from the Bellarine Highway to Drysdale and back.
The trail along most of its length is a loose gravel path, however there are sections through the outskirts of Geelong, Leopold, Drysdale and the approach to Queenscliff which are surfaced with bitumen. Up to Drysdale, the trail predominantly runs along the original line of the rails, however beyond Drysdale the path runs beside the railway line, crossing back and forth at various points.
Hereford cow outside Drysdale
Whilst as I mentioned, I have covered the entire distance at one time or another, I have yet to do it continuously either riding or - a goal I have long harboured - running. The distance from the Showgrounds in South Geelong to Queenscliff Station is around 34 kilometres, about 11 kilometres further than my longest run to this point, but one of these days...
Along all sections of the trail there are road crossings, however most are small, rural roads posing no real difficulty either riding or running. The two major road crossings I believe now have traffic lights. Despite this, a "training run" which was staged annually in about September running the whole distance of the trail has in recent years been changed to an out-and-back run between Queenscliff and Drysdale; the same distance as
the original run, but without the bragging rights of the former.
Details concerning the Bellarine Rail Trail and the Friends of the Bellarine Rail Trail group can be found at the following site: http://www.fbrt.com.au/fbrt/main/home.asp

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