The Ringwood to Upper Fern Tree Gully Railway – 130 years of change

There is a magic about train travel. Peter Stagg explains here.

The Ringwood to Upper Ferntree Gully railway is in its 130th year of operation, and for almost 30 of those years it carried me from the forest and the foothills of the Gully to the concrete and clamour that is Melbourne’s CBD.

If you read Peter Medlin’s history of the line (see below) you couldn’t help but notice that, just like you and me, the railway is a live and continually changing beast, a steel corridor with all of its twists and turns with something new to see on every journey. And more.

For me it wasn’t just the ever evolving hardware that was the highlight, but the software, the people who I met and travelled with who added so much flavour to my life. Strangers from all parts of the Dandenong Ranges turned what otherwise might have become hours of drudgery into a marvellous book of lasting memories.

It started in the early eighties when I happened to sit opposite Jack Vaux and Sean Galbally, as it turned out, two Melbourne & Metropolitan Board of Works engineers. From our first shy hello, it became a daily hour-long conversation. Sean had no sense of humour.
Jack had buckets. We bated Sean mercilessly. He finally went back to England. We don’t think it was our fault.

Next there was Nicola the Italian, and Pete and Tom. Pete never spoke much unless it was about railways, particularly rail carriages, but once he started he wouldn’t stop till Spencer
Street Station, and even then it was usually halfway up the escalator. He was a walking railway encyclopaedia. Tommy was an artist and a skilled artisan wood worker. He worked at a TAFE college and every morning he bemoaned the state of the system that was being drained of funds and failing its students. He was right.

And finally there was the 6:56 am Upper Gully gang. There was Big Ronnie from Tecoma, the Hardwick brothers, Wazzer the surveyor, Sassafras Sue, Crazy Russell and Jonny Chicken-feet.

It was riotous laugh-a-minute every morning from 6:56 till 7:49. Nothing was sacred. Strangers around us joined in. Some moved away. On every trip they found some way to bag me for closing down the Yea Line, which I never did, and there would be a report on Jonny Chicken-feet’s online dating progress and his Mum’s shopping list for the Vic Market.

I recall Crazy Russell one morning asking us for advice about his blood pressure which was 160/90. Our considered advice, after much debate, was that he stop buying monthly train tickets and consider a daily. The whole carriage agreed.

I would never have met these people had I been hunched over a steering wheel on the Monash. All perfect strangers, yet now all part of a wonderful colourful tale of a daily rail trail.

Peter Stagg


Ringwood to Upper Fern Tree Gully: A History

Peter Medlin recounts the history of the Ringwood to Upper Fern Tree Gully line.

Wednesday 4th December 2019 marks the 130th anniversary of the opening of the railway line between Ringwood and Upper Fern Tree Gully.

Much of its history has been told before, but I think many don’t realise just how the line evolved nor of the continuous changes that the line has seen over that period. From major bridge and station works and track realignments to the removal of a newspaper kiosk or the barely noticeable modification of a track signal, one thing is for sure. The only constant has been change.

When the line opened (also on a Wednesday) in 1889, the line from Melbourne through Ringwood had, in March of the same year, already reached Healesville. The line from Melbourne had been duplicated (double tracked) as far as Box Hill, twelve months
earlier. The line to Warburton was still 12 years away.

At the time of opening, stations on the line from Ringwood to Upper Fern Tree Gully consisted of only Bayswater and Lower Fern Tree Gully, and the terminus at Upper Fern Tree Gully. Bayswater was known during construction as Macaulay, with Lower Fern Tree Gully being referred to as Cemetery for obvious reasons.

On 18th December 1900, the narrow gauge line between Upper Fern Tree Gully and Gembrook was opened. The section between Upper Fern Tree Gully and Belgrave was later converted to the broad gauge 5 foot 3inch (1600mm) gauge and joined the suburban network in 1962.

A goods siding was placed near the quarry in between Lower Fern Tree Gully and Upper Fern Tree Gully in 1914 and was known as Hermon’s Siding. In 1921 it was renamed Gillis Quarry Siding, being renamed again in 1924 as the Malvern City Council’s siding. The siding was disconnected in 1941, though sections of the line from Upper Fern Tree Gully station remained until 1978.

Boronia Station was added to the line in 1920, with Heathmont as a single platform on the west side added in 1926 – at the same time a competing road service operated by the railways between Melbourne and Belgrave commenced, though it didn’t last long.

Duplication of the track between Bayswater and Lower Fern Tree Gully was operational
from Sunday 10th February 1957, which provided a second platform at Boronia and Lower Fern Tree Gully. Ringwood to Bayswater was still single line at this time. In fact, only one platform was in use at Bayswater, and trains from Melbourne had to leave the platform at Bayswater, before the train from Boronia could unload its passengers there. This ended with the duplication of the line from Ringwood, completing the duplicated line from Ringwood to Fern Tree Gully in December 1982.

The closing of Jolimont Rail Yard to enable such projects as Fed Square and the Melbourne Tennis Centre to proceed meant that new areas had to be found for train stabling and maintenance. Ringwood was one such area. The line was deviated between Ringwood Station and Bedford Road, to enable construction of new sidings in the junction between the Belgrave and Lilydale lines. In 1982 a section of line between Heathmont and Bayswater was realigned for higher speeds and included a new double track bridge over Dandenong Creek, replacing the old timber bridge.

Bayswater Station

In September 1988, the goods sidings were permanently closed. Ten years later the Maintenance sidings were opened in April.

December 2016 saw the station rebuilt as an island platform and lowered so that the road crossings at Mountain Highway and Scoresby Road were replaced by road bridges.

Boronia Station

In May, 1972 the station building on the ‘To Melbourne’ side was destroyed by fire, and was not rebuilt until July 1985, which was also destroyed by fire in 1988. It became a Premium station in July 1996.

In order to remove the level crossing at Boronia/ Dorset Roads, the station was lowered to its current level with the first trains operating on Thursday 5 November 1998, before being officially opened on the following Monday.

Upper Fern Tree Gully Station

In 1910, the station yard was rebuilt to cater for the passengers travelling on the Gembrook line. This was further rebuilt in 1924-5. With the last narrow gauge train departing in 1958, the platform had broad gauge tracks on both sides when the line re-opened to Belgrave in 1962.

It was officially renamed UPPER FERN TREE GULLY in 1972. It was closed to goods traffic, other than small consignments in 1982. Security fencing was added to the storage sidings in 1990 and it became a Premium station in 1996.

Ferntree Gully Station

See page 24 of our current edition for full list of changes at Ferntree Gully Station.

Peter Medlin

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