Every time Puffing Billy steams its way through the hills to the delight of its passengers, it’s their heritage that they are experiencing. It’s their heritage that brings them pleasure, understanding and knowledge. There’s tradition turning in those wheels, sounding in that whistle, puffing through that chimney. And we people of the hills are residents, not only of the hills, but of railway towns. They define our place. They enable us to visit other places.
Heritage tells us where we came from, where we are now and where we might be going. Puffing Billy Railway, its staff and numerous volunteers are very aware of this. They have worked tirelessly to restore the original lines, maintain and refurbish the engines and carriages of the trains, and document the history. In 2019 over 500,000 passengers enjoyed the ride and Puffing Billy welcomed its thirteen millionth passenger. All due to an appreciation of heritage.
‘As passengers gather on the Belgrave platform to board Puffing Billy you can see their excitement. It’s palpable,’ says Peter Essig, Engineering and Train Operations Manager.
Peter has had a long association with members of the Puffing Billy family, before he joined the crew in 2017. Now, in his managerial position, he oversees part of the work of 120 paid staff and 700 volunteers. Many of the volunteers have been trained to undertake various important tasks such as train driver, guard, and conductor.
Now, after 120 years of steam engines in the Dandenongs, and after the willingness of so many to restore the stock, new services to support other heritage organisations are being offered. Promoted throughout Australia and New Zealand there’s already keen interest. The services include refurbishment, maintenance and advice. ‘Many heritage organisations don’t have the workshops, the equipment or the expertise that we’ve built up here at Puffing Billy over the years. So, we’re hoping that by offering such services we’ll be able to assist preservation being undertaken by other heritage groups.’
The work includes traditional and contemporary methods, always adhering to the Heritage Standards Manual which outlines the principles for heritage authenticity. Computers may aid in design and maintenance but it’s the old Victorian Railway standards and practices that keep the trains on track. Some parts that comply may be obtainable in Australia or by import, but otherwise the Puffing Billy team manufactures them.
Puffing Billy is a not-for-profit organisation. Services offered to other organisations will be charged accordingly and any earnings will be allocated to further Puffing Billy projects. This is particularly valuable since Puffing Billy’s journeys are currently prohibited due to the Covid-19 lockdown.
Puffing Billy staff, volunteers, and members of the Puffing Billy Preservation Society have been a vital team for conservation and education about heritage. Now with the extension of their services, heritage in other communities will be restored and preserved.