It’s not that long ago that motorists, cyclists and pedestrians often faced wooden railway gates at road crossings within Melbourne’s urban train network, closed by railway staff to prevent motor vehicles, bikes and pedestrians proceeding when trains were scheduled to approach that level crossing.
Yet who would have guessed that many early country Victorian Railway (VR) lines also had such wooden gates, often located at relatively low traffic rural road crossings in the late 19th century. The gates would be normally closed to the road traffic, allowing passage of the train at any time, and the Gate Keeper would need to be requested to open the gate when there was road based traffic wanting to cross the railway line. This arrangement was the case for the original Wandong, Heathcote, Sandhurst line, built between 1888-1890, where each railway gate installation had an assigned permanent ‘Gate Keeper’ employee living in an adjacent Gate Keeper’s railway house. One such original Gate Keeper’s house still remains in Heathcote for that former line (at the former Mitchell St crossing), yet most of these rural railway gates installations and houses across Victoria were removed by the very early part of the 20th century.
Seeking to reinstate elements of former railway historical infrastructure along the now O’Keefe Rail Trail, the Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail group’s members were keen to obtain at least one set of original railway gates for the trail. After an extended search, two sets of stored recovered gates in poor condition were finally located in a Metro Trains yard in North Melbourne. An approach was made to Public Transport Victoria (PTV) in regards to these gates, and subsequently one set were approved for allocation to the group. With a City of Greater Bendigo council’s awarded Community Grant, and assistance from Semi Trailer Sales Pty Ltd Bendigo, the gates were transported to Bendigo where Friends member Ken Hanson set about leading a project to rebuild and install these gates.
The original timber railway gates, as stored in the Metro Trains yard in North Melbourne. August 2014
Once the gates were delivered to Bendigo, it was determined that most of the timber components required replacement. To reduce future maintenance of the gates, it was decided that only the two large ‘King Posts’ would be the only timber component to be retained, with steel substituting for all the other failed timber components. All the original metal bracing rods and brackets would be retained, yet some modified as the overall length of these gates were reduced by ‘one section’.
Gate restoration progress in Bendigo by Friends member Ken Hanson. Photo: M. Hanson. Jan 2017
With additional assistance from Powercor Bendigo to prepare the site, and the City of Greater Bendigo’s Works unit transporting the gates to Heathcote, the installation was able to proceed.
Delivery of the two refurbished gates at Herriot Street, Heathcote. Photo: Ken Hanson March 2017
Two large capped metal and concrete posts, to ‘hang’ these gates, had been manufactured and then installed at site prior to the delivery of the gates. With the two original King Posts refurbished, each had to be attached to both the main gates as well as the hinge posts separately at site. The final part of the jigsaw was the fitting of the two large iron support rods and brackets, between the King Posts and the gate frames.
Installation of the refurbished gates at Herriot Street, Heathcote. Photo: Garry Long March 2017
The final installation works for the 6-metre-long gates at Heathcote was carried out by the Friends members, with a final coat of paint applied by then retired 80 year old Bendigo painter John Mead in March 2017. The location of these gates is very close to where an original set of similar timber gates were once installed and operated at Herriot St, on the ‘Up’ side of the former Heathcote Railway Station.
Railway gates and the Heathcote Lions Club’s Rail Trail Shelter. Photo: Garry Long March 2017
The final location of these gates now provides a link with the past, as well as providing a ‘safe crossing’ for trail users into the Lions Club’s rail trail shelter area. As the trail’s current Heathcote ‘Trail Head’, this area is a great place to park the car and meet walkers and riders, to learn a little about the attractions of Heathcote, as well as enjoying this small section of the 50km long O’Keefe Rail Trail. A connecting trail to High St Heathcote (the commercial centre, Visitor Information Centre etc) is located 100m south east from the trail head.