Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail

Linking central Victoria via the old railway line

Needing a reason to escape to the country?

Planning a trail ride or walk over Easter with friends? Or wondering where to next explore rural Victoria that combines some exercise with enjoying food and refreshments at a cafe, a restaurant, winery or boutique brewery?

Of course there is the option to just chill out at a country B&B or hotel, after riding the popular O’Keefe Rail Trail!

O’Keefe’s connection with Tooborac?

Over the past 28 years, the O’Keefe Rail Trail has extended along the former ‘Wandong, Heathcote, Sandhurst railway line’ to be now approximately 50kms between Bendigo and Heathcote. A 2018 feasibility study’s report determined that a connected proposed Wallan to Heathcote Rail Trail, broadly along the remainder of that former railway line, was feasible and would be a positive economic impact for those connected small communities.

The report’s Stage 1 development included building a trail section between Tooborac and Heathcote (17kms), bringing attractions such as wineries, breweries, bed and breakfasts, hotels, and public nature reserves within easy reach of rail trail users. Tooborac also has much past history to be explored as well, like seeking out remnants of the former railway’s turntable, or the former McIvor Timber and Firewood Company engine shed and manager’s residence.

McIvor Timber Co. Tooborac circ 1906 (SLV Image H96.160/1367) Photographer: George W Robinson

While little now remains within the former railway station yards, the Station Master’s residence (now a private residence) is a direct link to the importance that the former railway was to the Tooborac district.

Tooborac Railway Station, a ‘K’ Class goods awaits departure. 1962 Photographer: William Prince
Tooborac Hotel and Brewery. Photo TH&B

Local employment and businesses await the Mitchell Shire Council to prioritize progressing this proposed rail trail’s ‘Stage 1’ development, so as to benefit from the opportunities that such trails attract and provide. Inquires relating to this project can be made to the Mitchell Shire Council. as well as letting local member for Euroa Steph Ryan MP know of your support for this development that may assist COVID19 recovery for those impacted within the local community.

Experience the New Year with O’Keefe

What a year 2020 has been! So many challenges for the world’s population, including for those who love an escape to enjoy what off-road trails have to offer. Yet for many in COVID19 lock-downs, such trail experiences have at times been well out of reach.

For those who have endured such restrictions, to reduce the spread of this virus, thank you for what you have done to keep many communities safe and being able to adapt in these uncertain times.

As a reward, the O’Keefe Rail Trail awaits Victorians and visitors during the New Year holiday period and beyond in 2021, providing space to enjoy being safe amongst nature at a glance, along a continuous 50km trail that is perfect for walking, running and cycling. Oh and by the way, there are also wineries, breweries, bed and breakfast accommodation, and much more to explore and enjoy!

Stay safe and be vigilant over the coming weeks, while we hope the year ahead brings improved health conditions, happiness, and a return to doing the things we all love to do! So wishing all rail trail users, their families and friends some time to enjoy and share simple things that we now realise are important.

Trail Signs for Reserves

What did you do on Friday 13th, perhaps nothing if you are superstitious! Yet six members of the Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail, plus one member from the Junortoun Community Action Group, were out on the O’Keefe Rail Trail on 13 Nov, installing place name signs.

With four public bushland reserves directly connected to the O’Keefe Rail Trail in the Junortoun and Axedale areas, most trail users would not know that such reserves existed. Those areas might have looked like a ‘bush block’, yet were they private property or public reserves?

Geoff Day (JCAG), Roy Speechley and Kevin Thiele (FBKRT) installing the signs Photo: Rob Jarvis

The Friends group approached the City of Greater Bendigo, highlighting the situation and seeking to have the council’s standard place name signs placed facing the rail trail at those public nature reserves. After consideration and investigation, the request was agreed to and the signs provided for installation. The signs were placed at the trail’s ‘Strathfieldsaye Station’ area, for the Junortoun Nature Reserve, at the Knul-doorong Woodland reserve (near Binks Rd and Somerset Park Rd), the Bennetts Rd Flora Reserve, and the trail’s ‘Axedale Station’ area of the Axedale Nature Conservation Reserve. With trail users now being well informed, its expected that these nature reserves are more likely to be explored and enjoyed.

Bikes on Buses for O’Keefe Trail

Have you ever been riding or walking the O’Keefe Rail Trail and suddenly needed transport means back to your starting point? Perhaps you were planning for a one direction only, or had a bike mechanical problem, maybe your walking shoe had a ‘blow out’ and you couldn’t go any further along the trail? What’s next, an urgent phone call hoping for an answer in seeking help!

The State Government has approved the implementation of providing bike racks on the PTV buses, called the ‘Bikes on Buses Program’. Limited funding in 2019 was allocated for a conversion of a total of 62 buses, which included the Bendigo urban area bus routes. Yet unfortunately this program’s roll out for 2020 has been delayed by the COVID19 pandemic.

The Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail noted that the Bendigo – Heathcote PTV bus service, which includes some Bendigo urban suburbs, was not included in that Bendigo roll out. So the group made a specific submission request to local member Jacinta Allan MP, for this bus route to be included in the program. Such was not only to encourage integrated active transport for people serviced by this bus route, yet also to add an important transport option for users of the O’Keefe Rail Trail.

Success!! The Minister of Public Transport Ben Carroll has advised the Friends group that the Bendigo – Heathcote PTV bus service will be included in the Bendigo Bikes on Buses Program roll out, once assessments etc have been conducted by the Department of Transport. While mentioning ‘later in 2020’, a specific implementation date for this service is yet unknown. This facility will provide a limited capacity of 2 bikes in a front rack mounted on each bus, which is great news for users of the popular O’Keefe Rail Trail that has seen significant increases in use during 2020.

Lions Club Promotes Heathcote to Trail Users

The O’Keefe Rail Trail users are now able to be more informed, about Heathcote’s points of interest and attractions. The Heathcote Lions Club recently initiated a project to have two new information boards designed and installed within the trail’s Herriot St shelter.

President Janette Dedman unveils the new information boards. Photo: Daryl Dedman

Under COVID19 restrictions conditions, Lions Club President Janette Dedman officially unveiled the notice boards witnessed by some Lions Club and Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail members. Refer to this web’s ‘News Clippings’ page, for a related article published in the McIvor Times (28 Oct 2020)

The ‘Heathcote – An Interesting Place’ board depicts and describes six different locations to explore, all from within easy reach of the rail trail encouraging trail users to visit the town’s business area. The second information board highlights steps taken by the Lions Club to provide the rail trail with this amazing trail shelter, constructed from locally sourced forest timber. Details about the two co-located railway gates, restored and installed by the Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail members, is also included with a photo and description.

Lions Club Shelter’s information boards. Photo: Daryl Dedman

Details contained in the two information boards, viewed via this link.

Seeking New Rail Trails

A new community group is advocating for the development of a Castlemaine – Maryborough Rail Trail in central Victoria.

This group are looking to transform the disused railway corridor between Castlemaine and Maryborough into a recreation rail trail, to enhance active travel and safe recreation, to aid the future prosperity for linked small towns of Guildford, Newstead, and Carisbrook.

With PTV passenger trains regularly servicing Maryborough and Castlemaine, those connections for users to this trail would be made so much easier. Being close to other established off-road trails, this becomes attractive for extended stays by visitors to the area that benefit trail related businesses and employment.

Just like the proposed Wallan to Heathcote Rail Trail connected to the O’Keefe Rail Trail, these linked trails would also be serviced by passenger trains and road freeways at Wallan and Bendigo plus other access. Such transport options increases the tourist potential, hence visionary development by Governments to create a network of linked trails to support regional communities and business economies.

Rust Replaced By Railway Splendor

Rusting away for decades at the Korumburra Railway Station yards, one HY/GY railway wagon was fortunate to be ‘rescued’ by the Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail community group! Being one of a total of 6320 of its type manufactured for Victorian Railways, after many years of service carrying basically any freight that would fit, this wagon (GY16625R) was taken out of service in 1998 and survived being scrapped.

The wagon initially delivered, hiding its real state of decay. Photo: Les Lewis Mar 2018

With the assistance of a Fosterville Gold Mine community grant enabling the 9-ton wagon to be transported from Korumburra to Axedale in Mar 2018, the private company BRW (Bendigo Railway Workshops) was contracted in late 2019 to repair and repaint it in its original ‘Wagon Red’ scheme. Being transported to the former VR North Bendigo Railway Workshops, this was where that wagon was originally manufactured (as HY16625) in 1956. With this work completed by March 2020, the wagon was then transported back to the Friends group’s O’Keefe Rail Trail’s recreated ‘Axedale Station’ onto their laid section of track.

In the spray booth after a fresh coat of ‘wagon red’. BRW, North Bendigo. Photo: Rob Jarvis. Feb 2020

The project’s next stage was to provide all abilities access for the public into the wagon’s internal area, where freight was once carried. With the new ramp manufactured and installed just prior to a relaxation of COVID19 restrictions, an official opening by City of Greater of Bendigo Mayor Cr Margaret O’Rourke was able to take place on Sunday 20 Sept being witnessed by a small number of invitees.

Officially opened by Mayor Cr Margaret O’Rourke, assisted by FBKRT Vice Pres Colin Scott. Photo: Les Lewis 20 Sept 2020

“As the only item of heritage railway rolling stock now on public static display in the Bendigo area, this is an important asset for Bendigo as well as a great point of interest for the popular O’Keefe Rail Trail” said Cr O’Rourke.

This Link is to a video of the official opening that was carried out by Mayor Cr. O’Rourke.

New Natural Environment Being Recreated

A piece of forgotten land within the industrial East Bendigo area and adjacent to the O’Keefe Rail Trail, which had consisted of an informal drain and non-native plants due partly to the impacts of the 19th century gold mining era, is now being transformed into a natural reserve environment.

As a consequence of damage caused by a fire earlier in 2020, rehabilitation of the area is being undertaken by the City of Greater Bendigo’s Parks and Natural Reserve unit staff. The landscaping has included removal of pampas grass remnants, as well as shifting and contouring tonnes of soil to create ponds and waterways for frogs and other native animals.

Earthworks have created ponds and connecting waterways. Photo: Paul Ferguson

Recent planting of hundreds of native trees and shrubs, by State Government funded unemployment scheme (related to the current pandemic), has occurred between the O’Keefe Rail Trail and the Bendigo Railway Workshops (BRW). The plantings and mulching should see a significant change to this steep embankment area adjacent to the rail trail, having seen land use changes by the former Victorian Railways Workshops built in 1917.

Tree plantings along the embankment adjacent the O’Keefe Rail Trail. Photo: Paul Ferguson

While the rail trail users can still experience local historical points of interest, like going through the 1863 brick railway culvert or observing two amazing 1888’s railway related red brick lined drains, the transformation of the area will both encourage a return of native animals as well as be enjoyed by the public into the future.

Caution – Works in Progress

Upgrading of a 26 year old section of the O’Keefe Rail Trail, by the City of Greater Bendigo’s contractor, is currently in progress. This section is between Wilkie Rd Junortoun and Longlea Ln, Longlea.

Due to recent weather conditions and the unavailability of specific material, completion of the upgrading works has been delayed. Trail users are advised to take addition care in this section, due to muddy trail surface conditions, plus a little patience until the work has been completed.

Advice indicates that this work is expected to be completed within the next 10 days, yet that is dependent on weather conditions.