Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail

Linking central Victoria via the old railway line

Bridge Reopened

Repair works to the O’Keefe Rail Trail by the City of Greater Bendigo has now reopened the trail’s Campaspe Rv bridge, following damage sustained from the recent major flooding event.

While additional works are planned, the recently completed works have allowed trail users to safely cross the river without needing to share the McIvor Hwy bridge.

Trail’s Campaspe Rv bridge now open. Photo: A. Ficken

Temporary safety fences are in place, as further works to reinstall approach fences and bollards are required. This additional work is unlikely to be completed before the Christmas holiday period. 

Resurfacing of the trail’s damaged gravel surface sections will be undertaken when gravel material is available from the quarry in 2023.

Repairs to Rail Trail Progressing

Its good news for the upcoming Christmas-NY holiday season, with the previously closed section of the O’Keefe Rail Trail at Lake Eppalock, Derrinal, now opened by trail manager the City of Greater Bendigo council for public use.

Whilst only temporary repairs have been made to the damaged sections of the trail’s causeway across the lake, trail users will need to be careful in observing for any trail surface variations and loose gravel. Further repair work to this section is expected to be undertaken in 2023.

Western access point to the O’Keefe Rail Trail’s causeway across Lake Eppalock. Photo: G.Long

At the present moment it is a great opportunity to be on the trail’s lake causeway, prior to the lake’s water level lowering further, to enjoy a magical experience of observing the lake’s water lapping up to both sides of the trail.

The O’Keefe Rail Trail’s causeway across Lake Eppalock (prior to temporary repairs). Photo: G.Long

As for the trail’s closed Campaspe River trail bridge, this still requires an engineering assessment to be undertaken by council staff. Even though a council contractor is undertaking temporary repairs to the damaged bridge approaches, the trail’s Campaspe River bridge is still closed to the public yet is hoped to be opened for access prior to Christmas Day 2022. In the meantime, O’Keefe Rail Trail users are able to bypass this closed bridge, by using a short section of the McIvor Hwy and the highway’s road bridge at Axedale.

Bikes on Buses for Rail Trail Users

With the Victorian PTV ‘Bikes on Buses’ program having been rolled out in the Bendigo and Castlemaine areas in early 2022, the Bendigo Heathcote PTV service was included in that program after the Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail group made a request via Jacinta Allan MP State member for Bendigo East.

Bike fitted on a bus mounted rack. Photo: DoT supplied

The PTV service provider Organ’s Coaches has since introduced a new larger bus on the Bendigo Heathcote service, which has now had an external bike rack fitted to carry two (2) bikes. This is a great service for any O’Keefe Rail Trail user who may plan to only ride or walk a section of the trail, and then use the PTV bus service to return them to a specific bus stop location. Or should you ‘run out of puff’ or have an unplanned mechanical issue on your bike, then this bus service could become the ideal ‘roadside assist’ option!

The location of bus stops along the O’Keefe Rail Trail route can be found via the PTV web page https://bit.ly/3FiVNRG. A service time table can also be found on the PTV web page https://bit.ly/3uEmMSO

Like to know how to use these bus mounted bike racks? An instructional video is available (produced when these racks were being trialled, yet is still applicable) https://youtu.be/lEIzDegjDJc. Also there is related information on the PTV web page ‘Bikes and Public Transport’. https://bit.ly/3BpryY0

So don’t forget to pack your PTV myki card when heading out to enjoy the O’Keefe Rail Trail, the card could become your insurance for easily returning home!

Trail and River Benefits from Work

The benefits of community volunteering were shown when members of the Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail joined staff from the City of Greater Bendigo council for a combined working bee, held at the Campaspe River Axedale. This was the second effort in this area by the Friends group members, to repair the damage to these community plantations of young trees and shrubs caused by recent severe flooding from the Campaspe River.

Volunteers and council staff working together to achieve future outcomes. Photo: Lindsay Clay

The height of the flood waters had completely submerged the adjoining McIvor Highway bridge over the Campaspe River, closing the highway for a period of time, as well as naturally the adjoining young plantation. With the river height having returned to near normal flows, such has enabled the plantation works to be undertaken. This included removing dead plants, installing replacement tree guards, re-staking, some replanting, and mowing of the surrounding grass. Due to seasonal changes, it is hoped that these efforts will give the surviving plants a chance to endure the coming summer period.

Repairing the impacts of the inundation from flood waters (river height exceeded the highway bridge railings). Photo: Lindsay Clay

With this concerted effort helped by the support and knowledge of the Parks & Natural Reserves staff, the outcomes are expected to enhance this immediate area adjoining the O’Keefe Rail Trail in the future. Such outcomes is likely to have trail users spending more time exploring this natural river environment, using the tables and seats provided by the Friends group, as well as enjoying the added attraction of a unique natural timbered shelter with its animal carvings.

Volunteers help with Flood Damage

Community volunteers from the Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail and the Longlea Landcare Group came to the Campaspe Rv bridge area at Axedale, on Sunday 20 November, to reinstate tree guards around those native plants that had survived the recent severe flood.

Volunteers install new tree guards near the O’Keefe Rail Trail. Photo: L. Clay

The volunteers also planted a number of new natives plants, to replace those that were lost while being inundated by high river flows discharging from the overcapacity Lake Eppalock. The impact of the high flows saw guards and trees ripped from the ground, as well as ‘vacuuming up’ all the previously installed mulch.

This restoration work will in time enhance the immediate area to the O’Keefe Rail Trail and the Campaspe River, which the trail crosses the river at this location. This work was a great effort by these volunteers, to help with various post-flood restoration work currently occurring.

Trail Repairs in Progress

While the O’Keefe Rail Trail causeway at Lake Eppalock did have its access gates open for a few days, unfortunately the trail’s condition in this section has changed and it is not currently passable.

With recent rain, the trail at Lake Eppalock is again under water. Hopefully this will be a short term issue, given the trail had been opened by the City of Greater Bendigo council last week.

The trail’s Heathcote approach to Lake Eppalock. Photo: Neil.M

Friend’s member Neil reported that the remainder of trail was in good condition, having cycled from Heathcote through to Lake Eppalock at Derrinal on Monday 21st Nov. “It was a lovely ride with good surface conditions, as well as being interesting to observe the lake’s water level” said Neil,

“While at the lake area, I noted the work that the council’s contractor had done to clear timber logs that had earlier washed up onto the trail within this lake section, which is really pleasing.”

The council’s contractor, using an excavator machine, has also cleared logs and debris from the trail’s Campaspe Rv bridge at Axedale, plus repaired the bridge’s railings. With the bridge’s approaches yet to be repaired, this is the only trail bridge still closed to traffic. Trail users can still cross the river though, via the McIvor Highway bridge at Axedale.

This is what Victoria’s ‘Rail Trail Network’ could look like

Bicycle Network’s Newsroom post of the 16th November has highlighted what Victoria’s ‘Rail Trail Network’ could look like.

In a conversation with Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail member Lindsay Clay, Chair of its Planning Team, Lindsay explained how this concept of a ‘web of trails’ unfolded.

https://www.bicyclenetwork.com.au/newsroom/2022/11/16/this-is-what-a-victorian-rail-trail-network-could-look-like/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=In-the-Loop–VIC-17-Nov-2022&utm_content=bicyclenetwork.com.au%2Fnewsroom%2F2022%2F11%2F16%2Fthis-is-what-a-victorian-rail-trail-network-could-look-like%2F&utm_source=comms.bicyclenetwork.com.au

So how to support creating this network of trails in Victoria, to also help other States implement similar? In the group’s opinion, the critical first step is building the key linking Wallan to Heathcote Rail Trail, a 78km extension of the O’Keefe Rail Trail (the red dashed line in the map below).

One step forwatd is to let your Victoria State government representative, as well as the Mitchell Shire council, know of your support for this proposed critical linking rail trail. The economic study says its a winner, so there just needs to be some funding for certain specific planning to be undertaken.

Reflections for Future Progress

Reflecting on the past 12 months of community effort, the Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail’s outgoing President Colin Scott in his report to the 2022 Annual General Meeting thanked the group’s members for their passionate involvement.

Colin gave specific mention to members of the group’s five Action Teams, Activities, Communications, Grants, Planning, and Projects, who despite the restriction of COVID19 pandemic had focused on achieving outcomes revolving around promoting cycling activities and trail development. The Executive members were also specifically thanked, for their support in what had been marked as a successful past 12 months.

The AGM’s guest speaker Nicola Dunnicliff-Wells, President of Bike Bendigo, spoke of the efforts of that community group to make bike riding an easy and attractive choice for people of all ages.

2022 AGM (L-R) Rail Trails Aust Northern Vic Rep Jenny Mustey, 2023 Executive: Diane Bourne, Colin Scott, Margie Joyce, Paul Ferguson

The Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail group’s incoming Executive for 2023 are President: Colin Scott, Vice President: Adrian Cummins, Secretary: Diane Bourne, Assistant Secretary: Paul Ferguson and Treasurer: Margie Joyce.

Whistle While Working

While operational railways have ‘Whistle Posts’ installed, for the loco driver to operate an audible alert at upcoming public road crossings, what does such have in common with the O’Keefe Rail Trail? As one of Australia’s very first rail trails, this rail trail adopted the ‘whistle post’ design in 1993, as both an identity marker as well as a wayfinding sign.

O’Keefe Rail Trail Whistle Post. Photo: G.Long

These trail posts have both the trail’s name as well as the road’s name, and two are installation at every road crossing of the trail. For the trail user, this provides an alert to the intersection’s road name as a location reference point in case of needing emergency first responders.

Whistle posts removal and assembly at the Working Bee. Photo: G.Long

The original trail whistle posts were manufactured in timber, and with the passing of time are requiring maintenance and in some cases replacement. The Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail decided that when replacement of those posts was required, the new posts would be manufactured in metal.

The working bee completed, members are ready for coffee at the Axedale Tavern. Photo: G.Long

With the trail’s manager the City of Greater Bendigo agreeing to provide funding for replacement posts, the Friends group’s Project Team selects a manufacturer and then organised a working bee of members to assemble and install the replacement posts. The outcome is a ‘win win’ for this popular rail trail, effective use of the trail’s annual maintenance budget, preserving a link with history, as well as providing important facilities for trail users.

Hidden Valley Rail Reserve Success

The Wallan Environment Group has successfully been awarded a 2022 Victorian Landcare Grant. The $19,785 grant will be directed at the removal of woody weeds from within a section of the former Wandong, Heathcote, Bendigo Railway’s reserve, which adjoins Hidden Valley and Wallan. While the last train went through this area 54 years ago in 1968, it is fortunate that this remaining 1.2km section of the railway has virtually been ‘locked away’ since 1888 from being cleared and developed for other purposes. 

Claudia James, President of the Wallan Environment Group (WEG) said “Our aim is to conserve the high biodiversity values of the Hidden Valley Rail Reserve understorey”. One of the attractions of many railway reserves is that they are often the last preserves of locally indigenous flora. “The issue to be addressed in this reserve is woody weed control, mainly gorse and blackberry, because currently these are endangering the biodiversity and environmental values of the reserve. The hiring of contractors to spray those weeds will initially address this issue, then comes the removal of dead weed material and further work.” said Claudia.

Community members at a working bee. Photo: C.Cobern

Other community groups such as Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail-Trail (FBKRT), Mitchell Bicycle Users Group (MBUG) and the Mitchell Australian Plant Society (APS) members have attended working bees at this site, to help remove many of the minor incursions of these woody weeds. WEG and APS members have helped MBUG and FBKRT members with plant identification and eradication techniques. Support has also been provided by the Merri Creek Management Committee and the Upper Merri Landcare Coordinator, by mapping the weeds in the reserve. “The current status of this land remains under the jurisdiction of VicTrack, and WEG have been communicating with VicTrack in regards to this project.” stated Claudia.

Community members cycling along a section of the former railway’s reserve. Photo: G.Long

Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail Planning Team Chair, Lindsay Clay, who has been involved in seeking to return this former railway reserve for community use, said. “It is fantastic that WEG has been able to obtain this grant. Our group has been working with WEG and other members of the Mitchell Shire community, to plan for a safe off-road trail between Wallan and Kilmore.”