Where will this trail lead You to?
The original ‘cross country’ railway branched off the North Eastern (Melbourne to Wodonga) railway line at Heathcote Junction, and snaked its way through Kilmore to Heathcote and onto Bendigo (or Sandhurst as it was then known when the line was constructed).
The current O’Keefe Rail Trail is located on a section of that former railway, between Bendigo and Heathcote, a total distance of approximately 50kms.
An innovative proposal is for the O’Keefe trail to be directly linked to a new trail, named the ‘Wallan to Heathcote Rail Trail‘. Together both trails would span a total of 127 kms connecting Wallan, Heathcote Junction, Wandong, Kilmore, Pyalong, Tooborac, Heathcote. Knowsley, Axedale, Junortoun and Bendigo
Representing sections of the various communities, the Friends group and the Mitchell Bicycle Users Group (MBUG) plus other interested parties have put forward that the proposed trail follow as closely as possible to the original railway alignment. Such an alignment may not always be possible, to follow the original route exactly, as parts of the original railway reserve are now privately owned or the land use has changed. So it is expected that this trail could include some diversions, which other such rail trails have shown is not an uncommon outcome in developing trails.
Where’s is this in relation to Melbourne?
Just to put this into perspective, the map below shows central Victoria in relation to the Greater Melbourne. With this proposed rail trail being between Heathcote and Wallan, this trail’s southern point would be less than 30kms distance from the existing Craigeburn’s Galade Tamboore Trail, with its connection to the Merri Ck Trail and the entire Melbourne trail network. With the future planned extension of the Merri Creek Trail within the creek’s reserve towards Wallan (in the Melbourne urban growth strategy), this could make a continuous off-road connection between Melbourne and central Victoria’s trail network even closer!
Networking to other trails
Networking the proposed Wallan to Heathcote Rail Trail with other trails, such as the Great Victorian Rail Trail at Tallarook (just south of Seymour on this map), the Murchison to Rushworth (Waranga) Rail Trail/ Heathcote to Murchison Trail, the Goldfields Track (Victoria), the Bendigo Bushland Trail, and of course the O’Keefe Rail Trail, is an important strategic consideration. The Wallan to Heathcote Rail Trail is the ‘missing spine‘ connection to a great network of regional Victorian trails (refer map).
Map design and graphics by Rob Jarvis (v19). Aug 2020
Trail Feasibility Study
A feasibility study, looking at the proposal for a Wallan to Heathcote Rail Trail and networking with other trails, was formally completed in December 2017. This report was then considered by the Mitchell Shire Council on 19th March 2018, with the then Mayor Cr. Rhonda Sanderson highlighting that this rail trail is seen as being visionary for the Mitchell Shire Council’s community, business economy and walking/cycling tourism. The Council adopted the report, and indicated that a Trail Working Group would be formed to consider matters raised by some of the private landowners of the former railway reserve. The City of Greater Bendigo Council supports the study report’s recommendations. The proposed trail now awaits Mitchell Shire to progress the proposal to the next stage, plus a funding commitments from the Victorian State and Federal governments to progress the trail’s development either as a whole or in stages.
From the Past, a Vision for the Future
A section of the former railway embankment, perfect for a future rail trail! Photo: Les Lewis
With 95% of this proposed trail being in the Mitchell Shire area, and the remainder within the City of Greater Bendigo area, this proposed trail would become a significant community recreational facility within all three Wards of the Mitchell Shire. Connecting Tooborac township to the O’Keefe Rail Trail at Heathcote would complete the link for this section of the Heathcote Wine Region, perhaps becoming a ‘Wine and Boutique Beer Trail‘ linked to the Tooborac Hotel and Brewery! Having a significant tourism potential, being very close to the Melbourne trail network at Craigieburn plus its closeness to the Great Victorian Rail Trail at Tallarook, the economic impacts cannot be overlooked for this ‘missing spine’ in that off-trail network in regional Victoria.
Will this tract of public land become part of a future ‘missing spine’ rail trail in the Wallan area? Photo: Les Lewis
Imagine a future where you, your friends and family are able to choose an off-road trail ride or a walk between Brunswick and Bendigo, perhaps between Williamstown and Wandong, or even an option of leaving Hawthorn and going to Heathcote as a great ‘Escape to the Country‘ recreational tourist package! Of course the same could be said for regional residents, in ‘Seeking a City Adventure‘ opportunity. With the popularity of choosing trails for physical activities occurring during the current COVID19 pandemic, voters and their families seek visionary decisions being made by community leaders and governments in providing such quality facilities.