Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail

Linking central Victoria via the old railway line

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.”

Review Flood Damage

With a number of communities, farms and businesses still being impacted by high river levels and flooding from various rivers in central and northern Victoria, those upstream seeing river levels lowering are assessing the damage to property and infrastructure. The City of Greater Bendigo council is currently prioritising its responses to the community and damaged infrastructure, including damage to the O’Keefe Rail Trail.

The trail’s Campaspe River bridge (water level was well above the bridge’s railings!) Photo: N. Shand 20th October

Council has advised that it’s staff are currently undertaking a review of the whole 50km length of the O’Keefe Rail Trail, to assess what damage has occurred from recent weather events and flooding. Council will then determine a priority to undertake the necessary repair work.

Damage to the Campaspe River trail bridge’s eastern approach. Photo: N. Shand. 20th October

The Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail group’s President Colin Scott has offered the council assistance from its members, to help with certain works required to repair areas of the rail trail where deemed suitable for volunteers to carry out such work.

The rail trail’s western approach to the Lake Eppalock causeway. Photo: K. Davenport, 19th October

Two sections of the rail trail will remain closed to the public for a period of time, due to one bridge being damage and inundation from Lake Eppalock’s high water levels. These closures are at the trail’s bridge over the Campaspe River at Axedale, and the second being the trail’s causeway across Lake Eppalock at Derrinal. The remainder of the rail trail is open for use, with the trail’s surface being rated as in relatively good condition (considering the wet conditions!) for walking and cycling on suitable bikes.

Businesses that normally receive patronage from locals and visitors using the popular O’Keefe Rail Trail, look forward to trail users supporting them as service providers who have been affected by the floods.

Trail Sections Closed

Due to the current major flooding event that is occurring in the central Victorian region, this has impacted two sections of the O’Keefe Rail Trail.

Very high water levels in the Campaspe River had impacted, and for a time closed the trail immediately east of Axedale (i.e. from William St to Ingham Rd). Initial indications are that high water flows and debris have caused the trail’s bridge to be impassable, and the bridge is closed until a full engineering inspection can be undertaken. Also the trail’s surface between Willams St and the trail bridge has sustained severe damage.

The adjacent section of the McIvor Hwy at the river crossing was also closed to all traffic, due to severe flood damage, yet as of 19th October the highway has been temporarily repaired and opened to road traffic at a restricted 40kph speed limit.

O’Keefe Rail Trail’s Campaspe Rv bridge (some sections of its railing now showing, as river level lowers ). Photo: Y. Lakey 16 Oct

The rail trail also remains closed at its crossing of Lake Eppalock, Derrinal, due to the lake’s inundation of the trail’s causeway. However the trail remains open for all other sections, i.e Bendigo-Axedale (20kms) and Heathcote to Ingham Rd Axedale (except the Lake Eppalock causeway).

Campaspe Rv & McIvor Hwy bridge (water levels were higher than the bridge deck). Photo: Y. Lakey 16 Oct

Whilst the rail trail and its surface has remained in relatively good condition for the remaining open sections, updated information can be obtained from the trail manager the City of Greater Bendigo council on 1300 002642.

AGM Postponed

Due to the current weather conditions and resulting flooding events that are occurring in central and northern Victoria, the Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail’s Annual General Meeting scheduled for the 19th October has been postponed. With a number of highways and other local road closed due to flood water inundation and associated damage, such is making travelling in these areas very difficult.

The group’s AGM and General Meeting have now been rescheduled to 16th November 2022, and will be held at the Bendigo Cycling Clubrooms, Tom Flood Centre (off Water St), Bendigo, 6.30pm. The General Meeting will follow the AGM at 7.30pm. As a coincidence, the meeting location’s name and the address have no connection with the current emergency event!

The President Colin Scott extends his thoughts and that of members to those residents and businesses that are currently, or may be in the coming days, being impacted by flood waters and related isolation. Emergency evacuation orders have been made to a number of communities, and residents have been asked to respond to such.

With the expected passing of the emergency and opening of certain roads in the coming weeks, the group’s members and the general public are invited to the rescheduled AGM and GM on the 16th November, with meeting agendas and reports having already been distributed or will be made available at the meeting.

Lake Water Floods Trail

From the O’Keefe Rail Trail’s Lake Eppalock section being highlighted by water, this same section is now submerged by higher water levels!

Just days ago, the rising water level of Lake Eppalock was creating an amazing experience for trail users, with water lapping right up to the trail’s lake causeway.

Yet as inflows have continued into the lake, the level has exceeded 102% capacity. This has now submerged the rail trail’s lake causeway, hence closing public access to just that section of the trail. The remainder of the 50km trail is in relatively good condition, despite recent rainfall events.

For only the rail trail’s Lake Eppalock causeway section
Required around the Lake Eppalock causeway section

The City of Greater Bendigo, as trail’s manager, has closed only this section of the trail at Lake Eppalock until both the water level lowers as well as a safety inspection clears this section for access. For O’Keefe Rail Trail related information, the council can be contacted on 1300 002642 or requests@bendigo.vic.gov.au