Where will it go?
The original ‘cross country’ railway left 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).
The O’Keefe Rail Trail is located on a section of that former railway, between Bendigo and Heathcote, for a total distance of approximately 50kms.
The proposal is for the O’Keefe trail to be linked to a new trail, named the ‘Wallan to Heathcote Rail Trail’. Together both would span a total of 127 kms connecting Wallan, Heathcote Junction, Wandong, Kilmore, Pyalong, Tooborac and Heathcote.
Representing sections of the community, the Friends group and the Mitchell Bicycle Users Group (MBUG) have put forward that the proposed trail follow as closely as possible to the original railway alignment. Such may not always be possible, to follow the original route exactly, as parts of the original alignment are now privately owned or the land use has changed. So it is expected that such a trail could include some diversions, which is not an uncommon feature of developing rail trails.
Where’s all that in relation to Melbourne?
Just to put this into perspective, the map below shows central Victoria in relation to Melbourne. With proposing to have a rail trail between Heathcote and Wallan, such a trail would be less than 30kms distance from the existing Craigeburn’s Galade Tamboore Trail connection to the Merri Ck Trail and the whole Melbourne trail network. With the future planned extension of the Merri Creek Trail towards Wallan in the urban growth strategy, this could make an off-road connection from Melbourne to this rail trail 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).
Regional Victorian Off-Road Trail Network. Graphics: Rob Jarvis
Trail Feasibility Study
A funded feasibility study, looking at the proposals for a Wallan to Heathcote Rail Trail and networking this 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 Mayor Rhonda Sanderson saying 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 has supported the study’s report recommendations. The proposed trail now awaits funding commitment from the State and possibility Federal governments, to progress the 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 within the Mitchell Shire area, and 5% in 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 link together the Heathcote Wine Region, to be perhaps be marketed as a ‘Wine and Beer Trail’ being linked to the Tooborac Hotel and Brewery! Having a significant tourism potential, being very close to the Melbourne trail network at Craigieburn as well as being close to the Great Victorian Rail Trail at Tallarook, the economic impacts cannot be overlooked with this ‘missing spine’ linking a future 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
A future that could have you, friends and family doing an off-road trail ride or a walk between Brunswick and Bendigo, maybe Williamstown and Wandong or even between Hawthorn and Heathcote, as an ‘urban escape’ recreational option!! Many will be holding their breath in anticipation!