22 June, 2013

The line that wasn't

Okay, one more post on the subject of trains then I promise I'll write about something else but this one is - or could have been - the most relevant of all to the Barwon. Following the implementation of the so called "Octopus Act" of 1884, subsequent bills were introduced to parliament including one which was due to come before parliament in the latter half of 1889 in which a further 4922 miles of track was requested.
Two in particular were of relevance to Geelong and the Barwon. The proposed lines were: Geelong-Lorne (via Barwon Heads) and Geelong-Portarlington, however, despite the mania surrounding the building of railway lines in 19th century Victoria, not every line that was proposed went ahead. Some, like the "Black Line" to Warnambool or the Geelong-Ballarat Line did proceed, but took different routes to those originally suggested. Others, such as the proposed line to Barwon Heads never proceeded, but it is interesting to consider what might have been had they done so.
By the 1880s, Barwon Heads was well established as a summer tourist destination and there were many farmers and fishermen in the area who would benefit from a rail link as would the holiday trippers heading to the coast. This was the argument of those in favour of a Barwon Heads line.
It was envisaged that such a line would be an extension of the already existing branch to the old Geelong Race Course which was located at Marshall. The new track would extend just over 9 miles to the township.

Camping at Barwon Heads in the 1880s, image held by the Victorian State Library
But that was only part of the plan, as there were those who would have seen the forests of the Otways opened up to rail traffic and one suggestion was to extend the Barwon Heads line along the coast crossing Bream and Spring Creeks to Jan Juc, Airey's Inlet and Lorne. Another particularly audacious - but financially improbable - suggestion was to extend the branch line already under construction from Birregurra to Barwon Downs (1889) and ultimately to Forrest (1891) via a tunnel under the mountains to Lorne.
NOTE: instead of these grand plans, the Otways were served by the Birregurra-Forrest branch line and a narrow-gauge line from Colac to Beech Forest. Today, the first route forms the basis of the Forrest "Tiger" Rail Trail, a 30km walking/riding track which is under construction at various points between the two towns whilst the second is now the "Old Beechy Rail Trail".
Meanwhile, back in Geelong, in March, 1890 local members J. F. Levien and Charles Andrews both agreed to support the proposal for the Barwon Heads line in parliament. It was also indicated that the line would immediately open up a limeburning trade in the Barwon Heads area which could be expected to last 50 years. On 18th June a railway construction bill was introduced which included the proposed line. Two days later it was announced that less than 800 miles of the total track applied for by various districts would be built by the government. Amongst those lines chosen was the line to Barwon Heads.
However, the decision was not without its detractors and one Mr Dixon MLA, member for Prahran put it to parliament that:
The line from Geelong to Barwon Heads would not pay for greasing the wheels of the trains either in the present or the future.
Ultimately it seems, the government agreed with him. Almost two years later, despite the initial approval, the matter was put before the number 2 sectional committee of the Parliamentary Railway Standing Committee who convened at the Coffee Palace at Barwon Heads on 22nd January, 1892.
The Coffee Palace, Barwon Heads 1898. The site of today's Barwon Heads
Hotel. Image reproduction rights held by the Victorian State Library
A little over two months later on 31st March the standing committee handed down its recommendations. It was stated that the line to Barwon Heads would be "unremunerative". It was also decided that the proposed branch line from Drysdale to Portarlington was unnecessary as the district was already sufficiently served by the existing Queenscliff line. And that it seemed was that. The issue was not mentioned again in the media and seems to have been completely abandoned.
I can find no on-line information regarding the exact route the line from Marshall to Barwon Heads was to take, but in this modern era of closed branch lines reinvented as rail trails one can only wonder what a Barwon Heads-Geelong rail trail might have been like.
Looking towards the modern seaside town of Barwon Heads
from the Bluff, December, 2012
On the other hand, it is also more than a little concerning to consider (depending on the route taken) what the environmental implications of a railway through the middle of the now internationally listed RAMSAR wetlands might have been.

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