Push Gathers Steam to Restore a Historic Loco
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The Korumburra tourist railway line closes after decades of operation and thousands of passengers.
When Step O'Rafferty moved to Korumburra, he needed a challenge. After seeing the railway in a state of disrepair, the operation of the railway became his new project.
"The railway was overgrown and carriages were dirty so I decided to come and help out," Mr O'Rafferty said.
"I'd seen stations that had been in such disrepair on closed lines, but this line was actually operating.
"The train was running through a pile of weeds so I started by cutting the weeds down by hand at first, then I started spraying them to keep the yard clean."
Living locally allowed Mr O'Rafferty to maintain the railway and transform its appearance from a "rubbish tip" to the revered early 20th Century building it now is.
The train from Korumburra travelled to Leongatha, providing passengers with scenic views of the Strzelecki Ranges for 45 minutes each way.
"The countryside it goes through is very beautiful ... wildlife here and there, kangaroos chase the trains sometimes, it's a very pretty place," Mr O'Rafferty said.
"A lot of people were coming outside the area. Most of our visitors came from Inverloch while they were staying there on holiday from elsewhere."
Hard decision to close the railwayDespite the flow of passengers and local support, volunteer numbers to help operate the station and trains could not support the demand.
"We only have 15 actively working [volunteers] even though we have 82 members," Mr O'Rafferty said.
"The actual running of the railway was left up to 15 people and just became a bit too much for us. [We were] falling behind in our work, especially in the administration side of things.
"It needed to be carried out by someone like a retired railway engineer who understood railways and had 30 hours a week spare time to keep up with what was necessary."
The membership base of the station recently decided to close the railway because the group was too small to keep up the work demands of maintaining a station.
"For a couple of years I saw the decline in infrastructure ... and asked how our small group could keep up with this," Mr O'Rafferty said.
"[My emotions] were mixed because I was expecting it to happen. I'm on the frontline and could see we weren't capable of doing it anymore.
"People I met on the street were devastated by it."
Taste of a bygone era
A large attraction of the tourist railway was giving passengers a taste of a time gone by.
Volunteer Gillian Mertens said its history was its strongest asset.
"It's an absolutely beautiful building that everyone just loved it," Ms Mertens said.
"I'm very sad [about its closure], because I don't want to see that building go to wreck and ruin.
"It's a huge asset to Korumburra and South Gippsland. It has huge potential to bring people to our area ... people loved the train rides, it took them back in time."
Sadly, the lack of volunteers able to keep the station running did not surprise Ms Mertens.
"In all volunteer organisations it's happening all the time — people are busy, it's hard to get people to help out," she said.
"As usual it relies on the same old small number of people to do the work."
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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