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April 10th was the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Geelong to Ballarat railway and to mark the occasion a T class locomotive pulled 3 carriages built in the 1920's up the line to Ballarat with 62 invited guests who relished the opportunity to travel on the line that hasn't seen regular passenger services since 1978.
Dignitaries from Geelong and Ballarat Councils, heritage and train enthusiasts assembled at the Geelong railway station and the keynote speech was made by the Mayor of Geelong John Mitchell, who has a strong connection to the line well beyond his mayoral duty.
John is also a locomotive driver and driven both passenger and freights services along the line. "I've worked for the railways since 1969 so this is a very proud day for me and if we had the rolling stock it would be great to see passenger trains return and I'm pleased the state government is doing a feasibility study into this"
Mick Robertson from the Geelong heritage centre is passionate about the history of the line. "There's 35,000 tons of bluestone used on the line including the viaduct over the Moorabool River which is why they stopped at Lethbridge as that's where the bluestone quarry was and the viaduct with a span of over 400 feet cost 250,000 pounds"
Owen Peake the Secretary of Engineering Heritage Victoria explained that this line and the Bendigo to Melbourne line were the first to be built by Victorian Railways outside of Melbourne.
"These two railways were the only lines built in Victoria to the high British standards of the 1840's." Locomotive driver and Coordinator of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union Heritage Committee Mick Welch drove the T Class diesel electric loco that pulled the 3 heritage carriages up from Melbourne.
"It was built around 1964 and produces around 1000 horse power and is a very simple unit that will get up to 80 kph is some places."
Hedley Thomson from Ballarat Rail Promotion Group and Cr Samantha McIntosh from the City of Ballarat were delighted to be on board they want to not only see passenger services return but also more heritage trains between Ballarat and Geelong with a similar appeal to the Maldon-Castlemaine steam railway Hedley says:
"It's great to see the government looking at reintroducing a passenger service as there a lot's of safety concerns about driving along the Midland Highway."
Samantha says there is a demand for heritage rail experiences: "We've seen people waving from the side of track all the way today which shows there's obviously great interest in our history."
Apart from VLine staff, volunteers including Kathie Skelton from Steam Rail Victoria helped managed the passengers and onlookers at the Lethbridge and Lal Lal stations where the train stopped on the way to Ballarat.
"We run lots of different trips across the state wherever the VLine network goes including Mildura and my favourite trip is the Warrnambool because of the scenery."
Ann Barker from Lethbridge came out to see the train. "I grew up travelling on the older trains and it just brings back so many memories including travelling to see my grandparents in the country and sticking our heads out the windows and getting covered in soot."
Dinah McCance from the Ballarat branch of the National Trust enjoyed the charm of sitting in a carriage with the window open but she's also concerned about the ongoing protection of the rolling stock.
"These carriages are unfortunately are kept out in the open so you do get rain coming in and when minute you've got moisture you've got trouble with preservation."
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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